You’ll Never Guess Who I Ran Into

We’ve all had those conversations where someone tells the story about how they were somewhere weird and ran into a friend from home. Then the next person tells their story about when they were somewhere a little more odd and met someone they knew. I have a trump card for those conversations.

In early ‘04 I was stationed at the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, an 80-man firebase, as a Civil Affairs team engineer. This duty meant lots of meetings with various Afghans about projects and policies they’d like. We also tried to coordinate with several other units with varying missions to try and synchronize all our efforts.

Recent PRT’s across Afghanistan. In 2004, Kandahar was one of the first to open.

Anyway, one day found us at the PRT meeting with several other units from other bases. There were about 20 people in the room including several officers from other units, several Afghan officials, our PRT leadership, and we each had our interpreter. One of the visiting Colonels had an interpreter that kept staring at me during the whole meeting. I thought, “Great, another one of these Afghans who is gayer than a hatbox full of speedos.”

He looked pretty harmless and I just tried to ignore it. After the meeting he came up to me.

A typical PRT meeting
A typical PRT meeting

“Sir, what is your name, where are you from?” he asked in his thick Afghan accent.

I told him, “Captain Hartmann, but most call me ‘Engineer Hartmann’ and I spent several months up in Kabul and Polecharki before coming down here to Kandahar.”

“No, no, no, I mean where is it you are from in Amerrrica?” (You have to roll your R’s to sound like an Afghani.)

I said, “Well, I live in Colorado but grew up in…” He cut me off.

“By Allah, I knew it!” and he gave me a great big grinning bear hug that just about knocked me over.

He let go and was still all grins. “I knew I recognized you. You guys all came to my store from the Fed Center! You would all come get gas and coffee on the weekends!”

Then it dawned on me. My Reserve unit back home would sometimes do our monthly drills at the Denver Federal Center in west Denver. There was a convenience store close to the main entrance where most of us would in fact stop for gas, coffee, and snacks. This guy apparently recognized me from all that. We chatted a bit longer about places we both knew but he had to hurry off with his unit.

Entrance to the Denver Federal Center

He was as happy to see someone from back “home” in Colorado as I was the few times I ran into buddies over there. I’m guessing interpreting meetings for the Americans paid way better than selling slurpies and 87 octane.

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One thought on “You’ll Never Guess Who I Ran Into

  1. Capt.
    Your story brought back a memory….I was in a Pizza Hut in around 1979 near Pittsburgh, Pa when I noticed this red headed guy eye balling my wife but mostly me. I began to wonder if this would eventually spill out into the parking lot ( was still wound pretty tight even 8 years following Vietnam)? I began to eyeball him and I realized we were both trying to remember if we may have known each other. Try as hard as I could I could not, but, I knew there was something familiar about him. My wife broke the trance by saying “we are not going to have a scene here are we”? I assured her that probably not at least maybe,,,well I wasn’t sure. LOL..now.
    Moments later he was the more stable of us at the moment and came over and asked me if I recognized him…I thought that I did but we were probably both wrong.He went back to his booth and I went slowly back to my civilized self but he kept glancing at me. Finally he came back and asked me it I had been to Vietnam…that alone moved me further away from my civilized self and I said “why do you want to know”? He said maybe we saw each other there and that moves me back to my civilized self. He wondered if I was in the Army and I said no the Marine Corps. He began to walk away and then said were your ever dusted off by an Army medicvac? I was and he was the door gunner that came to pick myself and several others in my squad that were wounded when we were over run near the dmz almost 10 year prior. I didn’t remember him but he remembered me. I thanked him and we parted ways never to see each other again. I wish the societal tension of being a Vietnam vet was not surrounding us then….maybe we would have become friends.

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