Where we lay on our backs in this cornfield shoulder to shoulder we grasped our muskets tightly with our hands and held them close to our bodies across our chests. The volume of Union fire just barely above our heads was so great … I contemplated that if I were to extended my finger straight up, just how long it would take for it to be shot off. — Unknown Confederate soldier during the Battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland
I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” — Hellen Keller
A leapfrog pattern best describes the bounding forward of our teams in this scrub clearing on this day: an overwatch team laid out a coordinated high-volume of suppressive fire down range to keep the adversary pinned down low and inactive while another team of us rushed forward. We in turn would provide the same volume of fire to protect our team as they moved to catch up.
It’s an age-old basic infantry drill really: half your force moves while the other half protects and rotate. It’s not rocket science. Well, unless you use rockets in your suppression, then it does become rocket science, right Einstein?
It was common place in the Unit in those days to train in close quarters with tight shots taken in and around teammates. There was an understanding among men that through good solid realistic training, a hand shake and a promise that we would not shoot each other.
“Remind me again why we are doing this shit,” my bro begged.
“The old man wants us to shoot live stuff over each other’s heads and save each other’s lives by not shooting each other; builds team cohesiveness, he says …”
“I get the team cohesiveness part, but why the basic infantry tactics?”
“So, we don’t forget where we all came from and who we are!”
“Who I am? My bathroom mirror does that just fine every morning!”
Rounds snapping over my head were not a cause for concern or fret; none warranted, none taken. On this day and in this clearing things would be different in the most unpredictable sort of way. I guess you really could just make this stuff up, but that isn’t necessary.
My forward bounding element consisted of just myself and one other. Our sprint forward brought us to duo of fallen trees that lay abreast of each other and provided decent opportunity for cover and concealment though one was quite rotted in the center.
My mate and I hit the ground and rolled over to either side of the trees length where we could fire around the trunks. Overhead the volume of supersonic rounds snapped such that I contemplated if I extended my finger straight up … (just kidding).
At once I felt an intense burning on the backs of my legs; first one, then the other. The stinging pain was so intense that I thought it believable that I may have been hit in the legs by friendly fire. “Absurd!” I thought to myself. The acute stinging and burning pain raced up my back and shoulders and engulf my arms as well.
Rolling onto my back and clutching my rifle to my chest, I contemplated that if I stuck my finger up … (hahaha, no.) From where I lay on my back I could see what seemed like hundreds of small black bodies darting about in a frenzy. I realized immediately that these were wasps. I had disturbed a nest and would soon be stung to bits by the pledge [a group of wasps].
I writhed about in the grass trying to alleviate the pain and waiting for the suppressive fire to subside. The pain from the stings was immense — as was my confidence in my brothers to honor our pact and not shoot me.
I raised an arm and waved it frantically in the air just before I sprang up and away from the log and off forward toward the objective, bullets cracking all around and a fuzzy dark swarm at my six. As I distanced myself from the fallen trees the biting swarm relented in their pursuit.
Through it all I sustained near 50 stings but no bullet wounds, though my dignity I had left behind at the hollow log.
Speaking with one of my brothers-in-arms later,
“Bees … Bees!? You jumped up into live assault rifle fire because of some honey bees?”
“Hornets; they were hornets or wasps or something really deadly like that!” I defended my actions. “And beside what… were you going to go ahead and just shoot me?”
“Maybe I should have!”
Anyway that was quite enough. “Alls well that ends well,” I always say and: “We’re all none the worse for wear.” Whatever the phuq that means! What does it mean, really? We say it because our parents said it and that has always been good enough for us.
And behold, for in the wake of the absurdity I embraced at the notion of being shot by my own Delta brothers during a fire and maneuver iteration. There on that same parcel some time later an Delta brother was in fact shot by another squadron man. It was an impact to the face by an M4 carbine assault rifle.
Despite the horrifying aspect of a face wound from a direct hit with such a high-powered and fast-moving bullet, the man recovered quite nicely.
“What was it like?” we asked him once.
“It hurt like the dickens,” he responded.
A mere mortal might have never recovered mentally from such a traumatic experience. However, this man collected photographs taken during the surgery to recover the extensive damage to his face and posted those photos in his team room. There they sat neatly arranged on the center meeting table pressed under a sheet of plexiglass.
I heard rumor of the photos and went to see for myself. They were certainly there. The man narrated through the photo sequence for me. I chose to remain standing for the duration.
In order to better explore the true nature of and repair the damage to the skeletal structure, surgeons literally sliced and peeled his entire face up and over his forehead where they tacked it secure and out of the way while they performed their work.
In the end, he recovered looking slightly different, but not to the extent that he had to, say, get a new ID card photo taken. Really, one of his eyes was slightly lower than the other and had a look as if an invisible finger was tugging down on the bottom of the eye slightly.
At the scene of the calamity, one of his eyes had popped from its socket and remained point downward to the ground and dangling. When asked if he recalled that detail of the episode he replied that he could still see through it but that it was spinning about such that he was consumed by a sense of vertigo, one that was the very least of his worries.
I left that team room with a sense of queasiness that took me a mint and several gulps of 7-Up to recover from. It also put me in mind of another event, one that took place in that very team room several alert cycles ago.
During that particular cycle, we had taken in an Air Force Combat Controller to assist with calling for ground air support from fast-moving aircraft. The man reported to duty with the Delta team daily and participated in the typical daily training scenarios with his host team.
On this day the team returned at noon from a morning of range fire with .45 caliber pistols. Colin, the team breacher, had not gone out with them but was seated in the team room reading when the guys came in from the range.
As they were putting away their range gear and weapons, the Air Force Controller accidentally fired off a round from his pistol that he thought was, and should have been, clear of all live ammunition.
The bullet ricocheted around the team room bouncing of this wall then that, the door, the floor and finally slammed down into the table next to where Colin was sat reading his book. The table was covered by a sheet of plexiglass and the bullet had embedded itself in the glass sideways where it came to rest.
Colin all the while had not budged from his seated position reading the book. In the silence that followed the gunshot, Colin, without looking up from his book, reached his hand to the center of the table where there was a jar with pens, pencils and other writing implements. From it he took out a piece of chalk and carefully drew a chalk outline around the bullet. When he was done he put the chalk back and continued to read.
“Where do we get such men?” questioned George H. W. Bush to the Delta Sergeant who had just finished briefing him on the actions he faced during the daring rescue of CIA operative Kurt Muse from Model Prison during the invasion of Panama.
I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.
I cried because I was deaf and mute, until saw the man who had no face.
by God and with honor,
Featured image taken from One by Metallica