Jan. 29, 2021

02 - Danny Zientek

02 - Danny Zientek

I sat down with Danny to talk about his unique perspective on the Iraq war. He did three tours across Iraq, and got see the major phases of the war up close. He also spent some time in the mountains of Afghanistan. Make sure you listen for his comparison of Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban.

Also, make sure to check out Irreverent Warriors, the have events all across the country. If you're missing the dark humor and friendship of your old platoon mates, Irreverent Warriors can help bring that back.


Interview with Danny Zientek


Danny: [00:00:00] So I'm Danny Zientek. I am from Burlington, Wisconsin . joined the army when I was 18 in 2003, literally two days after my graduation ceremony, I was dow at Fort Benning, Georgia.

I did 10 years all in the 101st, specifically the Rakkasans Three tours to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

Chris: [00:00:21] Nice man. So joining ' 03 had the Iraq war already started where you, you know, jumping in that wave?

Danny: [00:00:28] Yep. So I always knew I was going to join age was the only thing that held me back.

So to speak from getting there earlier I got to. got to  my unit in December of '03. So I, I went through basic training, you know, all that stuff, got to the 101st sat there for a couple of months. And then they finally deployed me pretty much to help out pack and come right back home within a couple of months.

So yeah, I was not there for the initial push or invasion if you will. But I caught up with them at the tail end on the way home. 

Chris: [00:01:06] I'm sure all of your uh, you know, senior specialists, NCOs, were they all real salty guys from the initial push there?

Danny: [00:01:13] For the most part, they were uh, you know, the biggest thing at that point was, you know, nobody, nobody knew when they were going home.

It was like, Oh man, they keep sending you assholes over. But you know, nobody can tell us when we're going home. But yeah, they definitely, they made me made sure I felt like I was the new guy still.

Chris: [00:01:30] Yeah. You know, you gotta get, let boots know where they stand in the hierarchy of things.

Danny: [00:01:35] Yep.

Chris: [00:01:37] So um, when you, when you first got over there, you know, you been in the army for less than a year and you're meeting up with you know, a bunch of guys who'd been deployed together for a long time, you know, how was that, how was it fitting into a new unit like that?

Danny: [00:01:53] It was interesting to say the least, obviously, you know, you have your, your new guy stigmas that come with,  being the cherry. But there was also,  all these guys who, like you said, had bonded and been tons of shit together. So it was definitely a wake up call for me more than anything, because you know, at 18 years old, full of piss and vinegar , somewhat fresh out of basic, still, you know, I thought I ruled the world and then I get over there and you get all these NCOs who'd just been pissed off, cause they're still over there. And then these senior specialists who now they have a new guy to fuck with.

And it was certainly a wake up call to, to, you know, kind of come back down from cloud nine and be like, Oh man, I'm still just a peon.

Chris: [00:02:36] Yeah. Yeah. It's easy to think. You're a bad-ass, you know, coming out of basic training, MOS school, and then you get put in your place real quick.

Danny: [00:02:43] Yup. Yup, absolutely.

Chris: [00:02:45] So where, were are you guys at that? At that time?

Danny: [00:02:47] That tour was in a town called Tal Afar, Tal Afar Northwest-ish of Mosul. We had one of our companies was in the town and then a couple of our companies were outside of the town in a place called the Fort. It was a really cool location. Actually. It was a big square like fortress, if you will.

That, you know, a couple of our companies occupied we'd pull into it. You know, I was actually assigned to a Delta company. So in the infantry world, that was the heavy weapons company that Humvees and the .50 cals and the Mark-19s and stuff. So, you know, you pull into the fortress, so to speak and you know, everything's safe at the base.

Right. But you know, it was a really unique place. It was pretty, pretty cool. I've heard since it's been leveled, but that's definitely, definitely a fun experience out there.

Chris: [00:03:37] So when , one thing I heard from different NCOs I had who were in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, post initial invasion there was maybe before 2004, talking about how IEDs  weren't as big of a thing as they became later on.

Is that how it was when you were there or was it, you know, what was kind of the, the vibe of the place? 

Danny: [00:03:59] So when I was over there, one of the things that was becoming new was the IED And it was literally like, well, how do we combat it? Cause we were still driving around in soft skins. You know, you fill up a couple of sandbags, throw them on the floor of the truck and yeah, they were really, really a new thing at that point.

Chris: [00:04:17] Okay, so spending some time out there and then you head back state side, back to Fort Campbell. I'm guessing? Nice. And so then what happened? He got, you know, a little bit of salt on your collar at this point, but not too much. So what, what happened after that?

Danny: [00:04:35] Cool. I actually, I it's funny that.

