My Vet Story from ‘Mindbenders’ (Part One)
I received an email last week from a woman who got a copy of ‘Mindbenders’ in a GoodReads giveaway. I posted it then but here it is again, in case you missed it (I have a reason so bear with me, please):
This is a very difficult book for me. My son was in Fallujah 10 years ago. Reading passages of your book brings it all back so fresh. It steals my breath and makes me cry. Even though he is home and is now walking better than when he came home the mental pain is still there as it was back then. I think you did a fantastic job making it real. If for nothing else, the way you bring Greg and his PTSD to life, makes this book an important read. Everyone who thinks that they should not support the soldiers because they don’t believe in the war should be required to read this. As difficult as reading it is I am grateful you wrote it and permitted me to read it. Thank you.
I did a lot of research for the sections of ‘Mindbenders’ that depicted Iraq. I was shocked at the number of memoirs about life in the Green Zone in Baghdad, compared to the tiny number of books that concerned the actual troops.
I became friends years ago with a couple of Vietnam vets—the way we treated those men was a national disgrace. We seem about to do the same with this generation of vets and that’s only doubling down on the sin.
Whatever you feel about the wars (I’m agin ’em), the soldiers were human beings trying to survive in an incredibly bad situation—and when they came home, the war came home with them. And no one is doing a serious job of trying to care for them. They did this for us, after all.
So I’m going to post the two excerpts from ‘Mindbenders’ that deal directly with the war. From my research, I suspect that what I’ve written is a pale version of the real thing. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll read it and think about the way you view the soldiers who went through this and worse in real life. I’m not pointing fingers; I’ve walked past people on the street when I could have stopped to help. But it’s never too late to open your eyes.
Excerpt Two tomorrow, Excerpt One follows directly:
I hear the crackle in the middle of my head. Tango Seven—multiple events in your vector, last five minutes. Exercise caution. Sound is a vibration. This vibration grows, echoes, deeper, shimmying through me. We’ve been waiting for action since we started staging. We’re soldiers, we joined up, no one made us. We want to fight. We want to prove ourselves, to find out who we are when the air bends and the fire fills us. We crossed the border two days ago and we’ve spent two days driving, swallowing pills, driving some more and sitting out a sandstorm that lasted six hours where nobody could sleep cause we kept saying to each other, They know this stuff and we don’t—when it stops, they’ll be on us in a minute but they weren’t and then driving driving some more, past blown-out buildings and blown-out tanks and my headphones screaming.
The waiting is killing. No more waiting. Fight. Fight now. That’s what I want because I don’t know what else to want. And then, without transition, we’re fighting. I hear the CRACK!! over the music and the Humvee right in front of us bounces into the air like a milk carton somebody kicked and we’re almost on top of it by the time we stop. It’s in the narrowest place, of course, wedged between two cinder block walls set close together, between two neighborhoods that hate each other and both hate us and we’re bogged down, nowhere to go, can’t get around it.
Man Down! Man Down! Monroe is shrieking into the headset and we see the Vee behind us drive right up and Shumwalt the medic jump out to help but he isn’t there more than ten seconds before he’s rushing back to his mount, shaking his head like it’s detached.
The wait, the wait, the wait, the wait.
I shut off the music, not that it matters much—the gunfire is louder than the headphones all the way up, loud enough to wake the dead. In which case, start with the medic—his head is severed by rounds from three different directions and then blown sky high by a rocket that takes out his Humvee, throwing it six or seven feet in the air and crushing it against one of the cinder block walls. Some guys scramble out—how are they alive?—they get five or six steps before being cut down. There’s too much fire from all over. These guys have guns and lots of them.
Half a second later, we’re in the crosshairs. The door and windows of our truck are pounded with bullets. It’s built for that, we’ve been told a hundred times but so many are coming at once that I watch the panel buckling right in front of me, puffing like the wrapper around the popcorn in the microwave.
I’m embedded, the writer, the carry-along, an extra, an amusement most times, a burden at the moment. I have a gun in my belt but it might as well be a cap pistol.
We’ve got to move—Ram it! Monroe tells Gunner, the driver. If his name is Gunner, why isn’t he the fucking gunner, dammit? Nonetheless, Monroe says Ram it so Gunner puts the thing in gear but then all at once, there’s a different banging on the doors, banging and screaming—two of the guys from the medic Vee want in. Get us out of here! I hear someone screaming and Philips opens his door at the same time Grover opens his. Just in time for the poor son-of-a-bitch on Philips side to get riddled six or seven times in his vest—not dead but knocked over and that saves him and us.
For just a second, everything slows down as the guys on the end lean out to pull the two grunts into the Vee. I’m sitting, staring out the windshield, a dazed drugged-up sedation case and my eyes widen as up the road on the other side of the burning Humvee crawls a bus.
The local town bus, the rattle-trap skinny-tire flaking-paint Fallujah regular city bus, low-cost rapid transit fucking bus on its rounds, following its route, the driver doing his usual civil service job of looking exactly ten yards ahead of him and no more. And now he’s opening his doors at the bus stop—which just happens to be in the middle of a firefight.
And as the doors are open on both sides of our Humvee and a thousand rounds are flying at us and Gunner is about to drive right over the flaming fucking Vee in front of us to get out of here, I see a procession of soldiers in uniform filing neatly off the bus. Like they paid their fare downtown and waited politely with their guns for twenty stops from there to the war. And now they’re lined up, joining the rest of the warring neighborhood factions, shooting at us while the last two start setting up a rocket launcher and aiming it right at me.
“Gunner GO!!!” I yell and Gunner puts the thing in gear as they haul the last soldier in through Grover’s door. Right then, Philips takes a round right in the neck that spurts all over the cab and he slumps to the floor. The rest of us all lean over to grab him and pull him up.
At that instant, I hear a sharp hiss and raise my head a fraction, a millimeter, a milli-millimeter or whatever’s smaller than anything—and see a rocket, the one launched by the bus soldiers, hovering right in front of my nose, passing so slow, so slow I can read the serial number on the side, right through the cab of our Humvee, screaming in one door, across the aisle between front seat and back and then out the other door without touching a thing, a person, anyone or anything. It explodes against the cinder block wall, happily about five yards behind us as we jump the other Hummer. My nose is singed black for a week. It’s three days before I can hear much of anything, even Metallica. But Gunner hit the pedal at the right time and we will live, at least a little longer.