40 minutes later...
The stench of fresh blood and cordite still reeked from our squad as we opened the command building's door. Our base had once been an Iraqi Army stronghold, controlling most of the circumference around Ramadi. The United States, along with coalition forces, liberated the base during the Second Gulf war and had been there ever since. Inside the Command Center, intelligence gather's and radio communicators scrambled around. Some ravaged through old files, others shouting over the radio to our sister squads on patrol. Sergeant Walsh calmly told us to wait as he entered the Master Gunnery Sgt.'s office. A small fan blew humid, sweaty air towards Thane and I. The cold gave little comfort from our recent battle.
"Hey Micahart?" I glanced back at Thanes empty looking eyes. "You think Lake's is gonna be alright?" I nodded and gave him the best smile I could.
"He'll be fine, buddy. Lakes's got too many stories to tell. I promise you he'll be fine." Walsh's boot steps sounded behind us, I spun around.
"Come on, Master Gunnery Sgt. wants to see you." his voice had lost it's determination and sounded only like a whisper. Thane and I followed Walsh into the office. The room wasn't highly decorated, as it might have been in the states. Only a few pictures hung loosely round the sand colored walls, accompanied only by a large map of the Area of Operations (AO). For the first time since I had been in Bravo Squad I saw the Master Gunnery Sgt. genuinely distressed.
"Sit," he said motioning to a group of chairs before his ragged desk. Walsh sat, then Thane and I took our seats. The Master Gunnery Sgt. leaned forward, his hands steepled in thought as the room fell into somber silence. His veteran eyes looking over my blood soaked cammies.
"Sergeant, I want to extend my deepest condolences an-"
"He's not dead!" Thane shouted, shaking from head to toe. I held my breath and waited, but neither Walsh nor Dick said anything. Thane shifted his gaze to the floor, falling silent. The Master Gunnery Sgt. picked up from where he left off.
"The helicopter radioed in when it was 10 minutes from Fallujah, he lost too much blood." The Master Gunnery Sgt. suddenly looked very old. "I know your team went through hell today, but I need to know everything that happened. Even the slightest detail could help our boys in Intel gain some insight. Is that understood, Sergeant?"
Walsh nodded and began relaying how our patrol proceeded. Starting with our squad learning about Alpha Squad's lost man. As Walsh continued, I felt my muscles tense and my mind race. All the images coming back, the loud clatter of gunfire, the earth shaking roar of the explosions, and then Lakes. My eyes fell shut as tears bordered my cheeks and dripped to the floor. He was just a kid, I should have done something...anything. Finally Walsh finished with Lakes's MEDEVAC. Quickly, I wiped my grief from my face and blinked away regrets. The Master Gunnery Sgt. nodded and stood.
"Corporal Thane and Corporal Micahart, you are dismissed. Take a shower and hit the racks, you've earned it. Thane and I exited the office. Walsh stayed and shut the office door behind us. We walked the mile across the base to the showers. The water was cool and refreshing cleaning all the gore and grime of the battle away. After stepping from the showers, I threw on a new pair of MARPAT desert Cammies, tossing my stained ones into a bin. The showers always were well stocked when you needed new cammies. Thane had gone ahead of me, so I made my own way back to our squads tent.
When I entered the tent, I immediately dropped my gear next to my rack. Thane didn't say a word, he was already asleep. I couldn't argue with him as my eyelids grew heavy. Laying down, I put my helmet under my head. It wasn't a great pillow but Marines made due. In minutes, I was fast asleep and far from the war, far from the horrid sight of my friend bleeding to death in my arms.
I felt someone lightly shaking me, they were saying my name and trying to wake me up. I shifted away from them, keeping my eyes shut. Leave me be...
"Corporal Micahart. Corporal! Come on Corporal, get up!" Groaning, I opened my eyes to see Sergeant Walsh standing over me, he gave me a soft smile.
"Let's go Corporal, we're on guard duty at the Main gate. I'm giving Corporal Thane the morning to recuperate." I swallowed my whining and sat up, a sharp pain stabbed into my neck.
"Stupid Helmet," I cursed, pulling on my gear. Maybe it was a bad idea to use the hard kevlar as a pillow.
"Just your SAPI plates, helmet, and rifle Corporal." Frustrated and tired I shot off an 'Aye, Sir' putting on my body armor and helmet. My hand clasped my rifle and I quickly followed after Walsh. We reached the front gates and quickly exchanged a few words with the previous guards. After thanking us, they headed off to sleep in. I grumbled my mood, soured even more, wishing that could have been me.
We stood at the gate guarding for five hours straight, in the baking sun, only taking breaks to grab water from a nearby building. I felt the sand begin to blister against my face as the winds grew around us, lasting for twenty minutes. When the winds died down, I shook sand off me like a dog getting rid of flee's. Walsh let out a chuckle, turning his attention back to the main road.
"Uh oh, here comes trouble." I looked towards the main road, staring at two Humvee's rolling towards us from the main highway. As the vehicles neared, their brakes squealed, stopping them feet from the gates. Walsh and I exchanged wary glances as we moved the gates. A heavy set man with a scrunched face, stepped from the passenger side of the first Humvee. He was clean cut, not a grain of sand on him. It had probably only been a few hours since his last shower and shave. Our squad was lucky if we got one every two weeks.
Most of the time we had to use baby wipes or watered down napkins just to clean up, whore baths were normal. We were infantry Marines, we needed no luxuries . The man was definitely well fed, overly fed. Since our squad had landed in Ramadi, we had all lost at least ten pounds if not more. We were the infantry, America's little pitt bull, they only fed us when we needed to and not when we wanted to.
"Boys," the officer, a Captain, yelled to us "Go get your Master Gunnery Sgt. and tell him that Captain Kujo is here." The Captain must have thought he was tight shit, he obviously hadn't been in a war zone, at least not around enlisted men. He didn't realize that he had insulted not only me, but Sergeant Walsh and our Sergeant Major. No matter how much of asshole he was. Walsh let out a growl under his breath, his rank was displayed for all to see on his collar and Captain Kujo had...disregarded it. Walsh's face fell into a stony glare.
In our world, the Captain was playing dress up. He just sat behind the wire while guys like Walsh and our squad patrolled the streets and good kids like Lakes got killed. Normally we would just ignore the fresh officer and let them through, but today Walsh and I were in a poor mood from Lakes's death. The Captain was about meet Walsh's mean side. Walsh turned to me, I was on the opposite side of the gate, and gave me a wicked grin. Looking over his shoulder, Walsh called out to no one in particular.
"Hey Master Gunnery Sgt.! Captain Kujo is here!" He paused then started up again. "What's that? You don't give a flying fuck either? That makes two of us." He then turned to the stunned Captain. "10 thousand of us if you count the entire base." My jaw almost hit the sand. Walsh had just tore into the Captain like he would a Marine fresh out of basic. My eyes flicked nervously to Kujo who was is in total shock. Kujo slowly stepped back in the Humvee and muttered to 'keep moving'. Walsh erupted into laughter as the vehicle left, driving further into the base. I turned to Walsh, smiling.
"Sgt., if Lakes could see you now..." I trail off as our thoughts shift to our fallen squad mate.