Sinister Chuckles in Hell

Have you ever been with a group and felt left out when someone tells a joke? Everyone else laughs, so you must have missed something, right? You hear it, but it doesn’t make sense because it sounds crazy.

That’s how I felt the first time I was assigned to an infantry squad on the front lines in Iraq. I didn’t get most of the jokes my other squad members said. I was always left asking, “What’s so funny?” Which in turn led them to more chuckling and laughing.

It didn’t take to long to catch on once we started fighting together.

Fighting to survive inside a cemetery filled with bombs makes you grow up fast. I had to catch on quickly in order to understand them so we could work better as a team. After a few gunfights I fell in sync with the team.

Eventually, after weeks of fighting, death and destruction became normal. So normal that  being shot at warranted a laugh followed by an overwhelming blood lust.

This scene from my book Combat Medic takes place during the Battle of Najaf in the largest cemetery in the world , WADI-US-SALAAM .

“A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.” Sun TzuThe Art of War

None of us wanted to keep going, but we had no choice. We took a quick break in a tomb to rehydrate. I squatted to the ground and finished drinking my third bottle of water for the day. My DCU’s were covered in salt crystals and dirt. It had been two weeks since I’d showered and shaved. I was so exhausted I could have passed out. I’ve never been worked this hard in my entire life and there was no end in sight. At times I felt like being dead would be a better option.

“Who’s up for a little target practice?” Martinez asked. Everyone chuckled except me; I must have missed the joke.

Martinez explained to me that we were going to try and lure people out with bait. Two people had to go out and start making commotion while the other guys watched for the enemy.

“Ok, pick a number between 1 and 20,” Martinez said.

I said 13; his number was 15.

“Damn,” Rodriguez and I both said; then we looked at each other. He smiled, “Gotta die someday, right?”

“Yeah, buddy.” Martinez said, “Don’t worry; they can’t shoot worth s*** anyway.

“Glad it’s not me,” B stated before walking through the doorway to outside.

Rodriguez and I stood on top of newer graves in front of the tomb, in clear view for anyone in the cemetery to see. My heart started pounding, filling me with a burst of adrenaline. I’ve survived crazy shit all day; I should already be dead. Rodriguez started yelling, “Woohoo! Yeah!”

I joined in, the whole time moving my head scanning the cemetery for people who might come out to look.

Rodriguez pointed to the top of a tomb in the distance, “You think I can hit the nipple on the top there? The blue one?”

“Bet you I can before you,” I said.

B and Martinez spread out, watching for weapons fire. Rodriguez took a frag out and popped it into his grenade launcher. After taking a couple seconds aiming, he fired. Thump! It sizzled downrange and exploded off to the side of it.

“Damn!” he yelled, I laughed while loading a round. I took aim and popped it off. Boom! The building next to it exploded.

F*** man!” I yelled loud, trying to draw attention. Rodriguez shot again and hit it. I pointed to another one, “The blue and yellow dome there.”

There was a building in my way as I aimed, so I jumped on top of a taller grave and fired. The top of the dome caved in.

“F*** yeah!” I shouted.

As Rodriguez took aim to fire another one, bullets started flying around us; we jumped down as B yelled, “Three!” I stood up firing.

When I squatted down again, Rodriguez yelled at me, “Frag’em!” So I loaded a round, counted to three and stood up. I saw two people shooting; one in grey rags, another in black. I aimed and pulled the trigger, Thump!

The round launched out and hit the tree right behind them.

BOOM!

It split in half, sending smoke and debris everywhere; I saw the guys fall.

“F*** yeah! Yeah!” Everyone screamed.

“Yeah! Nice shot,” B yelled at me.

We started advancing towards them. Two of us laid down suppressive fire while the other two sprinted forward, leaping behind another grave. When I went to rush forward, there were a couple of graves knocked down in a pile blocking my way. I ran and jumped on top shooting; then jumped back down.

I looked over and saw that Rodriguez had to do the same, but when he jumped on a grave his foot went through. He fell headfirst trying to get it unstuck. I ran over and helped him get his foot unstuck. We both started laughing because he was on his head with his legs dangling in the air.

