Author: Petty Officer First Class Boo PM
Staff Sergeant Michael "Dust" Durst is a former Force Recon and MARSOC Marine. In his last tour of duty, he is to lead a completely fresh squad of recruits. Will they make it through Afghanistan in one piece? Or will they come home in shambles? Realistic.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Tragedy - Chapters: 6 - Words: 37,378 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 07-25-12 - Published: 04-15-12 - id: 8027898
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: This is a realistic story set in 2014 where the United States haven't been pulled out from Afghanistan yet. I wrote this while writing my other story: At The Edge of The World. It is inspired by Andy Mcnab's book War Torn. I hope you enjoy, read and review please.
September 14th, 2014
Staff Sergeant Michael "Dust" Durst
It's been five days since we've left the base. Five days searching for an invisible enemy. One that you can't see, can't hear and sure as hell can't predict. But you could feel their eyes constantly staring at the helmet you were wearing, waiting to put a bullet in between your eyes. I sat on a rock in the middle of Konar near Afghanistan's Eastern border with Pakistan. Mountains rose behind me and the sun glittering through the cracks of the ice-capped peaks. Fogs of heat escaped my mouth with every breath I took, but it wasn't that cold. I've had worse in Arctic warfare training. I heard someone sneeze from behind me. The new recruits fresh out of boot camp was under my command, Lieutenant Able had sent us out in search of a fleeing Taliban guerrilla force, we've been chasing ghosts ever since. From inside a heavy jacket covered by a tactical vest, I pulled out a letter and a picture. It was from my ex-wife. One six year old boy and a four year old girl sat in a couch with the woman I married four years ago. They smiled holding up the Christmas presents I sent them from a shithole in Iraq before we were redeployed to Afghanistan. This unit, 2nd Marines, 6th Marine Regiment had a reputation of getting eighty percent of fresh recruits killed in their first tour. I had survived in Iraq. My buddy from boot camp, Private John Ink hadn't. He died from stepping on a mine while our young squad fooled around just outside the base. His parents received his paycheck and a letter saying their son died in glorious battle. Lies.
"Sarge, when are we going to get back to FOB Utah? We're getting low on rations," Lance Corporal Jimmy Wilkins, he was a natural born leader, the smart one of the group.
"When we find the ragheads or die trying," I whispered, he was also my second in command.
I looked back to see fifteen Marines no older than twenty huddling around in sleeping bags, trying to gain warmth. The sight brought back memories of countless tours of duty. The last one was suppose to be the final deployment, the doctors were afraid that I would have Traumatic Brain Injury. That is, until the squad leader responsible for training the recruits were killed from a roadside bomb. Just before I left, there was a letter on the kitchen table from my wife. The last words were, 'I'm taking the kids to their grandmother's.' She took everything. My money, my kids, even the house that I used to live in. I had to build everything from scratch. I sighed, slipping the picture and letter back into my vest. Why I didn't burn it, I don't know. Maybe it was the kids, maybe it was the only thing keeping me connected to home while I was in this alien world. I grabbed my M16A4, propped up against a nearby tree and stood up to shake off the frost that had coated my clothes since the past night. Layers of crystallized water cracked and fell onto the ice covered ground like leaves in a fall wind. I walked over to Corporal Wilkins and told him to wake up the green Marines.
"Hey, 3/6 Charlie it's time to move. Up and at it, let's go!" Lance Corporal Wilkins slapped each of the fifteen Marines on the head to give them a head start.
"Is it morning already Jim? Fucking hell, give me five minutes," Private Joshua Townsend, the trouble maker of the group and former American football star from high school.
"We're moving out Townsend. Get up before the ragheads but a mortar round in your mouth," Corporal Wilkins moved to his ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) pack and started to fold his sleeping bag and mattress.
"Sarge, we just slept three hours. Can't we just move out at high noon?" Private First Class Jake Simmons, Fireteam Bravo's Automatic Rifleman, he was solidly built and could dish out punishment like a tank.
