As I lie in my bed with my knees pounding and my back screaming for aspirins, I take a glance at the swimsuit calendar hanging crooked on the dirty white wall, as if I put it up and scurried out of the door for another delightful day in the streets of Baghdad. The last date crossed out in black pen is Sept. 21. I instinctively curl myself into the fetal position on the bed; I look at my watch to see the date, and it is Sept. 25. I then fall quickly into a coma, periodically dreaming about the events that had taken place over the past days.
To start off the week, my squad leader notified me that I was no longer going to be the RTO and that I would have the responsibility of training the next poor soul in line. The soldier whom I trained was lucky I did not do to him as they have with so many other RTOs in the past — that kicks you the boxes and say, “Hey, here are the radio boxes; you’re the next RTO.” Having been a teacher, the teaching technique is what I am good at, so things would not be so hard. I have had some tough kids in the past to teach, so this was going to be a breeze. The solider up to bat was Specialist Royce Pydynkowsky, aka the Mangalore. His position in the platoon was a driver. Getting off the truck would be suitable for him because this would place him on the ground getting a good experience, as well as understanding tactical communication procedures.
What I thought would take at least a week of training took only three days. The best feeling so far while being here was signing all the equipment over to Specialist Pydynkowsky and washing my hands clean of it.
So far, Specialist Pydynkowsky has been doing a great job. The only thing that is killing him is his lower back; that radio bag can kick your butt. I now am officially in third squad ready to continue my line time. The first patrol we went on was odd because I was so used to scurrying around trying to get radio things done. This time I just sat there and relaxed and enjoyed some good conversation with one of my close buddies — Special Simco. I had been attached to his squad while doing the RTO thing. We hadn’t really spoken in a while, so it was good to catch up.
The following day would start a week that would test our nerves and the ability to overcome discomforts only the infantry offers. The first task of the grueling week was to conduct block parties and get to know the local neighborhood. I do not know about you, but at dirt early in the morning, I do not want to get to know anyone except for the sleeping bag I just comfortably left.
Specific platoons take turns doing the knock and searches. On this occasion, our assignment was to cordon. My team leader, Sergeant Murrilo, and I were responsible for one part of the cordon. These sections seemed to be the busiest because the school was right across the way, and kids had to get in and out. The trick of the day was to keep all the people who had already been in the area to stay there. Well, after the leadership came to the conclusion that the traffic was going to be high, we made some tactical changes. I peeked at my watch; it was 9 a.m., and there were tons of people roaming the streets trying to get to work and go about their lives. When we do a mission like this, many people are affected, and some become agitated and start pushing our buttons.
Seven hours later:
Have you ever been in a movie theater and there is that one person who will not shut up and just ruins your whole movie experience? After eight hours of standing and conducting searches and visually scanning the area trying to identify the threat before it gets too close, you become mentally tired as well as physically tired.
So when 30 kids are surrounding you demanding in broken English everything you have, you try not to flip out and start acting like a crazy man. After the ninth hour, Sergeant Murrilo made the call that we would take 10-minute breaks sitting on the wall. Great idea I thought, but sitting down for just 10 minutes made my body go into a rest mode.
Seven hours later:
At one time, I had 20 kids around screaming and singing and dancing and getting in my face trying to communicate to me as they would their own. It was weird. I sat there and did not hear a word. It seemed like everything was peace and quiet as if someone had turned the mute button on. I could not hear anything except my breathing. I shifted my eyes back and forth, thinking about being home, fishing on the deck. I then transitioned to relaxing on my couch with my dogs at my feet. A smile came to my face as if I was really there.
Then like a good dream coming to an end or a cool breeze dying down while the sun beats on your already sun-burnt face, everything at once came back — the rumbling noise of the tanks and the Apaches flying overhead as well as the most irritating sounds of kids screaming and dancing. I got up and yelled to get Sergeant Murrilo attention. “Hey, Sergeant, I think it is your turn. I am good now that I had a quick trip home.” He looked at me, confused, and said, “What do you mean?” I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Never mind, I am just ready for my turn.” There is no way to explain that experience without someone thinking that you’re crazy, so I just let it go.
This story may not be as exciting as the rest of the stories I have shared, but this experience brought me home for once while being here, and that is why I found the desire to write it.
The next days that followed were full days with little rest, pushing us once
again to our limits.