To kind of remember this, I got hazed pretty good. As a young private still, cause I mean, I was an E-2. So in the army, you know, it's just the, they call it the mosquito wings for rank. So I mean, people were always like, Oh man, a little mosquito wing with fucking CIB. Oh, crazy. Is that, you know, like they all thought I got in trouble or something and you know, I was just a new, private You know, I was still just the new guy.

No matter what, I didn't there wasn't a replacement behind me for like seven months. So I was the new guy for the longest time. And it just, you know, it was business as usual. We came home. We knew eventually we would deploy again. We didn't know when so it was just, you know, we had our reset and we got right back into training.

So, thankfully I have some really solid NCOs looking back. I, I hated them all because they were being NCOs, but you know, I had some really solid NCOs that, that took training seriously and took training me seriously. So, yeah.

Chris: [00:05:36] I know when I first got to my unit, there's a little bit of tension between, you know lieutenants and captains, the kind of ones you do by the book training and a lot of conventional warfare stuff versus all that, all the NCOs are like, we need to focus on your mounted patrols, room clearing, you know, urban operations. Was that, you know, what kind of training were you still doing at that point?

Was it very Iraq focused or was it more general conventional warfare training?

Danny: [00:06:04] Between my first and second tour? The army was still pretty indoctrinated with you know, by the book training .  We did a lot of heavy weapon training, you know, like crew drills on the Humvees and, you know, gunner training, you know, literally by the book stuff.

It wasn't until early 2005 or so that the army kind of started rewriting that those, those doctrines and we started to kind of adapting to it. The heavy weapons company sort of went away. We still carried all that  MTOW stuff. You know, the TOWs, the, the .50s, the Mark-19s, but we focused more on line training because we knew we would end up doing the, the ground pounding stuff as well.

So they, they kind of restructured it all to where anyone in the infantry knows how to do everything and in the infantry. So that was when we started focusing more on, you know, the close quarters stuff, the, the hybrid pull up to a veh-, pull up to a house in a vehicle, leave the gunner and, you know, everybody does their thing sort of thing.

Chris: [00:07:09] So. It's it's a shame too, because, you know, shooting the .50 Cal or the Mark-19 for any, any listeners who don't know, the .50 Cal is an enormous machine gun. And the Mark 19 as a machine gun that shoots grenade rounds. Like there are a lot of fun to shoot.

Danny: [00:07:24] Yup. The .50 Cal. So my second tour, I was a .50 Cal gunner.

And I mean, I just, I, I, I could probably, I mean, I, it's probably been at least 10 years since I've. been near a 50 and I could probably still disassemble and reassemble it, do the head space and timing. And uncle Sam probably shouldn't be here this, but I still have my head space and time gauge from when I was gunner.

Chris: [00:07:48] Yeah. Yeah. Just doing gun drills all day. Every day. I, I hear that I was in the heavy weapons company as well, so.

Danny: [00:07:56] Okay, awesome.

Chris: [00:07:57] I know what you're talking about.

Danny: [00:07:58] Yeah. It's a good feeling to sit behind the 50.

Chris: [00:08:02] It's feels very uh, very safe, you know, and having that much firepower.

Danny: [00:08:07] Yup.

Chris: [00:08:08] So anyway, so second deployment you know, what, what time was that, you know, kind of what was going on in the war at that time?

Danny: [00:08:15] The second tour was '05 to '06, right? Yeah. August timeframe. '05, two '06 full year. We were in a town called Baiji. It's just North of Tikrit by, I don't know, 20, 30 miles. That tour was literally drive around for X amount of time. You know, there wasn't really a, looking back. I don't feel like there was really a mission.

It was just drive around presence patrols. If you got blown up, you go back to the base or to the FOB, whatever. And that's that that tour was actually kind of unique for my company alone because we were stationed outside of Baiji, Baijihad an airstrip. And that's where the FOB was. And about 10 miles East was the Tigris river.

And we were stationed at a power plant out there by ourselves with I think they were Fujian army if I remember. Right. And our job was just to secure the power plant area because they were building a pipeline. So I mean, that was a pretty nice setup for us. Then halfway through, we went back to. To the FOB and conducted operations in Baiji itself. So interesting tour, but it was, it was, it was really, there was a lot of, you know, Hey, let's drive around until we get blown up. Or it was, it was more specialty mission driven. Like, you know, the, the command would come out with a Hey, we're going to raid this town or we're going to hit this target or whatever.

But as far as patrolling and you know, really making a difference in the sector  I feel like there wasn't much going on there at that time.

Chris: [00:09:45] Was it? That's kind of the timeframe of, you know, a lot of the sectarian conflict, like the Sunni Shia were really going hard and that timeframe. Did you guys have a lot of that up North there?

Or was it more like Anbar, Baghdad areas?

