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THE sun was just above the horizon when I woke. I rubbed my sleepy eyes, yawned and climbed slowly out of bed then went through my normal morning routine of showering and cleansing, and a hot oatmeal breakfast, then dressed myself. However, today wasn’t any typical day for me. This was a big day, one I’d not wanted to come, but at the same one I couldn’t wait for. Today I was being flown to Afghanistan to join the fight against the Taliban resistance. I was a Private 1st Class in 2nd Light Infantry Division of the Canadian Armed Forces; I’d joined them last year. My thoughts returned to my newspaper and I stooped over the front page.
The cab honked its horn, startling me out of the article I was reading. I gathered my duffle bag full of my clothing and personal belongings; photos of my friends, family and my girlfriend, and a hunting knife my Father had given me on my 18th birthday, (about a year and a half ago now). I took one last, sad look around my apartment, noticing the bare walls, stripped of my possessions and decorations. I sighed, knowing once I stepped out, this apartment would be rented out again, and I wouldn’t be back. This place had become my home over the last year; I was going to miss it. I stepped out of the door, and walked towards the cab, not looking back.
“Airport, please.” I said briefly to the driver after seating myself on the cool leather seats. After a nod from the Driver, the cab accelerated smoothly and I was gone.
I shut the door to the cab, thanked and handed the Driver a crisp twenty, gathered my gear and started off towards my terminal. I had to take a flight from Calgary to Toronto myself, then I would stay at the Toronto base for a few nights before being flown to Kandahar. As I walked towards my terminal, I saw a few familiar faces. My family, a few close friends, and my Girlfriend had come to see me off. I smiled at them, but felt a lump in my throat rising up, I knew this would be the last time I would see any of them for a very long time. I noticed my Mother had shining eyes… shed had never wanted me to join the army, much less go off to fight. I remember very clearly the day I told her I was going to go Afghanistan.
“You don’t have to go sweetheart, if you don’t want to,” she had said.
“Mom, I do want to,” I said very quietly. She didn’t seem to hear me.
“There are many things you can do here in Canada that will help. You don’t have to put yourself in danger.” She said pleadingly. She’d been on the verge of tears.
“Mom, I want to go to Afghanistan, please don’t try to stop me.” I hated this, she never really understood me, she wouldn’t listen to what I was trying to say. All she wanted was for me to be safe; I understood though, so I did my best to reassure her, but only ever succeeding in making one (if not both) of us crying. I’d looked into her eyes and saw the tears begin to form. I’d held her close, and wished I didn’t want to go.
This was going to be a hard good bye.
After having gone through the boring process of security, I was ushered onto the first class seating on the plane. After a few minutes, the turbines began to whir, the Captain tested the ailerons, and the plan began to pull out of its parking spot, towards the runway. My heart beat with the anticipation off my time in Kandahar. The Action I would see… theses would be days to remember.
The convoy hummed as it made its way on the outskirts of Kandahar. There were two jeeps, each with 5 soldiers and a manned MG42 on top. We were on normal patrol duty, trying to keep our half of Kandahar safe from outside attacks. I was settled on the left side of the jeep, my rifle pointed up with its but sitting on the ground. Naturally, I had my safety on.
My thoughts pondered of home, I was missing it already. I hated being away from everyone I loved so closely, and I missed city life. My first two days here had been dull. Once we’d gotten here we’d been given an orientation of the airfield, the pressed right into patrol duty, which wasn’t all that exciting. So far I hadn’t seen any action or been involved in any firefights... I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be.
The other guys were talking about home. Most of them had been here for at least a few months.
“Jim, what’d you leave at home? Got a wife or Girlfriend?” one guy said to me. I was pretty sure his name was Simon.
“Yeah, my Girl’s doing a degree in Psychology in Lethbridge. How about you?”
“No, she left me just before I left for this stink hole. She wasn’t going to wait.”
Sometimes I wondered if she would wait for me. She always said she would, I hoped it was true.
On my left was Sergeant Ryan Smith. He’d been here since the beginning. He was a brutal Sarge, one who demanded the absolute best out of you, which always seemed to be better then anyone here could do. If you ever got a complement, it was not to be disregarded.
Across from me was Justin. He’d been here for exactly two months, he was a Private too, like me. The one Driving was Corporal Heather Davis. She was the only Woman here. I thought she was pretty brave to face the Taliban, and the torment of and all guys group. She was a hardened one, and had been in a roadside bomb and an urban firefight or two alongside the Sarge. Not many people could say they’d seen much action as they thought they might here. Usually we kept to our half of the city and the Taliban to theirs.
I heard a muffled explosion out side, and look out the front window to see the jeep ahead of us rolling and bouncing, instead of on four wheels like it should be.
“Bomb!” Heather shouted. She slammed on the brakes, just in time too, as the second on blew up just where we would have been if shed kept going. I was tossed forward and hit my head on something hard. My vision blurred and for a second I lost my hearing. I thought I would black out, but everything quickly came back to focus.
“Hostiles on the west side!” the Sarge shouted. “Everyone out on the east side of the jeep! Someone get on the 42!”
