We all know how bullshit war stories start.
“Well, there I was…”
Well, there I was. In the doctor’s office, nearly eight years after my war story. The man was telling me about my MRI results. I finally told the people up at the VA what was going on with me. Can’t lift wet clothes from the washing machine, painful to turn knobs with my left hand, can’t carry the vacuum cleaner around. It got old, so I made mention to my GP. She ordered an MRI, and a few weeks later there I was, in the orthopedic surgeon’s office.
Nerve damage, bad stuff with the tendons in my left arm, arthritis. The doc, a 3rd Ranger Battalion veteran, got out the needles. Cortisone to tie me over. He moved my joints around, it felt like a series of electric shocks. Then he pressed in hard. Pain. “Aha,” he said. “Now I know where to stick the needle.” First he did my shoulder, then he did my elbow. He’d have done my wrist, too, but apparently the VA will only authorize two shots per day. Two was enough.
I wasn’t going to scream in front of a man with a Ranger scroll and the Combat Medic Badge, but I will admit to some deep breaths.
How in the hell did I wind up here, I thought.
It’s a tale of a gun, a building, and madness.
“Well, there I was…”
So we were in a day-long engagement. The sun was setting, it had been a successful day. We needed to get out of there. Our team sergeant, Pete the Ranger, wanted to stay on the hill we had taken as a thumb in the Taliban’s eye. The team commander, the Colonel, said “Fuck no, we’re leaving.” So exhausted and addled by blast I climbed up behind the gun on the Colonel’s truck. I was never so happy to get behind the gun as on that evening, we were leaving the proverbial valley of the shadow of death.
God, how can I describe the roads. They were unworthy of the name, they were really improved donkey paths. It was a miracle that our MAT-Vs made it as far as they did to retrieve us, we assaulted in on foot. So we gathered our beans and our baskets and made our way out. A distinct memory was the truck in front of me nearly flipping as it straddled a wall, just watching I nearly pissed myself. Then it was our turn.
We hit a tree, a branch struck my weapon’s muzzle which in turn struck me violently in the face with the spade handles. How I didn’t lose teeth I don’t know. I ended up on the floor of the vehicle, senseless. But the gun needed to be “up,” so I jumped to my feet and got behind the gun. I noticed immediately that the turret was spinning out of control, the electrical controls were dead.
There was a redundant control, a manual crank handle. I smacked that bitch into place and with a violent wrench brought the gun back up. Called down to the Colonel. “Gun’s up.” I thought I was sweet.
And then I saw the building. We barreled into that sucker and pushed it part way over, my weapon got hung up again. This time I didn’t get as lucky as before. The manual crank handle beat the crap out of my arm, the gun got wedged on my body. Serious pain. My arm started swelling immediately, it was bad juju. The turret was completely inoperative and so was the gunner (me).
So began an exfiltration that was as bad as the combat, and nearly as long. We got back to our crappy firebase sometime around dawn after convoying for hours through Indian country. Stuck vehicles. Lost equipment. Soldiers on the ragged edge.
Bad. And we kept fighting in that shithole for another week.
And seven years, nine months later there I sat as the doctor told me my arm had seen better days.
You know what though?
To protect the Colonel and my friends, I would jump on that gun again. Knowing all that would happen; up to and including my trip to the VA today. Foreknowledge wouldn’t change a thing. Other stuff, yeah.
But not that.