"Well do we want to vote on it?" I asked turning around, my bag already packed and ready for travel.
"Yes Sarge," they murmured and slowly crawled out of their warm bags to meet the shiveringly cold breeze.
"Well I have bad fucking news. This isn't a democracy you little shits, what comes down from the top you execute. I have a job to get you into a firefight with a hiding enemy and come back in one piece and that's exactly what the LT expects me to do. Now get your ILBE loaded and on your backs in five mikes or they'll be high hell to pay back at the FOB." I shrugged on my pack, double-checked my rifle and made sure a round was inside the chamber.
"Yes Sergeant," they grumbled back and pulled on their desert MARPAT jackets.
It took the entire squad thirty minutes to become fully awake and finish packing up their gear. When we moved out, the sun had come out of the mountains and was sitting on the peaks. Ice started to melt into water, the liquid streaming down from the ice caps high above us. It amazed me that the guerrilla fighters didn't take this advantage to attack us. Rocks, gravel, and bits of dead vegetation crunched under my boots as we walked across the ridge and deeper into enemy territory. Over the mountains to our right stood Pakistan, flat plains lush with shade from the sun. It was cold now but soon it was about to become boiling hot. Sweat dripped down my face and into my jacket, adding to the grime that was already thick on my skin. Throughout the entire march, the Marines kept complaining about each and everything. Why we were walking on the mountains, why they had to go into the Marines and not college, why Afghanistan? I was walking behind two Marines in a single file line. Lance Corporal Jack Davis, Fireteam Alpha's leader, he was a reliable man and cool under fire. Behind him was the radioman, Private First Class Lucas Hayes, part of Fireteam Bravo. He was caring but quaked under fire and was a known coward. Maybe that's why he's radio operator. I heard a crackle in the distance. Everyone kept moving except me. Dust kicked up just next to Hayes.
"Contact, contact!" Hayes screamed, and the entire squad went prone.
"Where the fuck are they firing from?" my heart raced as my eyes darted around the entire mountain.
"Sergeant, the mountain just off to our right. I saw muzzle flash from inside one of those caves," Wilkins quickly reported, as dust kicked up just down the slope. Too close.
"Alright, fuck," I grumbled looking behind me to see an outcropping of rocks protruding from the mountain.
"Hey Charlie, get your ass up there and give us some suppressive fire!" I yelled seeing the young Marines still frozen by the sudden ambush.
"Charlie!" I screamed, only their squad leader got up.
"Get your asses up there right now," Corporal Nicholas Taylor bellowed at his subordinates and grabbed them by their packs.
"Yes Sarge," they yelled, suddenly realizing their orders.
"Bravo, give me precision strikes on those mother fuckers!" I tapped Hayes on the back and ran behind Bravo towards a small dip in the mountain, wither natural or artificial I didn't care.
"On it, Sergeant," Corporal Sam Griffin, an expert marksman replied.
I slammed my shoulder against the rock and turned the already-scared-shitless Hayes around. I pulled out the radiophone and listened for incoming traffic. The loud thrumming of the machine gun was distinct against the sporadic fire of the rifles. Townsend was up on the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, his finger jammed on the trigger. The thirty round magazine ripped through like fire and before you knew it, he was swapping out mags. Griffin fired once every fifteen seconds or so and paused to watch his rounds arc down towards the cave several hundred meters below. Alpha was right next to Bravo and wisely fired a couple of bursts into the caves to match or surpass the level of violence. Just then, a flash of light lit up the mountainside. One bang echoed through the mountains. One loud fucking bang. An RPG had been fired on us from one of the caves.
"Bulldog Actual this is Bulldog One One, we are at..." I paused and pulled out a portable GPS device.
"Grid 835 968, we have contact with fleeing guerrilla forces, over," I paused once again waiting for the reply.
"I've got a fucking jam!" Townsend's IAR was glowing a dull red with smoke rising from the barrel.
"Then fucking fix it and get some lead on those fuckers!" A round ricocheted off the rock in front of him, the zing fading right after the hit.
