He closed the lid of his cleaning kit and studied himself on the shiny stock of the M-16. There was a certain look among the soldiers, the sunken eyes, the weary, almost scared look; and he noticed he was starting more and more to look the part. It also could just be him; back at school, everyone said it looked like he had never experienced a good night of sleep in his life. 'School, everything was so perfect in comparison.' Boot camp was hell, and he didn't think combat was going to be any better; so at that moment, school would have been a welcome alternative. He had never really liked school, the same as everyone else in his part of town, but he was pretty sure that an ignorant physics professor was better than getting shot up by someone with a T-shirt wrapped around his face. In a little bit, it was going to be his first time out of the green zone; and he was having his doubts. Just then, his officer stepped into the barracks. 'Ok, we're moving out in five minutes, so finish up what you were doing, take a piss, and get together with your squad.' As soon as the officer left, everyone got up and started migrating towards those in their group. After they had more or less gotten together, they went outside and waited. 'At ease,' said their officer as he took his place on top of the milk crate in front of them. 'This is going to be your first time out, so here's a refresher. Be alert; keep your eyes on the ground. If you see disturbed dirt, a sandwich bag, anything that could be holding an IED, back up as fast as you can. Also, watch out for car bombs. Do anything you can to avoid RPG's and snipers. Blow red lights, run over dogs, anything to keep moving. These guys will put flocks of sheep in the road for the express reason of slowing us down and giving them a clear shot.' This was what he had been hearing ever since he had made eye contact with the recruiter. The insurgents didn't play fair, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. He had heard that the Iraqis were using Red Crescent ambulances as car bombs because the Americans were required by the Geneva Convention to give passage to medical vehicles. For the first time, he felt actual, real fear. Anticipation had certainly been a familiar emotion, but this was new to him. Never in his life had he felt the genuine fear that goes with doing something knowing full well that you may be killed. He stepped into the Humvee, feeling the ambient rumbling of the engine, deciding that no matter what came up, he would be ready.
November 1, 2008