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A Second Chance
“Shoot! That’s an order, Perez!”
Joseph froze in disbelief as he witnessed his enemies firing at him. He had his rifle ready to blast, but Joseph could not grasp the reality of actually being in a battle. A bullet zoomed past his helmet, scraping a piece of it. He was in his own world. Words just flew through his ears. Gunfire blasted freely in the air like fireworks going off during the end of a 4th of July show. “I-I’m so sorry, Carol,” muttered Joseph to himself, trembling in fear as Death stared at his eyes. Tears began to stream from his eyes. All he could think about was how he got himself in this mess.
“Carol, Honey, can you come here, please?” Joseph asked his wife. “I need to talk to you ‘bout something.”
“Just a minute! I’m trying to get the kids to sleep. Daniel and Jennifer are giving me a hard time tonight.”
Joseph waited anxiously in the living room, pacing back and forth. He rubbed his scruffy beard and scratched his greasy, black hair. He was so excited to tell his wife the great news! Carol emerged from the hallway, exhausted after another long day of taking care of the kids. Despite that, she always tried to keep a pretty smile on her face.
“What’d you need, Sweetie?”
“Okay, I’ve found the solution to all our financial problems!” he exclaimed. Carol gave Joseph a blank stare. “I know you’re always tired from taking care of the kids, and I’m never really home since I’m working two retail jobs. So, here’s my idea - I am going to join the Army!” Seeing her expression in reply, he continued, “Now, just hear me out. Think about all the benefits we can get from the government, Carol! I won’t have to work as much, they’ll pay for my college, and-and it’ll be such a great experience! It’s the perfect solution for us!”
Carol’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?” she asked. “You expect me to take care of these da** kids on my own?” Her tone rose as she slammed the wall, preparing to finally expel her frustrations. “What happened to the great plan you had, huh? Answer me! Look at this house. It’s cr**! We can barely make it each month. Is this the dream life you promised me, Joseph? It’s feeling more like he**! And now you want to join the Army? Maybe you should have actually studied and worked a bit harder so we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
“Don’t talk to me like that, Carol. I’m doing what’s best for us. I am joining the Army.” Carol stormed out the front door, leaving the kids with Joseph. There was nothing she could do to change his mind.
“Snap out of it, Perez! Shoot them! Hurry!”
Snapping back to his senses, Joseph fired at the enemy, and the troops were able to gain the upper-hand after the terrorists’ surprise attack. Dead bodies flew around Joseph.
“We need to leave now,” commanded Sergeant Johnson. “There’s more coming. Perez, take the Humvee back to base. McCormick, round up the other men, take the other Humvee, and follow us.”
Joseph turned the key in the ignition. However, the vehicle would not start, failing to give out its starting roar and offering only a slight rumble.
“I-I don’t know what’s wrong, Sergeant!”
“Da**it, Perez! McCormick, get in front!”
As soon as McCormick’s Humvee passed Joseph’s, Joseph’s Humvee suddenly gave out a roar. Joseph pressed the gas and followed McCormick as they headed back to base.
Boom! In an instant McCormick’s Humvee exploded. A flash of fire spread across the horizon. A cloud of dirt amassed throughout the area. The Humvee violently sprang into the air. Bodies practically disintegrated from its eruption. The Humvee, having crashed back to earth, was only a skeleton. The impact from this explosion caused Joseph’s Humvee to flip counter-clockwise, roll several times, and land on its back in the dirt. Flames burst from its engine. Blood gushed down Joseph’s face, oozing onto his seat. Joseph and his sergeant were trapped in the mangled wreckage. Helpless, they waited for death. Joseph drifted in and out of consciousness, and his mind returned to the past.
“Daddy, why are we still here in Alaska? I miss my friends. I miss seeing the sun! I like Texas. It’s so cold here,” whined Jennifer.
“I like it here! It’s a nice change of pace. I think life is much better here,” replied Joseph optimistically. Jennifer frowned in displeasure at her father’s response.
“Even your children are sick of it here, Joseph,” added Carol. “We’ve lived here for two years now. I thought you said joining the Army was going to make our lives better. And now we all have to suffer here alone in the winter while you head for Iraq tomorrow. Is that fair to your family?”
