a short story by Rawclyde!
My feet in their boots were man and woman happily making babies called footprints ~ along the highway side. Every pebble, empty beer can, and weed was my brother. It was butterfly season. They with rainbow wings were my sisters ~ fluttering all about me. It was very nice.
The traffic zoomed by. I saw nobody I knew in those chrome flashes. They were all strangers. Alienation from my brethren species ~ at the moment it didn’t bother me a bit. Behind a boulder I jumped, closed my eyes, had me a cigar. The dry smoke in my mouth was a love affair.
Yes, it was very nice. When I found a discarded bottle in a nook between a weed and a rock next to where I sat ~ one third full of my favoritie apple wine ~ I knew the angels were on my side. Gulp ‘de gulp ~ I partook of their nectar.
The foolosophies of a road scholar begin to tip over Empire State Buildings at moments like this. Leaning in awkward comfort against the boulder, feet outstretched upon the ground, I of the most worped twisted of faiths, began to generalize on silly universalities between my ears. Endless circles they spiraled upward ~ ’til they were mellowly trimming God’s toe nails again. The Author of all things, as Jules Verne used to call Him, was my pal.
But I was alone. Yes, a portrait of repose only for myself. Where was my more earthly love?
Bah! I stuck out my thumb and caught a ride.
“Hello there,” I said.
He had a car as long as a warship, but with ear rings ~ and didn’t like cigar smoke.
“I am an ex-principal of an elementary school on vacation to no-where,” he said. “With a lot of nice clothes and a Humpty Dumpty body ~ a good egg I am ~ soft boiled delightfully ~ ready to please. Yum yum. How are you?”
His beady little eyes looked me up and down ~ and I had a ride with Road Homo.
“What is your impression of me?” reached forth he with a tender anxious tongue.
“You’re a friendly gentle old homo,” said I.
He blinked ~ changed lanes ~ and we almost got in a wreck with a prehistoric cave-woman truck.
“Do you want a blow job?” he panted.
He gulped a little bit. “Do you want a blow job?
I gulped a little bit. “No.”
“Okay, that’s that,” he said.
“You’re right,” I said.
I stepped out of his glossy highway boat, complimented by the fact that he craved my John Barleycorn Man in bed with his Lady Mishap.
“I don’t like women,” he said.
“What’s the name of this town?” I asked.
“Limping Rooster, Texas.”
~ continued below ~
Our farewells butted heads and I strolled down the street, part of the parade of life in a small city with a hill in the middle of it. Limping Rooster, I thought. The name of this town is too much already!
“What’s that hill doing there?” I asked a passing young lady strolling on a leash an extraordinary yellow polka-dotted Irish setter.
A ruthless glint in the girl’s eye shot my soul full of holes. Her nose climbed into the air. Her dog wagged his tail past me. This nothing reply sent a shiver up my spine ~
And I shrugged it off.
Lean, unshaven, dirty ~ I pulled my cap low over my eyes ~ commenced in getting pissed off at this string of events anyway ~ walked as cool as I could into a laundromat to, of course, wash my dirty laundry.
All this time I was carrying a small rug rolled up and tied with two of my father’s old neckties, which made a neat bum’s bundle ~ full of dirty laundry.
I’m not really a bum.
This particular laundromat had people in it who I swear felt foolish as they did their laundry and blushed. One young no-good slipped off his jacket, threw his shirt into a machine, slipped his jacket back on, shrugging his shoulders about twelve times as he did so. I wanted to shout across the chug-a-lug room, “Ole! Brother!”
Meanwhile little children ran circles around him, knocking over baskets and tables and kicking wash machines, slipping and falling and hollering as they did so ~ with an embarrassed train of mothers behind them, hollering also, but not so gleefully.
A young woman with a melon midriff got up and walked to a chugging machine, opened its lid, peered in, blushed, and sat back down.
There I was, stupid looking myself, entrenched in the midst of it all. As I folded my meager clothes, an older but smaller man with a lot of little grins stood opposite me. He was folding about four trillion pure white towels into big stacks in front of his nose ~ and my nose too.
Why did this man have so many white towels? Was he taking care of a gym? Did he own a hotel? Did he steal them from a hospital? Was he insane ~ and bought them? Or did he simply have a fondness for fresh white towels?
