Timing is everything. Thats what they advertise. If you don’t take advantage of the opportunity, then you will miss something important. Out here, timing is the difference between life and death. For both sides.
2 minutes, thats what I am talking about. 2 lousy minutes.
We were cruising through a downtown street, patrolling the southern sector with our Iraqi’s. The streets are filthy, but there is a breeze in the air, and a slight cold one at that. The furious heat of the summer has abated, and the season that we all wished would come has finally arrived. We stop for 2 minutes, just to adjust our gear and get a grasp of the situation. As I sit in the turret, scanning for the usual round of snipers, car bombs, and troublemakers, I hear a volley of machinegun fire. Its pretty close, so I call out on the radio and we proceed to where we think its comming from. It turns out that the fight was along our area anyways, so it was pretty quick to find.
Rolling up, there is a Toyota van sitting on the road, windows blown out and smoke pouring from the engine. As we approach, the airs smells of carbon. We scan the area for people, but the street is empty. The cool breeze turns toward us, and we catch the sickening, sweet smell of burning flesh. Looking at the van from a distance, we see two bodies slumped over. Another round of bodies. Its going to be a long day.
We dismount quickly, in order to take stock and try to get the Police to come out and clean this up. We are on the ground for maybe 2 minutes total, still trying to get the a response from the radio, when more rounds go off, south and west of us. They are close, and we move as fast as we can with 50 pounds of gear on us. We head south trying to get through the traffic and debris on the street, hoping we can get to the scene before anything bad happens. We arrive at the scene, and there is a bunch of people screaming and crying in front of a building. They are dressed up, so this can’t be good. We secure the street area, and go in.
Inside, there is complete chaos. Tables turned over, food everywhere, chairs strewn all over. At the far end of the room, 20 or 30 people are screaming and crying, the noise in the room sounds like the wind in a hurricane. Its so loud inside, almost deafening. They are crowded around two bodies lying on the floor. I move to inspect them quickly, and as I come to terms with what I am looking at, something pops into my head that, at the moment I didn’t understand, but now, in reflection, its clear to me.
There are times in our lives that we cherish above all else. Times that define us as truly human. The birth of a child, graduating from school, getting our first paycheck, buying our first car. These moments make us part of a larger world, as we realize our independence, our sacrifice, and our ability to give of ourselves something to the world that is special, important, or significant. We live for those moments, we dream about them, and yet we take for granted that what we have is somehow normal in the course of our lives. We live to watch our children play, grow up, and enter society. We dream about a good job and everything that our money will provide. I think people that miss those opportunities have something missing in their lives. Maybe it makes you a little bit cynical, maybe a little less emotional. Some things in life should not be missed or taken for granted.
I was looking down at the bodies of a man and woman. She wore a white wedding gown, now bloodstained with crimson. He was dressed in a suit; clean cut, but with blood splattered over his face and shirt. They died getting married. They were still holding hands.
What I realized at that moment is that they have passed beyond reason. The militias here are going to do whatever they want, whenever they want, until we are gone, or everybody they hate is dead. There is no winning this war anymore, not in the sense that we understand it. We don’t understand that these people hate for no other reason than hate is the only thing that these people know. Our lives are surrounded by those things that make us good, while these people are surrounded by nothing but destruction and persecution. Nothing good can come from it, but they don’t seem to want anything else but to kill. I don’t even know what it is they want anymore, except to rule by fear and terror.
What I came to understand that moment, is that I really don’t feel anything. I can’t remember anything good anymore. I can’t recall what it was like to hug my children, hear them laugh. I can’t remember my first paycheck, my first car. Am I losing my humanity? Am I becoming like them? I hope not, I pray that I am not, because there is so much more to live for than just watching a world gone mad.
Somebody is yelling at me, in broken English. I look at him quckly, and he is frantic. I call the interpreter, and through fits of crying and screaming, he tells me, “He is the father of the bride. He wants to know where you Americans were. They were here, just two minutes ago. How come you are not here when we need you? Why do you not come..?
I look at him, and have no answers. I just walk out of the room, into the sunlight. I feel the heat on my face, feel the sweat on my cheeks, and turn to the east. Somewhere down the street is the sounds of gunfire…
Side note. All told, there were 16 bodies found in the area this day. Most were killed within 10 minutes of forces being on scene. Most were Sunni, all except 1 were male. 10 of the bodies had signs of torture. 1 was about 15. We found 8 of them..