I woke up in a muddy field, wondering how I got there. The sense of disorientation was overwhelming. On top of the obvious lack of memory, dust obscured the surroundings. All I knew in that moment was that my ears were ringing, my head was pounding and I was forearm deep in wet dirt. When I tried to get up, pain shot through my left leg. I grunted and rolled over. Suddenly my mind kicked into gear. My pants and boots were still intact, which was a good thing. I chalked the pain up to bruising and tried again. This time I rose to my feet, just as Chris walked to the edge of the grape field.
"He's over here." he yelled to the others. "You alright? You bleeding?"
I looked up at him as he was silhouetted by the blaring Afghan sun as it just now began to pierce the dust cloud. "Yeah I think I'm alright."
Chris turned back to others. "Hey Justin, get the metal detectors here, we need to clear a path up to him right now!"
I could hear them yelling in the ditsance now, my hearing was slowly coming back. My Sergeant was telling everyone not to move, to stay still. I also heard people calling out a name.
My heart sunk."Where's Dan."
"Don't move!" Chris yelled once again. "Just stay there man, we'll get to you in a few minutes."
"Where's Dan?" I asked.
Chris looked back. I watched as sweat rolled down onto his brow from beneath his helmet. He looked distraught.
"Chris! Talk to me." I said.
"Just don't move man."
Then, in the grape row next to me, I heard it. A low moan. The disoriented banter of my wounded squadmate.
"Dan?" I screamed. I turned in the direction of his voice and tried to climb the six foot row of dirt that separated us. "Dan!" I was frantic, scratching at the dirt and searching with no avail for a foothold in the vines. I wasn't thinking; my vest weighed thirty two pounds, I was carrying two belts of machine gun ammunition, three hundred and forty rounds of 5.56 mm and nine litres of water that ammounted to a total of one hundred and eighty something pounds weighing me down. There was no way I should have been able to make it over that grape row... but i did.
On the other side, Dan was laying in the mud. I made my initial assessment. His feet were gone, his legs were mangled up past the knees but there wasn't much blood. "Hey Dan, how you doing?" I said to him, as I knelt beside him and reached into my tactical vest pouch for a turniquet.
Dan grunted and looked at me with a pale face. His eyes rolled back into his head for a moment but he fought to stay awake.
"That's right Dan, you stay with me. We'll have you out of here in just a bit." I could hear Chris behind me. He was telling the others that we had found him. I turned back. "Chris, I need another turniquet, I've only got one."
Chris looked down at me. He slung his rifle behind his back and stared at the gorund in front of him. I could tell in a split second what was going through his head.
This isn't cleared, there could be another IED right in front of me, there could be a secondary. I could take a step and turn into another casuatly like Dan.
It was a short battle in his mind, what some call bravery won out. He stepped down into the grape row and ran toward me. He ripped a turniquet from his pouch and handed it to me and I immediately tied it to his other leg.
"We need a medic here right now Chris."
Dan looked up at us and his lips formed a clumsy question with barely enough breath to power it into speach. "What happened?"
"You're gonna be alright Dan." Chris said.
"Don't." He replied, blood now flowing from lacerations on his face from rocks blown at him by the initial blast. "Don't lie to me. How bad is it?"
"Your feet are gone." I said. "But you're going to be fine, we've stopped the bleeding." I turned to Chris. "Help me take his gear off I need to do a wet check."
Chris pulled the velcro from Dan's flack vest and I passed my hands across his chest searching for blood. Wet check, that always made me laugh. Dan, like all of us, was drenched in sweat. The only reason I felt the blood was because of its oily consistency.
"We need to turn him over."
Chris nodded and looked at Dan. "Hey buddy, we're gonna roll you over, it's probably gonna hurt but, there's no choice in it -"
"Just do it man." He said, forcing his words through clenched teeth.
Chris nodded and rolled him over. Dan did not lament.
I pulled off the back side of his flack vest and saw the swath of blood. I pulled the knife from my belt and cut his combat shirt to get a better look. "A man."
Chris looked at the wound and shook his head. "Something got under his vest."
