Whew. That bright orange ball of fury is scorching my flesh. “Who decided to hold a squadron briefing at noon? Did they forget we are in the middle of a freaking desert?”
I sit in my vehicle and wait for the briefing. I’ve been in the Middle East for less than a week, and I find myself growing irritable. It’s hot, sandy, and I’ve had a rocket shot through my room. From all appearances, it’s going to be a long year.
Supposedly, this is a vital briefing which will impact the entire unit.
People slowly make their way into the motorpool and we begin to form up into our respective platoons. Squad leaders start checking for their soldiers, and the stragglers rush up at the last moment.
The Sergeant Major stands to the right of the Squadron Commander and we are called to attention.
“Men, you have been called here today to brief you on how our mission has changed. Initially, we were assigned to this base. However, given the current trouble in various parts of this wasteland, we are going to be stretched out. Your company commanders has the details.”
With a call to attention, we are handed back to our company commanders. Jerry Smith, our platoon C.O. appears to be nervous as he puts us at ease.
“Alright guys. You’ve all heard how certain places have turned out to be trouble areas. We are the support element here, and we’ve been hit the hardest. When your name is called fall out to the rear of the platoon for your instructions.”
“Please don’t call my name….please don’t call my name…”
“Freeman.” So much for missing the war.
I fall out of the platoon and walk back to the rear. I join the ranks of those who have been selected to be separated from our unit and assigned to other elements to fight the war on terror. I am guided to my place in squad one.
“Squad One, you will be heading to a small city filled with insurgents, your briefing will be at 1345. Squad Two, you are heading to the Red Zone. Your briefing will be at 1400. All briefings will be conducted at squadron headquarters, don’t be late.”
Welp, it doesn’t look like I will be bored. At 1330, a handful of us start out for the squadron.
“Freeman, where do you think we will be going?”
“I don’t know. It could be anywhere. “
“Come on, man. You’re a Corporal. Surely, you have some idea of where we will be going.”
“I have plenty of ideas, but none of them are certain. We will find out in a minute.”
The hot sun soaks us but finally we walk into the air-conditioned bliss of our headquarters. Our Squadron X.O. nods at us. He towers well over six feet, has a flawless smile, and skin that appears to have never had a blemish.
“Y’all here for the 1345 briefing?”
“Roger sir,” we chime in a singular voice.
“Down the hall, second door on the right.”
We move down the hall and walk into the room. A few people arrived before us, and their fear is prevalent in their eyes. It’s no different from the fear shining in our own.
“We lucky few, eh.”
In unison we all nod our heads in agreement. The aluminum chairs are cool to the back as we sit at the table.
“Where do you guys think we’re going?”
I smile, the tension in the room is so thick I think I may suffocate from it.
“Home! I have a daughter I’ve never seen before.”
“Whatever, Freeman. Why aren’t you nervous?”
“Ah, it’s overrated-like breathing.”
A small man enters and dread silence falls over the room. I’ve never seen a more nondescript human being in my life. White shirt, tie, glasses, and black hair. “He looks like a Muppet.”
“Good afternoon. This is your intelligence briefing. You will be going to an undisclosed location. Insurgents range from the mid-hundreds to a couple of thousand. Numbers are unknown and seem to fluctuate. From what we can tell they have small arms but could have heavy ordnance hidden away. Your odds of returning from this action is zero.”
He gathers the loose-leaf papers and walks out of the room. We all sit in stunned silence trying to make some sense of what we’ve heard. Finally, I stand to my feet. My buddy Jim looks at me, his eyes have water in them.
“Say something funny, Freeman.”
“I would say this intelligence briefing is sorely lacking in intelligence.”
A couple of guffaws come from around the room, and then riotous laughter breaks out. We exit the room and make our way to the barracks. Our attempt to cover our fear with humor is only temporary but the brief levity is enough to clear our minds.
“Into the furnace we go, we lucky few.”