He was very careful about folding them ~ like they belonged to his mother and he gained pride and self-esteem by pleasing her. The laundromat was his church ~ a church full of people doing their laundry ~ their act of praying. He was at ease here, taking care of his trillions of white towels.
He kept winking at me whenever I glanced at him ~ like we knew something nobody else knew. I got a little nervous, quietly figured out he was Laundromat Homo.
I tripped toward the girl with the melon midriff. In mid flight it was a good opportunity to ask her if she had the time. “Do you have the time?” I asked as I fell through the air.
She pretended like I didn’t say anything ~ started to dig in her straw purse the size of a suitcase.
“Pardon me, do you have the time?” I asked again as I got up off the floor.
She didn’t even giggle at my clumsy trick. She shook her head at me. One of her eyes was blue. The other one was green. Her blue eye was beautiful. I could have done without the green one. A shiver crawled like a snake up my spine as she looked away. In her hand was a giant baby blue comb (almost the same color as her one blue eye) she had found in her purse. She ran the comb through her hair ~ clean fragrant coconut hair ~ and tossed a glance at me (actually, her green eye was kind of beautiful too). Her glance seemed to say: aren’t you gone yet? I wanted to be the comb.
Another shiver crawled like a snake up my spine, this one in electric panic, when Laundromat Homo jumped toward me with a watch on his wrist with freckles.
“Thank you,” I said, as I looked at his watch and saw his freckles.
“You’re welcome, young man,” he purred ~ and smiled ~ and winked.
I turned to the window for a change of scene. A traffic light outside turned green and a gang of cars made a mad rush for another traffic light that turned red. I believe my brow wrinkled a bit as I caught sight of the hill in the middle of Limping Rooster ~ just a little bit above the traffic lights, roof tops, telephone poles, and TV antennas.
“What is that hill doing there?” asked I of Laundromat Homo.
He frowned ~ buried himself in his neat stacks of towels. From behind one of the glowing clean stacks he peeked like a cookoo clock birdie ~ and winked at me. His nose reminded me of a raspberry pale with the flu, taking a cold shower, just so it could dry off in all those white towels.
As I walked out of the laundromat I wondered why so many men were homos lately. Was it like this in every age or just the one into which I was born? And why were so many people uptight about homos? Especially me.
On the other hand, why didn’t I understand women? How come I always said the wrong thing to them and got nothing from them but weird looks? How come all I ever met was homos?
Was I a homo?
I didn’t like the idea of being queer. What I needed was a wife ~ and I needed one bad. Was that why us baffled boys of the world got married ~ because we were afraid we would become homos if we didn’t? I wanted to explore the country, its people, its cities, study the life situation of the earth, learn to be a good man ~ and go to bed with a woman here and there ~ not with a bunch of homosexuals every where!
Of course it was silly of me to be thinking this way just because the last two people who were friendly to me were also homos ~ and the last two people to write me off as a bad ticket to unpleasantries were women. Anyway, maybe Laundromat Homo, who happened to be following me in his station wagon, wasn’t really a homo.
I stopped in the midst of making my now invisible footprint babies on the sidewalk ~ next to a street of noisy Limping Rooster traffic of chrome. I squinted at he who was following me in his station wagon, the back of which, of course, was neatly stuffed full of folded white towels. The station wagon slowed down, pulled over beside me. He leaned over, rolled the window down and said, “Hi! Wanna come to my place for a little drink?”
“Are you a homo?” I asked.
He giggled sweetly, caressed my belt buckle with a tender finger.
“No thanks,” I said and continued walking. Also, I had this uncanny urge to crush his nose into raspberry juice with my fist. But that sort of behavior isn’t polite, humane, or necessary.
I glanced back curiously to see if ~ yes ~ he was watching my scrumptious lean butt wiggle as I walked down the street. If he ever tried to touch me again I was ready to spank him until his nose at least bled a little.
I was also hungry.
At the order window of the hot dog restaurant on the corner I hoped there would be a young woman with a friendly smile. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, there was a tall lanky young man with pimples, yellow teeth that were crooked, and a crew cut (yes, in the year 1973). He moved like a giant squid at the bottom of a sea of city, as he slopped my hot dog together, with onions and mustard and live sardines.
