Outpost Charlie was a small camp located outside of an oil refinery town. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but oil wells. The only difference between those in the United States and those here was that these were on fire.
Towering flames shot out of the wells; the desert appeared to be on fire. Thousands of feet above it I watched the desert burn. “It looks like hell,” I thought. “Unquenchable fire, eternal torment, and the knowledge that you did not have to be there, what a horrible place to be trapped forever.”
I had not thought of hell in a long time. As I watched the fires reach toward heaven, I considered my soul. My memories took me back to Sunday School where we learned of the tender mercies of God. The plane began its descent to my new destination. I snapped out of it. It was time to get back to work.
The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “Um, guys. The airfield is under attack,” he squeaked meekly. “We can’t land. We are going to drop to ten feet, and you guys need to go out the side door. Make sure to take your gear with you.”
His co-pilot stood next to the side door and motioned for us to stand. We stood. He pushed the door open, and we bailed into the night.
I crashed into the earth with a thud. It felt like I had been smacked with a shovel. “Definitely not my most graceful landing,” I grunted to myself. The enemy had locked in on the small aircraft. Tracer fire and rockets filled the night air.
“Grab a bag and head north,” came a voice out of the murky darkness. “We will sort it out behind cover.”
I oriented myself to north and grabbed a bag. Bullets whined close, but I kept crawling toward what I hoped was cover.
We made it to cover without serious injury. Flecks of rock would fly up and hit us in the face when bullets landed close, but other than that no one took a round to a vital organ.
The team members gathered in a loose gaggle and sorted out the bags. In the distance came a rumble. A rickety old bus came chugging down the road that ran parallel to the airfield. The driver stopped.
“Y’all need a ride?” We laughed. “Yeah man,” said the highest ranked individual with us. “We need to get to headquarters to in process these guys.”
“Hop on. I am headed there.”
We loaded into the bus with our bags. I leaned back and thought of hell on earth.
Camp Charlie was a multi-national post. My eyes were opened to many different things while stationed there. Our crew was small, so small in fact, that we could not go to chow because we didn’t have enough people to cover down on our responsibilities.
The dining facility would send us Liverwurst and mayo sandwiches, along with a Mars bar and an apple. It was at Camp Charlie that I saw temperatures reach over 140 degrees.
It was hell on earth.
My health declined on a steady basis. I refused to give in to it, heck, I refused to take care of myself. “You’re not going to quit,” I chided myself. “You are going to outlast it.”
I took liberal amounts of ‘Ranger candy’ aka 800 mg. of Ibuprofen. I ate them by the handfuls. Nothing worked to ease my pain. My stress levels continued to be through the roof.
I was burnt out. To ease my stress levels and secure a good future for my family, I re-enlisted for an indefinite amount of time. “That’ll show me.”
Four months, six days, and a matter of hours later, I returned to Europe intact. Well, mostly intact. Physically, I was fine.
Mentally and emotionally, I was all over the place. My thoughts were scattered, it was impossible for me to hold a conversation. Madness waited at the door.
I began to see things, I refused to tell anyone of my issue. At night, I dreamed of the people I had hurt, of the families destroyed in the name of a ‘just’ cause. These specters would crowd around my bed and stare at me.
They couldn’t talk. They were dead. A small boy would stand next to my bed. He held his brains in his tiny hands.
I dreaded the night. The day kept the horrors away, I focused on work. Once again, I was offered 90 days stabilization to readjust to civilian life. I refused it.