Everything I hear sounds muffled and distant. I can't tell if I'm standing, kneeling, laying down, or moving, and I'm not sure if I can even see anything. What just happened to me? Where am I? Why does everything feel like this? All questions that I can't seem to find an answer to. I start to get a bad feeling about my situation, like the worst part hasn't happened yet. As I'm struggling to regain my bearings, I notice an overwhelming taste of dirt and blood, which almost causes me to gag. When I spit, I realize that I'm on all fours, there's a small puddle of blood already from the other times I've spit but didn't realize until now. My head feels like it's about to explode, and the ringing sound is next to deafening. I can't focus on anything for more than a second before it makes me dizzy, but I try to anyway. Things still sound muffled and I can almost hear myself ask where I am, but I can barely tell if I'm actually saying it or not. All of a sudden, everything comes back to me like a slap in the face: I think I just survived an IED attack. My mind goes to a bad place, I imagine having to spend the rest of my life without one, or both, of my legs. What kind of life could I lead now?
The next thing I know I'm laying on my back, feeling my body for missing parts. My vision slowly comes back and I wisely use it to make sure my limbs are still where they should be. After a couple of minutes, it occurs to me that I'm not alone and that there are bodies around me. Some are moving, some aren't. I feel like I've been kicked in front of a speeding bus, but I manage to get up to a knee to scan my surroundings. I still can't see the greatest, but I'm looking for something to shoot.
"Hey, are you ok?" someone says behind me.
"Yeah, I just got the wind knocked out of me, that's all. Go help somebody else." And I crawl to rock that I see, a few feet in front of me.
I get to the rock, and it's covered in blood. No time to think about whose it could be, I have to figure out what the little flashes are that I keep seeing ahead of me, and why I keep getting debris thrown in my face. The wake up call happens when a round zips just over my left shoulder and close enough that I feel the vapor burn on my neck. Pain leaves my body, and everything becomes clear to me again. I take a deep breath and squeeze off two rounds for two kills. Kill number three is in my sights, and I swear that he's looking right me. Just as I squeeze, an RPG explodes behind me, throwing me over the rock I was using for cover. As if nothing significant happened, I get up and heave myself back over that same rock. Ears ringing even more now, I continue to engage targets as I see them. I lose count of my kills somewhere around 12, but I know it was quite a few more than that. It was an extremely target rich environment and I was pretty damn accurate. I don't care how many I kill anyway.
There's a brief lull in the chaos, and both sides are obviously collecting their dead and wounded. I ignore the pain and take notice of the mountains around me; they're absolutely beautiful. I start to imagine being on top of one, and my thoughts are interrupted by my radio. I'm being told that the enemy is retreating and that we are to prep for an incoming cas-evac (casualty evacuation). That's when the reality of war makes its way back into my mind. I look around and see a lot of injured men. I get up to my feet, and a sharp pain shoots through me from my left ankle. I taste dirt and blood again, and notice that my arms are peppered with shrapnel burns and cuts. I look like I just stepped out of a horror movie from the amount of blood on me, but most of it isn't mine. As I limp around to survey the damage and try to get an accurate head count, I trip over what I thought was a rock. It's not a rock at all, it's an arm. What's left of one at least. When my head count is off by eight, I know that we're only gonna find pieces of those guys. I relay this over the radio, and I'm told to do the best I can to "get my numbers right".
The initial blast killed the two guys in front of me instantly. We never found more than a third of their bodies, if we even found that much. I was thrown roughly 20 feet but survived, it was never determined whether or not my injuries were caused by the IED, or from the RPG. I had first and second degree burns on my hands, arms, and face. My ankle was broken, my right thumb and wrist were broken too. None of it was bothering me because of the massive adrenaline dump I was experiencing. I felt pretty good about myself until I started finding out who was dead and wounded. That's when reality was more painful than any injury I might have had.
Steve was like a brother to me, he was killed by the RPG blast that threw me over the rock. Nubs was part of the inner circle among us too, he was shot in the chest and twice in the stomach. He bled out in less than 20 minutes. Dirty was in three pieces, Smitty was in two. Two other guys were so tore up that nobody could tell who was who without looking at their dog tags, although they were still in one piece. At this point, I've lost more than 8 of my closest friends in less than two weeks. The thought of not making anymore friends crosses my mind, just to prevent myself from feeling so s****y. I toy with the idea of distancing myself from the rest of my friends too. It's a brief thought before my mind goes in a different direction. Instead of feeling the loss, I let it add fuel to the fire that burns inside me. I place my hand on Steve and thank him for his contribution, and I tell him he deserved a better death. I do the same with Nubs, Dirty, and Smitty. I didn't thank them for their contribution to their country, or the army; I thanked them for their contribution to my rage, my unwavering desire to kill. As if I needed more motivation to kill, the death of so many of my close friends created an inferno in me that, at times, was difficult to control. There were times I didn't bother to but the times I had to, it was easier to walk away and let someone else be diplomatic. It's not like I bought into the diplomatic approach anyway. These people wanna kill us. What's the point in trying to reason with them, they don't care. It's a lot easier to just kill them.