"What's the situation so far?" Came a voice from behind. I turned and Belle was there, her dark eyes training emotionlessly on the wounded soldier her feet. She was our guardian angel, and was as cold as a stone when on the job.
"I put to turniquets on him about three minutes ago and just found this."
"K, here." She gave me a roll of gauze. "You pack that into his back. I'll get the report ready for medivac."
"Alright." I said, unrolling the gauze and pushing it into the wound in his back.
Dan grunted in pain.
"Don't worry man, you'll be fine." I looked up at Belle. "B?"
She looked at Dan, and then at me. "I can't tell yet, I'm sorry." She said, checking Dan's breathing.
Chris turned back. "Where's the god forsaken stretcher?"
"Got right here Chris." Eric came down into the row and pulled the stretcher off his back. It didn't take him long to unfold it and lay it down next to Dan.
Chris turned to Belle. "Whenever you say the word we're moving him."
"Guys, when you move him, be very careful."
"Don't..." Belle said, staring right at Chris.
Chris just shook his head and grabbed Dan's shoulder.. "Let's roll him over on three."
"One. Two. Three, ugh."
The two of us rolled him onto the stretcher after having taken off his kit to be taken by others. The four of us took our positions around the handles. "Alright, let's start moving."
The Warrant was at the mouth of the grape row, along with the engineers who were clearing the rest of the way. He had been orchestrating the goings on behind the scenes. I heard a helicopter in the distance and knew that if it weren't for that man, it would have taken precious minutes longer.
"Get him up here. We've got to move two hundred meters north of Tosha to that berm." He pointed, and we saw.
I wanted to tell him that I understood, but I didn't have the breath for it. A man is heavy, even with four people carrying him. I simply continued in the direction he pointed.
Soldiers lined the road. They had come from the nearby combat outpost, they were our backup. They stood on either side of the path as if it were a procession, protecting us from any pending attacks.
I couldn't carry him the whole way. I tried. God knows I tried. I tried to talk to him, to keep him awake, but he lost consciousness before we got to the helicopter landing site. I had to pass off my handle to someone else as my arm had grown weak, too weak to hold on.
When we reached the landing site, the sun had grown so hot that I was nearly losing consciousness myself.
When the chopper landed, I made sure I was once again bearing his stretcher to put him on the chopper myself.
I watched as the chopper took off and disappeared beyond the horizon.
Hours later we walked back into our patrol base. A few guys from headquarters were waiting for us at the gate, handing off cold bottles of water with gatorade powder. I took two and thanked them. They have seen it before, but they couldn't help but lock their eyes on my bloodied gloves. They knew already who it belonged to.
After a post blast examination by the medic, I tried to get some sleep. That night, I barely got any. They took our section off shift so that we could get some extra rest due to what had happened, but in the patrol matrix we were still assigned to go out in the morning.
At four in the morning I was kitted up and waiting with the others near the east gate of the patrol base. Due to my ankle, I didn't have to carry extra machine gun ammo on this patrol, I felt light.
The Warrant came up to us and got everyones attention with by motioning with his arm the "Rally" signal. "Alright." He said. "I know what you're all thinking, but this is from higher and it's got to be done. We're going back to Tosha..."
The group sighed in unison. I barely payed any attention to the rest of the breifing. Soon enough, we were lined up in our order of march and began making our way out the gate.
I was wearing new gloves, since I had to hand in anything that Dan's blood had gotten on. I was also the last in the patrol, and therefore was the man in charge of pulling the concertina wire shut to close the gate.
The Warrant was also at the back of the patrol. He saw me standing there looking down the path after having closed the gate. He took a few steps toward me as I was lost in my thoughts of the previous day.
"You alright?" He asked, putting his hand on my shoulder and pulling me from my reverie.
"Yeah." I said.
He smiled at me. "Get going."
I nodded and went to step off. Something at the back of my mind yelled at me. It told me not to go, not to venture out into that desert; the desert that had taken so many. I looked forward to every other man and woman in the patrol and knew that they had all heard that little voice pleaing for them not to go outside the wire. They all had that short battle in their minds, and something that is sometimes called bravery won out.