“You’re not looking at the bright side of things, Honey!”
“Just stop. Take one last hard look at us because tomorrow may be the last time you actually see us. Just stop thinking about yourself and start considering what you are putting us through, Joseph.” Overwhelming tears took over her eyes as Joseph stood absolutely speechless.
The following afternoon, Joseph and several of his fellow soldiers were getting ready to deport for Iraq. They prepared to say goodbye to their loved ones. Joseph stood confidently, standing tall and proud in his uniform. He was ready, almost excited, for Iraq.
“We don’t want you to leave, Daddy. Please don’t go. We love you!” cried Daniel as he held on his father’s leg. His sister immediately followed. Tears streamed down their innocent faces.
Joseph simply wrapped his arms around them. It finally hit him that he may never see his family again. He watched his children crying in front of him. They were in pain. They were scared. Guilt began to rush through his veins. He had an urge to cry, but he could not show weakness in front of his children. Joseph gulped then told them to remain strong. He gave one last kiss to Carol and told his family he loved them before boarding the plane.
During the entire flight to Iraq, all Joseph could think about was his children’s tears. He began to question his decision. Was this really the right thing to do? He shoved his head against the seat in frustration. The next six months were going to be the longest of his life.
“Welcome to Iraq. Y’all are going to love it here,” said Sergeant Johnson sarcastically as he met up with the soldiers once they arrived. He looked forward to leading the incoming troops.
Joseph stepped out of the plane into an unknown world. The drastic climate change surprised him. Sand swirled in the air as the ridiculously hot breeze blew across the desert. He questioned the purpose of training in extreme weather conditions opposite from his destination. He thought, “Which exactly is worse: working in weather that was so cold that you freeze into a sculpture the instant you step outside, or being in weather so hot that you melt into a puddle?” Iraq wasn’t particularly what Joseph expected it to be.
“Our mission here is to kill those da** terrorists,” began Sergeant Johnson. “And also to rebuild this God-forsaken land. Y’all will take orders from me, understand? Oh, and watch out for those da** camel spiders. Those things are huge! You can’t miss ‘em.”
Joseph slowly adjusted to life in Iraq over the next several months. It was nothing how the American media portrayed it. When he patrolled the streets of Baghdad, all the citizens looked at him in disgust. “They don’t want us here,” Joseph repeated to himself. The damage left behind from the warfare was evident in every corner of Iraq. “We got it good back home. Ha, no wonder everybody hates us. We really do take our lives for granted,” Joseph claimed.
Joseph wrote to Carol at every opportunity. Not being able to see her face tortured him. He tried to present the bright side of things, for he didn’t want his wife to worry. He falsely claimed he loved Iraq and how things weren’t too bad. However, the more letters he sent over the weeks then months, the more his optimism faded. This war had crushed his spirit.
“Men, we’re heading out again. Move it!” demanded Sergeant Johnson. Joseph stood outside the barrack with some of his fellow soldiers. They waited patiently for their sergeant’s orders, when their procedure was suddenly interrupted.
“Sir, do not come any closer to this base,” commanded the sergeant to an Iraqi citizen. “If you come any closer, we will have to shoot you.” The man’s brain couldn’t comprehend the foreign language. It was all gibberish. Talking to him was like speaking to a dog that just ignored your orders and continued to go about its business. “Sir, do not come any closer!” The man continued to walk. Paranoia filled the air with each step the innocent man took. Anybody could be a terrorist hiding a bomb. You didn’t know the face of your enemy. Everybody truly had to watch his own back. “Da**it, Sir, do not test me! We will blow your brains out if you do not cooperate with us!” Just more and more meaningless words.
“Perez, shoot him!”
“Wait, what?” replied Joseph in shock.
“Are you questioning my orders? Shoot the son of a b**** before he kills us!”
Joseph pressed his rifle to his shoulder and aimed at his target, trigger ready. Joseph’s heart began to beat at 1000 mph. Sweat poured down his face. He shivered as if he had suddenly been splashed with freezing water. He was about to take another man’s life.
