Selected Sinners Book VII, “A-Train’s Book” First Five Chapters
For those of you who have followed the life of A-train from the Baby Girl Series to the UN Series, and now to the Selected Sinners Series will be pleased to know his book will be released in a matter of days (12).
His book will be a Selected Sinners Book. How, you ask?
Well, sit back and have a read of the first five chapters.
You’ll know a little more about why A-Train is A-Train.
I flove this guy.
Unconditional love was something I had heard of, dreamed of, and hoped for, but until I met Alec Jacob, I wasn’t sure that it actually existed. After meeting him and experiencing his ability to love first hand, I knew I could never live without him.
He was more kind than any man I had ever met, and as much as I expected his kindness to eventually diminish, it never did. The few who were foolish enough to cross him were always met with a warning, and if they chose not to heed it, were dealt with accordingly.
He was a predictable man in many ways and mysterious in others. As much as we were in love and as close as we had become, I still found him to be the most intriguing individual I had ever encountered or expected I ever would encounter.
The first day I saw him ride up on his motorcycle I was attracted to him, but any woman would have been. His body was perfectly proportioned and his face was constructed in a way that any female would be drawn to him, but his eyes provided a clear warning to proceed with caution.
And I did just that.
The more I learned about him, the more attracted to him I became. As handsome of a man as he was, and as much as his chiseled torso made my mouth water, it was who Alec Jacob was that made him more attractive than any other man on earth.
He accepted me for who I was, never asked me to change one thing, and assured me he would always protect me from all of what was evil on this earth.
And the earth was filled with evil, there was no doubt in my mind of that.
Alec was a war hero and a highly decorated Marine. I was well aware not only that he had killed, but that he had killed many. Not all, as much as I hated to admit it, were a casualty of the war he fought in.
But as capable as he was of administering what he believed to be justice upon those who he deemed to be the deserving recipients, he was not an evil man.
He was kind, he was caring, and he was loving.
And he was mine.
Summer 2003, Al-Anbar Province, Iraq
The days seemed to last forever and as much as I hoped I might be able to defend my life and the lives of the three men I was in charge of, I had no expectation all of us would make it home alive. My belief was that prior to the war ending, at least one of us would be shipped back to the states in a casket with a flag neatly draped over the top.
Truly believing any other option was possible, at least while in combat, was unrealistic.
I steadied my M4, glanced in Grayson’s direction, and gave a slight nod of my head.
He kicked the door right beside the makeshift lock. So many of the homes didn’t appear to be houses in a conventional sense. What seemed to be a commercial building may have an entire family living inside, most sleeping on a thin mat that had been tossed on a dirt floor. Other identical buildings may have half a dozen insurgents hiding inside, prepared to kill whoever entered without any warning whatsoever. Knowing what was on the other side of the door prior to entering was close to, if not totally, impossible.
Keep my men safe.
The wooden door swung open with a bang, revealing what appeared to be sleeping quarters for six or more people. I entered first, with the other three Marines immediately following me. As my eyes darted around the room, a tingling sensation ran along my spine. Although there was no one visible in the room, there was something about it I didn’t like. With the buttstock of the M4 against my right shoulder and my finger indexed along the side of the trigger guard, I quickly scanned the room for any signs of life. The floor was covered with bedrolls, blankets, clothes, and supplies, but there appeared to be no munitions or occupants.
I felt like spraying the piles of blankets with a few dozen rounds from my weapon, making certain no one stood from the piles of rubble and shot me or one of my fellow Marines, but I knew better than to do so. If I did, there would undoubtedly be women and children sleeping under them, and I would find myself being court martialed for the murder of civilians. As Clark was turning toward the door, mumbling something about yet another lost opportunity to cleanse the world of all living al-Qaeda, I noticed one of the blankets move slightly. I raised my left hand in the air and clenched my fist as I lowered the barrel of my weapon toward the movement.
With the room eerily silent compared to the sound of our entry and quick search, time seemed to be standing still. I suspected to whoever was beneath the blanket, the same was true. As much as I hoped the person hiding was friendly, my first tour had taught me to assume everyone was a threat.
I fixed my weapon on the pile of blankets. “Raweenee edeek.”
Show me those hands, motherfucker.
The pile of bedding remained motionless.
“Raweenee edeek!” I said in a more demanding tone.
As the mound of blankets began to move slightly, I recognized the unmistakable shape of the barrel of an AK-47 as it exposed itself from the cover of the bedding.
I could actually hear my heart beating. Everything surrounding me became distant, and the only thing that mattered was the location of the barrel. The AK-47 was weapon of choice for the majority of the resistance against us, and had become a common sight. Although there was no doubt whoever was beneath the blanket had the means to resist, so far they hadn’t actually done so. The fine line we were required to walk along regarding the use of deadly force had cost the life of many a Marine, but was a requirement nonetheless. Until the person with the rifle became an actual threat, the possibility existed that they were prepared to turn over the weapon and surrender, and we were required to treat them as such. Until he pointed the weapon at us or fired it, we were to treat him as if he were friendly.
