Posted: March 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.

-T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

I’ve been asked so many times, “What’s it like being in a firefight?” It’s a hard question to answer, not for lack of words, but because of the abundance of words you can use to describe it.

Before you can even begin to understand what a firefight is like, you need to understand the mentality behind it. Especially of the ones who do it as part of their jobs. I’m not talking about road-rage shit, where people shoot each other over some traffic accident or something. That’s not a firefight. That’s just an altercation. Most firefights are not even one on one, but one group of individuals against another. I’m talking about engaging an enemy who is just as determined to kill you as you are to kill them. And sometimes you get the really quick and nasty, balls-to-the-wall shootout.

The profession of arms is different from others, both as an institution and with respect to its individual members, the soldiers. The consequences of failure almost always lead to certain death. That’s why “Failure is not an option.”

Other professionals perform dangerous tasks daily, but only members of the Armed Forces can be ORDERED to place their lives in peril anywhere at any time. It is not a matter of choice, which is what makes the job extraordinary indeed.

The phrase “There’s always a choice.” may apply in most other situations, but when you’re in the profession of arms, that phrase falls under the category of “Complete and utter bullshit.” Not when you’re looking down the business end of an AK-47 assault rifle in the hands of a 16-year old kid. Not when you have a female enemy combatant coming at you with a grenade. Not when your buddies are getting killed around you. Surely not after you’ve just seen a good buddy of yours get split from groin to clavicle by an RPG explosion. Going into harm’s way is part and parcel of the responsibilities you accept when you signed up, whether you were aware of it or not. There is no goddamn choice.

There is what’s known as the Warrior Ethos. If you are a member of the exclusive community of men and women who bear arms and engage the enemy in close combat, these are the things instilled in you from Day One of your training:

• I will always place the mission first.
• I will never accept defeat.
• I will never quit.
• I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Which explains why the training is so tough. And if your Regiment is part of the Special Operations Command like the Scout Rangers, it’s even tougher. Eight out of ten recruits will almost certainly fail. If you ask me, I think it’s because they choose the ones with the most violent tendencies, and the ones who like pain, haha. Which makes sense. Violent actions require violent men. And back then, I was exactly that. So were most of those I trained with.

And through training they enhanced your capacity for violence, but at the same time taught you how to control it and use it when necessary. Yeah, we were a small band of sociopaths, the ones that made it. And to top it all off, all our weapons drills and tactical training was done with live ammunition. Because the more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in combat.

The usual “10-minute rest” before continuing the patrol. Testing out the team’s image-intensifier…

One of the first phrases you get to learn is “Wala ‘to.” or “Wala yan.”, which in English translates to “It’s nothing.” or as American soldiers say, “It don’t mean a thing.” Why? It’s what you tell yourself whenever things go bad. Sprained your ankle while on a forced march exercise, and you gotta walk on it for ten more kilometers? It’s nothing. The guy next to you gets hit by a bullet while you’re doing a live-fire exercise? It’s nothing. It’s a state of mind. Even civilians can use it. Spilled your last bottle of beer? It’s nothing. Your ex slept with one of your best friends? Dude… that’s nothing. You know… shit like that.

And when you keep telling yourself this over and over again in the course of all those months in training, it becomes second nature. This is what helps you block out the ugly things that you see on the battlefield. It helps preare you for the hard things that a soldier must sometimes do. Some men freeze in combat. You freeze, you die. It’s that simple. It’s nothing.

The one thing it can’t do for you though, is stop the trauma. I remember coming home to my ex once after two weeks of constant patrols and combat.  We operated in support of a battalion of regular Army infantry soldiers, the most exhausting two weeks of my life.

Soldier with helmet was our sergeant. He’d taken the helmet from a dead soldier during the final mosque assault (background). Man on right was our pointman, Ellis. He was killed in action the day after the pic was taken.

In those two weeks, I had seen six of my friends get killed, one of whom was my teammate. I made two of my first sniper kills. And it was also the first time I saw combat in an urban area, and we were ordered to take out an enemy position…in a mosque. When the smoke cleared, we found that the four men we’d killed were all chained together. They had wrapped a long chain around their waists and secured it to their bodies using padlocks. This guaranteed that none of them would run and all of them would die together. How do you wrap your head around that? (I’ll tell you about it in another post.)

Police vehicle burned by Muslim separatist rebels during the fighting.

It was also two weeks that consisted mostly of night skirmishes, where we were constantly surrounded by the enemy, and I can’t count the times I heard the command no infantryman ever wants to hear: “Fix bayonets.” That was how close most of the fighting was.

Civilian executed by insurgents.

This is a pic of the MILF troops we fought against. Note that they too wore uniforms almost identical to ours.

More dead civilians…

I was okay sleeping beside her and our son on the bed at first. Then in the wee hours of the morning I would wake up to the sound of gunfire that wasn’t there. I would wake up to the sounds of the screams of wounded and dying men who weren’t there. By the fourth night I moved to the living room but this time I couldn’t sleep. It was claustrophobic. By the fifth night my ex came out and found the living room empty. Scared, she came out looking for me on the porch. I wasn’t there. She finally went to the backyard and found me sleeping like a baby in a foxhole I’d dug in the ground. She decided not to wake me because I had my .45 cal. pistol clutched in my right hand, resting on my chest, with the safety catch off. Beside me was a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun and my M4 assault rifle.

The hell of it was, I didn’t remember going out there and digging that foxhole. Crazy shit.

  1. maelfatalis is in the sky with diamonds says:

    simply reading your blog is traumatizing. if ever I’ll joke around you to kill this and that, | swear I’m gonna think twice.

  2. maelfatalis is in the sky with diamonds says:

    Kill me in a way you know how to. LMAO.Nyahahh

  3. spartmercado says:

    🙂 the thousand yard stare, the swagger, all seems normal.

    someday we will make amends with all we have done 🙂

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