We were heading out on our first reconnaissance mission, our objective was located in the no man’s land (but mostly Separatist controlled) that divided the Ukrainian military outposts and Separatist trenches. The countryside was a lush green and seemed rather peaceful given the circumstances. Sitting at an outpost smoking cigarettes, we had to wait for approval to step off from the Regimental Headquarters’ team. I kept trying to get a team member to say, “Oui! I’m Jason Statham!” on account of his bald head — we were laughing and casual. The radio squawked with chatter from HQ and my team leader rattled something off in Ukrainian back to the sender. Green light, mission launch.

I flipped my helmet over and slipped it over my head, careful not to snag my headset that was connected to my radio. Pushing myself to my feet and out of the dirt pile I had been laying in, I brushed off my uniform a bit before checking my rifle was condition one (a state of having a round chambered and magazine inserted with the safety on). We broke down into fire teams and walked to our infiltration point, a section of brush off the road in a treeline that would conceal our movement for a time.

Stepping out of the brush, following the single patrol column we had formed, we were in an open field with the wall of long brick buildings to our left that would cover our movement up to the outskirts of a neighborhood that was separatist controlled. We covered sectors and bounded accordingly until the team leader, who was crouched at a grassy slump in the terrain, stopped us. He passed it back that there was a Claymore mine right where he stopped (a Claymore is a directional explosive filled with metal bearings). I couldn’t believe it — we had been outside our lines for a few minutes and already we had encountered a mine. It turned out to be one of ours that the outpost had neglected to mention, but the moment really got me switched on mentally.

While it was never a real danger, it still solidified the fact of where we were and what we were doing. It triggered a shift in mentality as the reality of that first patrol hit me. Suddenly it was all real and I needed to get my game face on, something I hadn’t done in several months, given I had been between wars. It’s kind of stuck out to me how perspective is everything and that complacency can cost you. From that point on, it was back to an old mentality that had been hung up to dry for a while … however, once I found it, it was like an old friend. We pressed on…