"Roger that Bulldog One One, what do you need, over," The reply finally came as another loud bang shook the Earth next to us.
"Fucking hell!" Hayes screamed, my hand gripping his pack kept him from moving.
"Taking fire! Light Weapons! Rocket Propelled Grenades! Requesting Air Support! Wait. Out," I yelled into the radio phone.
"Sergeant!" Townsend screamed just as an RPG streaked past the rock formation his was hiding behind.
"Bulldog One One, we have four F-35Bs in the skies. Callsign Dragon Five, expect them inbound in fifteen mikes," The radio crackled, Townsend was firing back at the caves with frantic ferocity.
"Fifteen fucking minutes? We can't survive that long with RPGs firing at us!" I yelled back into the radio.
"It's the best we got Bulldog One One. Take it or leave it," the harrowing noise of whistles echoed throughout the mountain, I looked over to Bravo and then back to the little dip.
"Hayes, get the fuck out of here," I ordered but he didn't budge.
"Hayes, get the fuck out!" I screamed and kicked him out from the cover we hid behind.
"But Sergeant, the enemy -" Hayes sputtered.
I saw him trip on a rock. Grabbing the back of his ILBE, I dragged him away from the cover and slowly ran towards Bravo. The entire Fireteam stopped and stared at the both of us. My left arm burned with lactic acid, my legs crying for oxygen. The edges of my vision started to darken and all I heard was my breathing. I heard a giant bang. The air rippled with heat. I felt something cut into my neck, arms, and legs. Warmth dripped down the cuts and into my clothes. I reached Bravo and dumped the radioman in front of them.
"Sergeant, you're hit." Private Hogan Gerald said from his entrenched position.
"No shit." I looked at my arms to see blood seeping out from the small red, exposed cuts.
"You should get it bandaged." Griffin suggested as I ignored him and crouched down.
"Sergeant, we're getting pounded! We need to get the fuck out of here!" Private Clark Johnson screamed from behind Townsend, he was Charlie's Assistant Machine gunner.
"Just simmer down, air support is on the way!" I screamed and slowly crouch to the right, a bullet zipping right next to my ear.
The bullet had already rocketed past my ear. I grumbled and lifted up my rifle until the sights cut into my eye line. Firing a few rounds into the cave, I continued to look out for small black specks in the sky. The whistling came again. This time I could feel the whistling shaking the ground through my boots. Left of me, Private Haye's eyes widened. His panicking and fear started to consume him. He started shaking horribly. He fell backwards and started to back away into a nearby crater.
"Hayes, get the fuck back here!" I yelled, he didn't respond.
"Hayes," I barked.
I got up to follow him, my gear weighing me down. Hayes pushed himself off the ground and started running towards the dip. The training drilled into his muscles overriding fear and even common sense. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and placed me in a high even that drugs couldn't match. I was addicted to combat. Hayes was far faster than I was. He ran towards the ditch. The ground shook with the crater exploding into a cloud of dust. I felt heat tingling my body and liquid dripping down from my cheek. My entire body was numb, but I was focused on Hayes. The brown fog stung my eyes and itched my throat. Fuck, this was annoying. I heard a groan. Slowly the dust dissipated to reveal a mangled body covered with dirt and blood.
"Shit," I grumbled taking off my helmet and placing it next to the body.
"Medic!" I screamed shrugging off my ILBE.
"Yes, Sarge?" Lance Corporal Hughes Douglas, the team's medic and assistant machine gunner from Bravo asked as I groped around for my blowout kit.
"Oh shit, Hayes!" He crouched down and pulled out his own kit, "Come on buddy, stay with me."
Hayes was groaning as blood leaked from the corners of his mouth.
"Put pressure on his wound!" I screamed seeing a giant cut on one of his thighs.
"The mortars sliced into one of the major arteries Sergeant! If we don't clamp it, he's going to die," Hughes quickly explained as he pulled out a clamp.
"Hey, Campbell!" I yelled waving at the Alpha's Automatic Machine gunner.
