The DOD has officially announced the deaths of our guys. This is the post I mentioned earlier: written on the 8th and held until the brief came out.
I reported this morning for guard duty at 1115. The sergeant of the guard told us that someone had been hurt in Falluja, and taken to the Falluja Surgical Center. Falluja. My thoughts ran wild: is it my guys, or another platoon? Who was in front today? Who was it? Right before we leave for the towers, the sergeant comes back outside and tells us that the wounded man didn't make it. I know the name- shit- it's my guys. The tip of my cigarette is glowing, but it doesn't seem to ash. Time is supposed to slow down when you're in the moment, not when you're hearing of it.
The next four hours are glacial- slower and colder than I could have thought. The 1st Sergeant comes out to the tower to update us: It's not just one guy, it's three, and another in bad shape. The news is like a punch in the stomach.The lead truck took a hit from a massive bomb. Two of my friends died instantaneously. A third passed away on the helicopter flight back to the base medical center, and a fourth man lies badly wounded but stable at the FSC.
The guard shift change comes with directions to go find the 1st SGT again- something has changed. I make my way to the company operations center, and find the entire staff and the few members of my platoon who stayed behind gathered around the big screen that shows the positions of vehicles on the ground. Another truck has taken a hit, and they've medevaced another wounded soldier by helicopter.
I learn that the mission they were on was clearing the route to the site of an American helicopter that crashed the day before. The previous night they had cleared a path out so that the bodies of the crew could be recovered. Today, they had gone back to clear a path home for the Marines left to guard the airframe until arrangements could be made for its recovery and/or destruction. After the the first truck had been hit, they had pressed on to reach the Marines at the crash site, only to turn back when the second truck was hit. A Marine route clearance unit is diverted to the site, and eventually clears through. Meanwhile, we all sit and watch the screen track our platoons slow and painful progress back towards safety. I take my leave again, and go with a few friends. We sit, and begin to speak of the dead.
One of the dead men had been a friend of mine as long as I'd been in the unit. We'd laughed together, drank together, and talked about the future. He'd got me started smoking at NTC at the same time that he was trying to quit. Tonight, I'm helping organize the things he left behind. His girlfriend of a year meets me at his room to give me another box. She's from another company; they met just prior to our deployment alert, and have struggled to build their relationship through the midst of war. She looks smaller than I've ever seen her, as if she's lost a physical part of herself.
Under a sky streaked blood-red and angry with sunset, I carry my friends belongings from his room. In my head I can already see another sun setting over the memorial to come; the breeze twisting dogtags around a rifle like a devils windchime, and carrying once again the plaintive notes of the bagpipe playing Amazing Grace.
Rest in peace