Danny: [00:10:00] Yeah, not there so much. It was just. You know, you didn't, you just didn't see much of it. You didn't hear much of anything going on like that, up where we were. But if I remember right, we were pretty, pretty, pretty deep and I believe the Sunni territory anyway.

I can't remember the difference between the two of where we were. So it just wasn't much of a thing.

Chris: [00:10:25] Yeah, it wasn't that wasn't Saddam from Tikrit sound right? Yeah. So yeah, it must, yeah, it must be Sunni area.

Danny: [00:10:34] Yeah.

Chris: [00:10:35] So did you at least have up armored Humvees at this point? Are you still just throwing sandbags and the button of soft tops?

Danny: [00:10:43] Some, we had some that was during the point in time when they were starting to upgrade everything and we were. We were still rocking out the old, what were they? The M nine, nine, six is the original Humvees. And we would go down to the big FOB down in Tikrit and get them fitted with, you know, the 130 pound plates put on the doors.

And just those things annihilated the suspension and the motors. It was bad. Lot of deadline vehicles that we were still going out on patrols with, but, you know, you did what you had to do. Yeah. So that was, we were in the phase of trying to up armor everything because of the IED threat. That was, that was the number one threat at that point in time was IEDs.

Chris: [00:11:24] How uh, how has the FOB life, you know, that's something that obviously varies greatly, whether you're a tiny little observation posts, or if you're at a megabase, you know, if you're in the green zone, what, what kind of places were you living?

Danny: [00:11:40] Baiji the FOB on Baiji was literally just we had taken over the, the area surrounding this, this airstrip.

So it wasn't anything special. We didn't have all the fancy housing they had just started to bring in the what do they call them? The CHUs the combat housing units, the trailers with a bed in it. My company lived in a taken over empty, kind of like a warehouse that we built partitions and rooms in.

So we lived okay. You know, we had a decent chow hall. It wasn't anything special. It was taken care of by KBR, of course, but we were still on an outpost, small enough to where if you stepped outside, you were breathing in the fumes from garbage and, and you know, the port-a-potty waste. It, we had a gym which happened to be there.

So there was a basketball court and you know, a weight room that we had put in there. As far as like luxuries went, we had a local barber come in, like every Tuesday or something like that, you know, we didn't have like the onsite barber shop, you know, like the people that lived FOBulous. You know, getting their nails done and their pedicures and stuff still.

And then as far as like shopping, we had a guy come in, a local guy, come in and, you know, he'd sell us the bootleg movies and stuff. The local candy and shit like that, but nothing, you know, we didn't have a PX to, to, to go blow all our money at.

Chris: [00:13:04] Yeah. I, it sounds to me kind of like the sweet spot of a FOB, you know, you have, you've got some comforts, it's probably enough people there that you don't have to do 12 hours of guard duty every day.

But you know, you're not also just living in abject luxury in the middle of a war zone,

Danny: [00:13:23] Right? Yeah, it was, it was nice. I mean, we would still get rocketed every now and again and mortared, but For the most part, we were kind of left alone. It was a battalion sized FOB. So, I mean, there, wasn't a, you know, a bunch of higher ups running around demanding you get saluted or you salute them and stuff like that, like you'd go to BIAP, and that place is, you know, literally a Garrison in the middle of Iraq. But yeah, it was, it was an interesting place. You know, the, of course the SF guys had their own little compound within the compound, but yeah, it was, it was, it was certainly an interesting place.

Chris: [00:14:02] I know when  I was in a Ramadi, it was just like a company size FOB. We lived in an old date warehouse. So tell me if this sounds familiar, we built like little plywood hooches, you know, put like two bunk beds in each one, rig up some water bottles with parachute cord to like pull the door closed at night.  I know, like the op center had air conditioners.

Nobody else did, but you like a walking around at night, you know, past the burn pit and there's always, you know, just some dumb ass that would put like a dead Humvee battery in the burn pit and just explodes. You know, you think you're getting mortared. Well, I remember just like walking out in the middle of the night, you know, going to use the head and a massive explosion batteries going off in the burn pit.

And I like hit the deck and I'm trying to crawl to like a sandbag pile.

Danny: [00:14:54] Yup. You don't know what's going on.  eyes are still foggy yeah. So my third tour was we were in a place actually called Sadr al Yusufiyah and that was, it was just our company out there in literally in, in the town. We had taken over while the unit prior to us had taken over actually I think it was the company that they replaced had taken over this house.

So an entire company was living in a house that we made work. And we had sectioned off essentially like a half acre. If you were to look at it and you know, our measurements put up the, the T walls and the HESCO barriers, everything like that. And that was it. That was, that was, was home for 15 months actually.

Chris: [00:15:38] Pretty cramped.