"Yes Sarge?" He asked and fired another round into the caves.
"Come and give some help to Hughes," I ordered grabbing his weapons from his hands.
"Roger that, here's some extra clips," Campbell tossed me a bag full of ammunition.
"Come on man, stay with us," Campbell whispered.
I growled, angry and frustrated at both the enemies and the rookies. This was the second man I lost on the tour. The first one was sent back home in a coffin from an accident at the firing range. He forgot to put on his helmet and was practicing alone. An unlucky bullet ricocheted off a loose steel plate and straight into his brain. He was dead before he knew it. Screeching filled the air as four black specks darted through the blue skies. The F-35Bs have arrived. I slowly inched away from the squad's formation and made my way to Hayes.
"Lift him up," I ordered.
"But Sarge, he's -" Hughes sputtered with blood all over his hands.
"Now damnit!" I had no time for bullshit.
Hughes and Campbell looked at me with anger. They both gripped Hayes and pushed him upright. Hayes groaned with anguish and pain. I grabbed his radio pack and tried to pull the straps out from his armor. He screamed, blood pouring out from his wounds. I pulled out my combat knife and cautiously cut the straps loose. His screaming stopped, I nodded to the two Marines and held the radiophone up to my ear. The blood slick on the radiophone assaulted my senses.
"Bulldog One One, Bulldog One One, this is Dragon Five, respond over," The radio crackled as the jets darted over the mountains once again.
"Dragon Five, this is Bulldog One One, we are under heavy enemy mortar fire. We have a man down," I screamed into the radio.
"Roger that Bulldog One One, we are over the mountain range but you have to mark yourself. We wouldn't want a blue on blue now would we?" The pilots asked, as I groped around for a smoke grenade in my backpack.
"Dragon Five, I am popping orange smoke just a few meters from our position. The enemy is to..." I paused and looked at my GPS once again.
"…our East, give'em hell!" I lofted a smoke grenade down the mountains and looked up to see the F-35Bs banking back towards us.
"Roger that Bulldog One One, Dragon Five going hot. Attacking from South to North with two cluster bombs," I watched Hayes's chest moving up and down with his mouth gargling blood.
"Bulldog One One, report," the radio squawked in my ear.
"Bulldog One One has suffered casualties, one Marine, Private First Class Lucas Hayes. Requesting MEDEVAC and a transport chopper to grid 835 968. T2 Casualty," I whispered into the radio with the distinct pops coming from mortars hidden behind or inside the caves.
"Roger that Bulldog One One..."
Everything was dead quiet.
The enemy had stopped firing.
"Bring them home. Alive," the F-35Bs swooped in low over the mountain caps and deployed their ammunition.
"Yes sir," the CBU-97 cluster bombs dropped in pairs.
One quick bang sounded, the outer skin being blasted off. Small little objects, which looked like canned foods, dropped from the bomb. Then, the entire mountainside exploded into a cloud of dust. The small little cans fired out penetrators into the ground. I let out a sigh of relief seeing that no more mortar pops or enemy fire was coming from the caves. With the F-35Bs flying overhead, no enemy dared to face us. I dropped the radio pack and moved over to Hayes who locked eyes with me. His blue cloudy eyes clung on to life. I knew that he was fighting it, even though he was a Quaker in battle. I gave a slow nod to him. He just blinked once, slowly. The rest of the squad slowly moved back to gave their comrade some moral support. They all clasped his hands, those others patting his head.
"You'll make it," they whispered.
"Form a perimeter. I don't want any ragheads coming within a mile near us," the men nodded and touched their friend on the head. Hayes tried to give them a reassuring smile.
"Bulldog One One, what's the status of the mission," I looked over to the mountainside the bombs just dropped.
"Dead sir, but unconfirmed," the F-35Bs rolled in again, two teardrops dropping from their frames.
"Roger that, good enough," two clouds of black smoke rose from the caves.