“Thanks,” I said ~ handed him a dollar bill. With a lovely smile he handed me back four cents and an expensive hot dog. I thought I saw a green worm crushed and dying between his two front crooked teeth. Whether that be fact or fancy, I am not sure. But his wet fingers lingered in the palm of my hand, which jerked away, dropping the four cents all over the sidewalk.
God help us both!
I staggered away, worms in my head, a hot dog with live sardines in my mouth, rot in my soul. An old gray man hobbling along with a cane in his hand, brilliantly smiled at me. “Good morning,” he chirped.
“No it isn’t,” said I with a frown, anxious to get out of Limping Rooster. I wondered if he was a homo. When I felt the tip of his cane poke me in the butt, I ceased wondering, and ran across the street like a baseball hit with a bat.
A girl in a flimsy blouse with no sleeves, and shorts with no belt, and with feet with no shoes, with long blond hair and a pert pretty nose ~ not to mention her round little boobs that were apples with nipple stems under her flimsy blouse ~ gave me a look as if she wished I would have gotten run over as I home-runned across the street at her. She dodged out of the way and said, “Ech!”
“What’s wrong?” I cried. Tears burned in the corners of my eyes.
She ignored my question, walked casually along as if I was a parking meter that talked, asking for money from pedestrians.
“Shit,” I muttered.
Little pebbles of fear seemed to grow in my toes as I walked down the sidewalk. It was like they grew grew grew ~ into boulders ~ entered my blood stream and tumbled into my head where my faith ran in circles trying to get away from them. My heart became clogged with these boulders, coughed along its beat beat beat with big base drum echoes. The veins in my arms nervously sang, playing boulders instead of guitars. I was a walking rock concert playing a tune of woe, confusion, and doubt.
Then it happened. At the worst of moments, when I was full of doubts as to what I was, what Limping Rooster was, what the world was!
Yes, it happened. I was watching the flight of a bird ~ a white dove ~ yes, in Texas! I watched it fly an arch across the sky. It perched on top of a billboard just above my head ~ a billboard advertising mouth-wash that pictured two men with their eyes closed, kissing each other on the lips!
The biggest of boulders ~ granite ~ shot up my throat ~ burned in my mouth ~ hot as blunt hell ~ burst out between my lips in the unpleasant form of lava. It was what was left of the hot dog ~ down the front of my shirt into the gutter of Limping Rooster.
One little sardine, still alive and flippin’, swam away.
Upon one knee I involuntarily fell, shut my eyes, shook my head, wiped my face. I got up, dizzy, and walked on.
I jammed a cigar between my teeth ~ forgot to take off the wrapper ~ tried it again without the wrapper and lit it with the ninth match struck.
Now I was a walking strike-out covered with puke. A girl in a red dress walking up the sidewalk saw me, turned around and ran. A man behind her asked me if I’d like to take a shower at his place.
“Hell no!” I yelled ~ and hit him across the head with my rug. This happened next to a canyon and he rolled down into it winking at me and throwing kisses.
I stepped into a telephone booth, slammed the door shut which cracked the glass, puffed furiously on my cigar until my head was swimming in a cloud of smoke and my eyes had to squint. The booth was now full of tobacco smoke and I’m sure I couldn’t be seen from the outside ~ too much smoke. As soon as I was squinting salty blood red and nothing else, I figured that was enough to make me tough ~ and stepped out. I threw the cigar butt at a gas station attendant who kept looking at me ~ and I lit another one.
At the same gas station I walked into the rest room ~ women’s by mistake ~ found a man inside powdering his cheeks.
“Hi, handsome,” he said.
I coughed short and low, trudged into the men’s instead. It was empty.
In the mirror I looked. I saw a pink elephant with two horns sticking out of his head. No, not really. What I saw was a road scholar glaring back through the little red slits of his eyes. His not shaved for a week face was a bit ingrained with road dust ~ and so were his clothes ~ a long sleeved work shirt of gray, jeans of black, clonky boots, and a sweat stained gray cap low over his eyes. From beneath the cap fell stringy dark hair, well over his shirt collar. The front of the shirt and the toes of the boots were complimented by his own drying puke. A rolled up rug full of ironically clean laundry hung over his shoulder. He was puffing on a small crooked cigar. He was hungry and horny, haunted by queers and ignored by women. The smell of him was touching. His legs and back ached road. He needed rest ~ had no bed but for the nearest concealing bush swamped by traffic noise. His name was Clyde Rode ~ or Clyde Was Rode ~ or Clyde Rode The Road.
