SLOW MOTION LADDER |
November 28, 2006
SLOW MOTION LADDER
Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 11/28/06
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Salt Lake City
Milblog url: http://wordsmithatwar.blog-city.com
We recently had a problem with one of our satellite dishes. Since I am in charge of communications, my section was responsible for troubleshooting the system. In the end, it took one of my NCOs, SGT M, to painstakingly move the dish 1/8 of an inch to the right and left every thirty seconds for almost two hours to get a signal lock. But his patience paid off. Now he’s the local satellite repairman.
But I digress. Recently our CNN reception was out, and MSG R and I decided to do some troubleshooting by examining the setup of an identical dish that was known to be working in another building. It had been a long day, and it was now 2200. We walked across the road in darkness to our Headquarters, a small two-story building such as you might find at a community college, except every single last window is covered with sandbags, there are bunkers and fighting positions on the roof, and dirt and grime and dust everywhere.
We went into the offices downstairs and borrowed a flashlight from the Sergeant on duty. We joked around with him a little, in the way one might joke with the car repairman, and told him we’d be on his roof for a minute. To get up there, you have to go up the stairs in the middle of the building, follow the open-air walkway around to the rear corner, then climb up a homemade 2x4 ladder to the roof.
It was very dark. I climbed up first and pulled myself onto the roof, and MSG R followed. It’s disconcerting to be up there, because you’re close to the wire and you know there is a highway and some empty houses and buildings nearby. Your mind has a way of imagining snipers in every window, mortar men in every darkened lot.
We checked the dish, the wiring, the hardware, and made our assessment. We looked around for just a minute from that vantage point: a glow from the burn pit on the other side of the FOB, HMMWV lights cutting through the dust as someone came off shift, red and blue flashlights bobbing up and down as people ran a few miles in the relative coolness of the night.
MSG R was halfway down the ladder, and I was still standing on the roof when BOOM! A mortar fired by the enemy landed just outside the wire near the highway. You never know if there will be more impacts, so everything goes into slow motion. MSG R turned and looked at what I had already seen: a yellow-orange explosion lighting up the darkness that was way too close for comfort. My height above the ground, the lit-up desert, the sound of the explosion, my reflexes, and the distinct misfortune that I was standing on a rooftop in Iraq all were assimilated into one movement -- a crouch.
I looked down and MSG R froze on the ladder for a millisecond. He gave me a questioning look that said, “Should I keep going down the ladder or get back up there and take cover?”
“Go, dude, go!” I yelled, still crouching down behind a lip of concrete.
He did. I waited another few moments, and then scurried down the ladder myself. We stuck to the cover of the concrete walls of the building and made our way back downstairs. By this time, the big guns were shooting back at the enemy.
A small cluster of soldiers was standing outside under cover and asking, “Incoming or outgoing?” Sometimes it is hard to tell.
MSG R said “Oh, trust me, it was incoming, we were up on the roof.”
You could hear the retort of our powerful artillery guns fire. It made you want to cheer, and in fact some did, to hear the actual projectile whistle overhead. And then a large explosion as our rounds impacted in the area the insurgents had fired from.
It’s a sad day when men wish death upon other men, but that is the nature of war. Men put aside some measure of empathy when we are being shot at. Not all empathy, but some. You hear the rounds explode and you hope that they kill whoever just tried to kill you.
This is not the Civil War. They don’t want you to see the whites of their eyes. They will never organize a thousand men in the desert and sound a horn and march up to our FOB to fight us, bugles blaring, Iraqi flags and headscarves whipping smartly in the desert wind. Instead, men in sandals will wake up at a pre-determined time and drive to a pre-determined location to drop a few rounds in a tube and run off into the night. It’s akin to leaving your pole in the water and walking away from it. You’re not actively fishing anymore -- feeling the pull of the waves on your line, the snags that might be nibbles, the big fish, the fight to get him in the boat –- you’re just passively trolling for a catch, like these cowards who pray to Allah before they launch each mortar aimed to kill an American.
So we fixed our satellite and got back to watching CNN. It’s a lifeline to home, a portal to a day when we can sit on our own couches and watch the news and judge it according to our own beliefs. Sometimes we see images of soldiers in Iraq projected on the international news, and when we hear some of the stories we think, “These people have no idea…”
And some nights, when we least expect it, mortality strikes our consciences like lightning electrocuting the endless Middle Eastern sky.