I joined the Marine Corps when I was twenty years old, and shortly after my twenty-first birthday I was in Afghanistan. There were things that I saw, things that happened that I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t know how to process. Even being a Marine in a generation that was aware of PTSD, there were some things I just couldn’t understand.
The sand was blinding as the helicopter lowered itself to the ground. Before it touched down we were moving. Dobson and I had the translator between us; his skinny arms clung around each of our necks as we struggled to drag/carry him towards the waiting medivac. Each grain of sand felt like a tiny shard of glass, pelting every inch of my exposed flesh, stripping me of any feeling. My face and hands stung with the impacts, but I kept moving forward eventually sitting him down on the helicopter and exchanging a few shouted words with the medic. “Translator” I shouted nodding my head toward the injured man. “IED blast” I replied when asked about his wounds. The medic looked at me as he walked toward the helicopter, shouting over the deafening roar of wind, and sand the helicopter generated. “Blood type?” he screamed. I laughed shaking my head and shrugging, pointing at the translator. The medic sat down on the helicopter as it lifted into the sky pulling the air up with it, giving Dobson and I a surreal feeling of temporary weightlessness. We turned, trudging our way through the loose sand back toward our vehicle. As we got closer, I heard someone shout, and the air was sucked from my lungs. I had a fleeting stab of panic as I strove to understand the feeling.
I looked around seeing a grey-black cloud rising from the desert no more than a few miles away. Dobson and I got in the truck and were greeted with instant radio chatter. They had tried to shout at us, to warn us, the explosion was one of ours. They had seen enemy combatants digging and placing IED’s along one of our supply lines and had dealt with them, in God-like fashion, bringing all the wrath they could muster. And it was our job to assess the damage and confirm the kill.