We got a couple graves away when the firing got heavier. Rodriguez took a grenade out and tried throwing it, but it slipped from his hand, falling two feet in front of him.

“Grenade!” he yelled; we both jumped behind a grave as it went off. BOOM!

I tried throwing one, but as my arm came forward it felt like I was throwing a 40-pound weight and it just rolled out of my hand.

“Grenade!” BOOM!

After it went off we laughed that none of us had enough strength to lodge grenades. I looked back at B, who gave us a go-ahead before firing off a bunch of rounds. We jumped up and made our final push forward. I was filled with a rush of adrenaline as we came up on their positions.

The only thing I saw was blood sprayed over the ground when got there.

F****** got the bastards, I thought. Rodriguez pointed to his eyes then to a blood trail on the ground. It looked like someone had been dragged into a tomb. He pointed to the building. I nodded.

I took lead, quietly creeping towards the building. When we got to the door I took out a grenade and threw it in. After it exploded, Rodriguez kicked the door in and we stormed in firing. No one was inside, but it was filled with rocket launchers, mortar shells, and bullets; a weapons cache.

“We hit gold,” Rodriguez said.

Before I could respond a hole in the ground came into my view.

“Hole!” I yelled pointing my weapon at it. Rodriguez grabbed two grenades out of his pocket and threw them in. We walked outside as they went off. BOOM!

Rodriguez called the lieutenant to let him know about the weapons.

“Blow the s***,” the lieutenant ordered us. “If you can’t, I’ll push the building over.”

“Roger that,” Rodriguez replied. “Keep watch while I blow this b****,” he said, walking past me into the doorway

“Got it,” I said.

I stood behind a large pillar next to a wall across from the door, a perfect position to take cover from the blast and still keep watch of the area. I waved to B who was with Martinez 30 yards away. He waved back and kept scanning the cemetery. Rodriguez took out a grenade, threw it in and ran out as it went off. BOOM!

“F***! They didn’t blow.” Rodriguez stated after walking back in. He came out and stood directly across from the door and shot a grenade in with his launcher. BOOM! The building exploded multiple times sending smoke and debris everywhere before it collapsed in.

Bullets started flying past me.

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Combat Medic
A soldier’s story of the Iraq war and PTSD

I fell behind the pillar while rounds rattled the wall behind me. Neither of us could see where it was coming from so we called it in. After a couple seconds we heard the lieutenant start lighting someone up; the Bradley’s gun was distinguishable from any other weapon. It pulled up a couple graves away from us. We jumped up and fired downrange while we ran over to the Bradley and jumped in.

I fell into the bench exhausted and panting. Rodriguez and I looked at each other, then bumped fists. We both sat trying to catch our breath and drink water. I just happened to look down and see that he was bleeding from his left leg.

“Dude, you’re hit,” I said, pointing. “What happened?”

He grabbed his leg and looked at it. There was a blood soaked hole in his pants. I made him take off his boot and pull up his pants. He had taken a piece of shrapnel in the shin. I took a field bandage out of my pack, opened it, and held pressure on the leg.

“Dude, I might have to send you back.” I said.

“F*** no doc, I’m ok,” he said desperately.

I stared him in the eyes, not wanting him to get more injured by going out. “Are you sure?”

“I’m serious, it doesn’t even hurt,” he said. My leg started throbbing in pain; at that moment I knew how he felt. I should have said something about it but I didn’t want to leave; we still had a fight to win.

I held pressure on it for a couple minutes and saw the bleeding had gone down. Rodriguez begged me to not send him back; he stared me in the eyes.

“Please doc, those bastards are still out there. We’ve gotta kill them for Hunter.” I didn’t say anything; that’s been my driving factor since he got hit. I wrapped the bandage around his leg and told him to put his boot back on so I could see how he was with weight on it.

He stood up and walked around, “See, I don’t feel a thing. I’m good.” He wasn’t limping, so I told him, “Ok, but we have to get it looked at when we get back. Tell me if it gets worse.”

“Thank you bro,” he said. “I’ll tell you, promise.”