And that’s me.
In the sink I washed my hands ~ dried them with a paper towel.
My fist exploded the mirror to pieces ~ and an old knuckle scar began to bleed. My boot broke the door open ~ and I bravely walked out, the last of the American cowboys, a dying legend afoot, lookin’ for a saloon girl.
~ continued below ~
I managed to find a saloon called Momma’s Topless Go Go Bar, which I immediately distrusted, and walked in and bought a beer. There was a dancer on the platform behind the bar, bouncing shoulders and buns into all four corners of the world, to a racey boom boom go go tune. I immediately began to fall in love. But I didn’t finish my beer or my love. When she took off her bikini top, she took off her wig too, had no tits, and was a man. Casually, I got up and sauntered out of Momma’s Topless Go Go Bar.
Limping Rooster was populated by nothing less than queer men and unfathomable women! The policemen, truck drivers, liquor store clerks, grocery store box boys, all walked and talked kind of silly and licked their lips whenever they looked at each other ~ or at me. The women all walked around with a gone look in their eyes and wouldn’t talk to anyone. As for the children, God only knows what they were going to be when they grew up. The little boys possessed the phobia of blowing “girl kooties” off themselves whenever little girls touched them.
Other than this it was just a “normal” town. And by golly, if you want to be a homo, be a homo! I don’t mind. As a matter of fact, you queer fellers often strike me as being compassionately above things ~ aren’t always full of hot air when you talk ~ like a lot of John Waynes I know. Shucks, I kind of began to groove on the place. There’s a little in all of us. If there isn’t a little, there’s a lot. Limping Rooster was okay, a feather in this land’s hat, a good book on its shelf, a fine whiskey hidden in its cellar. It was okay, and is okay ~ that is until you expect me to make love with you!
Before I knew it I was running fast as my feet could foot it ~ toes reaching for the air in front of my nose ~ that’s the way to run ~ and I ran! All these strange fellers chased me as the women stepped aside. Road Homo screeched to a halt in his warship limousine with ear rings, blocked my path of escape. I climbed over his car, almost flew off its other side as he was opening the door ~ and run a run run I ran! Laundromat Homo drove up along side the right of me in his station wagon of clean white towel (packed in the back) splendor. I made a quick left between two buildings. The others were on my heels ~ and the pack of hungry homosexuals grew bigger as I grew weaker! Clean laundry fell out the end of my rug as I hurdled like a horse a little picket fence, scrambled like a cat over a tall wire fence. Gardens I trampled. Once I think I skimmed over the surface of a swimming pool ~ dropped my rug in it. But I couldn’t continue this pace forever!
Finally I had no place to go but up the hill in the middle of Limping Rooster. It had no roads. I leaped over boulders and leaped across gullies and tore through bushes. The mob of drooling man hungry men did not pursue me up the side of the hill. Instead they accumulated at its base and some of them hurled rocks and empty wine bottles at me. Amongst these catapulting maniacs I glimpsed the bum I’d seen taking off his shirt in the laundromat. For a split second I wondered who helped those women make kids to chase around wash machines in this city. It’s a mystery to this day.
I scratched my fingernails up the face of a massive boulder while flying rocks chipped and wine bottles shattered all around me. I crawled over the summit of this boulder, fell through a huge bush full of skin pricking branches on the big rock’s higher side ~ and hit with an “umph” the ground. My breath came in gasps. My heart pumped fire into my head. Eyes blinking, nostrils flaring, I choked on my tongue and almost died when I saw the dried up corpse of a man draped in the branches of the same bush into which I had fallen. His decayed wallet lay open at his feet. The yellowed ID gave my eyes a quick jab with the name, Jack Kerouac. He had made it half way up the hill in the middle of Limping Rooster. I lay half dead at his dead feet. This was getting rediculous. I thought he was buried in Massachusetts.
Laboriously, slowly, I crawled out from beneath this murdering plant, stumbled to my feet ~ but it did no good ~ because then I fell to my knees. I leaned over on my hands, lowered my head. My tongue dangled like a dog’s. The cap on my head fell off and I stared uncomprehendingly at it. It looked like an empty dog food dish.
“Bow wow,” I whispered in an attempt to humor myself ~ and cried.
