I was just sent this Memorial Day tribute video, made by the makers of The Hornet’s Nest. It is very well done, please take a look. Happy Memorial Day, guys.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq | 8 Comments
Tags: hornet's nest, memorial day, veteran writers
This was published today on BreachBangClear.com. Guys, please go see this movie.
At first glance, The Hornet’s Nest seems a straightforward documentary about American troops on a combat mission. Second glance, it’s the compelling human story of a war correspondent’s mission to reconnect with his semi-estranged adult son in, of all places, wartime Afghanistan. But when you look further, you realize what the movie actually is.
The Hornet’s Nest is not a movie about a mission. This movie is a mission.
I admit to being biased as hell toward this movie. I’m an Iraq and Afghanistan vet, and spent almost a year in Kapisa province before the troops from The Hornet’s Nest arrived. Whatever my feelings about the wisdom or conduct of the Afghanistan War, my pride in service is without reservation. But I like to think I’m objective enough to criticize what needs to be criticized. I’ve written with frustration about the deliberate fabrications in Lone Survivor, tried and failed to like the comic-bookish Act of Valor, and don’t even want to get started on The Hurt Locker because I’ll have a BS-induced heart attack.
So when I sat down to watch THN this past weekend, I wanted to like it. But I knew I might walk out of the movie disgusted. And I only knew the basics about it; 101st Air Assault soldiers, Kunar province, 2011-ish, combat footage filmed by a father-son team. What I didn’t know were the histories of 34-year war correspondent Mike Boettcher (pronounced “betcher”, as in “you betcher ass”) and his son Carlos. I didn’t know they repaired their relationship by risking their lives together as embedded journalists. I didn’t know the Marines of 2/8 in Helmand province figured prominently in the movie, or that it would give an almost all-female Blackhawk medevac crew well-deserved recognition. I didn’t know the movie is a non-profit project, or how passionately the men and women behind it, both military and civilian, believe in it.
Filed under: Afghanistan | 3 Comments
Tags: afghan war, Afghanistan, hornet's nest, veteran writers
But gosh, doesn’t it make everyone feel better?
I threw this together last night. I don’t think any further explanation is needed.
Filed under: Writing | 22 Comments
Tags: boko haram, bringbackourgirls, terrorism
To all you “Sandy Hook truthers” who donated hard-earned money to Wolfgang Halbig: your money was well-spent.
Because he went and did it. On May 6th Wolfgang Halbig, the alleged former cop and “Sandy Hook truther” who has been begging his followers for donations, actually went to Newtown, Connecticut to “find the truth” firsthand. And you know how he went about searching for the truth? He went to a school board meeting.
That’s right. Halbig berated the Newtown school board. Because obviously, the school board has been pulling all the strings of this massive conspiracy.
Here’s video of the meeting:
Of course, when the board members came “eyeball to eyeball” with Halbig (his words), they immediately broke. After Halbig’s first question, the board collectively said, “Curses! You’ve caught us! Yes, we faked the massacre! No children died that day! We lied about it so we could pass new gun control laws! And we would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling truthers!”
Well, actually, that didn’t happen. Halbig didn’t even ask questions. Instead, he just made a rambling statement about how the school board should tell the truth, then sat down. The board stayed silent. In fact, they refused to respond to any of the wackos and morons who attended the meeting. Even the wacko who showed up in a Paul Revere costume.
Shocked? Me neither.
Halbig did his best to sound reasonable. The problem is, he’s not. He claimed his questions weren’t offensive to any parents who lost children. Since he’s calling those parents liars, that’s nonsense. He also says his questions aren’t offensive to any Connecticut police officers involved in the investigation. Since he accuses the officers of lying about an event he claims never happened, that’s nonsense.
He also explained, with hurt obvious in his voice, that his offers to help had been ignored. Two days after the massacre, he called Newtown. He told people he was a school safety expert. He tried to help. But amazingly enough, nobody at Newtown asked this private citizen, not working in law enforcement, from another state, with no connection whatsoever to the crime, to get involved in the investigation.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, for some insane reason people who actually are involved in the investigation aren’t rushing to answer all of Halbig’s stupid questions.
