Monday, October 19, 2009

Afghanistan in Spring Time

All errors are my own and I hope no one has an issue with my story and how it relates to events going on. I meant no harm to anyone.
"You know Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man's thoughts turn to love, but I think they're wrong." My drunken friend Richard said to me in the nightclub over the sound of the loud music and the bodies pressed together so tightly it was almost a collective grope session. I watched Richard struggle both not to spill his drink and find the words to finish his thought but he lost on both counts bumping into, and then falling on top of a woman making her way through the crowd. It was just as well, because I was in no mood for his combination of homespun wisdom and New Age mumbo-jumbo that he felt compelled to constantly share with the other guys in our platoon.
I watched amazed as Richard and the gorgeous and equally drunk lady briefly stared into each other’s eyes and proceeded to try and undress each other on the floor with the people around us somehow making room for the unexpected spectacle. As much as the man could irritate the crap out of me, it was just par for the course for him and maybe why I continued to play his wingman and rescuer when the shit hit the fan such as it looked to be happening.
“Dammit Ashley,” I heard yelled out from the crowd with a huge hulking figure pushing people out of his way coming toward us. “I’m going to kill you and that bastard on top of you.”
Coming from the other direction were two of the club’s bouncers equally intent on reaching Richard first who by now had managed to get his shirt off and with help from the lady, was working the bottom of her tight dress up toward her waist.
If the army had taught me anything, it was when to retreat, so I disentangled him from his sudden lady friend and scooped him off the floor, threw him over my shoulder and with the use of our combined mass bulldozed our way out the club into the cold winter night.
Being the designated driver for our night out and with the enraged boyfriend very probably still working his way outside I popped the trunk on my car and dropped Richard inside it just cause it was easier than trying to get him seated in the car, then as fast as possible got in and drove away. As the club slipped into the distance, I had a chance to think about Richard words and began to wonder where he was going with the thought. Richard’s other irritating habit was that his homespun wisdom and mumbo-jumbo often had meaning, only if you actually listened to the guy and got a chance to think about what he said. Moreover, with me growing ever more nervous about our upcoming deployment to Afghanistan I needed all the reassurance I could get, no matter the whacked out source.

