Nightmare at a Bend in the Road

In combat, no one has time to grieve the dead and dying.

The night-vision goggles cast the road in a soft green glow, a familiar if otherworldly view of Iraq. We watch for five, maybe 10 minutes, but we see nothing unusual. To 26 Recon Marines, it’s just an ordinary dirt road, marked by a few potholes, weaving its way to a village. Nothing looks out of place.

The night air seems cooler, that is to say it’s only about 100 degrees. The sand and occasional brick house still radiate the scorching heat that blistered the land throughout the day. We’ve had to hang our bottles in wet socks outside Humvee windows just to bring the near boiling water to a drinkable temperature. Inside the armored vehicles, we sit cramped and drenched in sweat, wishing for even the slightest breeze.

An exhausted looking Chris Clark, author of this personal story about an IED attack in Iraq, looks through the windshield of a military vehicle.

The author in Iraq.

I can’t help but think back to the year before. Will it be different this time? Will we see as much combat? I pray not.

We are a special operations unit, sent on a deep reconnaissance mission into unfriendly territory. For most of us, this is another day on the job. Only two “boots,” Marines on their first tour, have yet to witness the brutality that not even the most elite training prepares you for. The rest of us are on our second, third or fourth tours.

I can’t help but think back to the year before. Will it be different this time? Will we see as much combat? I pray not.

The moon and stars illuminate the desert landscape, and Humvee headlights catch the odd cat or dog scampering across the road. We almost always travel at night. At least, since we learned the hard way a couple years back, when a “daisy chain” of IEDs hit us one morning.

With every rock and pothole the Humvee hits, I bang against the metal armor surrounding me, my helmet the only thing between me and a concussive injury. The 100 pounds of gear and ammunition that I carry weigh more heavily as the hours pass in the tight, stuffy space. The M249 squad automatic weapon between my legs adds to my claustrophobia.

I scan ahead and to our flank. The dirty 4x4 bulletproof window to my left and the legs of the machine gunner in the turret limit my vision, but anything helps. We have escaped death before because one person spotted something out of place.