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One Way Trip
The cool breeze blew over me again. I turned over trying to find a comfortable position on my cot. I couldn't find one. I checked my watch, 5 o clock. 30 minutes until I had to get out of bed, it wasn't worth going back to sleep.
I climbed out of bed onto the wooden boards which was all that was between me and the desert sand. I fumbled under my cot looking for my suitcase. My hand made contact with the metal handle and I pulled it out. Finding a set of clean Army Cammos, I walked outside to the showers.
20 minutes later I was completely changed and was sitting in front of the t.v. playing Call of Duty with Paul, my buddy from Massachusetts, who had signed up for the US armed forces' Green Berets with me.
“How are you so good at this?” Paul asked me.
“I have no idea.” I replied. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned my head. “You really have to stop cheating at this game” I smiled, It was Captain Turner, better know as Chief to us. I actually never found out why this was his nickname, but I had my ideas.
“Hey Captain, something wrong?” I asked
“No nothings wrong, just came by to tell you that you're going to be on patrol today. You'll be near the town's square.” This was good news. Patrol in the town center meant easy work, away from open areas and IEDs. However, you still had to watch your back because the insergeants weren't afraid to blow up themselves or civilians.
I clicked the off button on the x-box and stood up. “Thanks Captain” I said “I'll get out there as soon as possible.”
“Ok, I'll see you later today Sergeant” Captain Turner saluted and I saluted back. He then turned around and walked out the door.
As the Sergeant of the Squad I was the one who had to make the commands. “Ok men, you heard the Captain, we'll be on patrol today. Be ready in five minutes outside by the Humvees.” “Humvee” was not a technically correct term. It was actually called a HMMWV, (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) but the name is to long and was unnecessary so it is shortened to Humvee.
5 minutes later the 8 men in my Squad were climbing into the vehicles. I walked around the car and got into the left door next to... who was in the driver's seat. My friend Paul was operating the 50cal on the top. “Ok, lets move out” I said to the driver.
Standing outside the vehicle in the square, I pictured Los Angeles in the way that I had just left it. There was not a single comparison that I could make from this place to California. It wProxy-Connection: keep-alive
hot, dry, dirty and everyone there was yelling at one other about the goods they were selling. Paul walked up to me, “Got any orders for me Tom”.
“You really have to start addressing me as sir or sergeant Wright when we're not at hq. It sounds more professional in front of them”.
“Yes sir” he replied with a smile. “So what should I be doing, sir”.
“You can patrol those stands to the right, but be careful for any suspicious looking people or spotters. I know we're being watched right now”.
“Report back to me in 1 hour then we'll leave for base.” As Paul walked off in one direction I started moving the other way. I could see people buying cloth, food and other items every way I looked. They were just ordinary citizens and we had intruded on their life, it was a difficult concept for a lot of the soldiers to understand. They seem to think of them as an interference, an annoyance in this whole mess. They were hear to kill the people that the American government had deemed enemies and no other reason. I suddenly noticed a man staring at me. Although I'm used to this because we are such outsiders in their world, this man was looking at me differently. I've seen fear from people, I've seen awe and occasionally anger, but this man was just watching my every move without expression. I turned my head a dismissed the thought, I was probably just worrying myself to much about him.
30 minutes later we were driving along the road heading back to the barracks. One of the other squads had joined up with us and their Humvees were following along behind us. I looked out the window at the open expanse of desert around us. I could over hear my men playing some word game in the back, but I didn't care because I had just started thinking about the man in the market place again. When I had gotten back into my Humvee he had still been watching me. Something wasn't right about that man. And then it happened. The vehicle in front of me disappeared into a cloud of smoke
I reacted in a second. I shouted “Stop the car!” The driver slammed down his foot hard on the brake pedal. As I threw open my door and jumped out the man operating the 50cal shouted “RPG!”
The rpg hit the car like a charging rhino. The whole left side of the car was ripped to shreds and instantaneously killing the driver and the passenger behind him. But I had no time to think, I had to act now. I started to sprint as fast as my body would allow with 20 pounds of equipment on towards the burning vehicle in front of us. I could hear all hell breaking lose behind me as the 50 cal on the other Squads Humvees ripped through the enemies behind me.
I reached the burning vehicle and opened the passenger seat. I pulled the man out who was sitting in the seat. As I carried the man I had saved from the vehicle to safety the Humvee behind me exploded again. I picked up my M-16 from where I had left it and joined the rest of my squad. I could hear a man in one of the vehicles madly shouting at his radio requesting for backup. I took out the clip from my M-16 and put in a new one. I saw someone up on the ridge looking down right at me. I aimed and then pulled the trigger. I felt the gun kickback into my arm and saw the man fall and go limp. I noticed another man I aimed, fired and put in a new clip.
