A portion of A Walk in Darkness…unedited…

The staff duty officer waved the bus driver over and said, “three for the FARP.”

We followed him out to the bus, and he drove us to a small building not far from where we had jumped out. The driver pulled up and the air brakes hissed.

People walked out and greeted us. Our platoonmates had set up four cots for us, and they brought us up to speed as we threw our gear onto our cot. 

“Welcome to Basra,” D said. “We’re running 24-hour ops. Sleep when you can.”

SSG D and I walked out to a concrete barrier and sat down under the moonlight, the firing of rockets had ceased while we were getting in-processed. 

“How was leave?”

“It was great. I went to Rhodes, Greece and spent time with the family.”

“How’s the family?”

“They’re doing good. The girls are growing like weeds. How’s your family?”

“Doing good, Freeman.”

“Eight men to run 24-hour ops, D? Why didn’t they send more?”

“Command said they couldn’t spare more. I’m glad you’re here. We will split up into two shifts. We haven’t had a hot meal in thirty days, and we’ve not taken a hot shower in the same amount of time.”

“Y’all been bird-bathing, eh?”

“Yep. Wet wipes the whole time.”

“Sounds familiar,” I grunted. 

SSG D and I sat in silence for a bit. Others drifted out to see us. One of the soldier’s asked if I had eaten anything.

“No. I haven’t had time.”

“Here you go, big sarge.”

I took the brown bag that the soldier offered me and opened it up. Inside was a Mayo/Liverwurst cheese sandwich, an apple, and a Mars bar.

“We get these brown bag lunches twice a day. I hope you like Liverwurst cheese.”

I wrinkled up my nose and sat it to the side. Then, I thought better of it, and took the apple and Mars bar out to eat later. And for the better part of a month that’s what I ate (Mars bars and apples.)

In heat that you had to use a ‘wet bulb’ test to gauge the temperature, the Liverwurst cheese reminded me of the lime-covered corpses at Saddam’s palace. 

There was no way I would eat those sandwiches. One day, a soldier approached me and said, “Sergeant, I bet I can eat all those brown bag lunches in one sitting.”

Snickers broke out behind me, and I got a small smile on my face. 

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep. What will you give me if I do it?”

“I don’t know, man. What do you want?”

“How about you take my shift tonight?”

“Sure. If you eat every one of those brown bag meals, and I mean all of it, I’ll take your shift.”

I did a quick count of the meals, there were 28 in all, and I sat back and watched him tear into them. To his credit, he did good until the 16th or so meal, but then he stopped.

“Ah, Sergeant. I don’t feel well…”

“Mmhmm. Keep going unless you want to call it quits.” 

Gingerly he shoved half of a sandwich into his mouth. He closed his eyes and swallowed. I watched as he took a few more bites and then rushed out of the building. Everyone laughed, including me, as he vomited out back of our home.

“You oughta be ashamed of yourselves,” SSG D said as he bent over laughing. My second deployment would soon wrap up, but it was moments like this that helped ease stress that came from being targeted day in and day out.

Over the course of the first month in Basra, we had a few more soldiers show up. When we had enough people for shifts, we would send a few at a time back to eat and shower. NCOs and Officers ate last. 

We finally had enough where we could run two complete shifts, and we had a tent assigned to us. Inside the tent we slept in what we called coffins. No, not those types. 

One each end was a three-high stack of sandbags. On the bottom was a piece of sheet metal, then another three-high stack of sandbags made the roof, along with another piece of sheet metal. We crawled in between the sheet metal and slept. 

Our soldiers went to eat, while we ran the FARP. Then, I was sent back to eat and shower. We were filthy, but we stood in line and waited with the other troops.

I finally got to the counter and ordered Shepherd’s Pie. The attendant gave me a large helping, and I wandered to the back to sit with my soldiers. 

No sooner had my butt touched the seat when the alarms went off indicating indirect fire was incoming. 

“Too bad,” I thought as I shoveled a heaping forkful of food into my mouth. “If it’s my time, it’s my time. I’m gonna eat until…”

Underneath the table, I felt someone grab my leg. I jerked my leg back and looked up from my plate. Everyone was gone, and for a moment, I thought I missed the rapture. 

I looked underneath the table, and a British soldier nodded at me. 

“Hey, mate. You gotta get under the table see.”

“Nah, man. This is my first hot meal in thirty days. I’m gonna eat, y’all do what you want.”

I watched as hands came out from underneath the table, like octopus tendrils, and reached in plates and took food under the table. 

The pie was so good I didn’t care if the mortar landed in the tent. “I’m not gonna die on an empty stomach. There might be a line before it’s my turn to get judged. I’m gonna have a full stomach.”

Not everyone was happy with my failure to comply with the commands given. One unhappy NCO from the dining facility chewed my butt for not getting underneath the table. I went to parade rest and listened to him, and then when he walked away, I took some extra goodies from the kitchen for later.

The rest of my time in Basra passed quickly, and without further incident. On the night we left, we got ordered to load onto a Chinook. It didn’t start. We loaded another. It didn’t start. On and on it went until we found one that would get us to Kuwait. We loaded up amongst pallets of equipment and bags and got out of Dodge.

My fifteen-month deployment was over, and all it cost me was my health.

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