Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, August 2010, Camp Delaram
Less than ten minutes after wiping my sticky hand on my cammies and returning to my area in the TCF, I heard a distant *thud* *thud* *thud*. Springing to my feet, I left the room empty and practically skipped to the door. I grasped the shiny silver doorknob and pulled the door open to see the side of Sergeant P’s body. He was scanning the area with his entire body, and only turned back to me once he was done with his scan. This gave me ample time to study his body as he turned. He was solid, with broad and muscled shoulders that stretched his frog top taunt. His light brown hair was cut short, so short for a grunt, and he didn’t have a cover on. The lack of a cover was something I was unaccustomed to. Even during a time of war, POG ranks were fixated on following the useless Marine uniform regulations like covers at all times outdoors. Grunts clearly didn’t give a fuck.
He wasn’t carrying a rifle. He had an M9 pistol strapped tightly to his right leg. The holster had two straps that were fastened around his right thigh, allowing me to see how thick his leg was. It was also extremely…solid.
I glanced up from scanning his body to see him watching me take in every detail. He was on the same step as me, and he stood tall and close, self-assured. A cocky look came into his eye and he drew up with a large breath that expanded his chest noticeably.
Catching my breath, I moved to pass him and he followed me down the stairs.
“I’m glad you came back.”
“Why are you so worried?”
He laughed in a manner that suggested he was a god.
“Gee, I have no idea, Mike.”
It was the first time I said his first name, and the sarcasm helped mask my attempt to tiptoe into an area of insubordination to see how he responded. We were both enlisted Non-Commissioned Officers, but he was a Sergeant and I was a Corporal. Fraternization rules were laid out between officers and enlisted but people had been charged under the UCMJ for inappropriate behavior within enlisted ranks before. Marines don’t call each other by our first names; we aren’t the Air Force.
“Nothing is going to happen to me, Savannah.”
“You’re not invincible; no one is.”
“I am. Too much has happened to me for it to be any otherwise.”
We both fell silent. All Marines are cocky; we are trained to be the best, to be fearless in the face of death, to kill with our bare hands within seconds. We are built up to be invincible, because that is what we must be in combat. Tripoli, Iwo Jima, the Frozen Chosin, Fallujah…these historic battles were fought with invincible men who stared death in the face with a resounding sense of superiority. If Mike felt invincible, it was because he was. He was a healthy young man primed to look death in the face every day. Fuck death, I am death.
“How are you doing?”
I didn’t know how to come out and speak about Dumaw.
“The guys are…they are pretty fucked up.”
“You. How are YOU?”
“I’m good, man. You know, of course it was bad. Fuck. It was fucking bad. But…”
He trailed off. We had walked around the TCF to the other side, the side whose door no one ever used. The entire desert lay before us and we both stared hard into the dark desert, intently not looking at each other. We stayed silent as we both replayed our versions of Dumaw’s death in our heads. He eventually spoke again.
“This isn’t my first deployment.-”
Of course it wasn’t. A grunt Sergeant in the Marine Corps during a time of two wars?
“-I mean, I’ve seen people die before. Marines, ragheads, both. Fuck, during Fallujah there was a Marine whose head was blown off a few feet from me.”
My breath caught and I jerked my head around to look at his face.
“You were in Fallujah?”
Fallujah was the battle of the decade. My combat instructors, my drill instructors, and my old Master Gunnery Sergeant spoke of Fallujah with such reverence and awe that I had begun to think of the Marines of Fallujah as mythical creatures who I could only hope to meet one day.
And it’s him.
“Of course I was fucking in Fallujah. Went to Iraq twice. We fucking invaded the city and shot shit up. The one patrol I was in, when the guy died next to me, we were rounding this corner…city invasions are tough, you know. There are high buildings and all sorts of fucking hide out spots for people to pick you off from.”
He glanced at me quickly.
“I mean, you know.”
Remembering my brush with the rooftop shooter, I nodded. He continued.
“So we were going along and we were keeping our eyes out for fuckers and we rounded this corner and started taking fire. We were shooting back, but we were completely exposed out there, you know? Our vics weren’t like how they are now. They were metal cans with canvas doorways. So we hit this ambush and we can’t tell which way is up. We try to take cover and… KERPLERT!”
He motioned his own head exploding.
“Dude’s brains were all over me.”
My jaw might have dropped open at this point. He looked at my expression.
“He was dead instantly.”
My heart began to break. I knew what was coming next.
“Dumaw was different. He…fuck…he was such a good man, you know? Goofy as fuck but good. I knew him. He was my fucking Marine. In Iraq, I was just a fucking dumbass PFC who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. That guy died in Fallujah and he wasn’t my Marine. Sure, he was A Marine but he wasn’t MY Marine. You know? Everyone else who died? I didn’t know them well at all. But Dumaw…”
No…no…fuck. Here it comes. You need to hear this, to know what happened while you were listening.
“Savannah, I fucking put him as point-man. We were going to check out an IED so we could call it into EOD. We had already gotten one and marked it for them. And we kept going. He kept walking and he stepped on that pressure plate.-”
He cut off abruptly and looked at me hard.
“You know those fucking cowards use pressure plates to detonate the explosives while they hide in the fucking hills and watch? Did you know that? Those fucking cowards.”
His voice had turned from pained to furious. His entire body tensed; his fists were clenched. I reached out and placed my hand on his arm. He shook his head and seemed to shake himself back to the present.
“When he stepped on it, the explosion knocked me down hard. I couldn’t hear anything…until I could hear him screaming.”
The back of my throat got tight as I remembered…
“Red got there first. He was holding Dumaw and…Dumaw was missing from the waist down. His legs were completely gone and his body was pouring blood. We got him into the back of the MRAP…”
Sergeant P’s voice caught. I slid my hands down to his and gripped tightly. He looked into my eyes, and he wasn’t seeing me.
“We tried so hard.”
Tears were falling from his eyes. I looked as hard as I could and tried to absorb some of the pain that I could see spilling from this invincible god.
Stop hurting, please stop hurting.
“He kept asking us if he was going to be okay. We kept telling him he would be. But he knew. He knew. He told us to tell his wife and son that he loved them and that we better take care of them. We kept trying to call in the nine-line but they wouldn’t come. The risk of attack was too much and no one was close. So we held him and, you know, Doc gave him some morphine to ease the pain, but he was missing half of his fucking body so we watched him die fucking slowly, with his screams eventually stopping.
Do you know the fucking worst part? The fucking WORST FUCKING PART?!”
He yanked his hand from mine and wiped his nose angrily with his sleeve.
“EOD couldn’t even come to us to detonate the first IED that we had found because there were so many others around the region that they had to take care of first. So we were forced to stay there for fucking hours, the whole god damn night with Dumaw’s blood covering us, holding his fucking mangled body. We had to sit next to him for hours. Fucking hours.”
“The guys had to see that. Red had to see that; he had to hold his best friend and watch him die a long and painful death while sitting in a pool of his blood.”
The words fit what I had heard happen. It explained Red’s face as he was carried from the vehicle. It explained the trauma stricken faces that blamed themselves…everyone blamed themselves.
Still gripping each other’s hands, we stared back out at the desert whose sand had soaked up the blood of our brother.
If you remember this event differently, please reach out to me. Others have come forward and the details I remember are not consistent with first hand accounts.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
For assistance with addiction, please call the professionals at 844-778-1026 or visit www.drugrehab.com.
For Marine Corps related stress assistance, please call DSTRESS at 1877-476-7734 or visit http://www.usmc-mccs.org/services/support/dstress-line/.
THESE RESOURCES ARE CONFIDENTIAL.