As I tell this story, I can present only one side of it. I do not know what it is like for a large force of people to enter my country and carry out a war on our populace. The closest I can come to that is the terror attacks of 9/11.
I do not want to know what it is like. My time at war has left me jaded, angry, and more than a bit confrontational. Route Tomahawk, or as we came to know it, Death’s Alley, was no place for hesitation. If it looked like an ambush, it was an ambush. We departed at 0800. The convoy made the first few miles fine, I had never seen anything like it in my life. I was not the only one blown away by what I saw. Dead cattle and humans lay on the side of the road. Dark red blood stained the roads. Packs of wild, ravenous dogs tore chunks of flesh off the dead. Their mouths were bloody with the carrion they ate.
“Jesus,” I whispered to no one in particular. Someone patted my leg, I looked down to see who it was.
“Stay alert, Paden. Those dogs aren’t the worst things out here.”
An old man sat on the side of the road ahead of us. He had two five-gallon containers filled with gasoline. I watched him, and he watched me. He gave me a small wave, I nodded back.
“God, I just want to go home. These poor people have suffered at our hands and worse hands.”
Down the road, burnt out vehicles sat in the middle of the road. That familiar tingle that signaled danger began to vibrate in my mind. Every gunner in the convoy must have felt the same tingle. We stood tall and scanned the areas around us. There was nothing but dead cattle. Cows, donkeys, and goats were everywhere.
Where would I hide an IED, I thought to myself. A donkey had fallen facing me, and for some unbeknownst reason, I kept looking at it. Something came from its rectum. “What is that?” Too late I realized that the protruding element was a wire.
The explosion rocked our vehicle. I felt something smack me in goggles, my head bounced back against the roof of my truck. I tried to look out of my goggles, but I could not see anything. Machine guns poured lead into the surrounding areas. “Why can’t I see anything?” I felt someone slap my leg.
“Why aren’t you firing?”
“I can’t see!”
“Drop down!” I dropped into the Humvee; someone took my place on the gun.
I ripped off my googles and touched my eyes. They were fine. My goggles though were filled with shrapnel.
“Jesus, “my platoon sergeant said. He reached in his go-bag and pulled out another set.
“Here, take ‘em. I would keep those you have; you might want them as a souvenir.” The drivers got us out of Dodge. We raced to the rally point, and what we hoped would be safety.
The smell of burnt donkey was overwhelming in truck. “These freaking people man. It is not enough that they would use weapons and bombs to try to kill us. Now, they’re using farm animals.” My desire to be returned home had never been greater. As we raced to the rally point, my mind drifted to home.
My parents had raised my brother and I to be good, Christian men. We went to church every time the doors were open, and many times when there were no church. They taught us to pray, to read the Bible, and to put God first in our lives.
Somehow, I drifted away from what I had been taught. My head ached; my neck felt as if it had been torqued in the wrong direction. A song from Sunday School crossed my mind. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” I wasn’t in the mood for songs or love. To get my head back into the war, I quoted Fiddlers Green.
“Halfway down the trail to hell,
In a shady meadow green,
Are all the souls of dead troopers camped,
Near a good ole time canteen,
And this eternal resting place is known as Fiddlers Green.
Marching straight through to hell the infantry are seen,
Accompanied by artillery, engineers, and Marines,
For none but the shade of Calvary men dismount at Fiddlers Green.
Though some go curving down the trail to seek a warmer scene,
No trooper ever gets to hell ‘ere he’s emptied his canteen,
And so, rides back to drink again with friends at Fiddlers Green.
So, when man and horse go down,
Beneath a saber keen, or in a roaring charge of fierce melee you stop a bullet clean,
And the hostiles come to take your scalp just empty your canteen,
And put your pistol to your head and go to Fiddlers Green.