I woke up the next day at the sound of the 04:00 alarm, Commander Williams at my bed side, his face hidden in the darkness, his hand held out with a dog tag in it. I took it carefully realising that it was Isaacs Dog Tag. He told me I had to get up and that I should pay my respects to Isaac before his body was sent back home. I wrote a 5 page letter to his family, detailing what had happened from my perspective and what he wanted me to do when he died. I was deeply close with his family and they knew Isaac well enough to know he wouldn’t allow me to fly back to the States unless my work here was done. I knew his family would shed countless tears but they would know that Isaac did his best to defend his country. As I looked into the coffin, I saw Isaac’s body, his clothes had been changed from his blood stained uniform, to a dutiful suit. His face was lifeless but peaceful and I kept myself at bay to not cry any tears of sadness. This was the reality of war and what was to come. We undertook such a job but in every case, we defended our country as best as we could. I carefully placed the letter in the hands of the officers in charge of the moving of the bodies. He seemed to understand what great value that coffin and the letter I gave to him, was to me.
After watching the airplane lift off with two coffins inside, I knew it was time to head back onto the barren land and begin another day’s work as a soldier. We were sent to an abandoned five story building, which had reports of Taliban soldiers situating themselves in that area. Before every mission, we get a pre-mission briefing and we rely on our team communication, skill, knowledge and intuition to come out alive but today Commander Williams added an extra prayer that we fight for Isaac and the other man that was killed yesterday. With two people short, we got given two rookies to join our team. They were nice, smart young boys but this was their first time in Iraq but as always, my team could clearly see that they were not prepared for what was to come in their careers as US Soldiers. Commander Williams gave us the plan on our ambush and we were ready to go in. Like each day we encountered, this was the biggest game of our lives.
We boarded onto the humvee, soft grunts and mumbles from all the men as we piled in. I sat back, eying out for possible danger but really, I was thinking about Isaac. Dust swirled the air as we passed through small towns and the shouting of village life was a comfort. None of us knew what was to be expected along the bumpy ride but to know that blood was to be sacrificed as always. The humvee stopped at our mission point and I whispered “this is for you Isaac”.
We ran in, the heavy bulletproof vests and jam packed backpacks on our backs, our helmets shielding our head, our guns held tightly in hand. It didn’t surprise me when we were suddenly under attack although I did take a quick glance at the two new boys and you could already see the horror in their white faces, peeping out through their helmet. I remember the first time I was under attack- for real. It was like hell but after a couple of months, I realised it was quite normal and I got used to it all. We crouched behind an abandoned group of toilets as we looked up upon the levels of the apartment, our instincts guiding us on our next moves. Across from me was the other half of the team, watching the danger and giving us hand signals. There was a car just in front of the toilets which would allow some cover and to get closer to the enemy. I signalled for my movements and I was to go with one of the rookies. We quickly ran to the car, our bodies kept low to the ground to ensure we had some sort of protection against the bullets that ricocheted onto the dirt and gravel. Carefully I withdrew my gun onto the hood of the car and looked through the scope to look at the positions of the target.
In an instant second, something hit the lower part of my shoulder, pain shooting from my shoulder to the whole of my body. I felt numb and started to feel faint and dizzy. The young rookie looked at me, shocked and ducked down to assist me. I could tell he was scared and he didn’t want to see me, let alone anyone, die. I couldn’t focus and all I heard was the buzz of bullets and the rookie yelling. I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say but I knew he was yelling for help. I couldn’t take it anymore so I closed my eyes and I felt like I had just fallen asleep, it was peaceful despite the numbness and pain that spread to every part of my body.