Danny: [00:15:38] An entire platoon and lived in a bay that's literally about the size of my living room now. Yeah, it was that one sucked. We didn't have any creature comforts. We you know, we had the MWR because that was, I guess, mandatory. So, you know, we had like five computers and four phones and.

Guard shifts were all pulled up on the roof. So, I mean, you could literally walk 20 feet and talk to the guy who's watching the South, you know, position. Our creature comforts actually came from the town itself. We, you know, can take like a small dismounted patrol, go out into the town and get kebabs and you know, cool stuff like that.

But yeah, that was that one was definitely ah, more interesting too.

Chris: [00:16:22] So is that, was that near Sadr City or was that still up North more?

Danny: [00:16:28] No, it was South. It was actually, if you were to look at a map of the Baghdad area, if you put a dot on Baghdad, a dot on Fallujah and a dot on Yusufiyah itself it was kind of smack dab in the middle there right on the Euphrates.

Chris: [00:16:43] Okay.

That's like Triangle of Death as it was known at one point that area.

Danny: [00:16:50] Yeah. What's interesting about that tour specifically was when we landed well, when our ADVON party landed to the outpost , it was called "Warrior Keep , the unit we were leaving was in the middle of a firefight out in their sector.

And our commander sat down with all the local leaders and the sheiks and whomever. And we had a couple of wadies you know that with rivers running through them.

Chris: [00:17:13] Yeah. A little river channels. Yeah.

Danny: [00:17:15] Yep. And the commander said to these guys, if any, one of my soldiers gets hurt or sheds blood by your hands, these wadies will run red with the blood of your guys' bodies.

No issues, but you know, to caveat that a little bit this was also the time when, I don't know if you're familiar with the, the Sons of Iraq or the you know, the, the million checkpoints that randomly went up over the country. That's when that was starting to happen as well. So you had known bomb makers, known terrorists, if you will, that we started paying them every month to protect their own city. So of course things are going to stop they're collecting cash. Yeah.

Chris: [00:18:01] So talk a little bit about that. You know, I, I remember like the Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq program coming out, all of that. Yeah. Talk, talk about that, you know, explain it a little bit.

Danny: [00:18:14] So the Sahwa was literally checkpoints that the iraqi locals, literally, you have to live in the area you were protecting. And it was just military age males and every couple of hundred meters or so they would set up checkpoints during the day and at night and guard them pretty much 24/7.

There were some that were nighttime only because of course that was when the most IED burying and stuff like that would be set up. But you'd get four to five guys Manning the post, you'd have the Sahwa commander for a certain section and he would run around and, you know, check on his posts. And these guys would get paid like 300 American in cash every month.

Our little outpost, I think if I remember right, I held 150 grand in my hand in cash one day, just, you know, kind of like pose for the picture sort of thing. But, yeah, these guys, I mean, they, they certainly sold out to the highest bidder and we started paying them to protect their own country. So they stopped trying to shoot at us.

Chris: [00:19:21] So, yes, I mean, yeah. I think the surge and, you know, Patraeus taking over gets a lot of credit in the media, but really, yeah, it was just all those 25-year-olds sitting with an AK wearing their sandals at night, keeping an eye on things that, you know, in my opinion really changed the tide of the war.

Danny: [00:19:43] There were certainly interesting things that you saw. Like we had an LRAD sitting on top of my roof. You know, for obviously keeping guard at night and certainly see some interesting things out of those checkpoints.

Chris: [00:19:54] Yeah. We had a there's an old like TOW guidance system for, for people who don't know a TOW is a tube launched optically guide or wire guided missile.

I forget what the acronym stands for.

Danny: [00:20:09] Tube launched optic. We, you, I don't, man. I don't remember either. I remember tube launched and wire guided or what the O was for it.

Chris: [00:20:18] It's an anti-tank missile that has like a big sophisticated sight on it. And we had the sight that we would use to like, you know, aid, you know guys standing on post.

So if you wanted to zoom in on something you could. Yeah, just like you know, people getting real frisky at night, trying to stay warm. Yeah. It gets pretty cold in Iraq at night.

Danny: [00:20:36] People people making friends with the donkey at the checkpoints.

Chris: [00:20:42] Yeah.

Danny: [00:20:42] So somebody becoming the chai boy.

Chris: [00:20:46] Hm. That's a strange aspect of, you know, some cultures that we really don't have any equivalent here.

Danny: [00:20:54] Right? No, I agree. It's certainly a ,it's a culture shock. If nothing else to see something like that and be like, Oh, that, that actually happens. Well, man, love Thursday is a real thing.

Chris: [00:21:08] Yeah. Did you ever read that book? The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It's about Afghanistan,


Danny: [00:21:14] No but I did see the, the movie that was, I don't know how accurate it was with the book, but I did watch the movie and. Yeah. Very interesting.

