In the movies they make being in the military like constant action from day one. You sign a paper, they give you a high powered rifle, then you’re in a dense jungle or cityscape in a firefight ducking through buildings and making perfect kills on the first shot.
I have two stories for you, the second one gets a little dark for some.
In reality, it’s a lot of waiting and training. I was in four years and made it to staff sergeant before I first got actual field experience in the US Army. I was stationed in the desert with my platoon attached to another unit where we rotated partols when my squad got the call. We sat in a room for a little while getting the route in our briefing and safety measures to take in certain circumstances.
The usual stuff, I think. A lot of ‘if this, do that’ talk and plans that were drilled into us from boot and every week since we got to our units and until the day we get out. My squad was led by this big brutal guy that deserved to be allowed to grow a beard, even though it was against regs; he was strong, tough, held up under pressure, and was what everyone wanted in a leader: Dedicated, motivated, gung ho. I’ll call him Brutal in this story.
We got the standard loadout of the M4 carbine with three clips; one in the weapon plus two spares. Flak vests, desert BDU’s, appropriate boots, flight gloves which were technically an air force thing, but the gloves are on point and I’d advise anyone to have a pair. I also carried a backpack that had a loaded combat medic first aid kit, an MRE -beef stroganoff-, my Camelback full of a popular sport beverage, and a few other things.
Over my flak vest I wore an LBV, which is a load bearing vest that we’d attach extra equipment to. On my LBV I had my extra clips, a flashlight, I didn’t carry frag grenades so I had two flash bangs in place of one frag and I didn’t mind that at all. I’d also trained to carry a Beretta M9 I named Orville, because I’d pop it off and only miss a couple like a bag of popcorn.
I’ve always been funny, but being in the field means being professional and keeping a cool head.
We loaded ourselves up and went to the company HMMWV -high mobility multi-wheeled vehicle-, in this case a few armored Humvees and tossed our stuff in the back before hopping in and getting combat ready by taking out the bluetooth speaker and rocking out to mad jams while we rolled out to the first rally point.
The highway we were going over was pretty nice, but there are always risks of IED’s, or improvised explosive devices, going off and taking out a truck and setting us all up for an ambush. So every so often the lead driver would change lanes without warning and we’d all follow to stay in line.
I had back seat behind the driver and was actually kinda resting since it wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing to just drive down a highway; even with awesome music playing. I nodded off a couple times since it’s an honor bound tradition to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime when in the service of whatever nation you’re under... as long as it isn’t a northern dictatorship that shall remain unnamed.
I woke up with a start when someone started sniping our convoy with small arms fire, the ‘plink’ ‘pung’ ‘glu’ sounds were shocking and we all got our weapons ready. We weren’t in a city, but we were close to one like a desert suburb we were driving through to get to the second rally point.
The area was supposed to be a yellow zone, so when a burning car rolled out between our trucks we weren’t mentally ready to handle it and drove through like we were told was a better option than stopping and being a sitting duck with a dozen hunters aiming at us.
The messed up thing is that these ‘hunters’ don’t care about shooting one another as long as the duck gets its goose cooked.
So, the fender of the burning car gets wedged in the wheel well and we stop like we hit a wall, only not so bad because we were only going the max of an armored Humvee which was about 30 mph and when the truck stopped we kept moving a bit, but the wheel wasn’t gonna move after that.
The area wasn’t too dangerous, but more people were coming out with rifles and armor doesn’t mean invincible; especially once some local tosses an IED or sends an RPG at us. Two other trucks pulled up to our sides to give us cover so we can get out of our truck, into theirs, and get on the move until we can get more units to secure the area and recover our broken truck.
I got out and the sound was way louder than I thought and I brought my rifle to bear on some guy aiming at us and fired off a round at the guy missing him and getting him to duck. I meant to miss him, because he was ignorant, not evil. Plus he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn standing five feet from it.
I don’t get why, but most ‘normal’ people that got us soldiers pinned down fire their guns and rifles from the hip from a hundred yards away on full auto expecting to be better than a real military or at least to score a lucky hit when the recoil is pulling the muzzle so high it’s clear that they’re not even firing close to us.
Once we set some suppressive fire out the locals quieted down their assault and when I was about to get in they let their rounds fly at the same time. I grabbed the doorframe and tried to leap into the truck, but the guy was in the way, like he didn’t know I was gonna be getting in.
It was our brutal looking squad leader and he was panicking, big time. He was trying to tell the driver to call in an air strike… yeah, an air strike, from the driver, because why not have a person whose job it is to drive stop what he’s doing and have us stop wherever we are and mess with knobs and switches?
Why not order a pizza while he’s at it? A case of beer held by topless women parachuting to us made just as much sense as what he was asking for. I mean, the comms guy wasn’t even in his truck! The copilot or shotgun makes the radio calls after a lot of training. The driver can make calls, sure, but not during an evac. It was a sad moment for Brutal that he never lived down.
He would ask if anyone wants pizza or something and we’d just go at him asking him if he was gonna call the company commander to call it in for him, for example.
Thanks to Brutal, I felt the cool air of a round fly by my neck and that was my first real brush with death. I yelled at Brutal to move over so I can get it while taking pot shots at some people firing at me.
