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
I pulled my FROG top out of my pants to let my body breathe. My entire outfit was soaked and dark with sweat. Feeling pain when the material was pulled from my hips, I unbuttoned my cammie bottoms and shimmied them down around my thighs. I pulled my green skivvies away from my hips and glanced down, slightly unwilling to look. My skin was completely black and blue, broken open in areas and bloody.
Virkler walked up as I gingerly replaced the skivvy waistband back and pulled my pants back up.
“That fucking flak jacket just hurts.”
“So should we go to the debrief?”
“Well, yeah, we were on the patrol.”
“Hey, thanks for taking the radio.”
“Sure thing. Was it too heavy?”
“I was suffering after those sprints. I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool; don’t worry about it. It certainly wasn’t light.”
We walked over to where the Marines were gathering in front of Sgt. P.
“Alright, gents, the gunfire was over by the blue building to the west. It’s probably just someone celebrating. The ANA won’t tell us much so we will patrol later tonight and see if we can get more informat-”
There was shouting from the Marines at the Entry Control Point (ECP).
“Hey, we got a situation!”
Sgt. P strode over to the ECP and everyone followed. Confusion began to take over as Marines ran around and began grabbing their equipment.
“They are dead!”
No one would answer us so we grabbed our shit and threw it back on and headed back out. Just outside of the ECP, one of ANA’s green pickup trucks was parked facing the entryway. Sgt. P was yelling at people to spread out and provide cover. We were just outside of the compound, milling about, a complete cluster fuck of Marines yelling and confused. It was pitch black outside and the only light came from Marines’ flashlights.
I walked to the back of the truck and as I circled it, I noticed that the tailgate was down and everyone was looking inside. Sgt. P, the interpreter, and two ANA members were talking between themselves and occasionally glancing into the bed of the truck. As I rounded the tailgate, a stream of light crossed over the back of the truck and I saw a brown foot. It was dirty; the bottoms whiter than the top, the toenails were dark and hadn’t been cut in a while. The foot was hanging to the right, like the man was just lying down and relaxed.
My stomach lurched. I had to see more.
The interpreter was rapidly translating to Sgt. P and as I got closer, began translating to me.
“They were on a bus going from Iran to Pakistan. They were fleeing. The Taliban stopped the bus, put a gun to the driver’s head, and forced these men off. They lined them on the side of the road and…”
His voice trailed off as he gestured to the bodies. The three men were awkwardly stacked in the back of the truck. They were dressed in white and grey, and the blood was seeping from four distinct points on their bodies.
My voice shook as I asked what happened next.
“They just shot them?”
The terp spoke to the ANA and then back to us.
“They made them kneel, then shot them in the knees, one by one. The men were screaming and didn’t speak the language of the men claiming to be the Taliban. They couldn’t answer them so they were shot more.”
His eyes followed mine. The men’s arms were awkwardly bent. He spoke softly.
“They made the men hold out their arms and smashed their arms in at the elbows before shooting them in the head. They suffered a lot.”
My eyes welled up and bile rose in my throat. Sgt. P kept asking questions.
“How did you get them?”
“They pulled over the first car that drove by, it was a taxi, and told the driver to drop the bodies at the closest American base as a warning. The driver was scared shitless. They threatened to kill his entire family if he didn’t deliver.”
I forced myself to look at the men. They looked so broken, all humanity stripped from them as they lay stacked in the back of a fucking pickup truck. Blood dripped from one of the bodies and pooled at the bottom of the truck. They were young, probably in their 20’s, with full beards. They were tan, and looked clean besides their feet and the obvious blood.
They were just riding on a bus and were randomly picked off and tortured? What the fuck? How fucking terrible must the Taliban be to senselessly torture and murder completely innocent people? The Taliban aren’t protecting their people at all. They are fucking murderers and deserve to be killed. I’m not surprised it’s easier for the grunts to kill. This is madness. These men did nothing.
My nose began to drip from my attempt to holding back the tears of anger and frustration and sadness. I furiously wiped the snot away with my sleeve and sniffed.
Sgt. P looked at me carefully.
“Yeah, I’m good. What do we do now?”
What do we do? Keep moving. What’s next? Blank everything out. Just focus on what’s next.
“We will take them and see if we can identify them. We report it and try to find their families.”
“Alright, then let’s get them out.”
Two Marines hopped into the back of the truck. As they reached for the first man, the ANA members began yelling and hitting the Marines.
“Ow, what the fuck!”
The terp spoke quickly.
“No man who is not Muslim can touch a Muslim body. Only women and Muslims.”
He gestured to me.
Uh, excuse me? What the hell kind of a rule is this? I have to do this?
Marines were all around us still in a confused state.
“Hey, what the fuck, guys, everyone get back inside.”
Sgt. P scolded everyone who was simply walking around loudly, trying to catch a glance of the bodies. I caught Virkler’s eye as he was told to go back inside. He looked pissed. Sgt P and I looked at each other. My face was probably one of horror. I climbed up into the back of the truck with one of the ANA, struggling with all of my equipment, flinging my rifle behind me.
As I climbed up, a Marine walked up. I think he was a Radio Staff Sergeant that had joined Virkler and me from RCT-2. When he saw the bodies, he became very excited and pulled something from his pocket.
“Hey, man, shine the light at their faces; I want to get a pic of all of that blood.”
He was excitedly snapping pictures of these men in the most vulnerable positions with their arms bent backwards and with their eyes wide open in horror and their mouths in strange grimaces of pain.
“The guys back home are going to love these.”
He sounded so elated. I was furious and I didn’t give a shit if he was a Staff Sergeant.
“Hey, knock it the fuck off; they are dead! Do you have no respect? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“But this is so cool!”
I knocked his arm to stop him from taking more. The last picture I saw him capture was one of the man’s waists, the front stained yellow.
He pissed himself he was so scared.
“Knock it the fuck off!”
My anger transferred from the Taliban who had murdered these men to the American man in front of me who was laughing and grabbing souvenirs. I shoved him hard away from the truck, swinging a kick at him and missing, almost falling onto the dead men from where I was standing on the tailgate. Sgt P glanced over from where he was talking to the terp and told the Staff Sergeant to go inside.
I wanted to take my rifle and smash it in the Staff Sergeant’s face.
I grabbed the first man’s ankles and pulled hard. The body was stiffening and getting him off of the other two was difficult. His body kept catching on theirs. The ANA member was holding the shoulders, arms underneath the armpits. I jumped down and kept pulling. When the weight of the man was mostly on me, the ANA guy swung to the side, jumped down, and we slid the body off the tailgate. Awkwardly struggling with the weight, I felt my flak dig into the bruises on my hips. We carried him to where a body bag had been placed alongside the wall. One by one, we got the men out of the truck. One by one, they were placed into body bags. One by one, I searched their bodies for IDs, feeling invasive as I patted them down. Only one had anything on him. I handed the small and flat wallet to Sgt P, who studied it with the terp.
I walked up to the bodies and, one by one, forced their eyelids closed. I tried to force the jaws closed of the one screaming in horror but the rigor had set in. He remained screaming.
I zipped up the bags and walked back inside the AUP station without saying a word to anyone.