For Those Who Walk Through Fields of Fire

(Page 2 of 3)

During the deployment workups in the States, we spent weeks patrolling, looking for something that we knew wasn’t real. Digging into defensive positions and waiting the night out for an enemy we knew would never come. Spending rainy nights in muddy holes, fearing what our leaders might do to us if we fell asleep. Firing machine guns, shooting rifles and launching grenades at little green targets…. All of it was just training ops.

A string of .50-cal. bullets
Photo: Greg Malloure

The insurgents have left us to the strays who roam the night, and until this moment I believe I would have told you that I would kill anything if given the chance.

Today, there are no firing range safety officers.

Through the sight of my rifle, I see a narrow view of the world. In the distance, I spot the target house. Everything looks normal, but that can be misleading. Advancing through the field I come within 20 meters of the house. I halt and check to see if my squad is still on line with me. Dusting off my ACOG rifle sight with my thumb, I wait for the signal from the squad leader to move forward.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a blur of black-and-white darting out from under a donkey cart. It’s like no dog I have ever seen, and it’s closing the distance between us faster than I can fathom.

Startled, I react as I’ve been trained. I pivot in his direction, shoulder my M16 and sight in. Flicking the safety off, I wrap my finger around the trigger. I can see its brown eyes dialed in on me as I follow his body with my rifle. Aim matters little, I have a full mag.

In Iraq, the joke has been that the war’s over and we’re here to kill dogs. On guard duty, I have spent many lonely nights with my rifle trained at the doorway, waiting for a pack of dogs to storm my post and eat me alive. The insurgents have left us to the strays who roam the night, and until this moment I believe I would have told you that I would kill anything if given the chance.

Waiting for the attack, I can see the dog’s stained teeth hanging over his black gums. He looks vicious, and falls well within the rules of engagement.

I don’t know why, but I decide that today won’t be his last. I lower my rifle and ease off the trigger. As these few seconds come to a close, I realize this is going to end badly.

Within inches of my barrel the dog suddenly stops and, with rehearsed arrogance, he retraces his paw prints back to his donkey cart. He lies down, and I swear I can see him smiling at me.

I break from his gaze to see my squad bursting into fits of laughter. My only kill in Iraq has just slipped through my fingers. Even though the Marines brought me up in a culture of violence, those brown eyes saw right through me.