Some guy popped up from nowhere on the secured and well armored side of the truck with an AK-47, the most popular weapon on earth, and held the trigger down spraying the whole clip in a few seconds. I wish I could say I was worried, but this guy didn’t even aim for us. I think he might have seen a bird or maybe thought he was in a movie, but what made it the best memory was the look of shock on his face when he ran out of ammo.
He looked at his weapon and slapped it while I gave warning shots around him to keep others down, like slapping the rifle will give it more ammo. I learned that day that most of the people didn’t understand war, not like it seemed. They didn’t know about targeting, aiming, teamwork, tactics, or even communication.
It was every man for himself and I saw these guys that just started a successful ambush accidentally shoot one another because they crossed the firing line of their buddy or didn’t use muzzle awareness. I climbed into the rescue truck and they drove us a block away, somewhere where we could look back and see the truck we’d left. When anyone walked toward the truck to loot our stuff we’d pop a couple rounds off the armor and scatter them like roaches.
It was a really good introduction to the combat scene and real, not crazy and epic. But, that was just the beginning of it all for me.
I’d done a lot more training and switched a few units to get more experience, but actual night ops were a favorite of mine. I’d been on a few missions across the world by my eight year mark and kicking in a door, running in, shouting, and taking control of a scene room by room was always better than paperwork or training regimens.
This was a few years later in South America; I was a sergeant first class and wanted to go on a night operation with a friend of mine to clear some houses. It happened pretty often as long as a soldier wasn’t needed for or by their unit, and it was a slow time to have tried my hand at being a Quartermaster.
These were houses that could have been used by locals for drug making or weapons smuggling. Maybe these guys were dumb enough to have dryers full of money, running on low; I don’t know, but that was what I was expecting when I got onto the scene.
I was loaded with a light kit that was designed for easy movement and safety, most of what I had in my other story was the same except no backpack and I made sure to wear ear protection this time. There’s nothing like tinnitus to remind you to plug your ears; the more you know, kids.
The biggest difference here is that my weapon loadout was better because my buddy’s unit had better selection. I got to use a G36; German engineering at it best at the time. It used 5.56 NATO rounds, was ideal for close quarters being light, and it was just perfect for me.
I fell in love and have had one ever since. For a sidearm I got to borrow a Glock 17, which wasn’t as good as the M1911 I was carrying at the time, but it worked really well. I had a tactical knife, too, but those are mostly for show or to say ‘I got one’, even though it’s used more for opening MRE’s or envelopes and won’t see use in combat; not even spec ops uses knives as often as it may seem.
They’re a tool, not a weapon, more often than anything.
It’s about ten at night, the night’s cloudy making it better than most other nights to get ready to clear this neighborhood until the next crap sacks move in a month from now. A dozen teams are ready to start clearing apartments and houses, I’m one of them.
We stack up by the door and give one another a pat on the shoulder, letting everyone know we’re ready to go. I’m team lead of four men and we’re ready for action; ‘we’ve trained for this’, I’d tell my squad everytime we prepared for these missions and with that on my mind, I held up four fingers.
Without a sound I dropped a finger one by one until I reached two and then moved to face the door. I brought my leg up and kicked the door with my boot cracking that cheap wood. I rushed in with my weapon ready and checked my corner, which means just that. We’d separate into teams of four out of a squad of eight or nine, and each have a corner of the room to check.
Mine was to the right behind the door. I didn’t see anyone and called my area clear, followed by my second, then third. That was when some guy jumped up from behind the couch in the back of the room holding a kitchen knife. Knife to a gun fight… at least he was lucky getting us.
We shouted at him to drop the knife in English and Spanish and he finally realized he wasn’t going to stab our bullets before they could get to him, so he dropped it and Corner 3 roughed him to the floor and zip tied his hands to the back of his belt and rushed him outside where our last teammate was waiting with some MP’s to retain the captured enemy forces.
One room down, three to go.
We cleared the kitchen and then hallway, first room there was a family of four cowering in the corner that we secured and ushered out behind us to the MP’s that left the house with them right away. The second room, I opened the door and a shot rang out, I pulled the trigger on my rifle before I saw who shot at me and heard a shout.
There was this middle aged guy leaning on the wall by the window holding his stomach and glaring death at me. I patted myself down and didn’t feel anything was hurting, then my buddy patted my shoulder while 3 and 4 ran into the room and tied the desperado up and dragged him out.
My buddy looked at me with awe and I could see something happy dancing in his eyes. He put a hand on my chest and pushed me back so I was against the wall and I wish I could draw so I can immortalize that grin he had. The bullet was an inch from the side of my neck.
Quickly, he took out a marker and traced against my neck and patted my shoulder so we’d get back to clear the last room. I was way more careful this time, but the room was empty except for a table with magazines on it. A lot of magazines. A lot of drug laced magazines.
They actually took heroin and lined the inside of the magazine between the pages where the glue holds them on. It was clever, but nothing stands up to the US military.
We took pictures of me next to the hole in the wall and I have a copy in a box in storage now, along with almost all my other gear and memories I got from my time.
Not every mission is an adventure, but an adventure can happen in any mission.