Next Up- Danger

The Precipice of PTSD

The Precipice of PTSD

 

The Precipice of PTSD

You don’t understand the change that happens inside a soldier after war.

Everyone comes back changed, whether they admit it or not, some worst than others.

I was the worst.

Not a day goes by in the past 13 years I haven’t thought about Iraq, the Fuck’d up things I saw and did.

I’ve just recently started moving on with my life with the intent to show civilians what it’s like to be on the battle front, fighting for our country and our lives, only to come home to a never-ending battle.

This scene from my book Combat Medic takes place at the precipice of my PTSD, the worst moment of my life.

Preface

” Slamming the door, I locked it and rested my head against the wood frame, trying to regain my thoughts. You’re home…you’re safe.

Sunlight is beaming in through the blinds, making it hard to see. Leaning against the marble counter in the kitchen, I set my keys down before wiping the sweat that wasn’t there from my brow. I wondered, Does it ever stop? My angst was making me feel cold. No…it never will. I stared at the floor. What if I was dead? Would anybody really care? I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain anymore. The thoughts; the nightmares…

My lower back throbbed. I pushed myself up on my hands, thrusting my hips back and forth, waiting for the pain to go away. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and started taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.

Standing up I grabbed a glass of water when a loud bang shook the room. My heart started racing; a chill ran through my body. The hearing in my right ear fell out, leaving a high-pitched ringing in the background. My heart jumped then started beating faster. I closed my eyes and saw flashing lights and heard gunfire – echoes and bangs.

I squatted to the ground behind the counter with my eyes wide open staring at the door. A chill ran through my back, into my heart. My jaw started shaking; teeth chattering like I was stark naked in a blizzard.

Someone kicked down the door dressed in battered, torn clothes with dirty rags covering his face. He ran towards me with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my face, shouting gibberish. I felt a rifle in my hand, the weight of the barrel upon my fingers; but it wasn’t there. I felt naked without a weapon, cold and unsafe.

My heart felt like it was being pulled in four different directions. It thumped, pumping me full of cold blood and adrenaline. My mind raced. What should I do? I smelled gunfire and smoke, but I could see that I was in my apartment. Is this real? The back of my throat was sore; there was a bad, acidic taste in my mouth.

I took in a couple of shallow breaths then jumped up and ran over to the kitchen. I grabbed the handle of my 8-inch chef knife and pulled it from the drawer figuring it would be better to have a weapon in case it wasn’t my imagination. I turned toward the door crouched down, waiting for anything that came through.

A minute slowly passed. “This isn’t real.” I thought out loud, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” At that moment excruciating pain shot from my mid-back down to my left foot. It was like someone had sliced my back in half with a searing hot knife. I tried taking a deep breath in, but stopped short when pain wrapped around my lung.

I dropped the knife. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I slowly walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light on, and stood over the toilet, holding my stomach and head. I was sweating hard now. The room started spinning as an overwhelming smell of gunpowder filled it.

Images from war started shooting through my mind. In one, I was holding pressure on a wound, trying to stop the bleeding from a severed leg. In another, blood was splattered all over a sand-covered ground. Specialist B pointed to the blood, then over to a building. I raised my weapon as we went in for the kill. The last image was of eyes. A pair of glazed over, hauntingly sky blue eyes. They were staring directly into mine. I stared blankly into the toilet, engulfed in those eyes. The sight of death captivated me. I wanted it; it wanted me. It almost had me.

My focus shifted from his eyes to his head. I started to see blood running down his face as it came into focus. A green aid bandage was wrapped around it, attempting to hold his severed skull together. I looked down and saw blood covering my hands. I knew it wasn’t really there, but it all felt so real.

At that moment I felt numb, emptiness grew inside; my chest slowly became cold. Icy blood pumped through my veins. It felt like I was dying; like life was being drained out of me. I started shaking as a chill crept through me. Death enveloped me, clutching my soul with a wanton lust. My spirit quaked as my heart blackened.

Tears started falling down my cheeks as the visions slowly faded away. I felt like a hollow shell, void of any substance of life. Shaking my head I wiped the tears, but kept crying; unable to stop myself.