It isn’t hard when no one is watching. It’s just as easily done as said. I could’ve cried until I was dead. It was at this moment that I took a break ~ in order to lose some faith in a few beliefs ~ such as my strength to seek rhymes and make them real ~ oh weaknesses, hello! A wine bottle hurled by the hand of a Limping Rooster queer landed on my head ~ a bull’s eye ~ shattered and knocked me to my senses.
I got onto my feet, stumbled up the hill in a slow agonizing way ~ occasionally had to climb rather than walk ~ didn’t even know why I was trying to reach its summit. Once I did though, I was glad. In the shadow of a giant rock on top of this hill I saw in front of the setting sun, a little colorfully painted house with a lit up neon sign above its door that said, “MASSAGE PARLOR”.
The setting sun was golden pretty.
In the window of the door was a smaller, simpler sign that read, “OPEN”. An ounce of hope fought its way out of my heart and peered with me at this little house. The hope grew into a giant of strength at my shoulder, slapped me on the back of my head with its big hope hand and I walked through the door.
The light was low ~ but it didn’t take long to see a girl slouched lazy and bored in a stuffed chair. She was reading The Happy Hooker, a paperback book written by a happy hooker.
She looked up at me. A twinkle of promise avalanched out of her eyes like the Milky Way.
I stood silent, looking at her. She sat silent, looking at me. She was not a movie star. She was more like Calamity Jane. But her skin was smooth and her eyes promised not earth shaking love, not even mild romance, but possessed a great flowing twinkle of starvation.
“Want a massage?” she said.
I said nothing.
A long moment of silence played with our hearts. Vibrations grew. Defenses wavered. The girl tossed the book onto a table ~ pretended not to know what her movement did to my desires. I grinned just a little ~ just a little embarrassed.
“Forty dollars,” she coolly announced. “And I’ll be your baby tonight.”
I handed her my wallet.
She dug into it until she found all my money ~ all four dollars. Sadly she shrugged, looked up at me with a double scoop of compassion and like only a saloon girl can say it, said, “C’mon, cowboy.” She lifted her sweet hunk of womanly flesh off the chair, took me by the hand.
“Thank you,” I murmured stupidly.
She said nothing, but kept a firm hold on my hand. I liked her shoulders. I liked her walk. I liked her. The smell of her perfume. A saloon girl!
“What’s your name?” I asked.
~ continued below ~
“My name’s Clyde.”
“Hi, Clyde,” she said, not overtly excited.
“You’re beautiful,” I said ~ stupid again.
She said nothing ~ just rolled her eyeballs. Silence was thick and so was the aroma as she peeled off my dirty banana peels and stuck me in a bathtub.
“Do you realize what I can buy with four dollars?” she said with a wet washrag in her hand.
“Not much.” She leaned over me with the washrag, went to work on my road weary body which was now drowning in bliss. And my fondness for Molly drowned in bliss also as one of her breasts beneath a fine robe brushed my cheek. “You’re dirty as a ~ “
“I know,” I interrupted.
“Where’re you from?” she asked.
“Who cares,” I said.
“That’s right. Who cares? Not me.” She wrapped the soapy washrag around around my neck and playfully, I believe, commenced in choking me.
“San Diego, California!” I said with a gasp.
“Where you from?”
Obviously we were both refugees stuck in Limping Rooster seeking new homes some where. Sweet silence peacefully reigned as she finished the wash job, dried me off, gave me a crummy purple robe. “My favorite color,” I muttered.
“Mine too,” she whispered. And she kissed me.
When we fell onto a handy little bed I kept attempting to do my duty for Molly and me but little henry kept getting soft. Molly gave me a massage. I went to sleep in bed with a woman. In the middle of the night I awoke. Molly was awake. I gave her a massage. She went to sleep in bed with me. I rolled into her limp arms. The wilted flowers in the garden of my dreams, with a kiss here and a kiss there, rebloomed. In the morning they bore fruit. Molly and I pressed our tummies together in loving grace as little henry went mucho hombre el macho gringo!
“Tell me, Molly. Have you ever really loved somebody?”
“I’m loving you.”
“I mean really loved somebody.”
“Well,” said I. “You can bet anything he didn’t want to, had to, and when he came back, couldn’t find you.”
“I never even got a chance to touch him,” she sniffed.
