The year was 2010.
For those who remember that far back, President Obama had just ordered a surge of troops into Afghanistan a few months prior as part of his plan to wrest control from the last Taliban-held strongholds. Most of that surge force was comprised of the 101st Airborne Division, which was sent to Kandahar, a southern province that borders Pakistan, known as the "heart of darkness" for being the birthplace of the Taliban and for some of, if not the fiercest, fighting in the then 9-year history of America's longest war.
This was where I spent a year hopping over grape fields, wading through rivers, pushing through marijuana fields that had plants the size of Christmas trees.
My outpost was a converted six-room schoolhouse encircled by 10 feet of sandbag walls with four watch towers. It came under fire nearly every day in the summer of 2010, when I first arrived straight out of basic training. It remained a constant source of Taliban attacks from May until October.
Then, when the weather started getting colder, the attacks lessened but the danger didn't. While the onset of winter withered away the foliage surrounding our outpost, removing the concealment advantage the Taliban enjoyed in the summer, it did nothing to slow down the IED attacks.
Those went on throughout the deployment, including one instance where our sister platoon was out on patrol in late October. They were in a staggered column formation, walking down a dirt road (as most roads in Afghanistan are) when the point man called for a halt.
Something didn't feel right. The point man motioned for the squad to take a knee. As he did so, his knee touched the ground and accidentally set off a pressure-plate IED buried underneath him.
He lost both legs and his right arm in the explosion. He lost so much blood he died twice on the helicopter ride to Kandahar Airfield, which had the most advanced treatment facilities in the area. Thankfully, he eventually pulled through.
The attack shook everyone I was with. Morale was at the lowest point it had been in the whole deployment -- and that included the first three months we were there with no air conditioning or showers during the 120-degree summer days.
Guys were tired and angry, worn down from months of constant go-go-go action.
Due to the manpower losses we suffered, soldiers got shuffled around a lot and some of our leave dates got switched to accommodate the needs of the platoon.
My leave, already scheduled for early November, got pushed back to late January. Of all the things that happened while I was in Afghanistan, that felt like the biggest gut-punch. It would mean I would get my "mid-tour" leave eight months into a 10-month deployment.
If I even lived long enough to make it mid-tour leave.
Now, I tell you this story, and break it off at this point, because I want to give you an idea of how bad things were by early December.
My platoon had lost four guys; our attached scout-sniper platoon had lost another two. Everyone who I served with had a close friend who either died or was back in the States nursing serious injuries.
Everybody hated life at this point, basically. The only respite from the daily grind of modern warfare was our semi-weekly trips to the nearest Forward Operating Base, where we'd service the trucks, get hot food from the chow hall, maybe get to visit the PX and buy some snacks or smokes or maybe a bootleg DVD from the local Afghan shops.
It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
So you can imagine the wonderment on our faces when one December day in 2010 our platoon's convoy rolls into the FOB and as it's passing through, notices a packed mass of humanity cheering and waving and gathered together, trying to inch closer to something.
After we parked the trucks and tasked out a few guys to go watch them, the rest of us went back to go see what all the fuss was about.
That's when we saw them and my eyes widened and my lips curled up into the biggest smile I could make.
There in front of me sat:
The Big Show
...and Vince Motherfucking McMahon
Here in the flesh!
Right in front of me!
They posed for photos with us, talked to us, and signed autographs for a good long time.
It was an insane experience. Big Show was strong enough he could hold the .50 cal like it was a regular rifle (kind of like what The Rock did in GI Joe, but for reals). Kelly Kelly and Eve Torres were super hot and the biggest hits of the whole experience.
Soldiers were just leaned up against he walls, not even standing in line, just leaning there oogling the two WWE females.
Vince posed for photos, signed autographs, and acted like he was having the most fun out of anyone there.
I'll say this: you can accuse Vince McMahon of being a lot of things, but he is a genuine supporter of the troops to an unmatched degree.
I mean, just look at how much fun he's having:
And that's what it's all about with the WWE and their relationship with the Armed Forces. They provide the fun, and for one lowly private thousands of miles from home, they gave him something to smile about.
Three and a half years later, I still remember that day.
The day Vince McMahon and Co. came to a dusty, dirty, military base in the middle of nowhere Afghanistan and gave me and a few hundred other soldiers just enough joy to keep going.
Thank you, Vince. I never got to thank you then, but we needed it.