I walked to my bedroom, empty except for a small dresser. It’s been 7 months since I moved and still no furniture. Saddened, I closed the door and opened the window. A cool breeze blew through. The sun was bright, warm, and comforting. I took in a couple deep breaths; my jaw still jittered from the flashback as I let it out. My shirt was drenched in sweat.

I opened the drawer of the dresser and grabbed my pipe and weed. I ground some up, put it in the pipe and took a couple of long, slow hits. After about 15 minutes I was fully medicated, seeing everything in a haze. I stared out of the window and looked down at the courtyard. A young couple sat at a table drinking wine; talking… they looked happy. I could see smoke rising from the grill next to them and smelled the scent of barbeque.

Everything I was worrying about started to fade away. The pain in my back turned into a slight annoyance. I smiled a grin ear-to-ear and started beat boxing and singing; doing anything and everything to stop thinking about things – the nightmares from hell that still haunt me.

I poured a glass of cold water from the tap. After slamming a couple, the blue eyes started haunting me again. I felt myself sliding back into the other place when my phone snapped me out of the fall.

I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jessica; I answered annoyingly, “Hello.”

“Hi, what are you doing?”

“Just got home from work,” I said sharply. “Why, what’s up?”

“I don’t know; just seeing what you’re doing. You never call me just to talk,” she said, waiting silently for an answer.

I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Working. You know my hours at work.” I got upset. “Is there something you want?”

“Yeah, I was wondering if you would like to come over and eat dinner with me and Aleah tonight and this weekend? You know… have some family time.”

I was torn, feeling deep in my heart like I wanted to. But then I start thinking about what had just happened. The pain, the flashbacks, I was afraid to leave the house. I missed my daughter so much but I couldn’t drive like this. I lied, “I can’t, I have an appointment later today and I have to work this weekend.”

“Really? You told me you were off,” she said angrily.

“Well Mick asked me to work a couple extra shifts and I said yes.” I got upset again. “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just say ‘No’ now; it’s work.”

“You never want to spend time with us. Aleah is always asking about you. What should I tell her?”

I felt awful. My heart started to burn.

“I’m sorry, Jessica, but I have to work.” I gave in a little, “I can come over after my shift is done. We can eat and play games. You can tell her I have to work and I’ll see her later.”

“Ok. Whatever,” she said.

Then it went silent for a minute.

“How come you don’t love me?”

“I never said I didn’t.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“Because we argue too much.”

“We argue because you don’t even try to listen to anything I have to say and you yell,” she said.

“You do too!” I quickly chimed in. “All you do is yell and I can’t take it. I don’t need people around me yelling all the time. I can’t handle it.”

“If you loved me you would try.”

My gut started hurting. “I do love you, Jessica; I just don’t know what to do.”

“Talk to me.”

Silence fell again, I felt so bad that we couldn’t get along. I do love her, but the arguments and fights, yelling in front of Aleah… it was too much. I don’t want her to think that is how relationships are. She should have a happy life.

“Ok, Sam! Bye!”

“Tell Aleah I’ll call her tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yep, bye.” She hung up, her tone saying all she needed to say.

The room fell quiet. I looked down at the phone and thought of all the good times I’ve had with them. The times I’ve curled over laughing when playing with Aleah. Hearing her laughs echoing throughout the house when I tickled her, I loved it… missed it.

How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling sad and numb inside? I’ve tried my whole life to feel alive; to feel wanted, to be someone special. I joined the Army because it was where I belonged. Fighting for America, saving lives and making a difference, proving to myself that I could do anything, go anywhere.

Now I’m lost, stuck; sealed away in a cave at the center of a deserted world. I want to feel normal again; feel alive, not numb. My past keeps taking over my mind, flooding it with blood and explosions. I want it to end. I want everything to end.

How did I get here?

It was because of the war. Why did I ever sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.”

Untitled design (1)

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A soldier’s story of the Iraq war and PTSD

Next Up – Danger- Gunfights in a Cemetery

 

 

The Precipice of PTSD

The Precipice of PTSD…

Most people don’t understand the change that happens within a soldier that just gets back from war. Everyone comes back changed, whether they’d like to admit it or not, some worse than others.