Chris: [00:21:26] Yeah,


Chris: [00:21:27] I haven't seen the movie, but does his friend becomes like a chai boy for some time Taliban guys. Yeah. So if you don't know what we're talking about, anyone listening, you know just read the book, watch the movie. Yeah.

Danny: [00:21:41] Yeah. Google what a chai boy is.

Chris: [00:21:43] Yeah. So this is I'm guessing. This is like 2007 ish. Does your third time, third tour in area?

Danny: [00:21:52] August '07 to October of '08.

Chris: [00:21:57] Okay. And you were ahh an NCO at this point or what are you doing?

Danny: [00:22:04] Yeah, I was a team leader and I was promoted to Sergeant during the tour.

Chris: [00:22:09] Nice.

Danny: [00:22:11] Yeah. So that was, again, another interesting thing, because we did a lot of promoting from within so it was hard to kind of go from being buddies with all these dudes, to being in charge of some of them.

That's one of those weird things where you have to find that balance.

Chris: [00:22:27] One of my best friends in, you know, he's. Meritorious E-2, E-3, E-4, E-5,  and just, you know, it's hard when your best friend can't hang out with you as much anymore. Cause he's like, sorry, I'm a superstar. You know,

Danny: [00:22:44] Tell me about your luck bro.

Chris: [00:22:45] Yeah. It's so you know, you're your team leader. You get promoted to Sergeant. Did you, what do you think, or did you learn anything about leadership? You know, did you, was it hard? Was it fun? What did you think about leading soldiers?

Danny: [00:23:01] I loved it. My, my favorite position was a team leader. You know that to me, that's that perfect position where you have the fire team.

They're your boys you'd do anything for him. You know, they'd do anything for you or at least they say they would. And it's just, you have such a strong bond with those guys that it's just, it's great. You know, I, after that tour, I had been promoted to squad leader and that was honestly just death.

I mean, really, you know, I, I asked one of my commanders at one point. I think it was a couple of years prior to me even making rank. I was like, what happens between becoming a Lieutenant and becoming a Captain? Like, where's the disconnect because PLs are fun for the most part. You know, they're just college kids who, you know, somehow became officers, but then you get up to a company command level and they're just pricks about certain things.

And, you know, they there's that disconnect. And he said, He put it to me pretty blunt, bluntly. He's like, you know, as a PL you're in the shit with the boys, as a commander, you have to tell the boys to go get in the shit. I kind of equated that the same way as going from team leader to squad leader, because, you know, you get to see these two fire teams just being so tight and so united, but you're kind of not in the shit with them anymore.

You know, you just have to tell them to go be in the shit where you're kind of pulled back and, you know, telling them what to do and you know, doing the C2 thing.

Chris: [00:24:30] Yeah. Yeah. So, because when you're a team leader, you know, you're doing everything that everyone else is doing. You're right. And then when you're a squad leader, you do have to stay back kind of watch, you play quarterback a little bit more moving people around getting teams into position.

Danny: [00:24:47] Yeah.

Chris: [00:24:48] Yeah, I hear that. It, it certainly is fun being a leader. I think that's one of the things that I miss the most, you know, when I was in it's like, no, it feels good to be responsible for people, you know, to take care of them. You know, it feels nice to have people look up to you too I'm not going to lie about that one.

Danny: [00:25:07] One of the, one of the biggest things that I tried to keep in the back of my head, no matter what was. You know, good leaders create more good leaders. And you know, I didn't want any of my guys to be followers. I wanted them to be able to take charge. I wanted them to be able to, you know, take the reins if need be.

And I'd like to think I succeeded at it. You know, the, the, the guys that I had, they're all doing great in life. Whether they stayed in and made a career or making a career out of the army or they're out, you know, family, kids doing the civilian thing. But, you know, I'm extremely proud of the men that they become.

So I, you know, that was just always my thing. You know, I, I didn't want to make them dependent on me. I wanted to have this tight knit group of boys that, you know, if I had to step away, I knew they'd be okay.

Chris: [00:25:58] What, what was that saying again?

Danny: [00:26:01] Good leaders, good leaders make more good leaders.

Chris: [00:26:05] That's terrific. I really like that.

Danny: [00:26:07] Yeah.

Chris: [00:26:09] Okay. So you know, you're a Sergeant now you're a squad leader. Did you, when, when did you end up going to Afghanistan?

Danny: [00:26:16] 2010 to 2011, February those years.

Chris: [00:26:20] Okay. That's the same time. I was there.

Danny: [00:26:22] Yeah.

Chris: [00:26:23] Nice. I guess I was Like July of 2010 to February, February and March, 2011, but sure.

So, and we're in whereabouts in the country, where are you?