Standard procedure for most combat soldiers, returning from a hot mission, is a little bit of time back inside the wire. Hot food, maybe a bed, maybe even warm water. My unit didn't follow that particular path, and I was issued another mission before the cas-evac had even left. I was to take the remaining men from my team and head east to meet up with another team; there were three villages that had to be cleared so we could set up another outpost. My original mission was to take out an enemy force that had taken over a village. The ambush wasn't part of the plan though. I never even made it to that village but I heard that another unit did, and took heavy losses before they called in spectre gunship and leveled it. I wish I could have been there to watch. I would have laughed at the chaos.
The movement to link up with the other team goes smoothly. We even make it to the first shithole village with little incident. That's pretty much when s**t gets crazy. Intel reports on the first village label it as a Taliban stronghold; possible training camp. It's rare that intel is 100 percent accurate in combat. Not today. If anything, it was a soft assessment of the target. This so called village is more like a f*****g base! It looks big enough to keep 200 Taliban soldiers comfortably, and we soon find out that it holds more. The better part of 100 against just over 30 spec ops soldiers, with orders to clear said "village". Even though we have air support, it's never as simple as dropping a few bombs and calling it a day. As soon as the first bomb drops, they're gonna know we're here to dance, and I'm sure they're ready to do the same. After all, that's what they train to do here. These guys are supposed to be some of the best they have, and we're about to go at them outnumbered by roughly 3:1. Which is enough weight for everyone to carry, and I can feel myself sweating more just thinking about it. I know that we have an advantage through technology, but we have to spend at least an hour watching the village to coordinate our strike package. The amount of firepower we plan to drop on these a******s is nothing to joke about, so we have to make sure they all count. It takes patience and serious skill to stack a strike package for a heavily outnumbered spec team. Luckily, one of the guys attached to us is an actual combat controller, whose main purpose is to do such things.
My stomach is in knots as we watch the compound. I wanna spew fire from my mouth and rush the village alone, and it takes every ounce of me not to. I hate waiting to do what I do best, even more when my thoughts are consumed with revenge. I can't wait to shoot the first person I see running out of a building. I can't wait to get down there and start sweeping through the objective, killing anybody that's left. My mouth is starting to water, like a rabid dog. Just when I think I'm about to snap, we get the green light on our strike package: a 2,000 pound bomb, a reaper drone, two A10's, and spectre gunship on standby. I can hear myself screaming inside my head as we wait for the 2,000 pounder to drop. It's not common to be as close as we are to the impact but our combat controller says we should be okay, and we brace for the blast. It sounds like thunder rumbling through the sky, until it hits its target. We had to make sure we kept our mouths open because we were so close, otherwise, the contained blast would have caused our lungs to burst. A 2,000 pound Joint Attack Direct Munition (JDAM) is extremely accurate, rocks your chest cavity when you're at a safe distance and we were just outside the kill radius. The impact shakes the earth with such a violent force that it momentarily blurs my vision, and we're covered in debris seconds later. To be safe, we all faced away from the blast, but we all spin around after to assess the damage before the next portion of our strike package comes through. Direct hit.
My first reaction is laughter. I wanna laugh in the face of every dead person down there, I picture myself doing it. That's when we hear what none of us expected: the unmistakable sound of children crying. These people brought their entire families to this compound?! My mind starts to drift into thoughts of what a 5 year old boy looks like blown into pieces. These people are fucked up for getting the wrong people involved. Not my problem; they chose to bring them here, we didn't. With no adjustments needed to be on target, the order is given to "fire for effect". That means that all rounds are to be focused on the last received coordinates, and they're to be sent immediately: poetically organized chaos that can't be fully described with words.
After the entire strike package is delivered, there isn't much left for me. We make our way to what's left of the village to sweep through. I've never seen such beautiful chaos. I see things that I know used to be a living thing, now so destroyed that you would never have guessed it, if you didn't already know. Men, women, children, in the hundreds, all gone. We shoot a few of the leftovers but it's unfulfilling since they were already half dead. Some of the guys are upset at the number of women and children in the mix, but that's the nature of war. I consider it a fair trade for the lives of my friends. F**k these people, they made their choice, it was obviously the wrong one. I'll kill a hundred more if the situation presents itself. If that's what I need to do to live, or keep what's left of my friends alive, I won't hesitate.
It's odd to thrive in a place like this. I don't think it's normal by any means. How could it be? Whatever it is that someone needs to have inside of them to thrive here, I have in spades. I grow stronger every time I'm involved in conflict, as it feeds me the energy and rage needed to keep me going. It confuses me. It scares me. It excites me. It does it all at the same time.