A Soldier's Death on a Stunning Day in Iraq
There is vomit and blood covering the seats and equipment in the back of the humvee as we drive across town. It also covers the one stuffed animal that the soldiers had not handed out to children that day, a yellow baby chick, now bloodstained.
After a few minutes on the road, we begin to talk, the soldiers of their relief that their friend has been stabilized, of their hope that the wounds are more superficial than the blood had initially led them to believe. They pat their driver Glasscock on the back, too, tell him what a good job he did today. "I didn't know a humvee could go that fast," Whitten says.
It is dark now as we approach the site of the detonation. It turns out that the investigations team is having trouble locating the EFP, and the probers need the convoy to point it out. The humvee is silent again as we drive past the site of the blast that happened some 20 minutes earlier. Del Valle, riding shotgun, mentions that the IED today was the third that he has experienced up close in his career. The first two, on a previous deployment, hit within 30 minutes of each other, he says. This fact is very much on his mind, he says later, as we pass the exploded EFP canister and radio the investigations team of the spot's coordinates, waiting for them to arrive before silently driving on.
We all talk, too, just then, about how we could use a drink. The soldiers take turns describing their favorite cocktails, what they would have back at camp tonight if they could (here, alcohol is forbidden to American soldiers, except during the Super Bowl, when soldiers will each get two beers, which they must sign for and then drink on the premises before turning back in their empty bottles). Whitten mentions a good German beer. Del Valle describes a favorite drink that involves crème de cocoa. As we speak there is another blast, a few hundred yards away. No one is hit.
Del Valle and Whitten also talk about how they will need to clean out their friend's room when they get back. He is stable, but, still, they agree, it is going to take him a while to recover, and he might not be back to the war at all. They decide to box up his belongings in the morning, after they take a break tonight.
As we pull into camp, the soldiers get a tarp to cover the hit humvee that has been towed back to the camp by the Iraqi Army. It's not good, psychologically, for the team to have to look at it, one says.
Then everyone gathers in the radio room trailer. Karcher wants to speak with his soldiers.
He has just received news, he says, as the last of the soldiers file into the trailer. The doctors were not able to save the young soldier, their friend.
The wounded soldier has died.
As the team looks at each other, processing the news, Karcher tells them not to be bitter about what has happened. Not to hold it against the Iraqis. "There are good people in those villages," Karcher says.