“I never got to touch my love either,” I sniffed too. “And she was just as beautiful as you.”
“Everybody’s beautiful,” said Molly. “If they wanna be.”
“Yes,” said I. “Even homos.”
Molly laughed and so did I ~ as glory burst forth with the rising sun, shouted with triumph across the universe, kissed whoever is out there on the cheek ~ breasts ~ thighs ~ toes ~ ripped through the gates of heaven, grabbed a piece, and slept on a bus all the way back to earth.
It’s six months later now. I sit alone in a gas station in the early dawn, sixty miles outside of San Diego on Highway 8 ~ hear the birds singing good morning in the hills. The ex-sheriff from Montana, for whom I work the graveyard shift, has a ragged American flag hanging half-ass outside day and night. It’s kind of weird, because I dodged the Vietnam War and I’m glad I did. But every once in a while I glance at that flag ~ very holy to my “boss” ~ and like now, think about Molly in Limping Rooster, Texas. God only knows why I think of Molly as I look at that ragged piece of cloth hanging out there. Maybe it’s because I’d die, maybe even kill, for Molly any day or night of the year ~ but in Vietnam?
Anyway, that morning when I left, she said, “Think you’ll make it?”
“Yes, I’ll make it,” I replied, happy as hello, turned around and stuck a cigar in my mouth for a good smoke down the hill ~ and onward.
Text Copyright Clyde Collins 1989
July 1, 2014
Major Jim Gant was a genuine American hero, a decorated Green Beret. He first met Ann Scott Tyson in Washington, where she was a reporter for one of the nation’s most respected newspapers ~ The Washington Post.
Gant told Inside Edition, “I asked her out to dinner six times before she said ‘Yes.’”
It took just a week for her to know, saying, “When you fall in love with someone, it’s not really a choice you make.”
His timing couldn’t have been worse. Gant was soon deployed to Afghanistan. He grew a beard and adopted traditional Afghan clothing and lived like an Afghan, fighting the Taliban. He was even dubbed, “Lawrence of Afghanistan,” much like that legendary hero of World War I, Lawrence of Arabia.
Gant said, “I studied him and have much admiration and respect for what he did. When people talk about me with the T.E. Lawrence, I’m very honored and humbled.”
For an entire year the major lived in a remote village, commanding a Special Forces unit known as the Spartans, and by his side was the woman he wooed back in Washington—Ann Scott Tyson.
Inside Edition’s April Woodard asked, “Did you break some rules to get Ann there?”
He replied, “I broke a whole lot of rules. There were a lot of rules broke. Vast majority of them was to move the mission forward.”
Remarkable as it seems, she was determined to follow her heart and be with the man she loved. She even lived like an Afghan woman.
She said, “I wore Afghan clothing. I kept my head covered. I wore very baggy clothes.”
Danger was everywhere. Tyson displayed combat courage of her own by going along on missions and filming fierce firefights up close.
She said, “We were in one of the most dangerous provinces of Afghanistan. There are images in my mind that will never go away.”
She even bears a tattoo of the Spartan unit. “I am the only woman who has one,” she said.
But their strange world of love and war came crashing down when Major Gant’s commanders discovered their romance.
Gant said, “Everything I was as a person, a commander, a Special Forces soldier—it was over in the blink of an eye.”
Instead of Lawrence of Arabia, some started comparing him to the delusional Colonel Kurtz from the Vietnam-era film Apocalypse Now.
He said, “Kurtz references have always been amusing to me.”
Gant was demoted to Captain. He was stripped of his Special Forces honors, and asked to leave the Army.
She said, “They had been doing things, questioning all sorts of decisions. It wouldn’t have taken a whole lot of an excuse to pull him out. That is essentially what happened.”
In the midst of war, this couple found love. Now, in peace, they are finally married.
“Neither of us were looking for a relationship. Neither of us were expecting to fall in love,” she said.
Ann Tyson & Jim Gant in television interview
by Ann Scott Tyson / January 17, 2010
It was the spring of 2003, and Capt. Jim Gant and his Special Forces team had just fought their way out of an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan’s Konar province when they heard there was trouble in the nearby village of Mangwel. There, Gant had a conversation with a tribal chief — a chance encounter that would redefine his mission in Afghanistan and that, more than six years later, could help salvage the faltering U.S. war effort.