I stood firm, anxiously waiting on whoever was beneath the blankets to reveal themselves.
“Weapon!” I heard Grayson shout.
“Shut the fuck up, Private. I see it,” I said over my shoulder as I maintained focus on tip of the barrel.
“Raweenee edeek!” I shouted
A thin man quickly stood from the blankets without any warning, and the barrel of the weapon swung toward where I was standing. It was all that was necessary for me to act in self-defense. Without thought, the tip of my index finger slipped inside the trigger guard and pulled against the trigger twice.
His body jolted from the impact of the two bullets, and his hand instinctively pulled the trigger, discharging a few rounds into the far wall. As he dropped his weapon to the floor and fell to his knees, his eyes revealed the unmistakable regret he felt for doing what he had done.
“Hold your fire,” I said flatly as I watched his knees buckle.
On his knees, staring up at me with hopeful eyes, he held out his weathered hand.
Why? Why didn’t you fucking surrender?
I kicked the weapon to the side. “Someone secure that weapon, and get this bedding searched.”
I shifted my gaze to meet the blank stare of the man I had shot. His eyes appeared to be that of a thirty-year-old man, but the sun damaged skin of his face seemed to be sixty, common for the people of Iraq.
“He’s alive. Clark, get a Corpsman in here and see if you can find a Terp,” I shouted.
“Fuck that Haji motherfucker,” Grayson blurted as he kicked along the pile of blankets positioned around the perimeter of the room.
“Find me a Corpsman and a fucking interpreter!” I demanded.
Just hang on for a few minutes, I’ve got help en route.
I glanced down at his wounds. One of the rounds struck him in the left side of the upper chest, and the other slightly higher, closer to his clavicle. With quick medical attention, he might survive, but the chest wound needed immediate action if he was going to live. I reached for his outstretched hand, held it in mine, and waited for a Corpsman. As he gazed up and into my eyes, he calmly spoke in a manner and tone I perceived as apologetic. Although I had learned a few of the necessary phrases, I was not fluent in Arabic, and needed an interpreter to not only understand what he was saying but to interview him before he died.
Determining the locations of any other resistance we were likely to encounter would be helpful, and I had learned a dying man was more willing to be truthful than one who believed he was free from the threat of death.
In seeing as many men die as I had, there seemed to be one common thread in the few seconds immediately preceding death – regardless of race, religion, or skin color.
Death took the dying to a peaceful place.
I positioned my weapon over my shoulder, knelt in front of him, and cut the front of his shirt open. The chest wound was considerably lower than I expected it to be, and was discharging blood with each heartbeat. If he didn’t receive medical attention immediately, he would undoubtedly be added to the long list of men I had killed in my 16 months of combat.
“Anyone got a chest seal or catheter?” I asked over my shoulder as I studied the wound.
The sound of shuffling boots and a few light sighs was my only response.
With our eyes locked, he blinked a few times before his mouth curled into a shallow smile. It was a smile not of joy, but of comfort. I silently studied him, wondering if he had a family, kids, or a wife. I wondered if he was forced to fight, did so out of a feeling of need, or if he was simply guarding what was once his home. As he continued to gaze at me and smile lightly, I did my best to return the gesture. A few seconds later he released his grip on my hand and slumped against me.
Killing was not complicated, and had become more of an instinct than a decision I consciously made.
Dealing with death, however, was different.
I released his hand, frustrated that he had chosen to point the weapon at me, but feeling no regret for the action I had taken. I turned toward the entrance and walked through the room, gazing blankly beyond the walls and into the dusty street as I did so.
“How many is that?” I heard Grayson ask.
I tapped a cigarette from my pack, raised it to my mouth, and lit it. As I watched the smoke slowly rise from the tip, I bit into the cotton filter and spoke through my teeth. “How many is what?”
“Kills. Clark said you killed a bunch of these sorry motherfuckers,” he said.
I glared at him, capable of answering, but not necessarily feeling doing so was warranted – at least not to him.
He narrowed his eyes as he gazed into the street at the children playing. “God damned Muslims, we should drop a motherfuckin’ bomb on this son-of-a-bitch if you ask me. Turn this sand to fuckin’ glass.”
I closed my left eye, took a long drag from the cigarette, and studied him with my right eye. As I exhaled a cloud of smoke into the space between us, I responded in the only manner I saw fit.
“Well, Private Grayson, nobody asked you. And we’re not fighting Muslims, dumb fuck. We’re fighting terrorists.” I paused and took a long pull from the cigarette.
I gazed down at the toes of my boots and exhaled the smoke from my lungs. After a few long seconds of staring blankly at the floor, I shifted my gaze upward and studied his eyes. A replacement for a Marine who had been killed by an IED, and all of eighteen years old, he would more than likely be dead in a matter of weeks if his attitude didn’t change. As he gazed back at me with the eyes of an over eager inexperienced Marine, I continued.
