The video version is here
the author with Andy Smith Balad, Iraq 2004
Iraq, 2005, on a routine patrol in Al Saydiya, I was running commo for the Field Artillery. Field Artillery batteries didn't do mounted patrols. They load small infant sized explosives to bad guys. Now we were cruising Al Kahrabaa Shopping Center looking for love in all the wrong places.
"Come on Jared. It's my turn in the turret."
"Get bent Rob! It's a nice day and I am enjoying it."
"What a koon-ass redneck!" I sighed to myself as I turned to the green Sincgars radio and check in. "Red 6, Red 1-5, turning left off Al Karkh."
"Copy," the steel metal box responded over static.
I could see the creepy deserted Ferris Wheel on my right as we made the turn. This place used to be a city park now it looks the set of a zombie movie, spiritless, evil and undead. It saddened me but I could never pass by al Karkh without feeling annoyed. We had to pass by a 3 minaret mosque that looked like 3 snow cones. The "Song It's A Small World After All" looped back in my head like a nightmare where I am a 12 year old boy being chased by a randy Michael Jackson. Great, now I hate Disneyland.
I put the headset down and sighed. My driver, PFC Irvin, a lanky Floridian looked me at with a half smile, "He's not going to trade out with you. He has some kind of death wish."
"He'll do what's told." I smiled. Crawling out of the TC chair in the back of the Humvee. I moved toward Specialist Wilson's legs as he stood strong in the turret.
I tapped on him on Wilson's right leg. "Come on redneck, my turn. You know you can't hit moving targets if something went down."
Then I heard something, maybe a crack, maybe something else. But the next thing I knew Jered collapsed and his head cradled in my lap bleeding out neck pints of blood warm and sticky on my pants. He tried to say something. But I don't remember what. I couldn't talk. He died about 30 seconds after that.
Fort Huachuca, Arizona. 3 AM, 2007. I have a loaded 1911 in my mouth. It took me three months to get to this point. But here I am. If I put it in my mouth I am going to do it. I am going to do it. Then my son starts to cry in the next room and the light in the bedroom switches on and my wife, Amy is up.
5 hours later. Morning formation comes and goes. The guys are coming back from PT getting ready to shower and I am rolling up in my work uniform. I already called Top. He's pissed, but what do you expect?
But here's comes Mister Clean, in peak physical condition First Lieutenant Ratliff, "So nice of you to show up Staff Sergeant!"
First Sergeant Stipovich, over forty and showing it, yells, "Sergeant Byrd! In my office now!"
"You guys think you can get away with whatever you want just because you have been down range." LT wore his ring while in his PTs. Most guys don't wear their wedding rings while working out but here LT is wearing is West Point graduation ring. At twenty-seven, he can't be more than a couple of months older than me. He is yelling at me at the top of his lungs in front of the entire company. And I know he's angry and trying hard to be tough, but I can't help but think that his first sexual experience has been with a man.
"Sir, I respectfully request a private conference with my commander."
The LT cannot control his rage.
"It is my right!"
The both of us walk away from the company area toward the wilderness area but Fort Huachuca is fairly open and bleak.
But he won't hear what I have to say and automatically demands that I snap to the position of attention and he screams at me in private (finally) but he keeps encroaching into my private space. He is less than an inch from my nose and I can feel his hot breath and spittle on my face.
"Get away from me. Your breath smells like dick."
I warned him. Top shows up. LT is in face again and I lay him out. I punched him in the nose blood is every where. Top tackles me. The LT is screaming even louder. Within a couple of months, LT takes away my rank and dishonorably discharges me. But not before the docs diagnosis me with severe PTSD. I get my discharge upgraded. But I never got my rank back. They said it was conduct unbecoming of a non-commissioned officer.