It was then that something strange started to happen. It was almost as if the sun was going black and my vision started going fuzzy. I turned to my right, a private named John was standing there. “John!” I shouted to him.
“Yes Sergeant” he shouted back.
“Can you see everything alright?” I asked. He crouched down and turned to me with a confused look. “Yeah, why do you ask”
“It's just that...” and then the blackness collapsed on top of me and I couldn't see anything.
I felt it suddenly. A hot, searing pain that went up my entire leg. “Good morning, Sergeant, good to see you awake.” I turned around. There was a man standing over me. “Where the hell am I” I asked the man.
“You're in Camp Bastion, you've had a tough time.” I tried to recall the name of the place. I recognized it in some far off part of my brain. But wherever this place was I didn't care, I just wanted to know why I was here. Then suddenly I remembered the name. It was a field Hospital in Afghanistan. But that still left my other question unanswered. “Why am I here” I asked the man.
I was met with a puzzled stare. He then smiled and said “Sergeant, you're suffering from post traumatic stress. You won't remember much of what happened and I am not authorized to tell you either. The doctor should be along shortly. Feel better Sergeant.” And with that the man turned around and walked down the hallway. It was as I watched him go that I realized I was not alone in the room. There were about 9 other beds in the room, 6 of which were occupied.
“Hey, kid” I looked to my left. There was a man, probably in his mid 30s in the bed next to me. “I feel bad for you kid, must hurt like hell” I guessed he was referring to my leg, but how did he know it hurt. “Yeah, it does. How'd you know about it.”
“Read the clipboard. Said you were shot in the leg by a Ak-47.” I sat there for a couple seconds, taking in what he just told me. No, it can't be true. I'd seen people shot, I'd even seen people die, but I never imagined that I could be that person. That person taken away on a stretcher or that unmoving object in a black bag.
“You got a name?” I realized the man was still talking to me. I turned to him taking in what he had just asked.
“Uh, yeah, Tom Wright”
“Jeffery Gardner. It's always nice to have a new face in this hole. It gets kinda repetitive when its the same person in the bed nexta ya. ” I nodded as a reply. I was finding it difficult to speak. Was it pain or worry. I had been told a lot in these last couple minutes. I didn't want to think on anything else. I didn't want to feel anymore pain in my leg. I just wanted to sleep. I closed my eyes and felt my senses shutting down.
“Sergeant Wright”. My eyes shot open. Ugh, so close. “I'm the Doctor Williams, I'm here to check up on you and also to fill in any missing details from yesterday.”
“Ok” I said
“But first I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Do you remember basic things like your name, where you live and what your squad number was?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Ok, good. Next I just want to find out what you remember from yesterday.” I forced my memory backwards to yesterday. I told him what I remembered “Ok, I remember we were patrolling through the town center. We were then ambushed on our way back to Head Quarters.” I said.
“Thats good. It appears that you haven't suffered from any memory loss. However, just so you know, you were shot during the fight. And because of that General Smith is here to present you with a medal.” As he said this, the General appeared behind him.
“Sergeant Wright, for being injured while protecting your country away from home, the army has awarded you the Purple Heart.” and with that he handed me a box with the medal in it. I stared at it amazed. I had heard stories about men weeping when they had received this medal and now I was joining the ranks of the soldiers who had been injured in war. I looked up at the general and realized he still had more to say. “Also, your friend Paul has told us that you saved a mans life yesterday, a man named George Riley and for that we are awarding you the Bronze Star. And now so that you can get some sleep, I will finish this up by telling you that we have also promoted you to the rank of Sergeant Major for your cool head while facing the enemy. Thank you for all you have done Sergeant Major Wright.” And with that the General turned on his heels and left. I don't remember clearly what happened after that because I was in so much shock from all that had happened in the last 10 minutes. I had been informed that I was shot in the leg, I also had just received two medal and a promotion. The only thing that I do remember was that the doctor told me that I could go on leave from Afghanistan for two weeks.
I was now riding back to America on a Boeing 747 which I had left from the U.A.E in after being airlifted out of Afghanistan in a helicopter. The plane felt calm, but almost too calm. There was plenty of notice, but everything seemed so different than when I had left America. People seemed to be so uncaring about things. They I could hear the couple in the seat next to me planning out what they were going to do in 5 days time. Back in Afghanistan we planned for the next day or that moment. Plus there wasn't action here either. People were either just sitting back and lazily looking at t.v screens, books and magazines. In Afghanistan we were cleaning guns, training for fights or going over tactics. Even the free times we had were for no more than an hour. This just seemed all wrong. I felt out of place. And now suddenly, for the first time, I realized that I could never leave Afghanistan. By joining the war I had made myself different from everyone else. Everyone else who had never seen a person die or had never fired a gun to take a life. I knew that for the first time in my life, being back home was going to be torture.