Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
If you can look back and see the point in your time when everything changed, would you be able to remember every detail? Would you be able to see yourself turn and face the path that would change your life forever? Would you be able to see how innocently you took the first step into the next chapter? Can you look back and be grateful that you had the courage to move ahead? Or do you look back and scream at yourself to look away from that path, to move in any direction but that direction? When you think back, does your heart ache from happiness or pain?
The run referenced in “Every Grain of Sand” was the last time I remember having innocence. I had done lots of things previously that would be considered NOT innocent, such as having sex with the running man who was married, but I was still innocent in my heart. What took place in the week following the run shot gunned me down a path that forced me to grow up. I ache to think of who I was during that run. I reimagine my footsteps pounding into the sand and think of how…young…the owner of those feet was and how unprepared she was to experience the rest of that deployment. I think about gazing up at those stars during the run and mourn that I will never see those stars again.
The week after the run, a room full of data Marines was asked for volunteers to go “do some things” that would get us off of the large and boring Camp Leatherneck. My hand shot up. That stupid little hand…we were to be the network liaisons for the Georgian battalion that was trying to prove to NATO that they were allies so NATO would protect them from Russia. Because Georgians didn’t know how to operate the equipment that NATO gave them, we were supposed to be sent in teams of two as embedded Americans in the Georgian units.
The ten of us loaded our bags into an Osprey to be transported to the MUCH smaller base of Delaram. We were transported at night, with 180 rounds of ammunition on our bodies. I was excited, and I was stupid.
The flight took about an hour. It was an hour of darkness, and I spent it watching the machine gunner hanging out of the back, swiveling the gun back and forth in the darkness while he and another Marine used night vision googles to look for attackers on the ground. As we approached Delaram, tensions got more and more strained within the helicopter.
“Hold on tight, we have to avoid some known insurgents.”
Suddenly, the whir of the engine began to squeal and the Osprey tilted back with its nose in the air. We lunged for our bags as they shot out of the back of the helicopter and disappeared into darkness.
The machine gunners were pissed as they dodged the falling bags. The Osprey swung back and forth, faster and faster, left and right…the squeals got louder and louder.
There was a large jerk as we smashed into the ground.
“Okay, get the fuck out and hurry.”
The ten of us grabbed what was left and exited the back of the Osprey. Without a warning, the helicopters took back off swiftly. We looked around in the darkness. We had been dropped off on a giant rock.
Where the fuck were we? Are we outside of the base? Do we need to have our weapons raised? I asked the only Sergeant what to do. I was the only Corporal and the Lance Corporals were looking at us, wanting to follow our lead.
“Fuck if I know.”
There were no lights that we could see. We were alone, on a rock, in the darkness, without any idea of where we were or what we were supposed to do.
“Hey, Corporal! Here are our bags!!”
We gather the lost bags from around the rock. There is movement in the corner of the desert. My heart jumped into my throat until I noticed that it was a Marine approaching us.
“Hello, gents. Welcome to Delaram.”