“Now, Perez!” shouted Sergeant Johnson.
Joseph panicked, pulling the trigger of the triple-burst rifle, without realizing what he had done. The bullets swirled in the air, destroying every ounce of calm. The citizen immediately dropped onto his back as his arms swung across his body.
“Nice work! That’s how you kill a man!” cheered Johnson.
Joseph had nothing to say. Words tried to leave his mouth, but he struggled to even breathe. “This is the life I wanted?” Joseph thought. “What have I done?” All he could do was shake his head in disbelief and move on.
That night, Joseph wrote another letter to Carol. “Today, I killed someone. I shot an innocent man. This isn’t the place for me. I am afraid that they are angry at us now. I am afraid that something may happen to us because of what I did. I’ve now put myself in more danger. I love you, Carol. Give the kids a kiss for me, please.” Joseph pressed the letter tight to his chest, fearing that it may be his final letter to his wife.
He closed his eyes that night with a burden that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Every time he would look at himself in the mirror, a different man would be glaring back at him.
The following day, Sergeant Johnson led the soldiers outside the city limits in search of reported enemies in the area. He ordered a handful of soldiers to remain at the base so they could keep in contact with each other.
“Take the Humvees. We’re heading out now. Let’s go!” yelled Johnson.
Joseph and the other soldiers parked the Humvees after they reached their destination.
“Sir, why are we stopping here?” asked McCormick, one of Joseph’s fellow soldiers.
“What did I say about questioning my methods?”
The soldiers followed behind him, confused as to what exactly they were looking for in the desert. The desert whispered in Joseph’s ear, warning him that Death was about to pay a visit and claim some souls to add to his collection. Joseph grew uneasy. He trembled as he staggered across the sand. A sudden chill spread through him.
Bang! A bullet emerged from the distance. It pierced Johnson’s arm. “What the he** was that?” shouted the sergeant as he gripped his wounded arm. “Everybody, get ready!” Another shot unloaded, killing a soldier as the bullet penetrated his chest. The soldier gasped for air. He grabbed his chest before stumbling to his death.
“Look! There!” shouted McCormick as he pointed in the distance. All he** broke loose. Guns began firing. Bullets flaring. The battle scene was painted in bloodshed from each person that died. Dead bodies dropped to the ground left and right. The soldiers were outnumbered but only by a few men. Screams of agony, horrific cries, could be heard. The sight of all this left multiple scars in each soul.
“Perez, what are you doing? Don’t just stand there! Shoot!” screamed Johnson. All Joseph could do was shake his head as he witnessed the battle. “Shoot! That’s an order, Perez!”
“Hey, are you okay?” asked a fellow soldier. Joseph struggled to open his eyes. “We saw an explosion off in the distance, and we came as soon as we could. We pulled you from the wreckage. You’re at the hospital barrack right now.”
Joseph, slowly regaining conscious, was surprised by the fact he wasn’t dead. The last thing he remembered was being in the Humvee after the battle. “Where’s the sergeant?” stuttered Joseph. His face was filled with stitches.
“He… didn’t make it. You’re the only survivor.”
Joseph forced himself out of bed and staggered to the phone despite his doctor’s protest. Joseph had to make an important call. He had to speak with his wife.
“Carol… it’s me, Joseph,” he began. “The angels, they saved me. The angels saved me today.” A waterfall poured from his eyes. “I’m so sorry about everything. I didn’t fully consider you and the kids when I decided to join the Army.” He continued to sob.
“What? What happened!” screamed Carol worriedly.
“I should have joined them. I was supposed to join them in death.” Joseph dropped to his knees as he closed his eyes to contain the flood. “I love you, Carol. I promise things will change once I get back. I promise.”
A month later, Joseph returned home to his family. As soon as his kids saw him, they sprinted into his wide open arms. Joseph was relieved to see them all. It was the first smile on his face since his near-death experience. He hugged Carol and lifted her above the ground as they spun around in circles.
Joseph blew a sigh of relief. It was truly a miracle that he was still alive. Joseph looked above to Heaven, thanking God for blessing him with another opportunity at life.