I blink as the dirt lingering in the air slowly settles around me. Filling my mouth and nostrils with decades of death and grit, working its way into the creases of my face, accenting the expression of pain and confusion which has come over me. I roll from my back and prop myself up on all fours, coughing and spitting the dirt away and groaning in pain. Suddenly I hear it; shouting in the distance which is almost completely washed out by the deafening ringing in my ears. I strain to raise my head, and realize it is not far off shouts , its Josh standing over me yelling in my face. Screaming at me to stand up and get moving, Dave is hurt, and hurt bad. Ignoring the throbbing in my head and the ringing in my ears I force myself up and start to sprint, staying just a step behind Josh. I run as fast as I can, each step sending dull pulses of pain streaking through my head and deepening the burning that has clutched my chest. Just when I feel as though I can go no further we reach it, the smoking crater in the ground, two feet deep and four feet wide. Just moments ago Dave stepped on a pressure plate linked to a plastic jug containing six pounds of homemade Ammonium Nitrate and Aluminum explosives. I see a hole in the ground, the sole of a boot a few feet away, half of a foot lying in the dirt next to it. Scraps of a Multicam uniform flutter softly to the ground as we frantically search for our missing brother. To the right of the crater is a three foot mud wall which Josh quickly jumps to begin his search. The left side is a three foot ledge down to a ravine which I slide down to find Dave lying on the bank of. Both of his legs are gone below the knee, his right arm and hand mangled into a chunk of dangling flesh. His eyes burned black, empty sockets staring at me as he releases a terrible moan from his shattered face.
Sweat pours into my eyes, burning the image into my mind. The smell of body odor, blood, and burnt flesh sting my nostrils as I inhale deeply trying to catch my breath. I run to his side and grab the tourniquets from his vest, they stick to my tattered fabric gloves as I clumsily try to wrap them around his torn thighs. Frustrated, I tear my gloves off and throw my helmet aside. The platoon combat life savers arrive just as I finish tightening the tourniquets around his legs, they apply a tourniquet to his arm, put bandages on shrapnel wounds. One young Soldier just stands, staring in horror at the ghostly apparition that was moments ago his Squad Leader, his friend. As they unpack the litter I give my medical report to the platoon sergeant between jagged gasps of air. Dave is called up for immediate critical air evacuation and in less than a minute the flight crew is roused from their sleep and the bird is wheels up with a three minute ETA. None of that matters, our HLZ is 500 meters away through a Taliban stronghold, the bird will have to take up a holding pattern and wait for us.
We each take turns slinging our weapons and dragging the plastic sled carrying our friend behind us. Every five minutes we get drawn into a firefight that seems to last for hours. Bullets crack by our heads and zip past our ears, rockets stream overhead and keep the medevac bird at bay. With each passing second Dave’s eyes, the dead black sockets that were once his eyes, grow heavier. His frantic shouting slows to muffled half sentences and eventually to unintelligible mumbles. Just yesterday we were in a firefight that was almost identical. Just yesterday it was all hoots, hollers, taunts and fun. Today it is somber. Today Dave dies, and we are all helpless to stop it.
The shooting rages on with no end in sight. I frantically search for Dave’s heartbeat but I can’t hear anything over the clatter of PKM fire, the deafening boom of the Gustav or the thud of forty mike-mikes. I see movement out of the corner of my eye and raise my weapon, firing two dozen rounds into what was either a villager or the Taliban. After awhile, you stop distinguishing the two from one another. By the time the firefight is done, all the bodies are gone anyway. Whisked away by the sand of Afghanistan, taken by Allah, taken by the ghosts of the past. When I look back to Dave a fly is crawling across the bridge of his nose, across his black, burnt, crusted eye and into back into his nostril.
We fight like hell. We fight for Dave. We kill everyone. We destroy everything.
By Brenton Lee.