In my case, I was the worst.

Not a day has gone by in these past 13 years that I haven’t thought about Iraq and the messed-up things I saw and did there. I have only recently started moving on with my life with the intent to show America what it’s like to be on the battle front, fighting for our country and our lives only to come home to a never ending battle.

This scene from the first chapter of my book Combat Medic takes place at the precipice of my Post-Traumatic stress disorder, the worst moment of my life.

Slamming the door, I locked it and rested my head against the wood frame, trying to regain my thoughts. You’re home…you’re safe.

Sunlight is beaming in through the blinds, making it hard to see. Leaning against the marble counter in the kitchen, I set my keys down before wiping the sweat that wasn’t there from my brow. I wondered, Does it ever stop? My angst was making me feel cold. No…it never will. I stared at the floor. What if I was dead? Would anybody really care? I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain anymore. The thoughts; the nightmares…

My lower back throbbed. I pushed myself up on my hands, thrusting my hips back and forth, waiting for the pain to go away. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and started taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.

Standing up I grabbed a glass of water when a loud bang shook the room. My heart started racing; a chill ran through my body. The hearing in my right ear fell out, leaving a high-pitched ringing in the background. My heart jumped then started beating faster. I closed my eyes and saw flashing lights and heard gunfire – echoes and bangs.

I squatted to the ground behind the counter with my eyes wide open staring at the door. A chill ran through my back, into my heart. My jaw started shaking; teeth chattering like I was stark naked in a blizzard.

Someone kicked down the door dressed in battered, torn clothes with dirty rags covering his face. He ran towards me with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my face, shouting gibberish. I felt a rifle in my hand, the weight of the barrel upon my fingers; but it wasn’t there. I felt naked without a weapon, cold and unsafe.

My heart felt like it was being pulled in four different directions. It thumped, pumping me full of cold blood and adrenaline. My mind raced. What should I do? I smelled gunfire and smoke, but I could see that I was in my apartment. Is this real? The back of my throat was sore; there was a bad, acidic taste in my mouth.

I took in a couple of shallow breaths then jumped up and ran over to the kitchen. I grabbed the handle of my 8-inch chef knife and pulled it from the drawer figuring it would be better to have a weapon in case it wasn’t my imagination. I turned toward the door crouched down, waiting for anything that came through.

A minute slowly passed. “This isn’t real.” I thought out loud, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” At that moment excruciating pain shot from my mid-back down to my left foot. It was like someone had sliced my back in half with a searing hot knife. I tried taking a deep breath in, but stopped short when pain wrapped around my lung.

I dropped the knife. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I slowly walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light on, and stood over the toilet, holding my stomach and head. I was sweating hard now. The room started spinning as an overwhelming smell of gunpowder filled it.

Images from war started shooting through my mind. In one, I was holding pressure on a wound, trying to stop the bleeding from a severed leg. In another, blood was splattered all over a sand-covered ground. Specialist B pointed to the blood, then over to a building. I raised my weapon as we went in for the kill. The last image was of eyes. A pair of glazed over, hauntingly sky blue eyes. They were staring directly into mine. I stared blankly into the toilet, engulfed in those eyes. The sight of death captivated me. I wanted it; it wanted me. It almost had me.

My focus shifted from his eyes to his head. I started to see blood running down his face as it came into focus. A green aid bandage was wrapped around it, attempting to hold his severed skull together. I looked down and saw blood covering my hands. I knew it wasn’t really there, but it all felt so real.

At that moment I felt numb, emptiness grew inside; my chest slowly became cold. Icy blood pumped through my veins. It felt like I was dying; like life was being drained out of me. I started shaking as a chill crept through me. Death enveloped me, clutching my soul with a wanton lust. My spirit quaked as my heart blackened.

Tears started falling down my cheeks as the visions slowly faded away. I felt like a hollow shell, void of any substance of life. Shaking my head I wiped the tears, but kept crying; unable to stop myself.