Shortly after, two bangs exploded and the shockwave jolted me backwards. That was the end of it. I gripped my rifle and waited for the helicopter. I became tired, numb and above all, my awareness was slipping away. The adrenaline was wearing off. Hughes had already stripped off Hayes's uniform to reveal his torso. It looked like minced meat, blood had covered the skin with slick red grime, while his cuts had exposed strings of muscle and moved with each of his breath. Hughes pulled out a white packet, ripping it in half and pouring it all over Hayes's wounds. The white powder made him hiss and gargle his blood.
"Sergeant, can you unfold the stretcher?" I gestured for three others to help me unfold it.
"Hayes, we're going to move you now. It'll hurt but just for a few minutes okay?" Hayes nodded slowly, his eyes fluttering.
"Fuck, he's slipping," Hughes wrote 'T2' with Hayes's blood on his cheek to denote the severity of the casualty.
"Bulldog One One, Bulldog Actual, where the fuck is that MEDEVAC?" Another bang was heard, and my left arm went numb.
"Five minutes," The reply came as I looked down at my left arm.
There was a sizeable cut on my bicep. Blood streamed down the grime riddled uniform and the red of the muscle gleamed in the sun. I grumbled, pulling out a roll of gauze while Hughes and Campbell attended to Hayes. I wrapped my arm around in gauze and forgot about it, Hayes was more important. A few minutes passed and there was no helicopter. The men were starting to get restless with a blanket of silence falling over the valley after the fighters dropped their bombs. I looked around to find the helicopters a place to land, the area was sloped and was not enough to support a twelve-ton twin rotor helicopter. The peak might and it wasn't far either.
"Charlie, get up on the slope and give me a place for the bird to land," Corporal Taylor nodded and signaled his men towards the top.
"Hey Sergeant," Griffin slowly groveled towards me.
"Yeah?" I whispered, looking at the mountains.
"I'm seeing some weird movements over the slope of the mountains," he had a death grip on his rifle's foregrip.
"You sure it's not just fatigue?" I asked, scanning the steep slope riddled with rocks.
"No it's not fatigue, I'm sure I saw white cloth with a back end of an RPG," I nodded and waited for Charlie to report.
"Okay, form a perimeter along that slope and tell me what you see. We'll keep contact by radio," still nothing from Charlie.
"Roger that. Bravo, let's move," the four men cautiously advanced on the slope with their rifles raised.
"Hey Sarge," one faint voice echoed down the ridge, I looked up to see Townsend on top of the peak waving both of his arms.
"The LZ's perfect!" he yelled as I was about to scream back.
"Contact!" Griffin reported, his squad's rifle exploding into volleys of crackles.
"Man down, man down," The radio crackled.
I looked back to see Townsend crumpling into the mountain, his black silhouette disappearing. Griffin was heavily engaged with the Taliban just right of me. Hayes needed to get up that hill and be grouped with Townsend. The sporadic cracks from the enemy's Warsaw Pact weapons signaled to me that they were close. I quickly ran over to Hughes who was trying to keep Hayes alive. Alpha had their weapons pointed towards Bravo to provide suppressive fire. I looked left to see one shape in the distance. His beard crusted with dust, turban dirtied by long days living with the ground and rusting RPG probably given to him by the CIA decades ago. My arms instinctively raised the rifle until the optics had lined up the single red dot against the tan of his head. I squeezed the trigger. Crack. His head exploded into a mist of red, the man falling forwards into the ground. The RPG in his hands detonating on impact probably from the twitch after his brain had severed connection with the muscles.
"Sergeant, the bird's here!" The radio crackled again.
"Alpha, get Hayes up to the peak," I ordered running forward and towards Bravo.
"My weapon fucking jammed!" one of the Marines from Bravo screamed.
"Fucking fix it!" I yelled back, seeing two of Alpha's boys helping Hughes and Campbell in lifting the stretcher.