I have to wonder, is anyone surprised by this? If some self-righteous weirdo with no connection to a crime tries to insert himself into the investigation, law enforcement should ignore him. When that same self-righteous weirdo then demands answers to a list of stupid, irrelevant questions (“I want to know who ordered portajohns three hours after the shooting!”), anyone with a brain dismisses him. When said weirdo then travels to Newtown and makes a pointless statement to the school board, what’s the right thing to do?
Personally, I think the right thing to do is publicly humiliate him. But freezing him out with silence is almost as good.
As of today, Halbig has raked in over $20,000 (http://www.gofundme.com/7jb3ww). Thus far he’s used it to file Freedom of Information Act requests (which don’t cost $20K), fly to Newtown (which doesn’t cost $20K) and make a three-minute statement to a school board (which doesn’t cost anything at all). Based on all that, I’m going to make a prediction:
Halbig isn’t going to get any eyeball-to-eyeball answers in Newtown. His FOIA requests aren’t going to turn up anything new either. Does Halbig think the government, after releasing the official report with thousands of pages of documents, is keeping secret documents titled “OPERATION ‘TAKE THEIR GUNS': THE MASTER PLAN TO FAKE A SCHOOL MASSACRE”? How big of a dumbass do you have to be to think Sandy Hook was a massive conspiracy, but the entire thing can be brought down by an FOIA request?
“Haha! We did it! We faked a school massacre, and got away with it! We’ll never get caught! Wait, what’s this? Oh my god, it’s an FOIA request! Now we have to give up all the evidence proving this was a conspiracy! We’re doomed!”
Halbig has accomplished nothing with that $20K. So now he’s going to ask for more. He’s going to scream and rant about the government’s refusal to answer his questions, he’s going to receive some documents that he’ll claim are lies like the official report, and he’ll ask for more money so he can go back to Newtown to really get the truth. And maybe he will actually go back, and he’ll file more FOIA requests. But he still won’t learn anything new.
Then he’ll ask for more money. And moronic “truthers” will keep giving it to him.
Since I first wrote about Halbig and the stunning stupidity of the Sandy Hook truther movement (http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2014/03/02/refuting-a-sandy-hook-truther/), I’ve wasted many hours debating conspiracy theorists. Pointing out obvious facts is useless on them. And they keep acting like their stupid questions somehow prove something. So I’ll say this, which I think is a good bottom-line statement to all conspiracy theorists:
Questions aren’t evidence. Under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, which most of you claim to love, we can’t convict people without evidence. If you believe in convicting people without evidence, you’re an anti-American piece of crap. So if you have actual evidence of a conspiracy, lay it out. If you don’t, then shut the f**k up.
Filed under: Writing | 36 Comments
Tags: conspiracies, conspiracy theorists, newtown, sandy hook, wolfgang halbig
I’m not a fan of openly carrying a pistol.
Before you accuse me of being an “anti-gunner” or liberal activist, you should know I’m about as pro-2nd Amendment as they come. I’m a 20 year cop, 25 year Marine and Soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and am 100% supportive of armed citizens. I’ve written extensively on the importance and need for the 2nd Amendment, and effectiveness of armed citizens against a variety of threats.
Having said that, I think open carry is a bad idea.
No, I’m not saying everyone who open carries is a bad guy. Nor am I saying there’s never a good time and place for open carry. Several people have told me success stories about open carry, and I believe them. But hear me out on this. As a cop I’ve carried a gun on and off duty for decades, and have a pretty good grasp on the factors involved with being armed in public. So I’m going to lay out my reasons why people shouldn’t, generally speaking, open carry a pistol.
1) OPEN CARRY MAKES WEAPON RETENTION HARDER
I started as a cop in 1994, not long after police went through a collective “holy cow” realization about how many officers were killed with either their own or their partner’s gun. For decades cops were more concerned with a fast draw than a secure holster, and as a consequence lots of cops were disarmed and killed. Around the early 90’s equipment companies started pushing security holsters, and police academies started training harder on weapon retention techniques. The number of officers killed with their own weapons fell sharply. In my first years on the street, I was in a couple of chaotic fights where the suspect apparently unsnapped my holster without me realizing it, but couldn’t get my weapon.
Fast forward a few years to 2001. I was a UN police officer in Kosovo, working with officers from 54 countries plus the local cops. In my unit we had officers from America, the UK, Greece, Germany and a few other places. I bought my own security holster, but our Greek cop carried his pistol in a really slick, not very secure quick-draw holster. He sold those holsters to several local officers, over my objections.
