Monday, October 19, 2009
Afghanistan in Spring Time
More Friday Flash Fiction.
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.