Malik Noorafzhal, an 80-year-old tribal leader, told Gant that he had never spoken to an American before and asked why U.S. troops were in his country. Gant, whose only orders upon arriving in Afghanistan days earlier had been to “kill and capture anti-coalition members,” responded by pulling out his laptop and showing Noorafzhal a video of the World Trade Center towers crumbling.
That sparked hours of conversation between the intense 35-year-old Green Beret and the elder in a tribe of 10,000. “I spent a lot of time just listening,” Gant said. “I spoke only when I thought I understood what had been said.”
In an unusual and unauthorized pact, Gant and his men were soon fighting alongside tribesmen in local disputes and against insurgents, at the same time learning ancient tribal codes of honor, loyalty and revenge — codes that often conflicted with the sharia law that the insurgents sought to impose. But the U.S. military had no plans to leverage the Pashtun tribal networks against the insurgents, so Gant kept his alliances quiet.
No longer. In recent months, Gant, now a major, has won praise at the highest levels for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military’s involvement with Afghan tribes — and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that. His 45-page paper, “One Tribe at a Time,” published online last fall and circulating widely within the U.S. military, the Pentagon and Congress, lays out a strategy focused on empowering Afghanistan’s ancient tribal system. Gant believes that with the central government still weak and corrupt, the tribes are the only enduring source of local authority and security in the country.
“We will be totally unable to protect the ‘civilians’ in the rural areas of Afghanistan until we partner with the tribes for the long haul,” Gant wrote.
A decorated war veteran and Pashto speaker with multiple tours in Afghanistan, Gant had been assigned by the Army to deploy to Iraq in November. But with senior military and civilian leaders — including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command — expressing support for Gant’s views, he was ordered instead to return to Afghanistan later this year to work on tribal issues.
“Maj. Jim Gant’s paper is very impressive — so impressive, in fact, that I shared it widely,” Petraeus said, while McChrystal distributed it to all commanders in Afghanistan. One senior military official went so far as to call Gant “Lawrence of Afghanistan.”
The abrupt about-face surprised the blunt-spoken major. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gant said in a recent interview, recalling how his orders were canceled just days before he was set to deploy to Iraq. “How do I know they are serious? They contacted me. I am not a very nice guy. I lead men in combat. I am not a Harvard guy. You don’t want me on your think tank.”
Gant, who sports tattoos on his right arm featuring Achilles and the Chinese characters for “fear no man,” is clearly comfortable with the raw violence that is part of his job. An aggressive officer, he is known to carry triple the ammunition required for his missions. (One fellow soldier referred to this habit as a “Gantism.”) But he is equally at ease playing for hours with Afghan children or walking hand-in-hand with tribesmen, as is their custom.
As a teenager in Las Cruces, N.M., Gant was headed to college on a basketball scholarship and had no plans to join the military until he read Robin Moore’s 1965 fictionalized account of Special Forces actions in Vietnam. Captivated by the unique type of soldier who waged war with indigenous fighters, Gant decided to become a Green Beret and scheduled an appointment with his father, a middle school principal, to break the news.
Enlisting in the Army soon after his high school graduation, Gant became a Special Forces communications sergeant and fought in the Persian Gulf War. Later, as a captain, he served combat tours in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and one in Iraq during the height of the violence there in 2006 and 2007.
Intellectually, Gant is driven by a belief that Special Forces soldiers should immerse themselves in the culture of foreign fighters, as British officer T.E. Lawrence did during the 1916-1918 Arab revolt. In Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, Gant relied on his Special Forces training to build close bonds with local fighters, often trusting them with his life.
In Iraq in December 2006, a roadside bomb flipped over Gant’s Humvee twice and left it engulfed in flames, with him pinned inside. Members of the Iraqi National Police battalion that Gant was advising pulled him out. Soon afterward, Gant led those same police in fighting their way out of a complex insurgent ambush near the city of Balad, saving the lives of two policemen and an Iraqi girl while under heavy fire, and deliberately driving his Humvee over two roadside bombs to protect the police riding in unarmored trucks behind him.
Gant earned a Silver Star for his bravery, but he remembers most the goat sacrifice the police held for him that day. “We had just won a great battle. We had several [police] commandos there, with several goats, and they were putting their hands in the blood, and putting their handprints all over us and on the vehicles,” Gant recalled in a 2007 interview. He felt both strange and honored. “It’s something I will never forget,” he said.