One afternoon we were in the office before shift. One of the locals had his Glock in the Greek speed holster. As the local officer conversed with coworkers, I walked up behind him, slapped the holster snap with my left hand and yanked his pistol out with my right. He spun around in shock. I handed his pistol back and told him, “that’s why you shouldn’t use those piece-of-crap holsters.”
Then I felt a tug on my weapon. I turned around. The Greek officer had seen me disarm his customer, got angry, and tried to do the same thing to me. But he didn’t know the sequence of movements necessary to remove my weapon. My gun was still secure in the holster.
So what does this have to do with open carry?
The average non-LE belt holster has, at best, a single snap. Many holsters rely on only friction and a tight fit to keep the weapon in place. For a concealed weapon, that’s generally regarded as an acceptable risk; it’s hard for someone to go for my gun when they have no idea it’s there. But if you’re walking around with an exposed weapon in a typical holster, especially in a crowd, you’re at risk of being quickly disarmed.
If you’re willing to spend the extra money on a security holster (they’re not cheap), and willing to put up with the extra bulk (they’re not small), then I’m a little more with you on open carry. But if you think, “I’m going to be so alert all the time, nobody could possibly disarm me,” you’re wrong. Nobody is switched on 24/7. We all get tired sometimes, we all get lazy, we all get complacent. We can all be overpowered by someone bigger and stronger. If you’re open carrying with a regular holster, you can be disarmed, period.
EDITED TO ADD: A reader shared this video in the comments.
This wasn’t a holster issue, but it illustrates an important fact. Not every criminal is afraid of a gun. If you open carry, you may just make yourself a target.
2) IT’S BETTER TO BE THE AMBUSHER THAN THE AMBUSHED
When I’m in public, I don’t advertise that I’m armed. I don’t wear anything that says police, I rarely wear anything related to the military. One of my goals is to be the “grey man”, the guy nobody notices. Cops or military guys may pick up on clues and ping me as one of their own, but almost nobody else will. And that’s a good thing.
If I’m ever unfortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a crime in progress, I doubt the criminal will immediately ID me as the guy who needs to be shot first. I won’t wear tactical pants (anymore), or t-shirts with huge Glock or Colt symbols, or anything else that screams “I’m probably armed”. Instead, I’ll be just another face in the gas station, bank, mall or theater. In most cases, this gives me a distinct advantage.
Criminals get tunnel vision just like everyone else. Watch videos of convenience store robberies; you rarely see a robber watching his back, or securing customers. Most robbers quickly scan their surroundings for cops or other immediate threats, go to the counter, produce the gun, get what they want and run. If I’m regular Joe in the background, I can draw and make my move when I have the element of surprise.
If I don’t think the robber is going to hurt anyone and I don’t want to risk opening fire around innocent bystanders, my “move” may be to be a good witness. But if the robber is threatening enough or starts shooting at the clerk, I can engage him from an advantageous position, like right behind him. There’s nothing immoral about shooting a bad guy in the back.
If the worst ever happens, and I wind up in the middle of a robbery while my wife and kids are with me and I have no choice but to fire, I’d much rather be involved in a “shooting” than a “shootout”. Ideally, the robber will figure out I’m armed right after he yells “Ow, something bit me!” like Forrest Gump and falls to the floor with multiple gunshot wounds. That’s a much better outcome than having the robber walk in, see me openly carrying, and shoot at me first.
EDITED TO ADD: These two videos give examples of what I mean.
If you’re in a place targeted by a criminal, carrying concealed could give you an extremely important advantage.
3) OPEN CARRY ATTRACTS A LOT OF ATTENTION
This is one of the more contentious points about open carry. The anti-gun side thinks anyone who open carries wants to scare and intimidate people. Even if the open carrier is doing nothing threatening, doesn’t say anything and behaves in a totally benign manner, people around might still freak out. Earlier this week I wrote about the recent incident in Forsyth County, Georgia, where a man was legally open carrying at a park. This generated twenty-two 911 calls, sparked hysterical reactions from local media, and was the subject of really stupid reporting from the Daily Kos (http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2014/04/28/open-carry-the-daily-kos-and-mass-hysteria-in-georgia/).
