Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, June 2010, AUP Station in the Town of Delaram
Virkler and I hung out for a bit and watched the grunts move around. They were switching post duties, eating, and sleeping. Sgt. P mentioned that it was time to conduct their evening patrol through the city. The Marines started to wake each other up and gather their equipment. They looked exhausted and dirty. Virkler and I were relatively well-rested and clean-looking. The men were arguing about who had the least amount of sleep this week so they could avoid the patrol. I immediately felt guilty at the state of my physical well-being and double-checked with Virkler before walking up to Sgt. P.
“Hey, Sgt. P, can we go?”
He looked intensely at me, taking in my thinly veiled excitement. Virkler stood slightly behind me, just as excited. Everyone stood looking at each other until I spoke again.
“Every Marine a rifleman, right? And you need Marines.”
My heart was beating quickly at this chance that I was told would never happen. Sgt. P looked around at his exhausted men.
“Decker, Red, go back to sleep.”
One of the men fell face first back onto his cot, boots still on, snoring before his head hit the jacket he was using as a pillow. Sgt. P immediately set to getting us ready.
One of the other grunts came up to me carrying a large green box.
“You’re Comm, right?”
“Cool, can you take the radio?”
I mean, I could, yes. But that thing has to weigh a ton and I’m already carrying over 75 pounds. But I can’t tell him no because I’m “feeling a little overwhelmed with the weight”. That will only perpetuate the image of female Marines not being able to keep up with male Marines. Plus, communication IS MY JOB! If I can’t communicate on a patrol, what the fuck am I worth? Am I being tested right now?
I was panicking internally.
“Yeah, of course.”
Immediately, I was handed the giant radio to carry. When I felt the weight of the radio in my hands, my heart sank. It weighed about 25 pounds. Suddenly very grim faced, I asked Sgt. P how far the patrols were.
“It’s just around the town. Three miles? Maybe five, depending on what route we decide to take or if something pops off.”
He was running around, making sure everyone’s equipment was ready and that everyone had what they needed. The sun was starting to lower in the sky as we moved into the staging area. I shoved the radio into my backpack, did a few radio checks, and sat the pack on the ground while I waited for everyone to be ready. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my camera, and snapped a picture of Virkler getting ready for his first patrol.
“Damn, this thing is huge on you. Can you even fire a weapon with it on?”
“It’s not easy.”
“Put up your rifle.”
I grabbed onto my M16, placed the buttstock into my shoulder and drew it up to aim at the HESCO barriers surrounding the compound. The flak jacket was so large and thick that the rifle sat a good inch and half away from my shoulder. It was awkward. I kept my finger pointed straight and off the trigger.
“Put your finger on the trigger.”
The tip of my right trigger finger just barely touched the trigger. My arm was too short.
“What the FUCK! Who gave you an M16 instead of an M4?! You can’t reach the god damn trigger in a combat zone. Hold on.”
He left. I fiddled with my rifle, pulling the buttstock out of my shoulder and aiming with the buttstock just to the outside of my arm. I could reach the trigger easily then. If I fired, I knew that I would have a black eye from the scoping hitting me during the kickback of the rifle. I knew this from when I qualified on the range. A flak jacket and an M16 are not conducive for a short-limbed person to fire effectively. M4’s have collapsible buttstocks to adjust the length of the buttstock. I wasn’t issued an M4 because I wasn’t supposed to be exactly where I was.
“Ever used a shotgun?”
I wheeled around to see Sgt. P holding a large black shotgun.
“What the heck? No. I’ve never even seen a Marine with a shotgun.”
He loaded the shotgun and handed it to me.
“Aim at whatever you want dead and pull the trigger. Hold it at your hip and watch for the kickback.”
I was placed in a squad with Dumaw and two other Marines near the end of the patrol and on the right hand side. I was carrying my flak, Kevlar, the backpack with the radio, 180 rounds of ammunition, my M16, and a loaded shotgun; roughly 110 pounds in all. It was 120 degrees and the sun was still blazing. Sgt. P glanced around at his Marines.