I walked to my bedroom, empty except for a small dresser. It’s been 7 months since I moved and still no furniture. Saddened, I closed the door and opened the window. A cool breeze blew through. The sun was bright, warm, and comforting. I took in a couple deep breaths; my jaw still jittered from the flashback as I let it out. My shirt was drenched in sweat.

I opened the drawer of the dresser and grabbed my pipe and weed. I ground some up, put it in the pipe and took a couple of long, slow hits. After about 15 minutes I was fully medicated, seeing everything in a haze. I stared out of the window and looked down at the courtyard. A young couple sat at a table drinking wine; talking… they looked happy. I could see smoke rising from the grill next to them and smelled the scent of barbeque.

Everything I was worrying about started to fade away. The pain in my back turned into a slight annoyance. I smiled a grin ear-to-ear and started beat boxing and singing; doing anything and everything to stop thinking about things – the nightmares from hell that still haunt me.

I poured a glass of cold water from the tap. After slamming a couple, the blue eyes started haunting me again. I felt myself sliding back into the other place when my phone snapped me out of the fall.

I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jessica; I answered annoyingly, “Hello.”

“Hi, what are you doing?”

“Just got home from work,” I said sharply. “Why, what’s up?”

“I don’t know; just seeing what you’re doing. You never call me just to talk,” she said, waiting silently for an answer.

I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Working. You know my hours at work.” I got upset. “Is there something you want?”

“Yeah, I was wondering if you would like to come over and eat dinner with me and Aleah tonight and this weekend? You know… have some family time.”

I was torn, feeling deep in my heart like I wanted to. But then I start thinking about what had just happened. The pain, the flashbacks, I was afraid to leave the house. I missed my daughter so much but I couldn’t drive like this. I lied, “I can’t, I have an appointment later today and I have to work this weekend.”

“Really? You told me you were off,” she said angrily.

“Well Mick asked me to work a couple extra shifts and I said yes.” I got upset again. “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just say ‘No’ now; it’s work.”

“You never want to spend time with us. Aleah is always asking about you. What should I tell her?”

I felt awful. My heart started to burn.

“I’m sorry, Jessica, but I have to work.” I gave in a little, “I can come over after my shift is done. We can eat and play games. You can tell her I have to work and I’ll see her later.”

“Ok. Whatever,” she said.

Then it went silent for a minute.

“How come you don’t love me?”

“I never said I didn’t.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“Because we argue too much.”

“We argue because you don’t even try to listen to anything I have to say and you yell,” she said.

“You do too!” I quickly chimed in. “All you do is yell and I can’t take it. I don’t need people around me yelling all the time. I can’t handle it.”

“If you loved me you would try.”

My gut started hurting. “I do love you, Jessica; I just don’t know what to do.”

“Talk to me.”

Silence fell again, I felt so bad that we couldn’t get along. I do love her, but the arguments and fights, yelling in front of Aleah… it was too much. I don’t want her to think that is how relationships are. She should have a happy life.

“Ok, Sam! Bye!”

“Tell Aleah I’ll call her tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yep, bye.” She hung up, her tone saying all she needed to say.

The room fell quiet. I looked down at the phone and thought of all the good times I’ve had with them. The times I’ve curled over laughing when playing with Aleah. Hearing her laughs echoing throughout the house when I tickled her, I loved it… missed it.

How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling sad and numb inside? I’ve tried my whole life to feel alive; to feel wanted, to be someone special. I joined the Army because it was where I belonged. Fighting for America, saving lives and making a difference, proving to myself that I could do anything, go anywhere.

Now I’m lost, stuck; sealed away in a cave at the center of a deserted world. I want to feel normal again; feel alive, not numb. My past keeps taking over my mind, flooding it with blood and explosions. I want it to end. I want everything to end.

How did I get here?

It was because of the war. Why did I ever sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.”

combat-medic-bookcover6x9-viv

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Precipice
Portion

sinister chuckles-wadi-us-salaam

A Sinister Chuckle

Have you ever been with a group and fell like your left out when someone tells a joke and everyone gets it but you. You hear it but it doesn’t make sense because it sounds downright crazy, but everyone else is chuckling, so you must have missed something, right?