The helicopters buzzed by our heads, one British AugstaWestland Apache AH1 attack helicopter leading a British Chinook and an American MH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter. Two heads popped up from over the slope, their eyes locked onto Fireteam Bravo. Bravo answered back with a burst of fire to keep them at bay. Alpha was halfway up the slope with their rifleman giving the evacuating men suppressive fire. Another one popped up with an RPG slung on his shoulder, his white robes with a camouflage jacket worn over them fluttering in the wind. I lifted my rifle and fired. Crack, crack, crack. Three times I pulled the trigger. The first bullet missed, the second kicked up dust right in front of him while the third entered his stomach. He dropped his RPG and fell forwards, disappearing from the slope. The helicopters were banking away from us, their rotors chopping the air with a constant rhythm.
"Charlie, pop smoke," I ordered into the radio and tapped Griffin's shoulder.
"Leapfrog towards the exfil point. I'll cover you," Griffin nodded and with three of his men ran behind me.
I lifted my rifle and fired a long sustained burst into the ridge with one of his men, Private Hau Do. He was from a long line of Vietnamese immigrants who served in the United States Military. His baby face often fooled other people from his hardened and often explosive personality. My rifle clicked empty, smoke rising from the dull red barrel. I slapped in a fresh clip and paused to scan the slope. I waved Do towards the ridge and waited for his signal.
"Bounding!" he screamed, the words reflexively coming out from training.
"Covering," I replied and crouched down to maintain a good firing posture.
"Clear. Covering," I stood up to see the three men once again about to attack.
"Contact!" Do fired off three rounds.
"Fuck, jammed again," he grumbled with clear frustration.
I slowly walked back towards him firing in single shots to conserve my ammo. Sporadic fire towards the peak told me that the other half of Bravo has us covered. Running up the slope, I picked up the radio pack on the way. The thing weighed like a sack of bricks. Thumping from the helicopter's rotorblades signaled that extraction was near. I could feel liquid dripping down my left arm. I payed no attention to it and continued my climb. Gun fire stopped, Bravo was reloading. Do was busy trying to get the offending round out of the rifle's firing chamber.
"Do, get up that ridge with Bravo. I've got this," I fired another round into the slope to keep the enemy at bay.
"But Sarge," Do started, still fiddling around with his rifle.
"No buts Marine. Get your ass up there," the helicopters hovered over the mountain peak, the Chinook's ramp lowered and locked into place.
The four Marines hiked it up the mountain while I fired the occasional round into the mountain side. I looked down at my vest to see three empty magazines and one, final clip partially empty. My vision blurred as my head became light headed. Dizzy and off the edge, I kept watch while Bravo arrived at the mountaintop. Glancing back, I saw Griffin wave for me to follow him. Dirt splattered at my face. The enemy dared to take out the lone Marine with an orbiting Apache helicopter overhead. I stood up and fired a quick burst into the enemy before quickly running up the mountainside to repeat the process. Thump, thump, thump. I looked up to see the ugly attack helicopter orbiting far above the mountains. Three yellow molten slugs flying from the underside of the beast and arcing down towards the slope. The mountain shook beneath my feet as the rounds slammed into the ground, kicking up dirt and rocks high into the sky. I tucked my head into the body armor, feeling the pebbles raining on my helmet.
"Sergeant!" a voice yelled from behind me, it was Lance Corporal Wilkins.
I ran up with mountains with Campbell's M27 IAR and a radio pack. The equipment started to weigh me down and the mountain was steeper than it actually was. The peak was just a few meters away. Through gritting teeth, I heaved myself up the mountain and finally pulled myself onto the semi-flat peak. The rocky and uneven summit was engulfed in a torrent of dirt and soil from the rotors of the Blackhawk and the Chinook kicking up a gigantic hurricane of dust. I pulled out my goggles to protect my eyes from the offending wind. My squad stood next to the Blackhawk with medical teams quickly fixing up the messy job Hughes had done to save Hayes's life. Lumbering towards the now squad of thirteen, Wilkins walked out to greet me. The gale ate at my clothes and tried to swat the two of us off the mountain.
"How's the wounded?" I asked, giving the automatic rifle back to Campbell.