“I’m not here to condemn a man for his religious beliefs, but I’ll send one straight to an early grave for his stance against the United States of America or one of my fellow Marines. You’ve got a lot to fucking learn, Private,” I said, making sure he understood that I was not only aware of his military rank, but that he was as low and as inexperienced as a Marine could possibly be.
His eyes went wide as if I had slapped him in the face.
He gazed beyond me for a moment, shifted his eyes to me, and gave a slight acknowledgement of my condemnations.
“I’ll do my best, Corporal Jacob,” he said with a nod.
As I turned and walked out of the building, I considered Grayson’s initial question, and wondered why I didn’t accurately respond. I bent my knees and lowered myself into a squatted position beside the opening of the door and gazed into the street. The length of the deserted dirt street was littered with pieces of brick and chunks of concrete, a reminder of the many bombs that had been dropped before our arrival. A young boy played with a soccer ball, bouncing it from his knees onto his chest and shoulders, oblivious as to what was going on around him. As I watched him balance the ball on his upper chest, I tried my best to recall the lives I had taken.
I wasn’t ashamed, nor was I proud. Killing the enemy was something that had happened, and if given the same circumstances to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. As far as I was concerned, there was only one thing that really mattered – if I didn’t kill the men who were trying to kill me, my objective would never be reached.
At the end of each tour of duty, I needed to make it home for one reason and one reason only.
To hold my wife in my arms.
I gazed out into the dusty street. The boy was gone. The sound of small arms fire echoed in the air like distant music. I stood, raised my hands to my face, and rubbed my tired eyes. No matter how much I rationalized ending the lives of the men I had killed, each of their deaths lingered in my mind, playing over and over like a slow-motion scene from a horror movie. It was the price I paid, I supposed, for doing something so contrary to man’s religious, moral, and spiritual beliefs.
So far, I had killed thirteen men to reach my objective.
And holding her in my arms was all the justification I really needed.
Fall 2003, Wichita, Kansas, USA
I pushed my hand into my pocket and removed my wallet. As I thumbed through the bills the driver turned his head and glanced over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Thanks for your service.”
I shifted my eyes from the meter to my wallet, and removed a $10 and a $20 bill. “Meter says $18.80. Here’s $30.00. Keep the rest for a tip.”
He shook his head. “I mean it. Keep your money. I’m not just saying it; I appreciate your service to the country. When they flew those planes into the towers, I wanted to have the guts…”
He paused as the car rolled to a stop. After shifting the gear selector into park, he turned toward the back seat. He was roughly my age, but his shoulder-length hair and full beard made him appear slightly older at first glance.
“Not all of us have the courage to do what you’re doing. Me? I get to drive this cab and make an honest living because people like you are willing to fight to keep this country free. Keep your money. I mean it,” he said.
“I appreciate it,” I said as I folded the money and pushed it between the back of his seat and the bottom cushion.
He would find it at some point in time, probably while cleaning his car the next time he did so. I’d never been one to accept charity, and felt I was required to pay for everything I obtained in life, one way or another.
“Going back?” he asked as I opened the door.
I got out of the car and adjusted my pack as I responded through the open window. “Until they tell me I can’t, or it ends.”
“Good luck,” he said.
I nodded my head in appreciation.
Some called me lucky. Others described me as gifted. Personally, I felt that I had a sixth sense; one that allowed me to see things as they truly were, and that wasn’t always the way other people perceived them. Knowing what I believed to be the truth allowed me a second or so to react without contemplation or thought, which was often all it took to survive.
I folded a piece of gum and poked it into my mouth. As I chewed it and shoved the wrapper into the pocket of my trousers, she opened the front door. Her strawberry blonde hair was well past her shoulders, several inches longer than the last time we had seen each other.
“Oh my God. You didn’t say…” she gasped.
Short of writing letters, I hadn’t spoken to her in seven months, and hadn’t told her specifically when I would arrive. Although many of the Marines used the calling centers or morale calls on SAT phones to call home, I felt the distraction on both ends was too much if we were to attempt to communicate by telephone. An old fashioned letter delivered in the mail, however, was something nice to read, and it could be read over and over, providing much more than a few moments of pleasure.
My eyes fell to her feet, and slowly inched their way up her body until stopping at her face. I stood in awe, recognizing her natural beauty, but trying the entire time to hide the excitement of seeing her again. She looked every bit as gorgeous as she did on any other day, which was more beautiful than any other woman who had ever graced the earth with her presence.
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” I said, twisting my mouth into a smirk.
Unlike many of my Marine brethren, I was devoted to Suzanne wholly. Cheating or even lusting over another woman was completely out of the question. I was hers, and only hers, and she knew it. It was a large part of what allowed me to travel to another country and devote myself to a war while leaving her at home without her worrying about my commitment or loyalty – or me questioning hers for that matter. I knew, no matter when I showed up, she would be alone and waiting for me.
“God it’s good to see you,” she said as she ran down the steps.
“Come here, Babe,” I said as I dropped my pack to the sidewalk and opened my arms.
