Excerpt 2

August 2, 2004

Top told us this morning while we were at formation that more than 23 mortar rounds came into the camp last night.

That’s quite a bit for one sortie but it didn’t seem different from any other day. I’m not sure where most of them hit, but I do know there were a number of explosions close to me and a few landed in the field next to us. One went right over Malcolm. It freaked him out pretty good.

Today has been quiet so far, but rumor has it that an attack is impending. It’s sure to get worse before we leave. And those fuckers are getting more accurate. The longer I stay, the more I’m pushing my luck. Maybe someday soon my ticket will be up and I’ll win the “lucky lottery” and go home in a plastic bag. It makes me feel sick to my stomach to think that all I have to do is take a leak at the latrine and BAM—that’s it, lights out, my thoughts and memories scattered like leaves in the wind.

Maybe a mortar will just land on me while I’m smoking a cigarette or working on a helicopter.

Maybe I won’t even know it.

Maybe I won’t feel it.

Or maybe I will.

“This place sets you on edge all the time,” a buddy once told me. “It’s the all-encompassing underlying stress of potential death, day in and day out, that I’m completely fatigued by.”

And he’s right. The incessant, unrelenting fear of when, not if, you are going to die is what wears you utterly to the bone.

I’m finding that my entire mindset here has become etched with mortar attacks and the threat of death. In other words, what I used to think of as normal moments and activities are now slowly being interpreted by my brain as nothing more than abnormalities. It’s a strange feeling and my mind wants to grasp at any tiny moment to provide me with a sense of security— going to the hangar, drinking coffee in the morning, thinking that it might be fun to build another shelf for my hovel. It’s become critical to have these fleeting moments of not being afraid and I seem to be helpless against the mortars who are steadily insisting on establishing themselves as the new normal of my life.

But a feeling of resignation has also crept into me and taken root. I shrug my shoulders when an attack happens now—why bother worrying about it? If it’s my destiny to die over here, then so be it. The sadness will be over and I won’t have to worry about a life in the States that could have been. I won’t have to worry about career choices and life insurance and what to have for dinner or whether I will have a wife to come home to.

I just need my luck to hold out.

That’s all it is—survival.