I'd been itching to get back on the ground for some time. Always driving, the same places over and over again. The same routine. Gear up, open the truck, wait, drive, wait, drive, fuel it up, close it down, sleep. Wake up. Repeat. Gargle, swish, and spit. The Groundhog Day Effect in near-lethal doses.

During these mind-numbing excursions, I'd find myself responding to radio traffic, generally serving no real purpose.

And then the company commander says, "Who is that? Is that Suspect? Wow, he's really clear over the radio. Think I'll make him my new RTO."

An RTO is the radio guy. That's the job my buddy was doing when he was killed by the sniper. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but it became a long running joke. Well, it DID until I was told one day that on our next mission, I was RTO, no joke. I grabbed a marker and left a note for my platoon sergeant on the dry erase board under the notice.

"I hate you with all of my being. Love, Suspect."

Being an RTO is somewhat like being on the ground normally, except you carry a backpack with an amazingly heavy radio, considering the bastard's small size. The funny thing is that you actually don't do much, yet some seem to think that it's always best to target the radio guy. Bile flavored irony, really.

Our boys are doing their thing, setting up, moving out, pounding the ground, being ARMY STRONG and whatnot, and I'm following The Boss around. My helmet is fucked up and I can't seem to get my nightvision to seat right, let alone focus. Two minutes into the walk, I begin to sweat like a call girl in church.

It wasn't all that long before I hear that there's someone hiding in the taller grass just off of the road we're standing on. He's by one of our vehicles and appears gives off that whole IED Trigger Man vibe. Over the radio, I hear them saying that this meets Rules of Engagement criteria, blah blah bliggety bloo.

I tell The Boss that this target can be engaged. I'm looking around for this guy, because I'd certainly love to take a few shots at some prick trying to blow people up. I really do frown on that type of behavior. I can't see him anywhere, but he's got to be RIGHT BY us, right?

An Apache flies overhead, and at first, it looks like it dropped a flair into the field. That is, til the "flare" explodes with an authoritative BANG! Oh, that's where the guy is.

A couple of minutes pass by, and then one of our guys on one of our trucks announces that there's someone who appears to be armed carrying or dragging something. He's told to engage with the 240. Cuts the guy down, and another guy runs back into the house.

I ask The Boss if he thinks the Apache had any idea how close we were. 100, 150 meters max. Cool huh?

We laid down, trying to avoid being silhouetted by vehicle lights until the sun came up. I chilled, watched the stars through night vision (they didn't do much, the stars I mean. Bummer). Once the sun came up, we heard what sounded like either wild animals in extreme distress, or women completely freaking out.

The family had found the bodies.

We made rounds around the area, cleared a few houses, talked to a few people, took a seat for a while in front of one house (my back was one pissed off motherfucker, and gladly announced it to me in a constant dull fatiguing ache). I handed out Pringles and candy and Gatorade to little kids who fought over it. Fought over who got to high-five me first. Hearts and minds, right? Yeah.

We returned to the house of the guys that were killed. Why be outside hiding in the grass at 3 AM? Unless you were trying to pull something?

The entire family were herded into two rooms, neither of which I bothered to enter. I watched chickens in the courtyard and did my best to ignore sobbing and shouting and the most eerie prayers I'd ever heard. They had retrieved the bodies and brought them out back, placed them on sleeping mats and covered them with sheets. The guy who had been hit with the 7.62mm looked like he was only asleep. They cleaned him up immaculately, must have put new clothes on him. I didn't see the other one. Out of courtesy, those of us who weren't directly involved in conversing with the family faced outwards, pretended like we were pulling security, or posing for some bullshit army brochure, a myspace picture, whatever. Come on, you all know we were imagining being somewhere else anyway. It's what we always do. Between that and the curiosity of how bad the other guy got it, that was pretty much it.

A car tried to flee the scene of a different house. Warning shot. Warning shot. Warning warning warning shot shot shot. Then everyone in the area opened up. The car stopped and two males got out. I couldn't make much out from the rooftop I was standing on, but as soon as the driver put his hands up, a grenade from an M203 grenade launcher exploded at the front of the car. From where I was, it looked like a direct hit. All I thought was, "Damn. Too little too late. That sucks."

Turns out, neither were wounded.

Is this my life? Nah, this is the Twilight Zone or something. An alternate life while the rest of the world moves on. Still killing time, that's my mission.

Oh, and to you, the reader: I'd tell it better if I had the time. Seems like every time I have something truly interesting to talk about, I don't have the time to do it justice. I'm working on that though.

Til next time. You do your thing, I'll be doing mine. Driving a big green monstrosity through Third World Escape From New York, with 2 foot tall naked toddlers standing in front of their gates while their older siblings wave and demand handouts.

Is this my life?


The Barrens

I've been doing the same, day in, day out. Just recently, I've managed to atleast get out of the driver's seat.

Flying down a "road" going thirty miles an hour (by road, we mean tire tracks in the moon dust that serves as this weird planet's surface), dust kicking up and attacking our faces, goggles or not, we wave like madmen at the local kids.

They hold their hands out, demanding something. Soccer balls? Food? Weapons of Intermediate Destruction? Who cares, just play dumb. We don't have anything good, dammit, WE ATE IT ALL, MAN! JUST KEEP WAVING! Don't take your eyes off of them until we're in the clear! I've heard these monsters will eat the flesh right off of your bones when you aren't looking!

No, it isn't quite that bad, atleast not yet. The repetition is killing me, so I've got to pepper this story with outlandish lies and exaggerations. Sadly, I've got nothing. I was excited just to be behind a 240Bravo again (you know, that big belt fed 7.62mm fully automatic weapon that every kid wants for Christmas? Yeah, that). I loaded the rounds as we exited the FOB, slammed the cover down...and that was the extent of the thrill. Nothing to shoot at, never even a possible threat, barely any SUSPICION, even by the standards of paranoia.

Dear GOD, put me back in the fucking seat! Atleast then I can recline and do nothing, rather than stand in the hatch while we park for a couple thousand hours. Honestly, I do nothing these days. Nothing. No free time, no action, no bragging rights, not even any real COMPLAINING rights. You might as well stop reading right here and now.

Oh, sorry about that, my mind wandered and I decided that picking at my fingernails would be more interesting. You get where I'm going with this? I'll keep you Earthlings posted as to the non-happenings on Planet Fukkaal.

Montana Slim out.