All hell had broken loose. I grabbed my gun and bailed out the east side with the Sarge. I saw Simon get up on the MG42 and begin firing. It was a loud noise and muffled out every other sound, I saw countless shells hit the ground. I saw men standing up from the long grass and begin shooting at us. Most seemed to be very bad shots, but there were so many of them, I estimated at least 12. I leaned out from the side of the jeep, pointed my gun and tried to fire, but the trigger was stuck. I tried again, and it wouldn’t move. I looked at my safety and found the problem. I clicked it of and fired at a man about 25 yards off by a tree. I didn’t think about any family he had, or loved ones that would miss him. I was trying to survive. I fired a few times, and hit the tree beside him. He ducked out of sight. I pointed my gun at another man and fired a few more times. I paused to reload, while I was doing so the continuous fire of the MG42 droned on. I saw a Taliban stand out of the grass with a long tube-like object on his shoulder. He fired and a stream of smoke a trail behind the projectile. I felt my heart sink in a quarter of a second as I realised what it was.
“RPG!” I shouted, “Move!” I jumped towards the ditch, as far from the jeep as I could go. The explosion knocked the wind out of me, but I’d gotten far enough away to escape any damage. I laid still for a second until my breath came back, and then rolled over towards the ditch on the other side of the road for cover.
Simon was in the jeep on the 42 when the RPG hit it. He hadn’t heard me; I don’t think it would have made a difference. He’d cut down at least 4 Taliban for the few seconds he was on the 42. I heard the Sarge in the ditch beside me calling for back up. I looked over the ditch, pointed my gun at the man who’d fired the RPG. I took my time, and fired. He clutched his gut and went down quickly.
Unless there was anyone else in the other jeep still conscious, we were alone until backup came. There were 4 of us against 7 now. We had no MG42 and no air support. Our chances look dim.
We were all in the cover of the ditch, and gunfire ceased for a few precious seconds for me to look down and see an un-armoured topless jeep speeding down the dirt road. It had a very hostile look about it and showed no intention of stopping. It was about 50 meters away now, spraying up dirt and dust behind it. We couldn’t afford to have anymore Taliban against us. I brought my gun up to my eyes and began firing. I fired endlessly and saw a few holes in the windshield appear, then I hit a tire. The tire popped, and the jeep lost control, and rolled into the ditch. I smiled and turned my attention back to the previous hostiles and continued firing. I reload, fired more, reloaded and fired more. It must have been about five minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime of fighting. I began to hear a whirring above my; then I saw Taliban soldiers falling like dominos. Hot shells fell into my shirt and burned my skin. I looked up and saw a military helicopter; our back up had arrived, we were going be okay. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and relaxed. Soon gunfire ceased, and I knew we were going be okay.
I killed innocents that day. Innocents. A child too. The very people I was fighting to protect.
I was sitting on the ground beside our wrecked jeep enjoying a cigarette after our conflict. I didn’t usually smoke, but sometimes I felt I’d earned it. I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye, then heard the Sarge speak.
“You know Private, in the heat of a battle, you can’t always make the right decisions.”
I was quiet. I didn’t know where this was going. What had I done wrong?
“When one is pressed to make a quick decision, they have to base it on the little information you have at the time.” he continued.
I took a drag from my cigarette. “Did I do something wrong, Sarge?” I asked.
“Yes. Something terribly wrong, but something any man, including myself would have done in your position. Follow me please, Jim.” I did just that. He brought me to the vehicle I had shot at. It was overturned in the ditch, the windshield was smashed and a little smoke came from the engine. To the side, bodies of the victims killed in the jeep were laid out. I found tears rolling down my cheeks as I saw the product of my hasty decision. A child of about 2 or 3 years of age had a neat hole in his arm and a gash across his face. Blood was crusted in his clothing and across his forehead. Beside him was his mother, just as bloody, and a surprised look on her face. Beside her was what I thought was the father.
Hate overwhelmed me. This was all the Taliban’s fault. If they weren’t here, we wouldn’t be, and there wouldn’t have been any fighting to hurt anyone anyways. I screamed. I screamed louder then I had ever before. Echoes came back, even though there were no mountains or buildings around to echo off of. What had I done? I looked again at the child’s face. I felt a sob escape my lungs.
“Forgive me,” I whispered.
I ran. I ran past bodies of the dead Taliban. I heard voices calling to me, but I didn’t stop. I ran for almost half an hour. Eventually exhaustion of the attack overwhelmed me and I stopped. I knelt and began to sob some more. I knew I could not live with what I had done. My hand went to my pistol on my belt, and I slowly pulled it out. I cocked it and put the barrel under my chin. It was cool, even in the blazing heat of Afghanistan, the metal of my pistol managed to stay cold. My finger felt the trigger and I began to shake. Sweat poured down my back, soaking my shirt; my finger slipped on the trigger and I almost dropped the gun. Great heaving sobs continued to come. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I hated myself for my crime. I’d taken a life away from a little kid, I deserved to die. But something stopped me. My thoughts went back to home, of my Girl, my family, my friends. I paused. I promised each and every one of them I would be safe. None of them believed it of course, but I’d promised it. I said I would be back, and not in a body bag.
I un-cocked my pistol, lit another cigarette; then got back up to do my job.