I extended my arms and gazed into her green eyes. They were the most inviting eyes I had ever seen, and they were attached to the most beautiful woman to ever exist. Seeing her cry – even if they were tears of joy – was heartbreaking.
“No need to cry, Babe,” I said as I wiped the tears from her cheeks with my thumb. “I’ll be home for a while. I’ve got some leave before I have to go back.”
“But you’re going back?” she said, half asking, half stating.
I pulled her into me and held her tight to my chest. “Until the war is over, or they find me unfit to fight, I’ll keep going back. I don’t have a choice.”
As she nodded her head in acknowledgement, I pressed my nose into her hair and inhaled a slow breath. I viewed my time at war as an opportunity to serve my country, and never really felt sorry for myself for what I was required to forfeit to do so. Each time I returned home, I was reminded of the things I missed, and although seeing Suzanne proved to me that God existed, inhaling a hint of her scent was much more satisfying.
After swallowing my gum, I reached down, lifted her chin slightly, and kissed her. The kiss wasn’t aggressive, extremely long, or close to what most Marine wives received upon their husband’s return to the states, but it was appropriate, respectful, and provided all the support she needed to understand where it was I had placed her.
On a pedestal above anything and everything on the earth.
Most men, upon returning home from the war, more than likely greeted their wives or girlfriends with the tip of their dick. I believed there was a time and a place for sex, and was actually quite fond of fucking the woman I loved, but for the next hour or so I needed to simply hold her in my arms, inhale her scent, and talk to her. She’d been through this routine enough times that she knew what to expect from me. Sitting down, eating a meal together, and talking allowed my mind to return back to civilization, and at least for the amount of time I was home, feel like things were different.
“God, I love kissing you,” she said as our lips parted.
She leaned back and shifted her eyes up and down my frame. “You look like you’ve lost weight. Come on, let me make you something to eat. Are you hungry?”
I reached for my pack, lifted it to my shoulder, and nodded my head. “I could eat.”
“Come on,” she said. “Let me make you something to eat, and then we’ll curl up in a ball on the couch.”
She turned away, walked up the steps and held the door open.
I paused at the first step and glanced at the front of the house before allowing my eyes to openly gaze around the yard. Leaves had filled the gutters, and the yard was littered with the various colors of fall.
Most men would perceive a yard full of leaves as a pain in the ass. Work. Time that could be spent watching a football game.
I saw it as exactly what it was.
I grinned, exhaled, and followed her into the house.
God, it feels good to be home.
Early spring 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
The First Battle of Fallujah.
I grew up the only child of high school sweethearts who fell in love, got married, and remained true to each other until my mother passed away. My father remained unmarried after her death, claiming his only love to be my mother, and further explaining that allowing another woman into his life, at any level, would be disrespectful to his deceased wife and only love.
I respected him for his position on love, relationships, and as a father. As a child, my friends often claimed a television character, someone in a movie, or even a superhero from a comic book as their hero.
My father was my only hero.
He took me deer hunting for the first time when I was twelve. Although I was young, I had spent my short life around weapons, learning to respect them, understand their inner workings, and how to properly handle them safely. My father described me as a natural, claiming one day I would be in the Olympics as a marksman, but I knew otherwise.
I wanted to be like my uncle, who was a former Marine and a Vietnam war veteran. My father’s brother, and a man who didn’t demand respect – but received it from those who understood him – he was less apt to speak than any other of my relatives, but when he did, his advice was always well thought out and easy to apply to life.
As we sat in the tree stand waiting for a deer to cross the trail a hundred yards ahead, my father questioned whether or not I was ready, and, ultimately, if I was ready, would I would be able to make a shot at such a distance?
I later learned that many deer, when shot, would run through the woods for a hundred yards or more before finally bleeding so much that they expired from blood loss. A perfectly placed shot – straight up from the back side of the front leg, half way between the bottom of the chest and the back – was the only thing that would drop a deer in its tracks.
Filled with confidence, and hoping to make my father proud, I waited for a deer to cross the path in front of us. As the morning sun began to rise above the base of the trees, a buck stepped into the clearing, raised his head, and sniffed the air as if something was wrong.
As his shoulder twitched from either fear or an inner knowledge of impending threat, I squeezed the trigger.
The deer fell where it stood.
Two days later, as we sat and ate a meal of venison steaks, potatoes, and an apple pie my mother had prepared, I began to understand the permanency of death. My father, while describing the impossible shot I had made to my mother, was filled with pride.
As I listened to him speak, I didn’t necessarily feel proud, but I was far from ashamed. I felt powerful, large, and almost invincible. The taking of a life wasn’t something every man was able to do, but I understood it as the completion of the cycle of life, and completely necessary for all living things.
Making the choice to end the cycle of life wasn’t something I took lightly as a child, or as an adult. As I grew older, I eventually stopped hunting. My belief at the time was that it wasn’t necessary. Hunting was a sport. Killing – for sport – was something I decided was wrong.
“We need to get off this roof before he shoots all of us,” the young Marine complained.