Danny: [00:26:36] Well, my company for the first seven months was in a little tiny outpost called Zerok. It was the Khost province. So our, our brigade operated out of Khost. And my battalion operated out of Orgun-E and my company, we were in  Zerok.  Middle of nowhere there, again kind of in the, in the bottom of a bowl.

So I mean, we obviously had the mountains all around us and the unit that we relieved actually had been ambushed or attacked on the 4th of July the year prior. And it was a pretty considerable attack that they, no one got inside the wire, thankfully, but it was close. They had a VBIED that was so big Orgun-E which I remember right was like 20 kilometers away, saw the smoke cloud and actually had a windows break on that FOB from that.

Chris: [00:27:25] Wow.

Danny: [00:27:26] Yeah, it was, it was a big one.

Chris: [00:27:29] Was is that like the Korengal River Valley area? Or is that Eastern?

Danny: [00:27:35] I don't remember, honestly. Cause I've been asked that a couple of times and I honestly just can't remember for the life of me.

Chris: [00:27:42] No worries. So were you guys, do you have to hump up into the mountains or do you just mostly stay down the valleys?

Danny: [00:27:49] Well, we would go, we would spend a lot of the times in the mountains doing overwatchs just trying to get a grip on what was going on in, in the area. We lived right outside of the town of Zerok, which was a really tiny, you know, a hundred meter, long village, basically big farming community. And then, you know, we had the, the others.

Kind of peppered towns sporadically throughout, there was one called Naka. And that one was kind of like a no fly zone for anyone. It was, it was so far away from us that getting any type of support. It was just in that I guess from the Taliban standpoint, that golden window where we couldn't reach it with our mortars and then they couldn't reach it from anywhere else with like artillery from the other, from Orgun.

So it was. It was an interesting place. We, we went in there a couple of times, but it was, it was really a, it was a Taliban stronghold.

Chris: [00:28:43] Yeah. It's it was interesting to me seeing the difference in tactics from Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, Iraq, at least for us was just tons of IEDs everywhere. They're all over the place.

Not, not as much direct action. I feel like that didn't last as long and man the Taliban would conduct. Like you're talking about the unit that you replaced, like massive combined arms attacks, you know, they know when you have air support on station, you know, they have teams operating in unison across like big areas with radios.

Yeah. It's a whole different ball game.

Danny: [00:29:24] We compare it to like JV versus fresh or versus varsity. You know, the Iraqis were unskilled, you know, like you said, it was IEDs, it was pop shots. It wasn't stand and fight. Whereas Afghanistan, I mean, they were collected, they were trained. They were you know, you hit the nail on the head, you know, they would keep watch of us.

Just the same amount that we would keep watching them. You know, they had Scouts up in the tree lines, they had their radios. They, they were very primitive, but they were very good at what they did.

Chris: [00:29:52] One of the, one of the things that really caught me off guard in Afghanistan, and we'd get into a firefight, assault through a position.

And there's just nothing there. I mean, talk to the locals and they'd say, well, they lie down on rugs. And then when they leave, they roll it up to collect all the brass casings. You know, there's no blood droplets. You have no idea. You would have no idea anyone was there. You know, other than maybe some footprints in the moon dust really. Really?

Danny: [00:30:20] Yeah, they were very, very smart, but I mean, they've, you know, they, they developed so many skills and tactics from facing the Russians for so long. You know, it was, it was just kind of like a walk in the park for them compared to, you know, us carrying our body armor and our rucks and all the extra shit you had to carry.

So yeah.

Chris: [00:30:39] How's how is humping up and down the mountains? Tell me about that.

Danny: [00:30:43] It definitely sucks. There's no easy way to put it. You know, you try to stay off trails of course, because they would, you know, booby trap them or, you know, put in pressure plates and stuff like that. So it makes it even worse.

Of course, you know, sometimes you get lazy and you just take the trails anyway, but there's no easy way to get up and around some of those things. So it definitely was not the most fun to do. There was one mission we were on we, one of our platoons, myself included, we went out and assisted one of our sister companies in their sector for one of their, basically a battalion wide effort mission of, you know, just checking out a village and so on.

Well, complacency totally set in, and we're just sitting on this mountain top, like helmets are everywhere. You know, dudes are just kind of racked out smoking cigarettes, just easy target. We were right on the Paki border. We started taken small arms fire from the Paki border. So, you know, we returned fire, we're doing our thing and eventually everything's said and done.

And because of that firefight, this was later in the day, we made the decision we were going to break, contact down the mountain and go up to another one. We ended up climbing down. I want to say it was like 3000 or three. Yeah. 3000 meters. No, I don't remember. I don't remember the height. We climbed down this freaking huge mountain.

