real-life mortar attacks are surprisingly just like the ones you see in the movies. there's a sudden whine that grows louder and louder, quickly followed by a dreadful feeling in your gut and an urgency that drives you to run anywhere and hide under the nearest thing you possibly can. you want to hide under tanks, but they tell you that's not safe even though it seems perfectly natural to have 100 tons of protective metal shielding you from explosions. you settle for second best, which is huddling beside a concrete barrier and holding your head between your legs, as if your thighs are going to offer any kind of serious protection for your head when it's already covered in a kevlar helmet.
this time around, i grabbed my vest and kevlar, and ran outside to the gathering point. i was the first out, and given that it was in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn't surprising that there were only a few of us running in. we had guys on missions, guys in the MWR tent watching movies, and guys down at the washrack taking care of vehicles. the washrack subject is something i'll get into another day, but needless to say that it doesn't make sense, to me at least, to wash vehicles one time and then get them all dirty again as you drive them to kuwait, where you'll spend another two days on the rack taking care of them AGAIN.
so the mortars fell from the sky, and by some fate or grace or what have you, one landed directly in the middle of the field next to us. i felt the shrapnel whizzing by, and had a few gashes cut out of my lower back by either shrapnel or flying rock. it didn't hurt, but it was hot as hell and bled like a motherfucker. no one was hit, at least not badly, so we continued to huddle together and pretend like we had the best form of protection possible from the best government in the world instead of just being left out there on our own to fend for ourselves.
everything settles down a bit, but only for about what seems like twenty seconds. then i hear an unintelligible scream coming from the tent next to mine, and even though it sounds like the worst form of arabic available combined with the guttural yell of a howard dean, i can recognize that it's a call for a medic. we run to the tent and there's a gigantic hole in the middle of the ceiling and the tent is just all torn to shreds. i get that feeling in the deep parts of my stomach, like i know what's going to happen next but i really think i can put it off by pretending that i'm back home enjoying time with my family.
we run into the tent. there's staff sergeant lister (not a real name obviously) laying on the floor with...well, nothing. his stomach has been torn open, his guts are hanging out and he's dead. even by looking at him from ten feet away, i know that the medics won't have to waste time on the procedures they normally do because this guy is dead. i immediately think back to the time when we went out to the lake and lister was there, drunk off his ass. it's always routine to say that this guy and that guy was the nicest person ever once they die, but in truth, lister was an asshole and always went out of his way to belittle and be beligerent. i hatet, hated the guy, but now he's laying here on the floor dead and i'm seeing guts and i'm seeing blood and i just turn my head and vomit, because no matter how many times i see it, i still wasn't prepared. i vomit until i have no mre's left in my stomach and can't even begin to think that there might still be some liquid left inside my gut.
the moment passes. yes, lister is in fact dead and there's nothing that can be done for him. sgt. smith is injured and may never walk again, but outside of that, there's really not much to be done or say. we got caught with our pants down and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. besides, we were going home in thirty days, so what did it matter? we'd only lost three guys our entire time in iraq, and so another one really didn't faze us as much as it probably should have.
it fazed me, though. a few days after, i started waking up in the middle of the night after having dreams of seeing sgt. lister standing over my bed with his guts hanging out. yeah, nightmares you could call them, and they sucked. i put them off, figured it was normal, and came home with everyone else to a reception from our families and friends. well, most people, at least. i had no one there and that was fine with me, because all i could think about doing was walking straight to the px, buying about three cases of beer, and getting so fucking drunk that i couldn't walk straight and would actually sleep entirely through the night.