Six months later, our platoon is on top of some godforsaken mountain outpost a couple of rock throws away from the Pakistan border. Concertina wire and a few Claymore mines laid out in front of it make up a half-assed perimeter to protect us from the guerrilla fighters that get their rocks off firing a couple of hundred round of machine gun fire and a few RPG’s at us every day. Our response is to fire back and call in nearby Apache gunships. The trouble is the bastards melt back into the mountains and caves and the flyboys usually just waste ammo shooting goats and the occasional wreckage of some ancient Russian armored vehicle.
The real dust up for both the guerrillas and us is when we head out on patrols with both groups trying to setup ambushes. During winter things were far more relaxed, if that word can be used in such a place and situation, but as the days grew longer and warmer and after the mud from the winter runoff dried up making foot travel easier we began having far more and heavier contact with the enemy. It was either constant patrolling or living with the bullets and rocket fire from the neighboring mountains being fired at our outpost.
It was one night while watching the perimeter with the air so crisp and clean that the stars above blazed with a light that a small, poor kid from East Los Angeles never could imagine I thought to ask Richard of what he was going to say in that faraway bar. What surprised me was that even as drunk as he was that night I could tell from the smile I saw him flash with the night vision goggles I was wearing he remembered what he was going to say.
“Well dude,” he began taking a deep breath of that thin mountain air, “usually the thoughts of a young man turn to love in the spring but in our case…”
The impact of a mortar round in the middle of the outpost then the following impacts of RPG’s along the perimeter silenced Richard and we both began firing our weapons into the night looking for targets with night vision. The yells of injured soldiers and others awakened in the night added even more urgency to what was quickly looking like a major assault on our outpost. Not only had the enemy setup mortar positions on nearby mountaintops but what looked to be two dozen guerrilla fighters were making their way to the position Richard and I shared.
Dozens of orders could be heard screamed by voice and on radio with someone yelling on both to watch your eyes. Several illumination flares were sent up, temporarily providing a near enough daylight environment to remove the night vision goggles and survey the camp's surrounding area. The heavy thud of the M-19 grenade launcher was then heard nearby from another firing point with brilliant flashes showing impacts down range. Our own mortar teams, almost firing danger close, let loose with both our 60 and 81-millimeter tubes concentrating fire on the enemy teams making their way up the side of the hill.
Concentrating on the human figures getting far too close to the perimeter by instinct I fell back onto my training controlling my breathing, picking a target, and slowly squeezing the trigger. Each time I was rewarded with the sight of someone falling down then often tumbling backwards down the slope. As much as I knew I was killing another human being and that I had left the gang related carriage that ravaged my neighborhood for the same reason I did not hesitate with any of the targets that fell in my sights.
Richard was firing the M249 and was laying down suppressing fire in our sector giving me the chance to continue to take out individuals getting to close to the concertina wire threatening to overrun us. Where once I thought I saw only two dozen, now there seemed to be hundreds.
“Where are the goddamned Apaches?” Someone yelled out over the chaos. Another enemy mortar round impacting in our camp seemed to answer for him. “Low on ammo,” someone else yelled out much too close to our position. As time and space narrowed just to the firing of my weapon and the targets I shot in front of me everything else sort of blurred out of reality. I do remember the RPG that hit just a few feet away but only a few minor pieces of shrapnel hit my arm and head. I called out to Richard but even if things had ended right there I was deaf for the most part from all the noise and would not have heard him.
It wasn’t until the first rays of sunrise became noticeable and I caught sight of the Apache helicopters flying nearby firing both the chain gun under the nose and rockets from their sides mounts that things began to ramp down. A few Blackhawks had come in as well both picking up wounded and dropping off troops to try and cut off the retreating guerrillas. Even with the hours I had spent fighting and being seriously dazed and confused I was puzzled to see another person standing next to me manning the M249 that Richard had been firing. After staring at the guy for a few minutes my head finally cleared enough that I recognized the new guy as Thomas Foster, just another fellow from my platoon.
“Where the Hell is Richard,” I asked. Figuring that with the fighting more or less over he was either taking a crap in the latrine or scrounging up a decent MRE. Foster didn’t answer but did glance out toward the wounded and dead.
I crawled out from the hole in the ground that I had been in for eternity noticing the shrapnel from enemy mortars embedded in the ruptured sandbags we had been using as overhead cover. I licked my dry lips tasting for the first time the blood that still dripped down the side of my face. The carefully laid out outpost I had spent the last few months in was now a collection of craters and damaged buildings. Walking amongst the debris and spent ammo I came up to people laid out in nice, neat military rows on top of whatever the medics could find. Some were moving and others were covered from head to toe laying very still.
I found Richard, his uncovered arm showing off the tattoo he got on one of our nights out. I pulled back the poncho that covered his head and figured the RPG that I barely remember must have gotten him spraying his body with hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. He was a bloody mess and I can only figure that after the rocket hit being badly injured he must have crawled out of our position for some reason.
Sitting beside my friend I wondered what he was going to say before the attack and all I can figure, even now, was that he was going to say that while in spring the thoughts of a young man usually turn to love, in our case though they turn to fighting and death.

18 comments:

MRMacrum said...

Wow. Simply wow. At first I thought your transition from the bar to Deployment was awkward, but then it all tied together. Excellent. Liked it a lot.

Beach Bum said...

Thank you much, I appreciate your compliments. I think as you were reading it I was still chasing down my famous typos and changing the title.

As I wrote at Cormac's place I read Randal's yesterday and his story and my first one for this session had some similarities. Had to scramble to get another done.

sunshine said...

I with MRMacrum. "Wow"!
That was a really, really great story Beach. :) I loved it. I actually got a bit misty eyed when he found Richard dead.
Good stuff friend. :D

((Hugs))
Laura

sunshine said...

*should have said.. "I'm with MRMacrum"...duh.

Anyhow.. I forgot last time I was in here... I REALLY want to see Paranormal Activity!! Guess what though! It didn't come to my town. I'm so mad! Not sure if we are going to make a trip down to the *city* to go and see it or not. There's that new Gerard Butler/Jamie Foxx movie out this week....... I think I might be ready to forgive Gerard and accept him back as my fantasy lover... ;P
Thanks for letting me know that it's worth going to see though.. I'm going to really try to get there..

((Hugs))AGAIN? Gosh you're greedy for hugs aren't you? ;P

Laura

Cormac Brown said...

That was something else.

MadMike said...

So, where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to war and then to graveyards [everyone] if their luck runs out. War is hell.

I enjoyed this immensely Beach although once you met "Richard" I knew the medic would be gathering his dog tags at the end of the day. Like I said: war is hell.

Marja said...

What a powerful magnificent story The story came so alive as if I was there and I ended up with a tear in my eye. Wow When is your book coming out BB

Keshi said...

from dreams to uniforms to war to graves...

I loved this post BB...made me all teary too.

btw I just posted after a v long time :)

TC
Keshi.

Beach Bum said...

Sunshine: This story was a real scramble, for several reasons, and I'm certain a good bit of what I wrote concerning military terminology is wrong. I've been retired since 2005 and what little contact I have with the military right now I know a whole bunch of stuff that was common knowledge for me is out of date.

