I awoke to the sounds of my roommates cot creaking as he got up for the day. My watch said ZERO FOUR THIRTY, I laid there starring at the ceiling fan cutting through the dust filled air, thinking about the day’s march ahead of me. Do I have everything I need in my pack? Do I have to much? Do I have enough water? Are the camera batteries charged? Where’s my notepad and pens? ZERO FIVE HUNDRED, as a drone I went about my morning routine, my feet moved into the cold plastic sandals, then placing one in front of the other in repetition making the long short walk to the latrine. The pungent smell of urine, sulfur and other chemicals that create a smell of indescribable torture of the nostrils.
Cold water splashes my face, jolting me back to consciousness and starring at me through the mirror, a person I’ve yet to know. Something was different about that face, something had changed, it looked tired and weary with the days of past. I got dressed the same way I had done the mornings before, but this morning was different I was requested to go on an overnight reconnaissance mission. I strapped my ruck to my back slung my weapon over my shoulder, tapped my magazines to make sure they were full and ready if needed.. I met up with my translator and the the platoon that was to be my security for the two day mission. We were then given the mission brief of where we were going, rest points, and protocol for what we may encounter.
ZERO FIVE THIRTY, a patrol went out.
ZERO SIX HUNDRED, my patrol left the compound, making it’s way on foot through a maze of concertina wire to the doorstep of uncertainty. The day was cooler than usual, which was a blessing since the days prior were in the high 130’s. We walked through the web of streets packed down with dirt to a major road. Crossing the road one guy would face the other way, then another would face the opposite way “covering” us as we crossed the road. Following us for a ways was “Mista Mista chocoolata? Mista” accompanied by the faces of little people who weren’t afraid of the metal objects we had slung over shoulders.
High noon the sun was glaring down on us, beads of sweat created salt trails down our faces. We had been waking for miles through fields of tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes, it was time to rest our feet. We had come upon a field that had several trees that provided shade and a place to lean on. As we say there our minds wonder about home, what our families and friends where doing at this very instant, about the girl we left behind, and of course will we have to engage the enemy. We shared our food, beef jerky, crackers, cheese, powdered drink mix, what one had packed was now everyone’s. After thirty minutes of rest we head out on another multi-mile walk. A few fields later we came upon a foot hill, were a top of the hill was a rusted red tractor next to a house. As we approached the top of the hill, just before we were about to cross the road that laid there at the top of the hill. Suddenly piercing sounds of metal flying trough the air surrounded the land. A quick thought, we all fell to the ground, the foot hill helping us play hide and seek with death. Quickly it became clear that we were not the target of death.
“Hey are there any other friendlies in the area” At the moment we did not know whether it was a coalition unit that was being fired upon or if it was just an attack on the local tribe by some other tribe. During the process of figuring out the situation we retreated to the house with the red tractor next to it. It provide protection and a vantage point that we needed to see what was going on. A group of school children had just walked from the direction of the fire fight. With my interpreter and a few guys for security, I went to ask the children a few questions about what was going on and if they had seen anything. Through the questioning we had determined that a patrol of 9 men on foot had walked through the are not to long ago and had been engaged in a n abuse. Thirty minutes of chatter back and forth on the radios a tracked vehicle picked us up from our location to take us to the site of the ambush.
The door opened, bringing a sense of urgency with the rays of light shining in. Apparently during the ambush three soldiers had fallen into the canal. Now the canal at first glance looks fairly shallow but in all actuality it is about ten feet deep and that just half full. Two of the soldiers had been able to get get out of the canal but the third was last seen going under never to resurface again. a few of us striped down to just our pants, jumping into the frigid water. A deep breathe, a few kicks our hands felt around the bottom of the canal. Inch by inch the canal floor was searched. About a half a mile down from our entry point, a kevlar helmet was found, this helmet belonging to the soldier who was unaccounted for. We frantically searched for another thirty minutes only to find a glove, a weapon, and an ammo vest. To much time had passed, the attitude quickly changed from saving a life to finding the body.