I’m currently on the road and doing a little international travelling. The where and why need not concern you if you don’t already know, though I’m pretty sure I almost ended up the subject of an episode of “Banged Up Abroad”. My time travelling gives me a lot of time to sit alone with my thoughts, especially since I’m a painfully obvious introvert, and I generally don’t involve myself with strangers unless engaged or its absolutely necessary. Various ideas, dreams, thoughts, and memories run rampant through my head in an attempt to keep myself from the boredom of what seems to be a never-ending road. Everything from the well-being of my family, to training concepts, to ex-girlfriends (and why they are specifically EX’s), to combat and subsequently – death.
Death is a dreadful thing. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen a huge amount of it. I would say I’ve seen more of it than most people (in the literal sense, not just knowing people that died). I’ve seen some pretty nasty shit, of which I’ll spare the details. Most of it at the time I just laughed it off. Another day in the suck. Sucked more for that guy I guess. Why is that? Why, despite knowing its an awful thing, did I just make jokes and move on? Why was it so easy to write off the awful things I witnessed? Yes, the obvious answer is that its a coping method. That’s blatant, and doesn’t really answer the question. I think, ultimately, its because the moment things started going south and injuries started happening (which was about 2 days into being in Iraq) we all just assumed that at some point it was going to happen to us. Eventually, they would get lucky on a day that we particularly weren’t, and the timing would be just right, despite all of the training and diligence. It boiled down to luck. Theirs or yours. Who’s was greater that day? And there was simply nothing you could do to change it.
I started wondering about why some of our troops are less concerned about death than others right about the time that I realized that I needed to stop listening to Metallica while driving on an empty highway. Why was I naturally doing 50% above the allowed speed limit? Why did it not set something off in me that I was going incredibly fast for no apparent reason? And why was I doing it so well without any real concentration? It bothered me, though only slightly – which bothered me even more.
I think it all came back to that day that I got bracketed by mortars. I’ve mentioned it on some of my posts before, but I don’t think I ever really discussed it more than saying that it did happen. We had been out on an OP for three days in the middle of nowhere Iraq. It was hot. It was miserable. We were black on water by the end of day 2. By the time the AAV’s came to pick us up, we had raided a local shop for drinks just to have something to keep from dehydrating. In what at first had seemed like a relief of vehicle transport back to the FOB, turned into a continuing nightmare. Part the way down the road, the AAV’s stopped and told us to dismount. There was much confusion since this wasn’t part of any plan that we were briefed. It turned out that we had entered an area that was known for IED’s and the armored AAV’s wanted the grunts to get out and sweep in front of the vehicles so that they didn’t get blown up. Keep in mind that part about dehydration and it being hot. So to appease the gods of tracked vehicles, we were forced out to walk in front of the vehicles and kick any trash that we encountered. Our entire platoon was beat after three days in the sun. We had guys going down from the heat. I too was circling the drain at the time and actually went back to our doc for an IV. Doc had ran out already it was so bad. So I got about 2 minutes of rest in the back of the track, before I shuffled back out to kick more trash.
We paused because someone thought they saw some wires ahead. It was a rather inconvenient spot with a hamlet about 500 meters away and a ditch on the opposite side of road. I was to the rear of my original AAV and had taken a knee on the side of the road while we paused when that sound came. A light thump. Followed by a whistle. Followed by immediately by a loud thud with a crack. The sound cycle of an incoming mortar. The first two hit no where near me, but I immediately picked up and started hauling ass towards the open troop hatch of the AAV in which I had been riding. Thud-crack! 20 meters in front of me, directly in between me and the AAV. I skidded to a stop and turned back the opposite way, trying to make to the AAV behind me for cover. Sprinting as fast as I could with gear on I ran in a direct path to the rearward track. Whistle-thud-crack! 15 meters in front of me the ground exploded and I was pelted with dirt as I slid trying to turn back. I looked up and saw the ditch. There were already a few people scattered down its length. I could make it. It’d be my cover. 50 meters to run, that’s all I had to do to get out of this. I gave it everything I had left. This was going to be where I dove to lay there and not have to worry about getting hit with the mortars! I sprinted so hard that I didn’t see the larger guy running perpendicular to my path until he plowed me and knocked me on my ass. “Asshole!”, I thought as I pi
cked myself up just in time to see the ditch, which was 10 meters away, explode with a round landing in the exact spot I was running to. That asshole had saved my life it seemed. But now what? They were obviously bracketing me. They were chasing me with the rounds. They wanted ME dead that day and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. It was very personal. It was very defeating. So I stood there in the round and yelled, “WELL FUCKING DO IT ALREADY!” I waited.
There were no more whistles. There were no more thuds. There were no more cracks. They had run out of rounds and were making their escape, as I stood there waiting to die. I had accepted death in that moment. My fear of it was gone because I should have been dead that day. I got lucky. With it came the understanding that it will get us all one day. Whether in combat as a young man not even old enough to drink, or as an old man dying in his bed. We don’t escape it, we just delay it. So then why do we do such stupid things in an eager manner to meet our death so early? Death goes hand-in-hand with life.
Think of any time you have been on a vacation. You party it up all week until the day before you know you have to leave. Then its somber. You know its coming to an end. You don’t want it to end. You know it has to though. So all that week before you try to get as much fun in as you can before you know its going to stop and you go back to riding your desk at work while worrying who is going to steal your stapler this week. You are trying to live because you know you are going to die. You are looking for that rush of life. Because eventually, no matter your skill, no matter your luck, you will eventually die, whether you want to or not.
Stay hidden; stay safe.