The first time I was assigned to an infantry unit on the front lines in Iraq I didn’t get most of the jokes my other squad members said. I was always left asking, “What’s so funny?” which in turn led to more chuckles and laughs.

HA! It didn’t take to long to catch on once we started fighting together day in and out.

After a few days I fell in sync with the team. Fighting to survive inside a cemetery with bombs blowing old skulls and bones on top of you makes you grow up fast. I had to catch on quickly in order to understand them so we could work better as a team.

Eventually, after weeks of fighting, death and destruction became normal. So normal that almost being shot warrants a laugh followed by the lust of the enemies blood.

The best way for me to describe this is to take you into that point in time of my life. I’ve taken a couple of pages from chapter 18 in my book Combat Medic so you can experience the raw side of war.

This scene is from the Battle of Najaf in the WADI-US-SALAAM cemetery, the largest in the world. Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions.

“None of us wanted to keep going, but we had no choice. We took a quick break in a tomb to rehydrate. I squatted to the ground and finished drinking my third bottle of water for the day. My DCU’s were covered in salt crystals and dirt. It had been two weeks since I’d showered and shaved. I was so exhausted I could have passed out. I’ve never been worked this hard in my entire life and there was no end in sight. At times I felt like being dead would be a better option.

“Who’s up for a little target practice?” Martinez asked. Everyone chuckled except me; I must have missed the joke.

Martinez explained to me that we were going to try and lure people out with bait. Two people had to go out and start making commotion while the other guys watched for the enemy.

“Ok, pick a number between 1 and 20,” Martinez said.

I said 13; his number was 15.

“Damn,” Rodriguez and I both said; then we looked at each other. He smiled, “Gotta die someday, right?”

“Yeah, buddy.” Martinez said, “Don’t worry; they can’t shoot worth shit anyway.

“Glad it’s not me,” B stated before walking through the doorway to outside.

Rodriguez and I stood on top of newer graves in front of the tomb, in clear view for anyone in the cemetery to see. My heart started pounding, filling me with a burst of adrenaline. I’ve survived crazy shit all day; I should already be dead. Rodriguez started yelling, “Woohoo! Yeah!”

I joined in, the whole time moving my head scanning the cemetery for people who might come out to look.

Rodriguez pointed to the top of a tomb in the distance, “You think I can hit the nipple on the top there? The blue one?”

“Bet you I can before you,” I said.

B and Martinez spread out, watching for weapons fire. Rodriguez took a frag out and popped it into his grenade launcher. After taking a couple seconds aiming, he fired. Thump! It sizzled downrange and exploded off to the side of it.

“Damn!” he yelled, I laughed while loading a round. I took aim and popped it off. Boom! The building next to it exploded.

Fuck man!” I yelled loud, trying to draw attention. Rodriguez shot again and hit it. I pointed to another one, “The blue and yellow dome there.”

There was a building in my way as I aimed, so I jumped on top of a taller grave and fired. The top of the dome caved in.

“Fuck yeah!” I shouted.

As Rodriguez took aim to fire another one, bullets started flying around us; we jumped down as B yelled, “Three!” I stood up firing.

When I squatted down again, Rodriguez yelled at me, “Frag’em!” So I loaded a round, counted to three and stood up. I saw two people shooting; one in grey rags, another in black. I aimed and pulled the trigger, Thump!

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M203- Grenade launcher (FRAG)

The round launched out and hit the tree right behind them. BOOM! It split in half, sending smoke and debris everywhere; I saw the guys fall.

“Fuck yeah! Yeah!” Everyone screamed.

“Yeah! Nice shot,” B yelled at me.

We started advancing towards them. Two of us laid down suppressive fire while the other two sprinted forward, leaping behind another grave. When I went to rush forward, there were a couple of graves knocked down in a pile blocking my way. I ran and jumped on top shooting; then jumped back down.

I looked over and saw that Rodriguez had to do the same, but when he jumped on a grave his foot went through. He fell headfirst trying to get it unstuck. I ran over and helped him get his foot unstuck. We both started laughing because he was on his head with his legs dangling in the air.