In searching the building for insurgents, we had encountered a Marine Scout Sniper and his spotter. The sniper had been shot, was close to death, and the spotter appeared to be in slight shock. There was no doubt he had received considerable training to be a spotter for a Scout Sniper and to be a combat ready Marine, but nothing could ever replace the experience from actually being in combat, which was something he obviously hadn’t had the luxury of experiencing.
“First tour?” I asked as I crawled toward the abandoned sniper rifle.
“Yes, Sir. We got here two days ago for this operation,” he responded nervously. “We really need to get down from here. We’re sitting ducks.”
“Well, that’s not going to fucking happen. Your sniper has a hole in his shoulder the size of a baseball, and I intend to kill the motherfucker who shot him before he shoots someone else. Now, take a breath, remember your training, and give me an accurate fucking distance to my target,” I barked as I leaned my M4 against the parapet of the roof.
I flattened myself onto a prone position and placed my cheek against the buttstock of the sniper’s rifle. After pulling off my helmet, wiping the sweat from my brow, and closing my left eye, I peered through the scope toward the target. The man on the rooftop who had been taking pot shots at an approaching convoy was taking a new position at the corner of the roof and lowering his rifle to what appeared to be a sand bag rest.
I’m guessing eight hundred plus.
The mid-day sun provided aggravating temperatures, but also made finding my target rather easy. With half of a mile between us, the bullet from the .308 caliber rifle would reach him in roughly one second. In that same second, he could take a shot, change his position, or take cover behind the upper roof line.
If his intention was to shoot Marines, I knew I didn’t have a second to waste.
I studied the blowing dust for a moment, reached up, and began to adjust the scope for an 800 yard shot. The wind was from my right to my left at what I guessed to be 6 miles an hour, which would carry the bullet from the right to the left slightly in the 2,600 feet it had to travel to get to the target.
As Clark and Grayson sat in wait and Whitmire tended to the wounded sniper, the spotter peered nervously through his spotting scope toward the target. I inhaled a deep breath and paused.
“Eight hundred and twenty meters. Wind from your immediate right to your left. Push right point two,” the spotter said.
Point two is too much, kid. We’ll do this my way.
I exhaled all of the breath from my lungs.
Sorry, motherfucker. I’ve got to make it home to see my wife, and to do so, I need to make sure you don’t make it home to yours.
I gave no acknowledgement of the stats provided by the spotter. After squeezing the trigger, I waited for him to acknowledge the kill.
“Holy fucking shit. Target down. Enemy KIA,” he said excitedly.
I inhaled a shallow breath, turned toward the spotter, and nodded my head. The sound of small arms fire continued from every direction as the report of mortars thumped in the distance every few seconds. All but immune to the sounds and sight of death, I turned toward the three Marines I was in charge of.
“Whitmire, we need to get him to our fucking Corpsman. Hell, I don’t give a fuck if you’ve got to find one of the 82nd’s medics, we need to get him off this fucking roof,” I said.
As I raised myself to a crouched position, hiding behind the cover of the parapet, the spotter moved his scope to the side and shifted his eyes toward me. “Nice shot,” he said as he scanned my blouse for my name. “Sergeant Jacob. Nice fucking shot, Jacob.”
“We can swap spit later. I need to get your sniper to a medic,” I said.
“Roger that,” he said as he stood from his bench.
What the fuck are you doing?
I waved my hand from side to side and pointed toward his feet. “Stay down, you don’t know…”
The thwack of the bullet hitting his chest was sickening. His eyes widened with concern as he stumbled rearward, eventually falling onto the roof between where I was crouched and where Clark was positioned.
“God fucking damn it,” I shouted as I gazed down at his body.
I shook my head and gazed off in the distance, wondering how much longer the sniper would be able to last with the fist-sized cavity in his shoulder.
After securing my weapon, I bent down to pick up the fallen spotter. As I gazed into his eyes, I realized I didn’t need to check for vitals, he wasn’t WIA, he was KIA.
I reached between his legs with one arm and grabbed his wrist with the other, raising him over my shoulder. I clenched my jaw at the thought of one more dead Marine and one soon to be dead Marine, and thanked God the three men under my command were still alive.
“Clark, lead the way. Take the rear staircase. Whitmire, behind me. Grayson, secure the M40, the spotter scope, and the rest of their gear, and take the rear,” I said as I tossed my head toward the staircase at the rear corner of the roof.
Upon reaching the street, we were met by a First Lieutenant, obviously new to combat, half-lost, and out of his element.
As the driver sat nervously and waited, the Lieutenant stepped from the Humvee and waved his arm toward the adjacent buildings.
“We’ve got a sniper on the roof six hundred meters east, and…”
“Sir, the enemy sniper has been eliminated. I’ve got one Marine KIA and one Marine WIA, soon to be KIA. We either need a Corpsman or to get this man to a hospital,” I said as I lowered the dead spotter from my shoulder.
“That sniper KIA, is it confirmed?” he asked.
It was as confirmed as I needed it to be.
