“Everybody likes to tell stories about how great they did in combat,” a Soldier recently remarked. I would agree. It’s a matter of pride. I like to recall a time when we were young and did great things. They’ll be tales for the grandkids someday.
He continued: “But usually, we get out there and dumb things happen. We’re not tough and impressive; we’re clumsy and we fall down a lot. It’s hard to be proud when you look like a dumbass.”
I can personally attest to this, too. After a time, you don’t mind telling the story anymore. Personally humiliating though it may be, you learn to see the humor in it. Below is a collection of potentially motivating, dangerous combat situations that had unusual endings…
A friend of mine was on a foot patrol though a small town when the urgent need to attend to business hit him. Finding an alley as secluded as possible, he squatted against the wall, dropped his trousers, and relived himself.
As he leaned against the wall, a bell started ringing. To his total horror, the gate next to him crashed open, and he was greeted by several dozen school children filing out the door into the street. They were met by a Marine whose pants were at his ankles, beads of sweat rolling off his forehead, slowly realizing that he probably just cancelled out the efforts of a hundred public affairs missions. Trying to be polite as possible, he greeted them in Arabic as they slinked past him in total disgust.
“No wonder they hate us,” some will say.
During one tour, a Soldier recalls his unit receiving repeated intelligence reports of a suspect frequenting a certain house. Five times they assaulted the house, each time not finding the target. Except for the time he rode by on a scooter and waved to them. Another time, they kicked in the door, and were surprised to find that the family had prepared dinner for them. They were expected each time.
A Soldier I know was involved in a high-speed air assault wherein two choppers would unload a slew of troops into a landing zone by night, they would quickly reconsolidate, and move on to their objective. It sounds like the stuff of Army commercials.
Well, that is until they determined that the choppers had landed in a field with head-high reeds and interlaced with small canals. They poured out the rear of the birds and sprinted through the weeds to provide perimeter security. Most of them soon found themselves in tangled heaps in small ditches, disoriented, in the dark, and completely covered in mud. Even after the choppers took off they had a hard time reorganizing. It was like playing Marco Polo in the dark, in a combat zone, in high grass. So much for the element of surprise.
Their extraction a few days later was a perfect shot at redemption. In a CLEAR field, the helicopters would land, and they would all collapse their security as they loaded up and flew away.
Unbeknown to them, the field was extremely dusty, and recently fertilized with manure. As the rotors kicked up dirt, rocks and other debris, the Soldier raced out to climb aboard. Breathing hard, they swallowed a lot of dirt. One Soldier recalls an incident with the man next to him.
“As we ran along, this guy made the mistake of running with his mouth open. The dirt and sand was bad enough, but then a huge piece of manure flew into his mouth so hard that he accidentally swallowed it. He slowed down immediately.”
“Oh no! I think I just ate shit!”
“Are you okay?”
“No.” He began gagging, and then vomited all over the LZ – into the wind. So much for redemption.
Another Soldier recalls a night mission where he leaped across a small canal, but was unaware there was another directly beyond it.
“I cleared the first trench, but then I started to fall into the next one. I tried to push my SAW [light machine gun] away from me, but I forgot I still had the sling around me. It was just like a cartoon. I slid down and in, through the mud on the bottom, up the far side, and then I went airborne right back into it face-first. My night vision goggles smashed into the side of my head, and my face hit my SAW. I also messed up my back pretty badly.”
His injuries were concerning enough that the mission was temporarily halted to assess his condition. The medic thought he’d need to be evacuated, since he was having trouble walking. He radioed back to base.
“Who was it,” came the reply, and Doc relayed his initials and last four.
“Oh, him? What a dip shit. Keep moving. I’m sure he’s fine.” In time he was, save for a bruised back and an equally bruised ego.
As is becoming quite obvious, canals are the source of much trouble. It was in 2004 when, running along one trying to halt a car, I found myself flat in another ditch, up to my chest, still aimed in at the car. They stopped, thankfully, but started laughing at me.
I remember dejectedly wandering back to the humvee, hoping nobody had seen me. Of course, we had a key leader with us that day.
“First Sergeant, you didn’t see what just happened, did you?”
“I did, but I knew you had things under control.” He turned away, laughing.
And finally, this:
As a friend was on a patrol through some farmland, they came to a canal and located a section shallow enough to wade across. After a few crossed over, my friend jumps in to do the same. He missed the shallow section.
“As soon as I jumped in, I knew I was sinking. I raised my SAW above my head, and then sank into the mud – completely underwater. I couldn’t get out, either. We were weighed down with too much gear. All I could do was shake my SAW and hope somebody heard the links rattling together. If they didn’t, I’d drown.”
Moments later, they heard him, scrambled into the muck, and extracted him. Gasping, he had one thing to say:
“Don’t cross there. It’s deep!”
If we’re the best, how incompetent must everybody ELSE be?
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved