Friday, January 25, 2013

The First Time

I was sitting in OP South, a small bunker on top of the COP, pulling yet another in a series of endless 6 hour guard shifts.  Sitting on a metal chair, sweating my brains out, occasionally reporting to the SOG (Sergeant of the Guard) that nothing was happening and we were still awake.  It was night, and the guy next to me had run out of things to say a long time ago, so we took turns, alternately standing and sitting in the chair, a pair of NODs was sitting on the north face, with the 240 Bravo machine gun.  It was perhaps one of the most boring things an individual can do, but it's also the only thing that will  keep theses small 30-60 man outposts from being overrun.  Suddenly the drone of generators was broken with a soft *thump* *thump* *thump*

"What was that." ask Island.  Being on my second tour, I knew what that sound meant, as a second the slight whistle, soft and hard to hear over the generators.  This was the sound of incoming mortar rounds.  The sound you don't hear until they're upon you.

"INCOMING!" I yelled as the first one hit. 

BOOM  BOOM BOOM.  the explosions were creating bright flashes in the pitch black night.

I was at the "windows" of the bunker, hugging the wall so only me head stuck out, looking for the source of the indirect fire.  

"Incoming fire. . . " the small radio said, I knew there was more but I couldn't hear it over the sound of the rounds hitting. 

"where's it coming from" I screamed at Island.


"I think over there" he said as another one hit close and he ducked. He pointed North towards a large open field which we had perfect line of sight on.

"CALL IT IN!" I screamed


My ears were ringing.  I didn't bother grabbing the NODs, I just got behind the 240.  I hadn't fired one since basic.

"SOG!  OP SOUTH! WE THINK WE SEE WHERE ITS COMING FROM!" Island shouted into the radio. 


The shelling had stopped.  My ears were ringing.  I looked at Island, who was looking a little shaken.  Experiencing incoming fire in an open air bunker is an experience that can rattle the best of men.  That's when I saw tail lights in the field.  They went to the road, and were headed north. 

"Hey I got something!" I shouted "White truck headed north.  Ask them if I can engage."  At this point I knew I was probably going to fire a 240 in combat which was breaking some big no-no's where medics were concerned, but I couldn't help it the incoming had shot my adrenalin level through the roof. 

"SOG, OP South, We've got a white truck headed north on the road next to the block.  Can we engage?"

"OP South, Light em up."

That's all I needed to hear.  I took aim on the tail lights squeezed the trigger, and it didn't fire.  I was perplexed for a minuet until I realized the safety was on.  I pushed the little button.  The gun was hot.  My finger squeezed around the trigger again but this time I stopped myself

"what if I'm wrong"  A stab of uncertainty filled me

"SHOOT!" the SOG was at the door of the bunker.  His glasses slightly askew, he was only wearing a T-shirt and PT shorts with boots.  

I shook myself and fired a quick burst.

BRRRRAAAAT Then the gun simply stopped firing.  It was jammed.

"F**K!  It's Jammed!"

"Move."  The SOG said simply.  He got behind the Gun, and I grabbed my own weapon and aimed. 


I fired at where the tail lights were rapidly disappearing.  The SOG pulled the Gun back, the ejection port was sitting right on the sand bags and that's why it had jammed.  He fired three more bursts as the truck disappeared from sight. The three of us sat there for a moment.  I realized I was holding my breath and started breathing again.  Island and the SOG were breathing heavily. 

"You guys OK?" asked the SOG

"Yeah, sure" said Island

"I'm-I'm good." I said.  Whether it was firing the 240, firing my own weapon, or the incoming I was a little shaky.  I set my weapon down on the sandbags, leaned back and let out a deep breath.  As I took off my K-pot, to scratch my head, the SOG nodded at both of us.

"good work.  I've got to do a BDA (Battle Damage Assessment), If you guys need anything let me know."

"Rodger Sergeant" Island said.

The SOG walked away calmly, and down the ladder to the rest of the COP.  Island sat in the metal chair, and we looked at each other for a second.

"That was my first time"  

"Doc, we've been hit before," he said

"No, man that was my first time firing my weapon at someone."

he looked at me intensely for a moment, before giving my a toothy grin "Congratulations Doc, you just popped your cherry!"

I laughed, a short burst of nervous laughter.  The rest of the shift was uneventful, and just two short hours later we were relieved.  I went down to where my cot was, and laid on it for hours, stating at the ceiling.  Questions filled my head, questions I probably wouldn't get answers to.  Something had changed though.  I just didn't know what yet, besides the fact that finally on my second tour in Iraq, I had fired my weapon in combat, such as it was.  Whatever else I might be, no one could argue I was not a Soldier now. 

Eventually I went to sleep, knowing I would, sadly get more opportunities to fire my weapon.  And I did. 

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