“Yes, Sir,” I responded.
He nodded his head eagerly. “Who are you with?”
“We’re with the two-seven,” I responded. “I’m the Fire Team leader, and we were separated from our squad. We’re searching…”
“Sergeant Jacob, two-seven. Got it. Load those men in the back,” he said as he waved his hand toward the rear of the Humvee.
Apparently he didn’t give a shit who we were with or what our objectives were. I motioned toward the rear of the Humvee, helped load the two Marines, and turned away. As I watched them speed away, I realized for us, nothing had changed. We had been separated from our squad, and the entire city was a chaotic mess of gunfire, RPG’s, and mortar fire.
We’d be lucky if we lived through the night.
The Marines, no different than any other branch of the military, had a command structure. The structure was in place for a reason, and was necessary in the eyes of every Marine. It never ceased to amaze me, however, that while in combat and taking heavy fire, things seemed to go to hell in a handbasket at every level of the command.
I shifted my eyes back and forth between each of the men, “We’ve got no radio, no support from our squad, and no NCO other than me.”
I flinched as a mortar impacted the building directly beside us. I gazed up and down the street for any signs of the enemy, relieved to see nothing or no one. Buildings were smoldering, half of the structures were collapsed from bombs we had dropped, and what remained was being searched by the Army’s special forces and Marines, none of which I immediately recognized. The enemy, as always, was hiding in wait.
Our trip onto the roof had eliminated a sniper and potentially saved the lives of many, but left us with very little support or immediate hope of finding the remainder of our squad.
“We’re going to try to make it back to our squad, and if you listen to me and follow my command, I can’t make any promises, but I haven’t lost a man on my team yet,” I paused and surveyed the area for anyone I recognized.
To describe the scene as lawless would be to grossly understate the truth. In every direction, men were firing weapons. Marines and the Army’s 82nd Airborne fired M16’s, M4’s, M203 grenade launchers, and SAW’s at buildings, noises, who they perceived as a threat, and down the alleys between buildings. Fire was returned sporadically, but not from an identifiable location.
As I mentally found a path for my fire team to take to safety, I felt tremendous pressure in my thigh, and then my upper chest.
“Fuck,” I said as I glanced down at my thigh. “We need to double time it toward that mosque.”
“Jacob, you’re hit,” Clark said.
“I’ll be fine,” I assured him with a nod of my head. “Head for the mosque.”
I wiped my left hand along my upper chest and returned a hand full of blood. I did my best to take a step to lead my men to safety, and everything around me slowly became small.
As the silence encompassed me, I wondered if upon arriving at the gates of heaven if it was truly guarded by US Marines.
I had no idea if the stories of Marines guarding the gates of heaven were true, but as I felt like I was slowly being lowered into a pit with no bottom that was filled with the essence of Suzanne’s perfume, I was sure I was going to find out.
Everything around me faded from a blur into complete darkness and my body went numb.
But her scent remained.
Fall 2004, Wichita, Kansas, USA
I gripped the sides of the weight bench and pressed the extensions to their limit. After holding my legs straight until my muscles began to fatigue, I bent my knees and lowered the weight to the machine’s stops.
I sat up, wiped the sweat from my face, and stood from the bench. My leg was in as good of shape as it was before I was shot, and there was no doubt in my mind I had recovered 100 percent. Shot twice and determined to be still fit for duty, I felt fortunate to be able to return to a war I was convinced couldn’t be won by either side. As I felt Suzanne’s presence in the room, I turned toward the doorway.
As our eyes met, she spoke. “You’re really going back?”
I stood and buried my face in the towel I held. I couldn’t expect her to believe she was as important to me as she was and also understand my overwhelming need to return, at least not without some kind of an explanation. I pulled the towel away from my face and did my best to reassure her I was doing what was best for everyone, her included.
“Babe, I’m sorry. But until this damned thing is over, I’ll go back. I’ve got to. I don’t have a choice,” I said.
“You do have a choice,” she murmured.
I shook my head. “I don’t. My men need me. I can’t let them down. I took an oath and gave my word, you can’t expect me to go back on that, you just can’t. The man who never gives up, is always there for those in need, and provides what others can only dream of is the man you fell in love with. For you to ask me to stay here would be to ask me to change who I am. To change who you fell in love with.”
“I can’t change that maple tree out in the yard into an apple tree, and I sure can’t turn myself into a man unwilling to fight and willing to break his word.” I flipped the towel over my shoulder and pointed both of my index fingers toward my chest.
“You fell in love with this man. The man that’s going back to fight against the very terrorists who attacked our country and killed innocent civilians. And I’m going back to do my part in making sure they don’t do it again to our children,” I said.
“Our children?” she asked, her voice faltering as she spoke. “God, I love you, Alec.”
I nodded my head. “Yes. Our children.”
She smiled and wiped her eyes. “I can’t argue with you. You’re right. I fell in love with the man who never gives up. The man who wouldn’t take no for an answer when he asked me out on that first date.”
She paused and dropped her eyes to the floor.