People at the park got so scared of this man, they herded their children into a baseball dugout and stood guard in front of it. One woman broke down crying for the camera, saying her son asked, “Did that man want to kill me?” This incident has received national attention, been blown way out of proportion, and is being used by the anti-gun side as yet more proof that pro-gun people are insanely violent (“That crazy man was carrying a gun in a park! Around children!”).
So what did the open carrier accomplish?
If his goal was self-defense, I guess it worked. No criminals attacked him while he walked through the park, probably because they were too distracted by the stampede of terrified parents rushing their children to the dugout. And criminals definitely weren’t going to try to rob the guy as police screeched into the park in response to the twenty-two 911 calls. So he achieved safety, at the cost of being the center of tons of unwanted attention from the local public, police, and eventually much of the country. Keep in mind, this was in gun-friendly Georgia, not some liberal paradise like California.
And some open carriers deliberately try to inflame the public and provoke a police response. This goes back to what I wrote earlier this week: I support open carry as a political statement. I don’t support it as a tactic. If your goal is to rile everyone up and force them to accept your right to carry, fine. Walk around with an AR-15 across your back and a Colt 1911 on your hip, and have your friends follow with cameras. You will get the public’s attention. You will provoke a police response. In an open carry state you should be simply questioned (not detained) and allowed to go about your business, which apparently is to make as big a scene as possible. And maybe to put a video on YouTube, showing how you were hassled by freedom-hating cops for no reason.
Is that why we want to be armed? To force people to react to us?
Carrying to provoke a reaction and then complaining about that reaction is pretty dumb. It’s right on par with a woman walking around topless in New York City because it’s legal there, then complaining “people were staring at my boobs”. Many gun-rights advocates loudly claim they want the government to leave them alone, then some of them take actions calculated to get police officers all up in their grill. Human nature is human nature. Guys will stare at any exposed boobs that happen by, and people uncomfortable with guns will freak when someone openly carries a gun around them. Open carriers and topless women can be as legal as the day is long, but they’ll still have to deal with the unreasonable and unwanted attention their actions bring.
Some of you will undoubtedly say, “I don’t have to change my behavior because of other people’s stupid reactions.” I agree, in principle. But we should also be free to walk in the woods without being eaten by bears. Unfortunately, bears attack and eat people because, well, they’re bears. Liberals and the media overreact, distort, inflame and try to spread panic about armed citizens because, well, they’re liberals and the media. My reason for carrying a weapon isn’t to prove anything, it’s to defend myself, my family and innocent people around me. I can do that better if I don’t have a crowd of panicked liberals calling 911 on me, police questioning me and TV cameras following me to report the Manufactured Outrage of the Week.
Again, as a political statement, I get it. This is America, please speak out about what you believe. But if you’re trying to provoke a response, don’t act like your goal is to be just a regular guy, no different from everyone else except that you happen to be armed. You can exercise your 2nd Amendment rights without making a scene, which in my opinion works out better for all of us on the pro-gun side.
4) WE GET BETTER RESULTS BY ENGAGING ANTI-GUN PEOPLE IN CONVERSATION THAN BY BEING CONFRONTATIONAL
This is going to be another contentious point, because not all open carriers are trying to be confrontational. I’d guess most of them aren’t. But many have been, and I think that confrontational stance works against us.
As a writer, I travel in some pretty liberal circles. The modern writing culture is basically overrun with extremely left-leaning people. As a conservative soldier and cop, I’m the fringe element. And because of this, I’ve had quite a few conversations about guns and gun control with liberal friends.
We on the pro-gun side often justifiably feel that debating the other side is pointless. We want to tell people preaching “reasonable” gun control to shut up, slap them with a copy of the Bill of Rights, show them our openly carried pistols and walk away. Unfortunately, while slapping them and walking away might be satisfying, it doesn’t help. And actually does more harm to our side.
I had a conversation recently with a very intelligent, very reasonable liberal friend. This guy is knowledgeable as hell on many subjects, and discusses everything rationally. Except guns. On that subject, he checks every irrational, emotion-driven box there is.
