The sun had been up for two and a half hours, yet it was already insanely hot. North Carolina always had a history of humidity, but it was ridiculous in the Spring. I slammed a four ounce bottle of water like it was a shot of whiskey at a bar. I reached into my over sized cargo pocket, and did the same with three more. I was still thirsty, but I had no more water. I looked at my watch.
My companions and I had been working for five hours on what had been respectfully called “Baggage Detail.” It was our job to assist with the transportation of the baggage of a deploying unit. The job started at the unit’s company area, at 3:00 A.M., where all the families were gathered to say goodbye. We would make a sort of assembly line from the piles of baggage to the back of an LMTV, which is less silly than calling it a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle. The ruck sacks and duffel bags weighed on average 120 pounds.
We spent the rest of the morning unloading the baggage from the LMTVs onto a large flatbed baggage carrier. This was in the parking lot of the airstrip, an airstrip named the Green Ramp. Our duties were supposed to have ended there. We were tired, and we just wanted to enjoy our Saturday, like the rest of our peers. But all of us knew that because we were still waiting, and because of the characteristic laziness of many Air Force personnel, we would have to stay and load the baggage from the carriers onto the birds as well.
We didn’t finish until 1:00 in the afternoon, and even then, the bus’ battery died, leaving us stranded for another hour. But the story isn’t about the work we did. It’s not even about me at all.
This story is about a story; one that was told in the in-between times.
It was too hot to just sit on the bus, so we stood in it’s shade, swapping stories, smoking cigarettes, and sipping on Full Throttles.
The gear of a soldier is never “as is,” per se. Let me explain, when you are given an E-tool (a small shovel that folds into itself), you don’t just put it in it’s pouch, you must tie a lanyard to it, to the pouch, and to the ruck sack. You are taught to do this with everything: magazine pouches, optical scopes, night vision, water canteens. The reason behind this is that while moving through the woods, or jumping out of planes, items can become detached, and lost. Equipment becomes snagged on other equipment.
While on deployment, there was a boy who was attempting to get into the back of a truck. Out of laziness, forgetfulness, or stupidity, he had forgotten to tape down the pull pin on his grenade. It snagged on a piece of the truck, and was pulled out.
Now the anatomy of a grenade is this. There is an explosive chemical called a filler inside in a steel ball called a body, with the primer attached to a four second fuse. The fuse only ignites if the little Butterfly clip is released. The Butterfly clip is only released if the pin is pulled, and the clip is released. Though pulling the pin does not ensure detonation, the trigger device for the fuse is extremely sensitive. While holding the clip in place, something as subtle as shifting your fingers, called “Milking”, could ignite the fuse, if the safety pin is pulled. At grenade ranges, if the range instructor sees you milking your grenade, he will repeated bash your hand onto the edge of the concrete bunker, until you drop the grenade on the other side of the wall. Then he will shove you into the dirt and wait for the fireworks.
The point is this. If you are vice gripping a grenade, and you pull the pin, it’s not the end of the world. You reinsert the pin, or you throw the grenade. If it is on your person, in your loose grenade pouch, designed for easy removal in combat situations, detonation is almost guaranteed. You then have four second to take a breath, and say a prayer.
The end of your world.
The squad leader, who was helping his soldiers into the back of the transport vehicle, saw what happened, and without hesitation, put a boot the chest of the soldier, and kicked him out the back. He screamed for everyone to take cover, which they attempted as best they could in the small space. There was a boom, a red mist, and then nothing. The soldier was dead.
So it goes.
Everyone nodded, and the stories continued. They had heard or seen worse. Even I had heard or seen worse. Yet out of all the stories I’ve ever heard, this one is forever etched in my mind.
I made the comment to my friends that it must have been a hard decision to make. They were all quick to retort that it was the only decision to make. I tried to explain that the types of decisions weren’t mutually exclusive. It was in vain. They had already moved on to different stories, with more tragedy, and more lives lost.
I hated my tendency for empathy, especially in the Army. I could feel the boot in my own chest. The few seconds of my life where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to die. The idea of such helplessness is overwhelming. I am in such control over every aspect of my life that such a thought ties my stomach in knots. My heart will refuse to beat, just once, to remind me that I’m still alive. That I no longer have to worry about such things.
I was talking with a close friend of mine, Adam, about the event. He agreed that it was a hard decision, and he agrees that it was the only decision, but he said as a leader he would have felt a tremendous amount of guilt. Only there was nothing to with that guilt. He couldn’t be mad at himself for saving so many lives, he could only be mad at the victim. A victim of his own stupidity. Carelessness.
In his words, “I would be, like, f*** you for making me feel like s*** for killing you.” The thought may be strange, but there’s not much more you can do, so I said I suppose so.