Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, September 2010, Camp Delaram
My hands shook as I tried to clean myself up. I kept wiping, over and over, and blood kept coming. I spat on the toilet paper and wiped my thighs down; bits of white toilet paper stuck to my leg as I scrubbed, and the toilet paper disintegrated. I knew that my time to get to the flightline was coming rapidly so I quickly bundled up a huge wad of toilet paper and thrust it between my legs to stem the flow. Girls are used to this kind of behavior when we run out of tampons or pads.
Just treat it like a period…Except it is your baby dying.
Quickly, I stood and pulled up my shorts and then cammie bottoms. I wrenched my body around to see if the blood had soaked through my cammie bottoms and was visible. It was. There were two bright red spots showing directly in the lower center of my ass.
Fuck. And everyone stares at my ass.
I walked outside and grabbed a handful of sand and threw it against my ass before rubbing some of the sand into the blood. The sand clung to the clots and dulled the brightness of the blood. Again and again, until it looked like I had sat in oil and had the cammies washed a few times.
I looked at my watch.
One hour to get my shit to the flight line. I can’t miss this flight.
With stellar compartmentalization skills, I walked back to my can and did one last sweep of the area to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. My corner of the tent was very empty except for the memories of everything that had happened there over the past five months. That slit in the air conditioning tube would no longer blow slightly less hot air directly onto my face while I tossed and turned. I would no longer have to listen for the sound of the zipper coming up in the back of the tent. I would no longer have to lay in bed and wait…wait for whatever was going to happen next. It was happening.
I didn’t think I’d leave here alive. I’m…I’m finally leaving.
Picking up my flak jacket with the kevlar hanging from the front, I put it on. Then I picked up my bright green seabag and placed it onto my shoulders. Then I put my backpack in the front of my body to free my hands. I braced myself against the can’s wall to pick up my flight bag, and I stepped out of the can, letting the door swung shut behind me before starting the arduous trek to the flight line.
I remember nothing from that walk but pain and the attempt to stay conscious.
When I got to the tarmac, I was surprised at how different it looked than the two times I had previously been there. Once was five months ago, getting dropped off by the Osprey in the middle of the night on the large rock. The second time was during that awful sandstorm with Virkler and the WPPL. Now, four months later in the light of day, the area was transformed. The flight line was no longer sand and rock; it had been blasted flat by tons of dynamite that had been detonated and dulled our senses to the mortars. It was also paved in grey concrete that was almost blinding white when the Afghan sun struck it.
There was a small crowd of people standing around in the open sun. There was no cover or protection. I walked up and asked the nearest Marine if this was the crowd for the 1500 flight. He nodded curtly before turning his back to me and returning to his conversation with his buddies.
Does everyone know? No, they can’t. They seriously can’t. Stop being paranoid. These fuckers just suck.
I plopped my stuff down and made a small cover from the sun with my flak jacket before I fell asleep. I knew I would wake up at the slightest increase in motion or noise so I wasn’t afraid of missing the flight.
1500 came and went. I woke in a panic less than 15 minutes later, thinking I had made a mistake and the plane had left without me. Jolting to my feet, wide-eyed and crazy looking, I ran to the nearest group of men.
“You’re 1500, right?!”
“Yeah, dude, calm down. It’s late.”
Everyone started talking about the “hurry up and wait” expectation of the military. “You need to hurry, hurry, hurry, just so you can sit and wait, wait, wait…and wait a little more” (usually because Motor-T was always fucking late).
I crawled back under my flak tent and fell back asleep.
Around 1730, a loud roar began to fill the air. A large, gray CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter was being started on the other side of the flight line. Everyone started to put on their shit and head in that direction.
Is that my flight? WHY THE FUCK IS NO ONE TELLING ME ANYTHING?
No one was really in charge. No one knew me and no one seemed to know each other except for groups of four or five Marines. It was with complete faith and lack of knowledge that I put on my stuff and joined in the line of Marines heading to the helo.
During the second to final week of boot camp, Marines undergo what is called the Crucible. This 54-hour event began in 1996 as a culminating event to prove the transformation from civilian to United States Marine. It is hell for all Marines, typically.
“a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new”. In metallurgy, a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures is considered a crucible.
Personally, I completed the Marine Corps Crucible with a broken ankle that I continued to hike on for 15 miles with no sleep and very little food. When the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor was placed into my hand by Staff Sergeant Barto during that cold March morning in 2008, I certainly felt transformed into a Marine, but I had no idea what a true crucible was and what it meant to be completely transformed until I was standing on the tarmac at 1730 in the blazing Afghanistan sun.
It was hot. It was hot and sandy. It was hot and sandy and I was bleeding profusely while carrying a shitload of stuff across that flight line. My throat got tight and my eyes started welling up from the load. It wasn’t just the physical load that I was carrying as I lugged my shit; it was the mental load of everything that had happened and everything that I had done and seen; It was the emotional load of knowing that my baby was dying and I was ignoring it; It was thinking about how I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to Virkler or Sergeant P. It was thinking about how none of the people I had served with out here except for those two would give a shit that I left without a word. It was the fact that every step closer I got to the helo was a step further away from the place that had ruined me, or rather, where I had made the decisions that had ruined me. I no longer was that happy and fun-loving girl who wore flowy skirts and sang in the church choir. I had left her in the sand months ago. Every step towards that helo made me realize that I was breaking away from who I had come here as. Such a transformation felt as though I was burying the girl I used to be in that Afghanistan sand and was stomping on her viciously with my combat boots. I hated her, me, more with every step I took.
The line of Marines was slowly leading into the back of the helicopter. With slow shuffles and steps, I moved my stuff bit by bit closer and closer to the bird; the scorching sun hurt my eyes. I could see the shade of the back of the bird getting closer and closer.
Just hold on a little bit more. You can do this, you can.
The heat grew, with the wavering heat lines shining over the concrete to prove that hydration did exist in the desert in the form of a watery horizon. As the line crept forward at a slow pace, I was extremely close to the entrance of the bird when it suddenly stopped. Everyone was shuffling equipment in the center of the bird to make more room for the last of us. As I stood in increasing heat, I wondered how it was possible for the sun to be getting that much hotter.
The weight crushed me and I felt my world closing in. I was breaking and I felt tears leak out of my eyes.
The fucking exhaust!
We were standing directly in the line of the helicopter’s exhaust. It was pouring boiling hot air onto our faces and bodies. Once I realized this, I laugh-choked a sob.
The only way out is to keep standing here and subjecting yourself to this heat. The only way out is forward…you have to stand here…in line… You can’t leave. Do you feel that? It feels like your face is melting. I can’t turn away. What the fuck am I doing here? Turn and run! FUCK.
My face was burning; it felt like a million needles. The two tears that had leaked from my eyes were evaporating to nothing before they got to the middle of my cheeks.
HURRY THE FUCK UP JESUS CHRIST
Finally, I made it into the bird. I sat on the right side of the bulkhead and sat down shaking with all of my stuff piled between my legs. I placed my head on all of my shit and went in and out of consciousness.