When we had the gun control conversation, he broke out the usual arguments (“the kind of people who want to carry guns are the ones I’m afraid of”, “if someone drops their gun it’ll go off”, “guys with guns will get mad and shoot it out over minor arguments”, “if everyone’s carrying guns how can the cops tell who the bad guys are”, etc). We had this conversation at a coffee shop, and he thought I wasn’t armed. When I told him, “You’ve never seen me without a gun”, he was taken aback. He seemed to think guys who carry guns can’t be trusted, have no self-control, and will spray and pray at the drop of a hat. When he found out I’m always armed, he had to reconsider.
My friend and I have been attending writers’ group meetings for over a year, we’ve hung out at bars and restaurants, and he’s never seen me do anything stupid. Being armed doesn’t make me cocky and impulsive like he thought it would; on the contrary, because I’m armed I’m much more likely to avoid confrontations. After the conversation, my friend had a new perspective. Chances are, next time he’s around his liberal friends and the topic of gun control comes up, he’ll totally screw up their mojo by saying, “I was convinced that only wackos carry guns. But then I found out this totally normal friend of mine always carries a gun. He calmly explained why he thinks I’m wrong about gun control, and he made a lot of sense.”
Call me crazy, but I think that kind of interaction is worth a lot more than the shock tactic of, say, walking into Starbucks with an AR-15. Had I been openly carrying, our very productive conversation would probably have never happened because my friend would have been scared to talk to me (since, you know, I might have gotten angry and opened fire). Even if my friend doesn’t change his stance on gun control, he still learned that armed citizens aren’t the racist, redneck, Tea Party insurrectionists and child-eating NRA members some liberals think we are.
I know the anti-gun side’s tricks. I know many of them engage in irrational, overtly emotional attacks on us. I get sick of it too. But there are intelligent, reasonable people on their side who will listen to us if we make the effort, and some of them do change their views. We gain a lot more traction when self-described “New England liberal” author Justin Cronin writes an essay titled “Confessions of a liberal gun owner” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/opinion/confessions-of-a-liberal-gun-owner.html?_r=0) or Anthony Bourdain tries to convince his liberal friends to stop demonizing us (http://anthonybourdain.tumblr.com/post/62424540749/guns-and-green-chile) than we do by telling everyone who disagrees with us to fornicate themselves. Or by openly carrying a pistol, just to piss off the people we know are scared of guns.
Again, guys, I’m not saying open carry is flat-out wrong and nobody should ever do it. If you’re in a place where open carry is normal and accepted, and you think it’s worth the risk of being disarmed or spotted by criminals, do what you think is best. There undoubtedly are places where open carry doesn’t raise an eyebrow and criminals know better than to cause problems, just like there are places women can walk around topless without being ogled (or so I hear, but my wife won’t let me confirm that).
But in a whole lot of America, legal or not, open carry is going to cause problems, and it’s going to put you at more risk. Which is why I think it’s a bad call. Not that it’s evil, not that it’s immoral, not that it should be illegal. In most cases, it’s just a bad call.
Filed under: 2nd Amendment | 66 Comments
Tags: 2nd amendment, gun control, gun rights, open carry
Just days after the State of Georgia passed a landmark “guns everywhere” bill that dramatically expanded gun rights, the law has already caused a major criminal incident.
This past week, a man with a gun permit walked through a park with his weapon visible. That’s right, a park. Where children were playing.
This reckless man, no doubt bent on threatening innocent lives as he strolled through the park, prompted 22 parents to call 911. The police arrived quickly, and took immediate action to save lives. And by “took immediate action”, I mean they talked to him, determined he wasn’t committing a crime, and let him go.
“’The gentleman did nothing illegal,’ [Forsyth County Sheriff Duane] Piper said.”
“The sheriff, as well as the GeorgiaCarry.org group, said they talked to the man, who they say has a permit, and urged him not to flaunt the gun even though he has a legal right to. He has allegedly agreed to do so.”
The accompanying TV report notes that even before the recent Georgia gun bill, the man wouldn’t have been breaking the law. Applying the Kojak-like investigative superpowers gained in 20 years of police work, I’ve determined the following:
A man legally carried a visible pistol through a park. Parents got scared and called police. Police talked to man. He wasn’t committing a crime. They let him go. Nobody was hurt, or threatened, or in any danger whatsoever.
