Nightmare at a Bend in the Road

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Flesh and blood are scattered across the road and paint the inside of the wrecked vehicle. Dazed Marines stumble through the smoke and dust, unsure if they’re hit. Doc, our corpsman, is tying tourniquets to Gunny’s mangled legs as the ground around them turns darker. I run my team’s trauma pack to Doc and hear Gunny, his face twisted in unimaginable pain, ask Doc to kill him.

In a rational world, there would be shock and emotion. I am staring at a man near death, the corpsman who tends him kneels on a gruesome composite of turned earth and flesh. No mind should take in such horror. But in war, cruelty is commonplace. So there is calmness in our movements. We have to focus on staying alive. I join Marines on security, as a radioman requests an immediate casualty evacuation.

A Recon Marine takes aim from a ditch.
Photo: Chris Clark

Time becomes abstract. I don’t know if hours or minutes pass before the CH-46 hovers above. The steady beat of the blades are deafening as the chopper sets down. Through the night-vision goggles, the dust-filled air looks like a lunar sandstorm. We load Gunny into the chopper, and the bird takes off.

We are ordered to stay until backup comes.

I dig in on the side of the road, hidden in some reeds. Through a sleepless night, I again watch Iraq basked in a surreal green. Marines about me quietly shift their weapons and whisper into radios. There is no movement in the desert. Even the village is dark and lifeless.

At daybreak, I am relieved that I’m still alive. But it starts up before long. First come the mortar rounds and 50 cal. sniper fire, then the cracking of AK-47s.

I wonder if I will live to see the next day. Humvee wreckage and a deep crater are yards away, a grim reminder that nothing is certain in Iraq, not even an ordinary dirt road.

The author deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and in 2007. He is now a college student in Northern California majoring in international affairs.

(Published February 6, 2010, on New America Media)