We got a couple graves away when the firing got heavier. Rodriguez took a grenade out and tried throwing it, but it slipped from his hand, falling two feet in front of him.

“Grenade!” he yelled; we both jumped behind a grave as it went off. BOOM!

I tried throwing one, but as my arm came forward it felt like I was throwing a 40-pound weight and it just rolled out of my hand.

“Grenade!” BOOM!

After it went off we laughed that none of us had enough strength to lodge grenades. I looked back at B, who gave us a go-ahead before firing off a bunch of rounds. We jumped up and made our final push forward. I was filled with a rush of adrenaline as we came up on their positions.

The only thing I saw was blood sprayed over the ground when got there.

Fucking got the bastards, I thought. Rodriguez pointed to his eyes then to a blood trail on the ground. It looked like someone had been dragged into a tomb. He pointed to the building. I nodded.

I took lead, quietly creeping towards the building. When we got to the door I took out a grenade and threw it in. After it exploded, Rodriguez kicked the door in and we stormed in firing. No one was inside, but it was filled with rocket launchers, mortar shells, and bullets; a weapons cache.

“We hit gold,” Rodriguez said.

Before I could respond a hole in the ground came into my view.

“Hole!” I yelled pointing my weapon at it. Rodriguez grabbed two grenades out of his pocket and threw them in. We walked outside as they went off. BOOM!

Rodriguez called the lieutenant to let him know about the weapons.

“Blow the shit,” the lieutenant ordered us. “If you can’t, I’ll push the building over.”

“Roger that,” Rodriguez replied. “Keep watch while I blow this bitch,” he said, walking past me into the doorway

“Got it,” I said.

I stood behind a large pillar next to a wall across from the door, a perfect position to take cover from the blast and still keep watch of the area. I waved to B who was with Martinez 30 yards away. He waved back and kept scanning the cemetery. Rodriguez took out a grenade, threw it in and ran out as it went off. BOOM!

“Fuck! They didn’t blow.” Rodriguez stated after walking back in. He came out and stood directly across from the door and shot a grenade in with his launcher. BOOM! The building exploded multiple times sending smoke and debris everywhere before it collapsed in.

Bullets started flying past me.

I fell behind the pillar while rounds rattled the wall behind me. Neither of us could see where it was coming from so we called it in. After a couple seconds we heard the lieutenant start lighting someone up; the Bradley’s gun was distinguishable from any other weapon. It pulled up a couple graves away from us. We jumped up and fired downrange while we ran over to the Bradley and jumped in.

I fell into the bench exhausted and panting. Rodriguez and I looked at each other, then bumped fists. We both sat trying to catch our breath and drink water. I just happened to look down and see that he was bleeding from his left leg.

“Dude, you’re hit,” I said, pointing. “What happened?”

He grabbed his leg and looked at it. There was a blood soaked hole in his pants. I made him take off his boot and pull up his pants. He had taken a piece of shrapnel in the shin. I took a field bandage out of my pack, opened it, and held pressure on the leg.

“Dude, I might have to send you back.” I said.

“Fuck no doc, I’m ok,” he said desperately.

I stared him in the eyes, not wanting him to get more injured by going out. “Are you sure?”

“I’m serious, it doesn’t even hurt,” he said. My leg started throbbing in pain; at that moment I knew how he felt. I should have said something about it but I didn’t want to leave; we still had a fight to win.

I held pressure on it for a couple minutes and saw the bleeding had gone down. Rodriguez begged me to not send him back; he stared me in the eyes.

“Please doc, those bastards are still out there. We’ve gotta kill them for Hunter.” I didn’t say anything; that’s been my driving factor since he got hit. I wrapped the bandage around his leg and told him to put his boot back on so I could see how he was with weight on it.

He stood up and walked around, “See, I don’t feel a thing. I’m good.” He wasn’t limping, so I told him, “Ok, but we have to get it looked at when we get back. Tell me if it gets worse.”

“Thank you bro,” he said. “I’ll tell you, promise.”

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My Army Commendation Medal.

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Chuckle