Obviously, reasonable people would say, “Nothing to see here, move along”, right? Nope. The Daily Kos, in one of the best displays of yellow journalism I’ve seen in the last decade, reported the incident this way:
“Man Legally Stalks Children’s Baseball Game: ‘I’ve Got A Gun & There’s Nothing You Can Do About It’”
In this article, writer Leslie Salzillo makes totally unbiased, non-inflammatory statements such as, “A man carrying a gun began stalking a children’s baseball game in Forsyth County, Ga, this past Tuesday night.” “Is this country so fearful of the NRA, that they do not dare arrest, detain, or at minimum question this man for disturbing the peace, stalking children, and/or intentionally putting the public in fear for their lives?”
And my favorite, “He’s just walking around [saying] ‘See my gun? Look, I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ‘He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing,’ said parent Karen Rabb.”
As near as I can tell, the man didn’t actually say anything like that. The parent was giving her interpretation of the man’s intent, which the Kos reported (probably intentionally) as fact. And despite the death grip the NRA has on America, police did in fact question the man. The Kos’ reporting is just stupid, but unfortunately not surprising. Hysterical, ridiculous, knee-jerk reporting is what we can expect from most journalists when they talk about armed citizens, especially citizens openly carrying. Even when the armed citizen did absolutely nothing wrong.
I’m going to make a statement about open carry, and some of you may not like it. I support open carry, but only as a statement. Tactically, it’s a bad idea. When I’m in public, I don’t want anyone to know I’m carrying. I don’t want aspiring robbers to pick me as their first target. If I ever have to draw my weapon on a criminal, I want to have the element of surprise. Granted, open carry is a hell of a deterrent to crime. But I’m going to carry concealed.
If you decide to open carry, hey man, good for you. I got your back. Power, brother. But understand something. Open carry, at least right now, is going to accomplish little more than causing panic among people who have been brainwashed into believing only wackjobs would even want to carry a gun. As a liberal friend of mine told me, “The kind of people who’d want to carry a gun are exactly the ones I don’t want carrying guns.”
Yes, my friend is wrong. As usual, the Daily Kos is pathetically wrong. But we’re not going to change their opinions by metaphorically waving guns in their faces. We on the pro-2A side understand the reality better than the other side does. Let’s show them the reasonableness of our argument. Let’s show them they have nothing to fear from honest, decent armed citizens. Let’s not make our own goals harder to achieve, by scaring people who have been conditioned by the Daily Kos to fear us.
Filed under: Writing | 36 Comments
Tags: open carry, georgia gun rights bill, daily kos
No joke, there he was, on a boring nighttime convoy outside Diwaniyah, Iraq…then the crap hit the fan!
“He” is one of my buddies, a fellow soldier who led of one of our convoy escort teams in Iraq in 2005. His name is Larry Russell (and yes, I have his permission to write this). When we met at Fort Hood in 2004, we were both staff sergeants with about 15 years of service. In civilian life he’s a firefighter. Larry and I were from different units that were thrown together for the Iraq deployment, and we got along great from day one.
Larry and I spent almost a year escorting supply convoys to different bases in Iraq. Several times a week we’d drive hundreds of miles through enemy held-territory, dragging 20 or 30 eighteen-wheel trucks driven by civilians from all over the third world, with all our lights on, on the exact same routes, past the same craters where the same insurgents hid the same kind of roadside bombs, over and over and over. We’d been shot at, bombs had exploded around us, and we’d barely avoided catastrophic accidents. Several soldiers in our battalion had been wounded by Improvised Explosive Devices. A few soldiers in our brigade had been killed. Troops from other units had been killed around us. All of us were stressed the hell out. But on this convoy, eight or so months into our deployment, Larry was a little more stressed than most.
On a previous mission not long before, a Humvee on Larry’s team had rolled over and some of his soldiers were hurt. But worse than that, nobody else on the convoy had noticed the accident. This isn’t as strange as it might sound. On convoys our Humvees were sometimes separated by miles, with huge trucks between them. The last Humvee in Larry’s team had gone off the road, and the rest of the convoy was miles away before an injured soldier in the stricken Humvee managed to call for help on the radio.
