The first sound was a harsh, overpowering rumble, like a bomb exploding, but it was so much closer than normal. My brain was working overtime trying to comprehend why I was still breathing. A split second later, as the noise continued and began to fade, I thought for a second that perhaps it had only been a jet going supersonic. My mind mulled that idea over for a moment and then discarded it- there had been no "crack" as there always is when a plane breaks the sound barrier. It must have been a rocket- ours or theirs? I couldn't tell. The mystery was solved just four or five heartbeats beyond its beginning: one of the sergeants who was in the initial invasion of Iraq sat up in his bunk and said "I know that sound! It's been a long time since I've heard an MLRS fire."
MLRS. Multiple Launch Rocket System. The crown jewel of American artillery. Capable of firing a rocket well over twenty miles and dropping its destructive payload, it's nothing you want to be on the receiving end of.
I'd never had a chance to see one of these systems in action, and I've had a fascination since childhood of rockets and things that go "boom", so I headed out of the tent to see if I could spot another launch. I heard another rocket launch and rise as I walked to the door. Somehow, it seemed quieter now that I knew what it was. I stood outside and watched for awhile underneath the cool air and the moon shining through a patchwork of clouds. Off in the distance I see a bright pinpoint of amber light. For the briefest of moments, I pass it off as a parachute illumination flare. The fact that the flare is moving upwards, and fast, strikes me at the exact instant as the sound. The now-familiar roar surrounds me, and I watch as the pinpoint widens and darts into the sky, piercing through the clouds and leaving only a billowing trail in its wake.
I laugh a little to myself and remembered the first time I stood and watched one of my model rockets climb with dizzying speed into the sky. The thought that this one is no toy tempers my mood, and I realize that someones bad night just got a whole lot worse.