I had been in country about fifteen days and my company commander and I were heading back to our OP and were gearing up our four vehicle convoy. As it worked out, my seat was in Vehicle 1 right behind the Vehicle Commander (VC) in the passenger side of up armored hummer.
"First Sergeant," my captain pulled me aside for a moment with that special gleam in his eye. Soft spoken with a generally dry sense of humor, Captain Hanson's tone has been known to trick people into not realizing that he is screwing with them. Not me.
"You know," he said in mock seriousness. "Generally if we get hit with an IED it's the lead vic that gets it. Are you sure you want to ride in the first vehicle?"
I don't recall my exact response, but I'm certain it was laced with the appropriate amount of colorful language as befits a 1stSgt of Marines and probably included something about riding through Kharma town on the hood with a mega phone talking trash in Arabic. In reply Captain Hanson simply shrugged his shoulders, palms up as if to say, "It's your ass."
We finally got under way. LCpl Curtis was driving the lead vehicle, SSgt Soto was the vehicle commander. LCpl Kitlas was in the turret.
Sitting to my left was a 1stLt from the company that we were replacing. I can't remember his name but he had picked up the moniker "Dog Tits". My platoon commanders were all untried young officers straight out of Quantico. These fresh faced boys were on their first deployment and had gravitated to this salty Lt who was showing them the ropes on the mean streets of Kharma. The sight of my young Lts following him around like pups milking their mom's teet was more than some of their fellow officers could bear. Any Marine worth his salt was bound to make a comment concerning this. Thus Dog Tits is how I will always remember him.
That summer Kharma still pretty much looked like a war zone. There was a small market doing business, but side streets were little more than armed camps run by neighborhood sheiks. Rubble sprawled here and there from the beginning of the war while police stations, schools, and the like had been subsequently demolished or closed by Al Queda since then. Our convoy snaked through Downtown Kharma the roads pock marked with holes mainly created by detonated IEDs. We weaved our way through razor wire and Hesco barriers littering our route and were just coming up to an intersection before a bridge when...
Man was that loud!
Explosions in my experience are not long drawn out affairs like in the movies. Instead this was a hard fast concussion of sound and in my memory I could swear I saw the flash of the explosion through the armor of the vehicle.
I couldn't see from the smoke and the next thing I remember was my hands waving in front of my face. There was so much dust and smoke I was waving my hands around trying to clear it.
Whenever I am involved in any situation which includes the possibility of grievous bodily harm my brain automatically runs through a quick functions check that goes something like this:
Brain: "Reproductive Junk intact?"
Body: "The boys are all here!"
Brain: "Very well, ensure the anus remains closed for the remainder of the convoy."
Anus: "Awwww, maaaaaan!"
Later Capt Hason would tell me as he witnessed my vehicle become enveloped in the explosion and resulting black cloud, he became completely deflated.
"Oh man, I killed the 1stSgt." He hadn't but that wouldn't stop him from trying again in the future.
The next thing I remember was Lt Dog Tits grabbing LCpl Curtis by the shoulder. We hadn't been able to see with all the smoke and Curtis had nearly stopped the vehicle just past the kill zone.
"Drive through! Drive through! Push it all the way up there!"Dog Tits shouted.
As we moved up a couple hundred meters or so Dog Tits grabbed LCpl Kitlas' leg, "You okay?" he continued to shout. It was a loud explosion if you recall.
"1stSgt, you okay?"
Anus: "I want to poo!"
Now I've seen people in various emotional states, but what I saw next was one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Dog Tits ran through the entire range of human emotions in the matter of minutes. In hindsight I would take this as a sure sign it was time for this guy to go home.
When he realized everyone was okay and in one piece he started yelling.
"WELCOME TO KHARMA BITCHES WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHOOOOOOOOO!!!"
I just looked at him like he was stupid.
Then he got mad, first at dirtbag insurgents, then at Fate itself.
"Dumb sumbitches! &%*$%^$#! WTF? I'm supposed to leave here in two weeks! This isn't supposed to happen to me anymore! #@*%&<#$!"
He then proceeded to begin tugging on the roll of razor wire lashed to the hood. Instead of letting him hang out there all day I dismounted and helped him out while SSgt Soto got on the radio let Capt Hanson know that he had failed to eliminate his company 1stSgt.
What the heck were you doing with the wire, you ask? I was pretty much asking myself the same thing. We strung it across the road a couple hundred meters in front of the vehicle. Of course, it wouldn't stop anyone who really wanted to get through but it would make those who weren't interested in getting shot at go somewhere else. Some may not believe this, but there are times when Marines are trying NOT to kill people.
Now, exiting an up armored vehicle in the aforementioned sniper zone was not my idea of an intelligent thing to do. But I wasn't about to leave Dog Tits out there by himself. It's a Marine thing, go figure. Besides, all Marines have this teenager in them that still thinks he's invincible. Mine isn't as convincing as he used to be but there is this other guy inside daring all comers to take a shot anyway. He's not as loud as the teenager. In fact his voice is much colder and reserved.
"Come get it, if you want. I'm the meanest mutha in Kharma." He rasped inside me.
Except for the IED nobody else took a shot at the title that day. They would try another time though.
In the meantime, when we got back to the OP, I gave the good Captain the largest ration of crap I had ever dished.
"Sir! Why are you wishing that kind of evil on me? You do that again and you and I are going 'round and 'round!" Funny though, he really did feel bad about it. But it wouldn't be the last time he cursed me either.