You have to see "Paranormal Activity" somehow. My wife and I saw it Saturday and it is old time scary yet has a very sharp edge.

Cormac: Thanks, and if the story got about when and where I wrote it I would be in trouble.

Madmike: While I have been retired since 2005 I have talked to several of my old National Guard buddies that had the "privilege", as the leadership calls it, to serve overseas. I really wish the media would report have the stuff I have heard from them.

Marja: Thanks, and a book for me might be a little tough.

Keshi: Heading over to your site now.

Oso said...

Beach,
Count me as a Born in East LA guy who enjoyed your story.You have a gift.

Randal Graves said...

Dude, given the starter sentence, I certainly wouldn't have expected this, but good stuff. Hard to find anything that juxtaposes with love as much as war does.

PipeTobacco said...

Incredibly hard edged writing! Very, very realistic and believable at every step. You should be VERY proud of this effort. It is the type of writing that lets the reader forget the words and see a movie in his mind as he reads.

PipeTobacco
http://frumpyprofessor.blogspot.com

Rhiannon said...

I agree with pipe tobacco that it was like a movie in our minds...the imagination runs vivid upon reading your very in depth words and story. It made me feel very very sad indeed.

At first I thought you were writing about a true experience that you had had in Afganistan yourself! Didn't realize until reading the comments in here that it was your "writers story".

I'm impressed. Thank you for giving us all the gift of food for thought about all this horrific war going on for so many years...and all the losses of human life. Do we actually think it will work or solve anything over there? Have we not learned from when the Russians were over there for so many years and gave up and left? The middle east "constant" issues of religion and war amongst themselves for centuries will not be something that we or any other country can solve. We have only created many more martyrs by what we've done. This is what I think and feel at least.

Let them continue to fight it out among themselves if they chose to. I don't feel that the constant "fear" and "threat" of terrorism hanging over our heads over here is going to solve anything either. We've got to stop fearing everything, it only helps "fear keep fear going itself". Make any sense? I have no answers just my feelings and take on things as they have been and "are" now for the last 8 years. We only helped create more of a mess over there.

Sorry...just my humble opinion...what do I know?

Rhiannon

sunshine said...

Guess what! I'm going to see paranormal activity next week! It finally came! Phew!!!!!

P.S. I fell asleep when Gerard Butler was on SNL actually. I only lasted about 10 min's. (hope that makes you feel better) ;P

((Hugs))
Laura

Alan Griffiths said...

This one gets a wow from me too BB. Poignant and beautifully written - excellent stuff.

goatman said...

"So once again"

By Steppenwolf, years ago.

Beach Bum said...

Oso: Thanks and one of my active army buddies was from East LA and one time while we were out in the field I remember him mentioning that all the stars he could see far away from city lights truly amazed him. I had to mention that in the story along with throwing the "Richard" character into the trunk of the car upon needing to get out fast from a night club. Which also happened and the other army buddy never even remembered it.

Beach Bum said...

Sorry I had to cut and run on the comment responses, had to go to work.

Randal: You know, I've a found a few problems with my story concerning some military stuff and will rewrite to correct it. As for the young men angle, I'm old enough now to look at the faces of guys going overseas and view them as kids. It’s a fucked up situation, as old as humanity itself, to send young men to die for the stupidity of old men.

Pipe Tobacco: Thank you sir, and I will be adding you to my blogroll when I get back home tomorrow.
Its hard to explain sometimes and other times I rant to the point I make people want to puke but I really get upset seeing how the guys and gals in the armed forces get both wrongly roasted by some at home for being "crazed killers working for American Imperialism"

And the chickenhawks here at home as well who are all for sending the working class and poor kids to die but their precious children have to go to college.

Rhiannon: Please my friend, feel free to express your opinion here at anytime. No, I hadn't seen combat, the army's biggest worry when I served was the Soviets or a snap inspection by some desk jockey who had nothing better to do.

To be honest I have had, and still do, mixed feelings about Afghanistan. I feel we were right to go into the place after 9/11 but Bush so screwed the situation by diverting very finite recourses to Iraq that no matter how much people blame Obama I feel Bush lost the war there long before the last presidential election.

I believe we had a chance to make a lasting change helping the Afghani people but that is now lost and I'm leaning heavily toward us getting out of the place. Your last sentence pretty much sums it up for me: "We only helped create more of a mess over there."

Sunshine: Paranormal Activity is truly a scary picture. Go with someone to see it and remember to keep a light on that night, not that it would scare away the "evil entity".

Alan Griffiths: Thanks, and I will add you to my blogroll as well.

Goatman: It’s crazy really, I'm at work and in the background I'm hearing the television in the break room where Fox Noise is on with old and stupid farts talking with more than likely no family member in the wars we are fighting talk plenty of trash about "victory".