THE HEAT IN MY DREAMS |
August 17, 2007
THE HEAT IN MY DREAMS
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 8/17/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York
It felt like just another day in Afghanistan. Our Humvee crew was going through all our pre-mission rituals, like we had done a hundred times before. CPT "Hep" was his normal stressed-out self, and was replying to the radio commo checks with short, biting responses. The unbearable heat in the Humvee didn't help much to lower his tension. Neither did the fact that the AC wasn't working.
Up in the turret, the gunner leaned forward and jerked his arm back. The metallic thud of the .50 cal being charged rattled everyone in the vehicle. KAH-CHUNK. I was the driver for this mission, so for the moment I just had to make sure our IED jamming device was up and running. I got the green light signal, waited for Hep to stop transmitting on the radio, and then flashed him the thumbs up. Now it was just a matter of waiting for all the other trucks to finish their pre-combat checks, and we could roll out.
The moments before a mission usually found me all tensed up. My two hands were tightly gripping the steering wheel while all the catastrophic "what ifs" of Humvee combat patrols ran through my head.
I got my first hint that something was out of the ordinary when I glanced over my shoulder and saw my girlfriend seated in the rear right seat. She held a strand of her long hair in her hand, and was inspecting it for split ends. She pouted and looked at me. Sweat ran down her forehead onto a cheek flustered red by the heat.
"It's hot in here. Why can't we open the windows?"
Seeing her sitting there in the Humvee took me by surprise, but actually hearing her voice was what awoke me from this disturbing dream. The thought of her being there, in Afghanistan, in harm's way, was enough to make me shudder and roll over onto my side.
In these few groggy seconds, I'm able to confidently say I'm not in a Humvee. I'm firmly planted in an Army-issued cot. The cot is firmly planted in one of the notoriously hot Bagram holding tents for soldiers in transit to and from Afghanistan. I feel a slight breeze on my exposed legs. The sides of the tent are rolled up, which allows for some ventilation.
In front of me, and to my sides, are rows of cots. Most of them are occupied by fellow soldiers. Like me, they are trying to pass the hours of boredom with sleep as they await their flights out of Afghanistan.
Some are successful, others are not.
Two cots down I see SFC C, a fellow New Yorker and teammate of mine. Despite the heat, he is wrapped in a poncho liner and is in a deep sleep.
Directly next to me is a stranger from some other unit. He is reading a magazine of some sort. I see a glossy foto of some scantily clad nubile female on the cover, so it's probably Maxim or FHM, the literature of choice of young male soldiers.
Across from this stranger is SFC "Deg", as we like to call him. He is another one of my teammates. He has one arm resting on his forehead, shielding his eyes from the sunlight seeping through the tent.
Good ole Deg. It seems like it's been forever since I've gotten a chance to really talk to him. We were ETT partners for a short stint, before he was transferred to another FOB. I smile as I see him laying there, staring upwards towards the sky. God it's good to see him. We have a lot of catching up to do.
I begin to doze off again. Some time passes. An obnoxious creak is heard as someone rolls over in their Army cot. It's a noise every soldier knows. It's a noise only an Army cot can make. KKKRRRRREEKKK.
More time passes.
"Are you gonna tell him?"
A stranger's voice, right next to my cot, and possibly directed at me. I ignore it.
"Hey, are you gonna tell him? He was your friend." The stranger puts special emphasis on the word "your".
I look over, and the stranger is sitting up in his cot, looking at me. He motions over towards Deg.
His casual demeanor is replaced by a look of seriousness. Now he's got my attention. Before he speaks, I already know what bad news he wants me to deliver.
"Aren't you going to tell Deg? Aren't you going to tell him that he's DEAD?"
My eyes dart from the stranger's face to Deg, who remains resting on his cot. His chest rises and falls with his relaxed breathing. It's the same chest that got shot last September. The bullet cut through all the important parts. Heart. Lungs. We heard he died on a helicopter en route to surgery.
Deg shifts his head over towards me. I see tiny specks of sweat on his face.
He smiles at me.
I smile back.
It feels so good to see him.
But the stranger is right. I should tell Deg. But I can't.
Deg and I remain locked in this silent reminiscence. He is still smiling at me. Perhaps he is remembering the practical jokes we played on our interpreters, or the nail-biting evening chess games, or the time we bought melons and shared them with everyone at that street intersection in Ghazni. We had some great times together.
Maybe he just wants to catch up on things. But I know if we start talking, I'm going to have to tell him why he can't go home. I'm going to have to give him the bad news. I close my eyes to collect my thoughts, and to muster up the courage to tell him what happened to him.
I open my eyes.
The red numbers on my alarm clock read 4:16 am. It's Eastern Standard Time.