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
Stuffing the crimpers back into my backpack, I saw the blue Gatorade that I had brought along from Delaram. I had hit the jackpot with the Oreos and small Gatorade. Whenever I would go to the chow hall, all of the goodies would always be gone. I had managed to arrive in time one morning to get the last Oreos and one of the last Gatorades. Generally, we would run out of food before everyone on the base was fed. If the Georgian battalion was around, Marines would go hungry. It wasn’t malicious behavior on the Georgians’ part. The logistics of providing food to an outlying base was difficult. Convoys of food supplies were rumored to be attacked and resupply planes couldn’t land because the airstrip wasn’t completed yet. Only helicopters could land, and helicopters can only hold so much. Delaram as a base was expanding more rapidly than the logistics could handle. Supply was less than demand and we were hungry.
Oreos and Gatorade. It was like manna from heaven. I’ll save the Gatorade until I really need a pick-me-up.
Gazing longingly at the Gatorade, knowing that it would be delicious when I finally cracked it open and drank it, I imagined the sweetness filling my mouth. It would be warm. Everything was warm here. But it would be warm sweetness that would stain my mouth blue. I was testing myself by not drinking it. Put off a reward long enough and it would taste three times as sweet once it is finally consumed.
I was practically wiping the drool from the edge of my mouth when a Marine walked up to Sgt P.
“Hey, there was some sort of accident and a bus of locals flipped up the road.”
P wasn’t even fazed.
“Alright, bring them in.”
He looked at me and responded to my suddenly shocked face.
“We have the most medical help in the area. We treat locals when we can.”
The Navy medic who was embedded in the platoon had been woken up and was walking towards us on the way to the “medical bay.” The medical bay was a tiny building behind the main building and to the left of where Virkler and I had set up the lone computer. As the long-haired Navy guy passed us, I chased after him.
“Hey, doc! Need help?”
“Uh, sure. I could always use a hand.”
I followed him into the small one-room building that was his domain. Docs in the Navy are not doctors; they are enlisted sailors, or corpsmen, who have been trained in combat medicine. They deploy with the grunts as the first line of medical help. A corpsman’s job is to slow down a Marine’s death until the Marine can be medically evacuated and treated by real doctors. All corpsmen are dubbed “Doc” by their Marines. It is a friendly term synonymous with the boys in blue.
Doc picked up a giant black bag from the ground and threw it onto the table that was situated in the center of the room.
“Holy crap, that thing is huge.”
“Yeah, it’s my bag of med stuff.”
He unzipped the bag and unfolded it, displaying medical supplies that were organized and well-stocked.
“You have actual real medical stuff??”
“Well, yeah, how else do you think I would save people?”
“I dunno, throw them some Motrin and a pair of socks?”
“And if someone steps on an IED and doesn’t have any feet for the socks?”
“Knowing the Navy, you’d probably still throw them the socks.”
Navy medical care is known for ignoring serious issues and proclaiming that the Marine simply put on a fresh pair of socks and take some Motrin to relieve their pain. This jab at medical treatment stems from World War I, when Marines would get trench foot from having damp feet by standing and sleeping in the trenches for months. Trench foot required amputation of the feet and sometimes the legs of Marines by the medics in WWI. Only a person with the military’s dark sense of humor could laugh at the idea of socks preventing amputation.
The doc rolled his eyes at me.
Rolls of bandages and needles and tourniquets and bags of IV solutions spilled out as he unzipped smaller pockets within the bag. I saw bags of QuikClot, the powder that is poured into bullet wounds to prevent bleeding out. There were splints, and Band-Aids and, yes, even Motrin.
“Whoa, you have everything. Have you had to use any of it?”
“Someone rolled their ankle once. We’ve been lucky; no serious injuries.”
“Yeah, of course. “
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Let’s see what they bring us.”
We turned to the doorway and waited. The hustle of the compound grew as locals began to trickle in. They were physically patted down by the Marines as they entered the compound. Locals were supposed to be non-combatants but we knew the line between friend and foe was blurry so everyone was subject to a thorough search. Some were limping, some were slightly bloody, but no one was seriously injured. There were maybe five men and one child.
The little boy looked to be around four or five years old. He was limping, walking ahead of an older man, left arm reaching back to hold the older man’s hand. He seemed to be leading the man. The doc and I walked towards the boy, meeting him on a flat concrete surface on the outside of the main building. The interpreter walked towards the four of us as well. When we approached the pair, the Doc and I could see why the boy was leading the man. The older man’s eyes were a milky white and he looked vaguely in our general direction as we spoke.
The Doc began asking questions and the interpreter translated to the man. According to the translations, the boy’s foot had been injured in the crash. When the doc tried to speak to the boy, he would mumble a response and wouldn’t look us in the eye. The man refused to speak.
Maybe he is also deaf and mute? Or he just hates us.
I looked at the boy’s foot. It was cracked open and bloody on the side. I urged him to sit down, gesturing to the concrete behind him.
“Cannon, get some gauze and antiseptic.”
I ran to the medical bay. I stuffed gauze and a bottle of antiseptic into the cargo pouch on my cammie bottoms. As I shoved the supplies into my pocket, I felt the magazine full of bullets press against my leg. I looked around the room to see if I could bring anything else. I grabbed something that looked like Neosporin and ran back to the boy.
The doc was squatting next to the boy, inspecting his foot, bending it back and forth at the ankle and pressing on the bones in his foot. The boy didn’t flinch.
“I’m going to clean and bandage up his foot. Can you distract him?”
After I handed over the supplies to the doc, I ran to my backpack, grabbed something out, and ran back. I saw a watermelon on a bench and had an idea. I reached into my pocket and grabbed the knife I kept clipped to the edge of my pocket. The blade was only three and a half inches long but it would do. I stabbed the watermelon repeatedly, hacking at it roughly until I was able to pry it open.
“Hey, that’s ours!”
A Marine yelled at me from across the compound. I ignored him and continued cutting off a chunk. Thinking about how dirty my hands were, I handed the piece of watermelon and the blue Gatorade to the boy. He looked down at the stuff, face almost made of stone, eyes completely deadened. I smiled at him, took back the Gatorade and opened it, lightly replacing the twist-cap before handing the bottle back to him. I gestured for him to pour it into his mouth. He just watched me mime. Seeing that the doc was set to begin pouring the antiseptic, I tried to think of a better distraction.
I grabbed my camera from my other cargo pocket and took a picture of him, then turned the camera’s screen back to the boy. He looked at the screen, looked up at me, and his eyes grew wide.
I wonder if he has ever seen his reflection. Probably in pools of water, right? Does he know this is him?
I motioned down at the picture and up at him. He shoved the watermelon into his mouth, grabbed the camera out of my hand, and gazed down at his own face. For a split second, he looked worriedly over his shoulder at the man he had entered the compound with. Seeing that the man wasn’t reacting, how could he?, the little boy spent minutes looking at the picture. He opened the Gatorade and took a small sip. His eyes lit up when he tasted the Gatorade and he took multiple giant swigs. I laughed at his enthusiasm and he smiled back at me, speaking rapidly and excitedly. I scrolled through the other pictures in the camera, telling him what each one was showing. I spoke in English and he responded in Farsi. The interpreter wasn’t around so we babbled back and forth nonsensically. He kept wanting to see the picture of himself.
The doc finished bundling up the boy’s foot. The little boy grabbed the old man’s hand, waved and smiled at me, and carried the Gatorade out of the compound, limping significantly less than before as he disappeared out of my view.