"Townsend had a minor flesh wound, a clean shot through the shoulder. Hayes..." Wilkins looked over my shoulder.
"Severe blood loss, burns from the detonation of the mortar, trauma, you name it, he has it," Wilkins yelled, a female flight nurse walking over to him.
"Where's your CO? I'm here to give him the dog tags before we fly back out to Camp Bastion!" the British flight nurse reported as I turned to her.
"That's me," I stated plainly, her eyes drifting down to the blood soaked gauze bandaging on my arm.
I scoffed and ignored the comment.
"It's just a flesh wound, far from the heart," I grumbled and gestured for Wilkins to board the blackhawk.
"It's not just a flesh wound Sergeant. The risks of infection and secondary bruising from the dirty ammunition the Taliban is high, we need to treat it now before it's too late." I felt like a child being scolded by his mother.
"I'll take care of the squad Staff Sergeant, you go on with Hayes and Townsend!" Wilkins yelled from the Blackhawk.
Looking down at my wound and then back at the flight nurse. She was not going to let me go. I grumbled and nodded. I gave a thumbs-up to the Blackhawk pilot. The utility helicopter ascended straight into the sky before pitch forward and disappearing below the mountain peak. All that was left was the numb feeling of my arm and the stinging sensation of the wind. Balancing over the edge of the summit was the Chinook. It's two rear wheels gripping the ground while the forward portion of the helicopter hung in mid-air, a pinnacle landing. The pilots must be pissed at the both of us for taking so long. We ran in at an angle from the helicopter to prevent ourselves from being cooked by the twin engines of the Chinook. I stepped on the helicopter's ramp with the rear gunner waiting at an instrument panel bolted onto the side of the helicopter's inside. One last look before I flew myself off this forsaken land, this mountain range sheltering the cowardly bastards that injured my men. It was my fault for training them so. With one last whiff of the moist and warming air, I stepped over the ramp and into the cargo hold full of medics rushing around Hayes's body. The rear gunner smacked the Chinook's frame before raising the ramp. Brown dirt faded into blue sky as the ramp locked into a raised position, with just enough room for us to see into the terrain below. I grabbed a seat next to Townsend. The normally cheery and energetic Marine now silent, he looked like an empty shell with the shocking moments of the bullet penetrating through his shoulders replaying in his head with an infinite loop. The British flight nurse inched towards me and pulled out her medic kit, her blue medical gloves stained with Hayes's blood. I grabbed her tactical vest and yanked her face close to mine. She yelped with surprise as rumbling shook the Chinook.
"Him first, me second," I demanded, my instincts and responsibility as squad leader overriding all other judgments in my head.
"He's taken care of, you aren't," she bravely retorted and smacked my hand away.
"Olivia, Op Vampire!" one of the flight surgeons yelled from the front of the helicopter.
"Kyle, Op Vampire!" she conveyed the message to the rear gunner.
"Bravo Zero Nine, Op Vampire, repeat, Bravo Zero Nine, Op Vampire," Op Vampire, calling all volunteers to donate blood to the incoming patient.
I sighed looking at Hayes as the flight nurse ripped my bandage open. Sharp pain shot through my arm. I looked back down to see her dousing my wound in alcohol before pulling out a sewing kit. Metal wires and a needle. Immobilizing pain shot through my spine, my jaw clenched to control the pain. This was just one of many injuries I received on the battlefield. A stray strand of hair fell across her blue eyes. She quickly tucked the lock behind her ear and continued to work on my wound, the blonde hair now stained with red.
I reached inside my tactical vest and pulled out the photograph. I turned it over to read to words written on it, 'Come back soon dad, we miss you! Jake and Holly. 5/23/2014.' Only two weeks were left before 3/6 Charlie and I would leave this place—this back-end country where the corrupt and the tyrants rule. On your first tour you came to understand why so many people despise it. It took everything away from you. Your friends, your squad mates, and the most important thing of all, your sanity. I just hope that 3/6 had enough training to survive, even if it was just two weeks. I had to bring the home. Alive.