Excerpt #2 from ‘Mindbenders’, second of the sections specifically written about soldiers in Iraq. I offer this as a pale version of what those men and women lived with -and a reminder of the crime we’re doing by neglecting our veterans once they get home.
Just to be clear: I think we bungled Afghanistan three miles from Tora Bora and went into Iraq to steal the oil and encircle Iran. But none of that has anything to do with the soldiers.
Our soldiers made the best they could of a bad situation. They tried to do good work and improve what they found on the ground. They put their lives on the line and even when they came back alive, the war came home with them. Now they’re struggling against our own government, who is indifferent to anyone’s suffering and particularly the people it owes the most. You don’t send people out to take a bullet for you and then neglect them when they get home. At least you shouldn’t (does that word mean anything anymore?)
Just think about it.
Excerpt 2 follows:
They hide bomb material in sheds like that sometimes—they could be using the kids to get it or set the fuses. They use them like that sometimes too. We met a guy who was stationed in Najaf who said that happened to his outfit last week. Maybe there’s another reason—maybe they’re just playing—but we don’t know. And what you don’t know can hurt you.
So our fingers are on triggers, everybody’s fingers, waiting, tense, clenched twitching. EventuallyMarshall’s finger twitches and we have screaming kids with a bullet through the jaw or a broken collarbone or something. Maybe there was a reason. Maybe there wasn’t.
We’re convoying. We’re always convoying. Low stretches of stores and houses, business signs in Arabic, French and English, laundry hanging from windows and long corridors of smooth wide highway—Saddam built great roads, gotta give him that.
We pass a market and everybody in the stand waves. We wave back—this is the first couple weeks, where people are still waving. I hear a noise and look the other way for just a second—when I look back, the woman behind the stand is leveling a Kalishnikov at us. The first time it was a woman, we hesitated. Hendricks took a round in the neck that time, just above the armor. Now, nobody hesitates—she takes about twenty rounds in three seconds, the blood seeping into the sand as fast as it comes out of her and then her body seeping into the ground, swallowed up like quicksand or vanishing powder.
We drive as fast as we can go. Anything, just anything, could be a bomb—garbage cans, maildrops, cardboard boxes along the road. They trigger them with alarm clocks, cell phones, garage door openers, VCR remotes. Clever shit people here, dammit.
The first time we take a direct hit, we start cursing a blue streak and laughing, laughing from relief. Shit, that was big. Good baby, good baby, this Hummer is good. What nobody says but everybody thinks is We made it.
But sometimes, it isn’t bombs—it’s just bullets, stray bullets, aimed bullets, who knows? This time, the big diesel rig in front of us takes five bullets in the engine and loses power and we leave him behind with a Hummer to take on personnel. We keep moving—we’ve got three more trucks to get to destination. Watch that bottle there—move that fucking VW, make him move. It’s boring and endless; beyond all the rest, the tension can kill you.
And two minutes later, the horizon erupts, end to end—the earth jumps up and down like it’s a trampoline and the world ahead is billowing smoke. The KBR truck in front took an IED and there’s a hole the size of a house in the middle of the highway.
So now we’ve got to stop, stop completely, try to establish a perimeter and bag everything—all the pieces, shards of bone and bits of flesh, any speck that might have once been part of a person.
Is this something? Take it. Inspecting every sliver, every fiber on the ground, carefully, thoroughly, always aware we’re stopped, stopped dead, completely in the open.
They’ll shoot us, shoot at us. That’s what they do. They do it when we’re hauling sixty around the perimeter so what are they going to do now that we’re hauling zero in the middle of town, on our knees picking up the pieces? They’ll be shooting and soon.
Ignore it. Keep looking. Miss nothing. Take everything that’s human, every mote that might be, anything that might once have breathed.
Because there’s folks at home who don’t want to be watching TV one night and see part of their kid being waved around, beaten on, burned up one last little bit more by some raghead geek on a bridge.
Don’t miss a speck.