what war feels like

Updated: Jan 24



My mouth is so dry. I can feel my heart beating, especially in my ears against the sweaty earpiece that I keep checking to make sure it’s in tight, but the sweat won’t let it be. I take a quick look around, then take my left glove off and roll a foamy piece of ear protection as tight as I can so it will fill up the ear canal and occlude as much sound as possible. The sweat and dirt on my fingers make it slippery as I roll it. I put it in my left ear and hold it there as it expands and makes the world sound dull and flat. Now I can’t hear as well but once the shooting starts I won’t hear anything at all if I don’t put it in. It’s a tradeoff. I put my glove back on then swear to myself and take it back off. I forgot I was going to put a dip in. The tobacco tastes cold and sweet between my gum and lip.

It’s so hot you can smell it. Something is about to go down. Everyone can feel it. The shops started to close a few minutes ago, the proprietors pulling down the garage doors that open to the dirty street. My back hurts from leaning back to counter the heavy ammo and grenades on the front of my ballistic plate carrier. I have 12 magazines on me and one in the gun totaling 390 rounds, and several types of grenades.

I’m aware that I am scared, and it pisses me off. I’m not scared of dying. I’m not scared of pain. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that nothing will happen to me and I’m terrified of the shock and feeling of incredulity I will feel when it does. And I’m mad that I believe so strongly that nothing will kill me. It makes me feel like I’m not ready for something very big that I have to be ready for. It is insanely irritating. I feel daft. I keep trying to picture myself dead, or imagine the feeling of the explosion or bullet, so I’ll be ready, but I can’t. I’m not ready for death and it is infuriating.

I block it all out. But I’m still livid. I decide to take it for granted that I’m invincible. It’s the best I can do.

The Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) guys are out on route Michigan getting ready to blow up a mortar round that failed to detonate upon impact of the street to my front. I’m in a reviewing stand about 10 feet off the ground and 10 feet from the road. 10 foot concrete Jersey barriers line the street in front of the Government Center compound where we are and continue around its border. Sandbags are stacked two wide and about 3 feet high around the circumference of the 20 X 10 foot reviewing stand floor. It has a tin roof and tin walls on three sides.

The Detail Leader, a former Delta Force guy named Pigpen, is sitting down in a folding metal chair with the PRC-119F radio handset jammed against his ear.

“They’re going to blow it in 30 seconds.” Pigpen says.

I take a hard look around before I get down behind the sandbags on a knee.

“CRACK”

The explosion is right next to us on the other side of the Jersey Barriers.

“Damn bro, that was a lot closer than I thought it was going to be.” Pigpen laughs.

The explosion has a catalytic effect on the tension that has been mounting and now it breaks like a dam. We’ve all been waiting. Thank God, here we go.

Instantly rounds start snapping through the air by us. Sounds like maybe a PKM and some AK fire. The Marine Up-gunner’s .50 cal is already answering.

Pigpen aims across my front and takes three shots.

I see nothing to my front and down the alleyway that I’m covering.

Suddenly it’s dead quiet.

“Got that motherfucker.” Pigpen says smiling. “He was in that one little window we were looking at yesterday.”

I smile not taking my eyes off my sector of fire. I know it’s going to kick off again in a second. I feel a lot better now.

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