“But I’m scared to death they’re going to kill you,” she said as she shifted her eyes to meet mine.
“I’ve been promoted to Staff Sergeant. I’ll be in charge of damned near forty men. I won’t even be fighting any more, just commanding infantry troops. And there’s never going to be anything worse than that fucking mess in Fallujah, so there’s nothing to worry about,” I said, doing my best to not only convince her, but to assure myself there would be far less risk of me being killed in my new position.
“Nothing to worry about, alright. I’ll keep telling myself that. So, when do you think this is going to end?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe one more tour?”
Her eyes widened slightly. “Really?”
I nodded my head, hoping to convince myself the war was nearly over.
Her mouth curled into a smile. She fought against it for a moment, and eventually gazed down at the floor. After a few seconds, she lowered her head slightly. Her blonde hair fell beside her face, hanging from her head like strands of straw colored silk. She raised her hand and flipped her hair over her shoulder, lifting her head – and her gaze – until it met mine.
“You think this will be your last?” she asked as our eyes locked.
“I hope so,” I said.
It wasn’t much of a reassurance, but I really hoped it would end soon. I didn’t see that there could ever be a clear winner in the war we were fighting, but if nothing else we were making a statement. The people we were fighting weren’t the people who mattered, and the people who mattered weren’t anywhere to be found. Continuing at the pace we were would prove nothing and gain very little.
“I just…I can’t imagine…I can’t imagine losing you,” she said.
I shook my head. “Don’t. Don’t imagine it. Imagine me coming home one day for good, and you and I having a family. Imagine that.”
She grinned and nodded her head. “I will.”
The thought of losing Suzanne wasn’t something I was prepared to digest. My only desire, short of making it out of the war alive and in one piece, was to have a family with her and live a new life to the limit of my mental, physical, and spiritual abilities.
I stood and gazed at her, and as I did, realized my desire to have a family with her was deeply etched into my being.
As she began to walk in my direction, no doubt to hold me in her arms, it saddened me slightly to know that my commitment to protect my fellow Marines was etched just a little deeper.
Early winter 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
The Second Battle of Fallujah
I stood and listened to my orders, not wanting to believe we were going back into the very depths of hell that I had barely made it out of alive. Fallujah was not only occupied by insurgents, but had been taken over completely. Operation Phantom Fury was being spearheaded by the United States Marine Corps, with the assistance of a handful of Navy SEALS, and a light offering from the United States Army.
“Sixty-five hundred Marines?” I asked, attempting to understand the complexity of the operation.
“That is correct, Staff Sergeant,” he responded.
“And fifteen hundred from the Army?” I asked.
He nodded his head and continued in a stern tone. “Affirmative. Three six-man SEAL teams, a thousand Iraqi troops, and roughly five thousand British troops. You have reservations about going back into that shit storm, I need to know it now.”
I straightened my stance and barked out my response like the devil dog I was. “No, Sir, I’m ready, willing, and capable.”
“Well, Staff Sergeant Jacob, be advised,” he paused and lifted his chin slightly.
“You are one tough son-of-a-bitch, that’s a given. You command your troops well, and make split-second decisions like no other Marine in my command. But. And this is a big but, son. This battle? I can’t guarantee you much, but I can god damned guarantee you this. This son-of-a-bitch will go down in history as one of the, if not the, worst battle of urban combat in the history of my beloved Marine Corps,” he said.
“Oorah,” I grunted.
He slapped his hand against my shoulder. “Drinking gas and shittin’ fire. You’re one gung ho son-of-a-bitch, Jacob. Wish I had a dozen more just like you.”
Considering the living hell we were going into, I wished he did too.
Two days into the operation, and it was already described as the bloodiest battle of the three-year war. Marine commanders were calling it the heaviest urban combat in Marine Corps history. All I knew for certain was that I had forty men I was responsible for, and I had every intention of returning them home alive and in one piece.
Our convoy was approaching an unoccupied intersection in the southern region of the city. The eerily quiet section of street had concerned me, but as we were almost to our destination, I was prepared to exhale a sigh of relief.
The explosion sent the Humvee in front of me ten feet straight into the air. The vehicle I was in, the third vehicle, drove into the void of earth the bomb had left, and the airborne vehicle landed on the hood of ours, crushing it completely.
Deafened by the blast, I was able to feel the sounds and voices around me, but not quite capable of comprehending them fully. Realizing if I didn’t make quick decisions and maintain my composure as a non-commissioned officer that I would lose every Marine in my command, I swung the door of the Humvee open and surveyed the damage.
The four men in the damaged Humvee were all alive, but wounded. The blast appeared to be remotely set, and not detonated by pressure, which – at least in this circumstance – was good. As fate would have it, the person with the remote switch detonated the bomb a fraction of a second too late, hitting the rear of the vehicle with the brunt of the blast, dislodging the rear axle, but causing minimal damage to the occupants.
A quick head count assured me that although all of the Marines in the bombed vehicle were wounded, they would live if provided medical attention.
