I stood there for a moment taking it all in. Most of the mess had already been cleaned up. The sharp scent of cordite was still heavy in the air. I just stood there in a pitifully small pile of brass. I collected my thoughts and began to compose the letter aloud:
It was bad today. We lost most of the convoy. The bastards must have known we were coming. Thank God the LT had it together. Crazy bastard pulled us out of that one. If he hadn’t been there I don’t know what we would have done.
It’s rough over here. Mark isn’t taking it well.
We should be home by Christmas.
Your loving son,
“Shut up!” Mark was not having it. “Shut the f--- up, Sheffield!” He was livid, but laughing. The “casualties” were up and walking around. The Observer Controller was mercifully shutting off their MILES gear.
It was predictable. Our Convoy Commander had no idea what was going on. The planning was not bad, but he could not adapt to anything. When we took fire all he could do was scream “ACE Report!” Once, he tried giving commands to a vehicle which was 300m out of formation by yelling at it. Mark had to give him the hand mike to the SINCGARS and suggest the Gentleman try that method. I was not happy either; I got “God Gunned” for assaulting a Near Ambush and taking out an OPFOR. Why? Intel Guys are not supposed to fight back. Right.
I just could not help myself. I had to do the ‘ole stare off into the distance angst filled introspection moment at the end of <INSERT VIETNAM WAR MOVIE HERE>. So I would “write a letter” after each scenario. Mark, being one of the few of us squared away enough to respond properly, became the butt of the joke.
This continued right up to the point when we took about 90% casualties (a conservative estimate) and LT decided to high tail it. Mark was mad. I mean fuming, red faced, diaphragmatic breathing, and silent boiling rage mad.
I let him be for a moment. Not that I wanted him to calm down. No; this needed to build to a proper crescendo.
It was hell today. My God they were everywhere. It all seemed hopeless. Then, the LT just snapped. He walked through that fire like it wasn’t ever there. He single-handedly took out the bad guys. That magnificent bastard!
Even so, we lost some good men. They got Johnson, Smith, and the New Guy. It hit Mark the hardest. I don’t think if he’s going to pull through this.
I don’t know if we’ll make back in time for Christmas after all.
In reality LT checked out the instant the first blank was fired. It was a shit show. I formed up a Team and got some guys on line to return fire. Mark grabbed a real go getter and the two of them started to flank OPFOR. It would have worked but since LT did not want to play anymore there was no control. A single OPFOR walked up our formation and “Safety Killed” our whole gaggle.
When my monologue was done Mark whirled around and grabbed me by my chin strap. He began to compose his own “letter.” He was partly laughing and partly screaming. He punctuated each sentence by axe handling me on the top of my K-Pot. “Dear Sheffield’s Mom! I’ve enclosed your son in this envelope because he wouldn’t shut the f--- up! Send more cookies! Love, Mark!”
Mark and I were in no position to provide the right answers. It was frustrating. Laughter was our only way of dealing with the imposed stupidity. Sometimes this is all you have.
This lesson I internalized and used on Deployments. My self-appointed job was to be The Prankster Down Range. A few of my favorite gags included:
“What a--hole filled the fridge with Near Beer?” – Senior HUMINT Warrant
“The Uncles Club” where I tricked the Air Force Guy into thinking the my Senior NCO was 7 months pregnant with twins (got it on video)
Neuro Linguistic Programming the Navy Guys to say “America Town” in Bahrain (trust me; you say a phrase long enough you can change institutional culture)
A Sheep Dog’s life is a tough one. If you let the stress get to you it will win. Laugh or die.