That accident was on Larry’s mind as he led his convoy down the highway. He was at the front, doing what we all did on convoys: trying to stay awake, and looking everywhere for signs of an IED. On missions I always wore my night vision device, and spent most of my time just scanning back and forth from shoulder to shoulder on the highway. Larry was doing the same thing, looking for bombs and trying to keep track of his vehicles.
The mission was boring, like most of them were. We were usually bored out of our minds until someone unexpectedly tried to kill us. Larry was experiencing the weird mix of sensations we all felt on convoys: boredom, anxiety, maybe a desire for the excitement of combat while hoping nothing really serious would happen. But then, something happened.
The night was pitch black. The men on the convoy were quiet. Larry looked side to side. Nothing. The night vision device he wore painted the flat, barren desert a dull green. Larry looked forward. And a tracer round from straight ahead zipped through his field of view, barely missing the windshield.
He bolted upright. Neither his gunner nor driver reacted. Are they asleep? he wondered. Another tracer flashed by. Larry screamed, “Tracers!”
In unison, his startled gunner and driver yelled “Where?” More tracers flashed by. Larry ducked, keyed his radio and yelled, “Small arms fire, 12 o’clock!”
His gunner screamed, “I don’t see it, where’s it coming from?” Larry thought, What the hell do you mean you don’t see it? He peered over the dashboard as more tracers sailed past the hood. “It’s coming from straight down the damn road!”
Larry’s driver yelled, “I can’t see anything! Where is it?” Larry yelled back, “Shut the f**k up and drive!”
The driver started weaving back and forth on the highway, trying to avoid rounds he couldn’t see. Larry’s gunner kept screaming “Where’s it at?” and frantically searching for a target. Soldiers in other vehicles asked for direction and distance on the radio, shouting that they couldn’t see anything.
Larry’s heart pounded. He felt a momentary urge to choke his soldiers. How the hell could they not see the rounds? He looked over the dash again. More tracers zipped past. He cringed.
Then one tracer shot directly toward the windshield, slowed, made a little half loop and flew sideways.
What the…? Larry jerked upright in the seat. His driver was weaving like a madman, his gunner fruitlessly scanning for targets, soldiers on the radio were still saying they couldn’t see anything. The tracers coming toward him started to look a little funny. Larry flipped his night vision device up.
They were driving through a swarm of bugs. The bugs were being lit up by the Humvee’s headlights. In the night vision device, they looked like tracers. Larry had freaked out over harmless little flies.
Usually when a soldier does something stupid, especially if it’s a leader, the soldier in question stays silent and embarrassed while the story spreads around him. Gleeful privates, specialists and junior sergeants happily pass the story on, embellishing as they go, eager to jab at their leadership’s imperfections. But I didn’t hear this story from someone else. Shortly after his Humvee was ambushed by a swarm of vicious Iraqi insects, Larry told us about it himself.
A small group of us, six or seven Humvee commanders and team leaders, were hanging out by our battalion command post. Larry joined us. We were telling war stories, and Larry volunteered his. He laughed as he told it, and by the end of it we were rolling. But we weren’t laughing at him. All of us knew what it was like to have the crap scared out of us by something that turned out to be harmless.
I had nearly called out tracer fire crossing the road high in the air in front of our convoy one night. It turned out a car had driven across an overpass in the dark, and for some weird reason I never saw the headlights, only the red, tracer-looking tail lights. On another convoy lightning flashed in my peripheral vision and I flinched, thinking an IED had just detonated. When you’re constantly under threat of sudden, violent death, it’s understandable that you get a little jumpy.
Right after the imaginary small arms attack, Larry requested to be removed from his convoy escort team. He knew he was too stressed, too nervous, and needed time to calm down. The company leadership agreed, and put him in a support position. He had done his time on the road, and recognized that he needed a break. I didn’t hold it against him.
Larry stayed in the National Guard after that deployment, and later made another trip to Iraq. When I asked permission to write his story, I offered to use an alias. He wanted me to use his real name. I understand why.
Millions of men and women have served in our recent wars. A tiny minority became true heroes, but ,ost of us didn’t do anything heroic. We just did our best, and should be proud of that. Larry went to war, twice, and did his best. During one of those trips to war, the stress got to him. Given enough time and enough missions, all of us will reach that point sooner or later. And there’s no shame in that.
Filed under: Iraq | 5 Comments
Tags: combat stress, iraq veterans, veteran writers