Sergeant Smith quietly mourns the loss of a squad member immediately following a firefight in Iraq. His superior, Lieutenant Sully, is also struggling to cope with the horrors and stresses of the battle that recently ended and sees Sergeant Smith sitting on the back of a vehicle, smoking.
“Sergeant Smith. How ya’ doin’, man?” Sully asked as he approached his senior squad leader.
“I’m alive, sir. How are you holding up?”
“I’m, uh, I’m also still living. But I don’t know why.” Sully glanced up and saw Smith looking at the horizon. He was probably thinking about Nicolas Reeves, the soldier who just stepped on an IED. “How old was Nick?”
“Nineteen. Just had a birthday last month.”
“Damn. He was so young.” Sully hated that he didn’t remember these things.
“He’s just a couple years younger than you, sir. Didn’t you just graduate the academy?”
“Well, yeah.” Sully admitted sheepishly.
Smith reached out his hand holding an unlit cigarette. “You want one?”
“I don’t smoke, but thanks.” Sully thought for a moment that he had just violated some code. He had never been offered a cigarette by an enlisted man. “Did Nick smoke?”, he asked.
“Maybe, sir. It doesn’t really matter now.”
“No, I guess it doesn’t.” Sully wasn’t sure what to say. He greatly respected Sergeant Smith. He was professional and really good in a gun fight. But there was something about his eyes. Piercing. Violent.
“How long until we move out, sir?” Smith asked, snapping Sully out of his daydream and back to reality.
“We’re waiting on the road to get cleared. There’s a few IEDs left on it.”
“Is EOD coming, or are we doing this ourselves again?”
“They can’t make it to us. Too risky.” Sully startled when he glanced up and met the sergeant’s eyes. Fury burned behind them.
“Well damn, sir!” Smith stood, threw down his cigarette, and stared at the sky. “We told that to the commander before we left. He knew this route was dangerous, and we came here anyway. Now Nick’s gone, and three of my soldiers — just got flown out of here — on a chopper.” Smith was choked up. Angry and sad at the same time.
“They were my soldiers too, Smith. I know you’re pissed. But I need you to stay strong, so I can stay strong.” Sully kept his eyes locked on Smith’s.
“I am strong. I’m fine.” Sergeant Smith found his perch again on the bumper of the gun truck and pulled his ballistic sunglasses from the top of his head to cover his eyes. “I’m hot, dehydrated, exhausted, and all I want right now is a Red Bull.” In that moment, Smith reached under his body armor and pulled out a small can.
“That’s it?? That’s how you cope with losing a soldier?”, asked Sully defiantly.
“Yeah, sir. That’s it for now. We can’t sit back and mourn just yet. We still have a group of assholes out there trying to kill us.” Smith paused here to light another cigarette.
“We can’t mourn right now,” he continued. “We have to keep pushing the line until we win. We’ll have plenty of time to mourn once we make it back to the base. There will be a time when we sit around a fire and tell stories about Reeves. He was a funny damn dude. But now ain’t that time, sir.”
“You’re right”, Sully admitted. “Sorry. I just got wrapped up in the moment. It’s just … I’ve never seen a dead body before. It was horrible. There were so many pieces.”
“Let it go, sir,” the sergeant said as he exhaled smoke. “Don’t think about that right now. You’ll relive that enough while you sleep. Don’t waste your time with it right now. And besides, we got most of him on the chopper.”
“Most of him??”, shrieked Sully. “Didn’t you load him up?”
“And we got all the pieces?”
“Then why did you say, ‘most of him’?”, demanded the lieutenant.
“This really was your first dead body, wasn’t it?” Smith removed his sunglasses and stared at his platoon leader. “His blood, sir! His blood is forever soaked in the ground of the forsaken desert. We have all the parts of his body. But we can’t get the blood.”
“Oh. Right,” Lieutenant Sully conceded. It was now that he noticed the blood stains on Smith’s uniform. It was Nick’s blood. “Sorry, I’m just a little out of sorts right now.”
“Don’t be sorry, sir. It’s gonna happen. People die.”
“Sure,” Sully nodded. “Well, Smith, I need to check in with the commander. I’ll let you know what happens next,” Sully declared as he stepped away.
“I know what happens next, sir.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“I’m gonna sit here and drink this red bull and finish my smoke.”
“Right,” smiled Sully. “The little things.”
“You got it, sir. It’s the little things that keep ya’ goin’.”
(Image courtesy of Olga Yastremska via 123rf.com)