And back up another one in pitch black, like just totally treacherous shouldn't have been doing it. It was dangerous in the day. And yet here we are doing it at night. Dudes are falling, rolling their ankles. Just, I mean, it was good decision because we knew we would get ambushed again. But. It definitely sucked.

We actually dubbed it, the Viking death March.

Chris: [00:32:29] I'm glad I didn't have to deal with any of the mountains. It sounds awful.

Danny: [00:32:34] Yeah, it was, it was miserable, you know, it's, it's one of those things. I mean, the Taliban had home field advantage. They all they knew all the ins and outs of those mountains. They knew. I mean, they had tunnels, they had caves that they could hide in.

They knew. They knew exactly what they were doing. Yeah.

Chris: [00:32:53] You mentioned on your second deployment to Iraq, you kinda felt you didn't really have a well-defined mission. You just kinda drive around, you know, the team hit contact or got blown up. Did you have a better mission in Afghanistan? Cause that was like the Afghan surge timeframe.

Did you know what you were doing more?

Danny: [00:33:12] Yeah. To an extent, you know, the, the broad picture of the big picture of the mission was to continue to push Taliban out. And how are we going to do that with the counterinsurgency fight? You know, the COIN fight win the hearts and minds, you know, develop an infrastructure, all that sort of stuff.

It was just much harder to believe in that mission based on, you know, the stuff that. We would see and hear from the vi-, the villagers and the local people. We went into one village yet later in the deployment. It was a nice village. It was well kept it, you know, they lived well. It looked like, and they were like, 'Hey, the Taliban comes in here all the time. We don't want you here. They take care of us.' You know, we, we got nothing against you just stay gone. Oh, of course we didn't. And of course things ensued, but yeah, I mean, it, it, it, it was really hard to help develop an infrastructure in a place where the people are  so used to the things being the way they are, they just don't care.

And that was what was unique about my. I like to think I had a very broad and unique spectrum over my, my tours. You know, my first one was kind of the invasion where it was still more so kind of like a traditional warfare, you know, I see them, they see me and we're fighting. The second tour was more so kind of mission-less.

Like I said, you know, it was drive around until you get blown up. You know, more counter Intel sort of stuff, you know, who's this guy, what's he do, you know, all that stuff. My third tour was I think as, as much as looking back, it was a stupid idea to just start paying these dudes so much. It really did help us focus on developing an infrastructure within the cities.

While I was there, we got a water treatment facility up and running for the town that we lived in, it was right by a power plant. That our third battalion was based out of them. I believe if I remember right. They got that working again. You know, there were new restaurants, everywhere businesses.

I mean, we literally were just pulling security so they could stand up on their own feet again. Afghanistan, I think we were trying to accomplish that same mission, but the mindset of the locals just wasn't there and Afghanistan, I'm sure you know, as well as anybody who's been there, it's just too spread out.

You can't really develop an infrastructure from You know, Kandahar to wherever else, you know, just it's, they're too different, it's like a bunch of different little worlds.

Chris: [00:35:46] Yeah. You know, in Iraq, there's obviously, you know, Sunni, Shia and Kurds is like kind of the broad strokes. And then there's, you know, the tribes and the clans are also huge.

Well, like local in, in villages and cities, man, Afghanistan, there's, there's like, you know, 12, 15 different nationalities. There are dozens of languages. There's no infrastructure connecting most of the country to the rest of it.

Danny: [00:36:14] Right.

Chris: [00:36:14] It's really a better way to think of it as like a bunch of different small countries that really are barely related to each other.

Danny: [00:36:23] Yep.

Chris: [00:36:24] And on top of that, when, you know, 10% of them can read, you know, how do you, you know, how do you build a local government? How do you build a police force? If no one can read you, how do you train people? It's just right. Yeah.

Danny: [00:36:38] We actually, so at Zer- at Zerok, we had what attached to us on the East side, we had a.

ANP Afghanian no Afghan national police station. And then on the North side, we had the ANA Afghan national army. They was all attached to us, you know, within the HESCO, but they, we had a guarded gate between us and them. They actually got into a fight with each other. And one of the ANP got shot by one of the ANA across the FOB.

Definitely interesting. He took a bullet to the gut. Yeah. It's just the way it is. They just, they don't get along. Yeah. Yeah. And I think it was something simple, like a difference in where they were from, or you know, some dumb shit like that

Chris: [00:37:32] So the very first patrol I went on in Iraq. We're on QRF, quick reaction force.

You know, someone gets in trouble, you know, rather than come out of the company, FOB, you know, blazing away. And so it's like our first day, you know, after the old unit switches out with us and we get this call from this tiny little patrol base, it's like just a squad that lives in a police station. And they were like, we are getting RPGed.