Under Gant’s plan, small “tribal engagement teams,” each made up of six culturally astute and battle-tested Special Forces soldiers, would essentially go native, moving into villages with rifles, ammunition and money to empower tribal leaders to improve security in their area and fight insurgents. The teams would always operate with the tribes, reducing the risk of roadside bombs and civilian casualties from airstrikes.
The U.S. military would have to grant the teams the leeway to grow beards and wear local garb, and enough autonomy in the chain of command to make rapid decisions. Most important, to build relationships, the military would have to commit one or two teams to working with the same tribe for three to five years, Gant said.
Such a strategy, he argues, would bolster McChrystal’s counterinsurgency campaign by tapping thousands of tribal fighters to secure rural populations, allowing international troops and official Afghan forces to focus on large towns and cities. Building strong partnerships with the tribes, whose domains straddle Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, could also prove critical to defeating insurgents entrenched in Pakistan’s western tribal areas, he contends.
Adm. Eric Olson, who leads the 57,000-strong Special Operations Command, said in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly that Gant’s proposal is “innovative and bold” and likely to have “strategic effects.” And in recent congressional testimony, Gates agreed that the U.S. military should step up cooperation with Afghan tribes, saying many security responsibilities are likely to fall on them rather than the Afghan army or police force.
Thorough intelligence analysis should drive the selection of the tribes, Gant said, noting that the U.S. military has already gathered much of the intelligence. “There are 500-page documents breaking these tribes down. You would be shocked how much we know about who is who,” he said.
Gant’s proposals go well beyond the more cautious tribal-outreach efforts underway in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is experimenting with neighborhood-watch-type programs such as the Community Defense Initiative, in which Special Forces teams partner with tribes selected by an Afghan minister. With time running out, Gant believes tribal engagement must be bolder. “We are trying not to lose, not trying to win,” he said. (Gant’s experiences helped shape the CDI effort, and he is currently preparing to return to Afghanistan to implement his vision, according to a senior military official.)
Still, Gant acknowledges that his strategy has risks. The teams would depend on the tribes for their safety. “American soldiers would die. Some of them alone, with no support. Some may simply disappear,” he wrote in his paper on the strategy. Another possibility is that intertribal conflict would break out between two or more U.S.-backed tribes. “Could it happen? Yes. Could it cause mission failure? Yes. Could we have to pick sides for our own safety? Yes,” Gant said. But he believes that if American advisers forge strong ties with the tribes, the chances of such conflicts can be minimized.
Gant’s greatest fear is that the United States will lack the fortitude to back the tribes for the long haul, eventually abandoning them. He, for one, plans to stick with his tribe in Afghanistan, at least to fulfill a personal promise to return to Konar province to see elder Malik Noorafzhal, now 86.
“I am not here to imply that I think I could win the war in Afghanistan if put in charge,” Gant wrote in his paper. “. . . I just know what I have done and what I could do again, if given the chance.”
Maj. Gant & Afghanistan children
One Tribe At A Time
by Maj. Jim Gant
Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army
Forever, no matter what, with valor
Slips the yellow polka-dot burqa over her head
The silk toboggans down her She curves & rides!
Oh oh, Taliban Bullah’s eyes are oat meal
His captured hand sloshes red syrup up & down her arrow
Remember, his hand is pinned to the ruin of the village mosque
Col. Sheena stands there & let’s it happen
Eyeball to eyeball, their eyeballs explode heaven
Sheena misses walkin’ down the block to the 7-ll
Sheena becoming Pluckame on the high Nuristan ridge
A dew drop plummets from a cloud passing by
Outta the yellow burqa comes Sheena’s knife sharper than invisibility
Slices off the feathered end of the protruding stick
Habibullah’s hand slips off, he’s free
Musical notes glide outta his eyes singing “Marry Me”
Suddenly Taliban surround the broken building
brandishing gun & rocket & stoic hypocrisy
Their holy war now gots only hate within
Gonna punish Habibullah real good for his handsome sin...
Copyright Clyde Collins 2014
I love you
’cause you are
I want to be
to gain your favor
A crazy lady like you
is totally desired ‘cuz
your manners are so kind
Feel free to
out of my mind!