It was a Friday. A holy day for the majority of the inhabitants of our fair city. It was around the time it started getting disgustingly fucking hot out, heat indexes that many of us had never experienced. Although it was included in our acclimatization training (California was quite hot), it’s tough to say one can be prepared for the bone-dry heat that was typical of that part of the world.
“Grab your shit,” a short Marine ran into the living quarters at the entry control point we were temporarily berthed at. “We’re rolling!”
He had interrupted another one of the afternoon cat naps. Thankfully, it was an afternoon when the air conditioners were working in the collapsible field tents. They would quickly become a furnace if the cooling fans pumping crisp, conditioned air into the rest area went down. The lucky ones would be awake and could quickly exit the suffocating conditions. The unlucky ones would awaken in their cots drenched with sweat and decide whether they were sick of being broiled alive inside the convection oven for Marines.
For a few weeks up to that point, things were quiet. Our platoon had barely seen anything out of the ordinary. It was starting to become routine: patrolling in the forward areas for a few days, a couple of days of recuperation at Dreamland, and then the cycle would repeat.
There was an unspoken truth about these quiet times: we were being observed.
It was a chilling thing to think about while we were putting up security sectors around potential IEDs only to find out they were a hoax.
Events like that only caused tension in the silence. They were watching us. Learning our tactics. Observing how we moved, where we deployed our assets, and anything else noteworthy that could exploit our superior firepower. They were the smarter ones. The ones that survived through the initial devastation of the blitz of coalition forces through Iraq in 2003. Their less capable buddies died or were thrown in jail. These guys were more experienced, and we were in their backyard.
The earth shook
And we knew it was bad.
Upon exiting the darkened sleeping quarters
Our eyes, adjusting to the brilliance of the sun,
Noticed the sandy landscape jutting a plume of black smoke.
It was not supposed to be there.
A car bomb hit the Northern entry control point.
We were the closest unit to respond,
Cordoning off the area, watching panicked Marines & Iraqis
Run to and fro, as if moving their legs
Might bring someone back to life.
We were days away from wrapping up,
And the Marine that was killed was filling in for another.
Someone else’s son got to go home
Because he stood watch.
And here we stood watch, looking over the
Scattered car parts mixed with melted asphalt.
Concrete barricades singed with debris.
The smell of burnt rubber, chemical residues, and destruction.
I saw the look on my friend’s face as he returned from the scene.
It was as if the Old Gods themselves escorted him
And toured him around the horror.
There was no reason to ask what he had witnessed
As he gently climbed into the passenger seat next to me.
I continued to stare at the burnt concrete barrier
Blocking the view of the carnage on the other side
Where the wretched horrors of war squirmed and mutated
Like a John Carpenter creature coming to life.
Months earlier, I might have been intrigued enough
To ogle over the grotesque vista,
But there was nothing more that I wanted than
To go home
And get away from the apathetic violence
That followed us wherever we went.
We were days away from leaving.
I wanted us all to return
With what sanity we had left.