Like it's nuts out here. We need. We need your help. So, you know I'm like hyperventilating a little bit. I'm like, all right, you know, I'm a, you know, I'm a boot. I don't really, I know what I'm doing, but like, I'm still nervous.

Danny: [00:38:12] This is it shit's getting real.

Chris: [00:38:14] Yeah. And we head out and like, by the time we get there, it's all calmed down.

Cause it turned out it was a different like group of Iraqi police came over and were shooting up the place because one of the cops in the patrol base slept with this other guy, sister. He just got his boys and they started shooting RPGs at 'em. And Oh my God, you guys can't do that.

Danny: [00:38:38] Handling shit in the streets, man.

Chris: [00:38:41] Yeah. Yeah. Different, yeah. Different culture.

Danny: [00:38:46] Yeah. Yeah. It really is.

Chris: [00:38:49] Well, I think we're, you know, kind of getting to the end here, man. You did talk to me about an organization that you work with. Do you want, do you want to talk about them a little?

Danny: [00:38:59] Yeah. So I just recently got on board with a national nonprofit called Irreverent Warriors.

It's a 100% volunteer organization, you know, there's no nobody's on the payroll. So to speak well, nobody gets paid for anything they do with us, but we what drew me to Irreverent Warriors is, I don't know if your, I guess I'll back up and kind of tell the story a little bit. I don't know if you're familiar with the Vet.TV, it's a streaming service pretty much.

It's all veteran based comedy. It's awesome. It's hilarious. It's like 50 bucks for a year. And you stream it just like you would Netflix or, you know, whatever. On one of those on one of the shows that they made, there was a guy wearing a hoodie and it had the Irreverent Warriors logo on it. And I paused it, looked at it and just decided to Google it. A couple of days later, I'm fishing the website again.

And, you know, I see that they put on these hikes Marines, call them silkies, the army we call them ranger panties, but they're, they're known as the silkies hikes. So what it is. Is, you know, locally. So in my case I'm going to be going around the Milwaukee area. Well, hopefully all of Wisconsin and getting sponsors and donors to fund everything for this hike that I'm doing on July 31st.

But all it is is a bunch of veterans that come together and they wear their silkies. They hike for seven or eight miles. It's an all day event. You know, you go about a mile and a half, two miles, you stop, take a break, go to the bathroom. You know, some of the events or some of the hikes nationally have done you know, like a tug of war, army versus Marines, you know, stuff like that, you know, kind of camaraderie stuff, you know, the infighting camaraderie stuff.

You know, stop for lunch. Some of the places will, you know, go to bars and stuff like that along the way. It's not necessarily a pub crawl. It's, it's more about the camaraderie and cohesion that  doing this hike creates, but you know, it's just such a unique experience that it puts people that have walked in the same paths and, you know, done the same things and served, you know, on the same time frames and stuff like that together. So the legwork of meeting other vets has done for you cause you know, it's going to be on their backs. October 3rd of last year was my first ever hike in Chicago. I went alone and I ended up, I wore one of my Rakkasans t-shirts.

I met like four dudes who were in the Rakkasans at different points in times. And, you know, you create that bond right away and, you know, you just kind of walk. It was a group of about a hundred of us just kind of walk throughout the crowd and, you know, meet people say, Hey, how's it going? And you share some stories goof off a little bit.

I actually just shared a post and I think the wording I use says it really well. We take a irreverence very seriously. The word irreverence in itself is the inability, inability to take serious things to seriously, but we take the fact that you want to have that dark humor, the, all the things that the military has just drilled into the back of your head, that you can't get rid of anymore and bring them to light in order to prevent veteran suicide .

Because, I am sure you know, I can't speak for everybody, of course, but I know from my standpoint getting out of the army, it was one of those things. Like, you know, you kind of lose your purpose, you don't have that mission anymore. You know, I mean, I got out of the army, I had my wife, my first daughter and  you know, it was like get right back to work because the bills are going to keep coming and, you know, you just.

You don't make time to make friends. You don't, you know, you're, you're starting over, you know, at 28 years old, I was starting over. So, you know, I, I did everything I could to provide for my family. And now that I have that ability to kind of take a step back and take a breath and, you know, find that group of people that get me sort of thing, you know, we all get each other.

You know, it it's. A refreshing feeling, you kind of regain that sense of purpose again, to be involved with something like this. And you know, it's it used to be, I guess you could say kind of known as more of a pub crawl at first, but as an organization, we've kind of changed our ideologies where you don't need that environment anymore.

You know, it's just about getting together and being irreverant and having fun. You know, there's, I guess an after party, you know, stuff like that, where you can go have some beers afterwards, but it's more about the hike itself and having fun together.


Chris: [00:43:32] Absolutely. Hey, Danny, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me here.

Danny: [00:43:38] Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.