“We’re going to our deaths, in hopes of breaking the chains that bound this city. Why not send enough troops to take it without sending a handful to their deaths?”
Specialist L tapped me on the shoulder. I came out of my thoughts and looked at him.
“We should eat and hit the phone center. Plus, we need to sign for that vehicle.”
“Yeah. Let’s go sign for that vehicle and hit the call center before we hit the dining facility.”
“Sounds like a plan, Corporal. A nap might be in order too.”
“Yeah. It’s gonna be a long night.”
The unit we signed for our vehicle from was an all-female unit. There wasn’t a man in sight. Both myself and Specialist L were married men, but for one brief moment, I wished I wasn’t. I can’t deny that.
A beautiful sergeant had me put my name at the bottom of some official paperwork and said, “we expect our vehicle back in the same shape or better when you return.”
I smiled and said, “do you know where we’re going?”
“We’re going to Fallujah. You’ll be lucky to get your vehicle back, and we’ll be lucky to return.”
Anyway, we signed for the vehicle and moved it into our place in the order of march. Then, we went through the vehicle with a fine-toothed comb. Every part of the vehicle was searched for anything that would hinder us from completing our mission, well anything prior to our gruesome deaths.
Satisfied that our vehicle was in good working order, we left and headed for the call center. I called my wife, she answered on the third or fourth ring.
“Hello?” I could hear the exhaustion in her voice. Deployments don’t affect just the servicemember, it affects their home lives too.
“Hey,” I said trying to sound cheerful. “How are things?”
“Things are okay. How are you?”
“I’m alright. Getting ready to head out on a mission.”
“Is it bad? Are you getting enough sleep?”
“Nah, it ain’t bad. Just a quick trip down the road,” I hated to lie to her, but I couldn’t compromise the mission. “Sleep is overrated, kinda like breathing.”
“Be careful over there.”
“I will. How are the kids?”
We continued chatting about nonsensical things and my time drew short.
“Look, I might not call for a couple of days. This mission is going to take some time. I’ll call when I can, okay?”
“Okay. I love you.”
“I love you too. Talk soon.”
I hung up. My eyes were wet with tears, I blinked them and tried to dry them without giving away that I was scared.
Specialist L and I walked out of that call center that day, and while I can’t speak for him, I can speak for myself. It was the hardest thing I ever did.
We walked out toward our destiny, and we had no idea if we’d ever return. A heaviness sat on my heart, and for once I wondered if I was up to the challenge.
2000 came quick. My partner and I ate a quick bite of dinner and got a plate to go for later. Then, we returned to the barracks. I tried to rest, but the uncertainty of what lay before us made it hard to rest.
Specialist L and I left for the motorpool around 1930. People were already gathered together when we got there. Everyone had their brave faces on. I climbed into the driver’s seat and started our vehicle. Unlike our vehicles, this one came with an air conditioner.
“Nice,” SPC. L said. “At least we’ll be cool until it’s time to die.”
“Yep. Right up until the moment of death.”
We both laughed, but we both knew it was false bravado. Neither of us wanted to die, so we made fun of the possibility.
A man leapt onto the hood of the Humvee, and everyone dismounted.
“Alright, let’s get started,” the convoy leader hollered.
“We’re headed to Fallujah. Keep your eyes and ears open. Trust nothing. Keep your intervals. Gunners stay alert. Everyone understands the rally points and frequencies. Should something happen, the chain of succession is to be followed. Mount up.”
That was it for the briefing. Then, it was time to face the possibility that our death waited for us somewhere in the night.
I’m going to cut some of the story off this, we made good time until we entered the city. As we entered, a mortar landed outside of my truck.
The explosion rocked the fuel truck, metal screeched as the shrapnel tore into the armor.
“Look out your window, is our tank punctured?”
“No, we’re good,” L shouted. Another mortar landed next to us. More screeching, more shouting.
“Jesus, get this guy off of us,” L shouted into the hand mic.
Heavy machineguns opened fire on the vehicle tailing us. I watched it explode in my mirror. The night grew silent.
“Vehicle disabled,” a voice squawked across the airwaves. “They had cut the roof of the car off and inserted a mortar tube where the backseat used to be.”
“Roger,” the convoy leadership added.
“Thanks, that’s good looking out,” my partner said.
We made the rest of the trip in peace and pulled into the staging area for our next movement. The signal to dismount was passed from vehicle to vehicle. Spc. L and I got out.
The convoy commander came back where we were and got out of his Humvee.
“Is the vehicle serviceable?”
“Yes, sir. It’s mostly cosmetic damage. The tank is fine.”
“Okay. I’m glad you guys are good. Convoy briefing in five.”
Five moments later, we all circled the Humvee. The two intelligence types got on top of the vehicle. All eyes were on them as they prepared to speak.
“Welcome to Camp Hit. This is your temporary home. As all of you know, things change on a dime. The plan, as of now, is to surround the city and crush the insurgency. We start tonight. Grab an empty cot. Get some chow.”
A Marine came up and escorted us all to an unoccupied hut. I took a cot in the middle of the hut. Specialist L took one next to me.
We stretched out until time for chow. After eating we started back for our hooch. Hooch is a term affectionately associated with housing.
That’s when we heard incoming fire. All of us hit the ground and waited for the explosion.
It landed on a building not far in front of us. The explosion ripped into the barracks.
People rushed out, alarms blared, and sirens sounded through out the base. We rushed to the barracks and tried to help pull the injured from the burning building.
After we got done, Specialist L and I sat at a table on the side of the hooch.
“Guess we found out why they call this place, Hit.”
“Yeah, I reckon so,” I said.
No matter where we went, no matter what time of the day it was, the threat of death never waned. It was enough to drive a man mad.