For Those Who Walk
Through Fields of Fire
Sobering news from half a world away gives a Marine veteran pause to consider the meaning of war and service.
I was once an infantry Marine, and this is my war story.
Spring of 2006, I am holding my rifle straight out with both hands in a half-squatting position yelling, “A hand grenade’s kill radius is five meters, Lance Corporal!” My team leader is three inches from my sweaty face when he shouts, “And what is the fragmentation radius?” My knees begin to shake as I shoot back, “15 meters, Lance Corporal!”
Happy with my answer, Lance Corporal gives me permission to go to sleep. It is well past midnight.
I am a “boot” adjusting to my new life in Fox Company, and Lance Corporal has recently returned from a nasty deployment in Iraq. He says that he is my father and that he knows what’s best. He slams my head into wall lockers to remind me of my ignorance as he yells, “You are going to war soon, and I won’t be there to babysit you!”
Iraq 2008, training is over, and I have treated my Marines just as my leaders treated me. My team leader is now my squad leader, and if I weren’t the radio operator I would lead one of his teams. This is the cycle, and my Marines will slam their Marines’ heads into wall lockers, too. It’s a tradition that has gone on for generations.
This morning we are preparing for a river patrol and a search for weapons caches. Rifles click rounds into place up and down the patrol as we exit the wire. It’s like a ritual that we have taken part in hundreds of times. Load a magazine into the well, tap it in, and pull the charging handle to the rear. Release the charging handle and the bolt leaves the buffer spring where it is guided over the magazine well. On its way to the chamber the bolt grabs a 5.56 round and slams it home. It’s a moment of mechanical beauty.
We arrive 30 clicks down the Euphrates River and get off the boats near the target house. We enter the farmer’s field from the river banks, and spread out into a well-rehearsed squad on line formation. This directs our fields of fire toward the house as a Cobra attack helicopter buzzes in the distance. A UAV drone looms above us, keeping an eye out, ensuring that no one is going to escape. I feel confident. We have trained for this.