We are at war in Afghanistan. This statement should not surprise you, but I am not referring to the war in which you might think. The enemy is not the Taliban. No, it is an enemy that is more cunning, more devious and has a complete lack of respect for the welfare of those it chooses to assault. We are at war with mice.
Recently, I have relocated and no longer live at KAF. All Corps level mentors, including myself, have moved to a smaller forward operating base in a move that is aimed at making our lives a little more convenient. Our accommodations are of Afghan design and provide little defense against the constant onslaught of the mice. Both the doors to the small entranceway outside each room as well as the doors to the outside world do not reach the floor and so the warm air passing to the outside on a cool night is nothing more than an open invitation for an attack.
And without hesitation, the mice have launched their attack. On my very first night in my new room I was caught with my guard down and the offensive began. After turning on the heat and leaving the room for a while to warm up I became the first target. As I returned and began sorting out my kit, I picked up a kit bag from the floor to tuck it under my bed. A mouse fell from the bag directly onto my foot and scurried across the floor to take shelter behind my wardrobe. I had just sustained my first direct hit.
However, in a room that was virtually empty of furniture and only one exit, my counterattack was swift. I grabbed my flashlight and looked in behind the wardrobe. Sure enough, the mouse sat there quietly trying to curl itself into a tiny ball to avoid detection. Frightened, he sat there in a pool of his own urine and I began to feel sorry for him. But as we locked eyes, I could see that he was pure evil. My pity was his weapon and I refused to let him use it against me. I pulled the wardrobe away from the wall and he retreated across the room. Finding cover behind my helmet that lay on the floor, his attempt at escape and evasion was of no success. As I peered around one side of the helmet, he would run to the opposite side. I would then shift the direction of my attack and lean to the other side only to see him run around to the opposite side. The game of cat and mouse was on. Things carried on in this manner for the better part of half an hour until he finally managed to escape under the door and back into the cover of darkness. His reconnaissance was successful. He had made contact and now had valuable intelligence that I knew he would pass on to his superiors. The score was mice - one, me - zero.
Many of us were quick to act and knowing that we were in a vulnerable position each of us set our defences. Some tried to block entry by placing a board to cover the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. Others tried to placate the enemy by heating the adjacent room while leaving the door ajar in order that the mice would choose to accept a warm, yet empty room as some sort of peace deal. And yet, some chose not to defend at all. This was not their fight.
In my view, the best defence was a strong offence. I would not try to block their entry and hope for the best. Nor would I would attempt to negotiate and offer a warm sanctuary elsewhere. Instead, I set traps and would use their hunger as my weapon. After a few days of waiting I saw the evidence of their incursions into my room and knew then that it was time to fight them head on. I placed a trap under my bed where the evidence was most obvious and waited. With a small bit of a gingersnap cookie as my bait, I knew that I would not have to wait long. And I was right, in less than twenty minutes as I sat quietly on my bed reading, I heard the snap of the trap. But, the enemy had proven to be more adept than I had given him credit for. The trap lay on the floor, upside down and empty. But the battle was not over. As I scanned under the bed with my flashlight, the enemy was there, again in a puddle of his own urine. This time he would not get away. I quickly gathered my kit from under the bed and moved it to the next room to in order to clear the battlefield. His game of cat and mouse would not succeed this time. But, when I had returned, the room was empty. Again, he had escaped into the night. Although he did not get the cookie, the score was now mice - two, me - zero.
It was time to re-evaluate and shift tactics. I gathered a second trap and placed it just outside the door to my room yet still inside the small entranceway to the building. It was a staggered defence. Although the risk of attracting further attacks had increased I could counter by luring them into the trap without bringing them inside my room. Further, fearing that a small cookie was too easy to grab and run I found a weapon that would surely keep them in reach long enough for the trap to be sprung - peanut butter. I placed a dab gently on the trap and waited. Hours passed and nothing. It was quiet...too quiet. As I left my room at the end of the evening to brush my teeth, it was then that I knew that this was a war that could not be easily won. Every ounce of peanut butter was gone. It was almost as if the trap had been licked completely clean and yet it remained in tact still waiting to spring. Mice - three, me - zero.
Although I have sustained losses, I remain positive. But with each incursion, I am reminded that war is never pretty, nor glamorous. Even those who live to fight another day are its victims. Each time I enter my room I do so cautiously in case the mice are ready to attack. Any out of place object that catches the corner of my eye causes me to withdraw if but only for a moment. As for the mice, they no doubt bear the scars of humiliation as each encounter leaves them cowering in a pool of their own urine. But, in the end, we are not so different, the mice and I. Sure, our objectives may be different and our reasons for acting as we do may differ as well. But in the end, all that we both hope for is that when this mess is over we can both go back home to our families and chase these horrific memories from our minds lest we be forced to relive the terror of the game of cat and mouse day after day until the end of our days.