The first one was different.
Not in the way you would expect.
It's not as if the first VBIED scared the religion into me, and all the rest got easier.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
With that first concussion wave dissipating, what I was about to realize was that as the reverberations faded, it was only the beginning of the experience. Of course I knew I was going to Anbar. Your gonna see some bad shit. Thought I was ready for it. Standard issue "bring it on" attitude: check.
The false bravado fell to the wayside as soon as those casualties started pouring in. I was quickly reminded that "talking the talk" has nothing to do with "walking the walk". You just can't predict how you will react until the bodies hit the floor.
I think it's because they were right there. Just didn't expect that. Just didn't think they could drive so close to the base, or penetrate right into the market like that. These suicidal men were driving trucks packed with explosives and chlorine, and hitting very close to home. Way too close. Announcing their martyrdom and deaths like a lion announces his domain over the Serengeti. To them, collateral damage isn't just a byproduct of their wickedness: it's the goal.
The aftermath rolling into Charlie Medical with that first VBIED was a shock to the system. With each subsequent blast, including those occasional unannounced controlled detonations, my feelings of impending dread only got worse as time went on.
Because then I knew what could happen.
Because then I knew it could be a very shitty day.
Because with each blast, I immediately entered the realm of the unknown. Casualties, oftentimes innocent civilians, started rolling in within minutes. How many was the first wave going to bring? Two? Ten? How many waves were there going to be? How long would they continue to pour in? Did the checkpoint get lucky and spot him before he got close to anyone else, and trigger the VBIED early when he panicked?
It was 3 AM, and I was wide awake. The surgical team has moved out of Ramadi, and is marking time on a small Army forward operating base (FOB) awaiting a plane ride to Kuwait. An Army artillery battery, only 3-4 kilometers away, is keeping me awake with the steady drumbeat of outgoing fires. It started on the eve of September 11th, and the nightly barrage has continued right into Ramadan. I have no idea what units they are supporting, or where they are firing at. I'm no longer in the know; just unclaimed baggage spinning around the "I would like to go home now" carousel. But the concussion of outgoing artillery is similar to a VBIED explosion. To close for comfort. I know this because it hurts. Deep down inside. When the first volley catches me by surprise, I keep hitting alert mode, wondering where the casualties will come from. I'm not sure if I can explain how it feels. It's just a deep twinge of pain in my chest developed over months of listening to detonations and dreading what comes next.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The first one was different.