“Blast was late, it was remote. They can see us,” I shouted. “Take cover beside the vehicles”
The intersection had rubble from bombed-out buildings on our right side, and still erect but heavily damaged buildings on our left. There was no doubt the buildings to our left were where the enemy was watching us from, and to protect ourselves, we needed to take cover behind our vehicles.
As the wounded Marines were dragged to cover, we began to riddle the buildings with machine gun fire and grenades.
“Todelli! Take your team across the street and see if you can get a visual,” I shouted as I turned and glanced toward him.
He was covered in blood, but appeared to be willing to follow the commands I had given. As he turned to command his men, I shouted at him again.
“Todelli, are you hit?” I asked.
“Everyone’s hit, Jacob. Shit, you’re hit,” he shouted in return as he waved his free hand toward me.
My head was throbbing, my ears ringing, and my heart was beating at a rapid rate. My hearing was slowly returning, and the dull drone between my ears was almost as deafening as the bomb blast. I shifted my eyes down along the front of my blouse, only to see that I was covered in blood from head to toe.
Filled with adrenaline, and numb to whatever pain I may have felt in its absence, I waved my hand to the other side of the street. Todelli and his fire team ran across the street and began to patrol along the side of the damaged buildings.
As I watched them work their way toward the corner of the intersection, a second bomb blast shook the ground beneath my feet with so much force it dropped me to my knees.
God fucking damn it, I’m not ready to die.
As I attempted to stand, I glanced over each shoulder. It appeared that my entire platoon of Marines were almost all injured by shrapnel, and all of the vehicles in the convoy were damaged to the point of being useless. Our only way out of the mess we were in was to fight, and I would be damned to hell if they were going to continue to detonate bombs at will without one hell of a fight from me and my platoon.
Still on my knees, I stared down at the ground. Incapable of standing on my feet, but confused as to why, a short study of my uniform provided the answer. My left leg was crimson colored and my hip had a piece of steel in it the size of a deck of cards. After removing the hot piece of shrapnel and tossing it aside, I collapsed onto the ground.
I peered up into the morning sky, realizing my left leg was incapable of functioning. I shifted my eyes toward the abandoned civilian vehicles that were on the other side of the street and gripped my M4 tightly in my right hand.
I don’t ask for much, but I’m asking for a little assistance right now. I’m crawling across the street, and I’m protecting my Marines. Any help you can give me would be appreciated.
“Call in a medevac, and get these men treated by our Corpsman. I’m going to find these sons-of-bitches,” I shouted toward Clark.
I turned toward the burned out Toyota truck and began to crawl across the open street, dragging my damaged leg behind me. As I reached the corner of the truck, movement in the window of a building across the intersection caught my eye. The building, facing the intersection, was at a ninety-degree angle of the convoy, and out of sight of the Marines taking cover behind the Humvees.
Excited to have found the insurgents, but not so foolish to let them know I had done so, I signaled to the Marines of second squad to come across the street and assist in taking out the enemy.
As soon as the first Marine stepped from behind the cover of the Humvee, he was shot. I watched in horror as the second Marine, directly behind the first, was shot as he tried to pull his fallen comrade to safety.
I gave the signal to hold tight and turned toward the building. I had a straight line of sight to the window, but apparently the enemy had been focused on what he was able to see of our vehicles and hadn’t seen me crawl across the street. I watched as three men with rifles sat and waited for another opportunity to shoot at my men.
Realizing I could probably get one or possibly two shots off before giving away my position, I crawled toward the front of the vehicle, hiding the majority of my torso underneath the front of the truck.
With my chest, shoulders, and head exposed, I flattened myself into a prone position and took aim at the man on the far right.
Going home in a wheelchair is better than going home in a box. You can do this, Jacob.
One shot, one kill.
I squeezed the trigger.
The man slumped out of sight, obviously killed instantly by the impact of the bullet.
Two more, but you better be quick.
As I took aim at the second man, he and the third began looking frantically to determine where the shot had come from. Now shooting toward the convoy, but causing damage to nothing but the vehicles, his silhouette was clear in the open window of the building.
Squeeze, Jacob. Don’t pull, squeeze.
I squeezed the trigger.
The second man fell out of sight.
The Marines taking cover behind the convoy began to cheer and scream. Out of my peripheral I saw one of them point in my direction.
And I wasn’t the only one who saw it.
While the sniper in the window began to take aim at me, the sound of approaching Humvees shook the ground beneath me. As the approaching convoy came to a halt, the whizzing sound of a bullet and a puff of dust bursting from the street beside me told me the shot he had taken was off by no more than a few inches.
There was no doubt he was choosing to shoot me over shooting the arriving Marines.
As I heard them loading the wounded Marines into the convoy, I took aim at the one remaining threat.
“Jacob, hold tight. I’m sending two men to get you,” I heard a voice shout.
I lifted my left hand in the air and clenched my fist.
If they tried to cross the street, he’d cut them down one by one.
“Do not approach. That is a fucking order,” I shouted as I closed my left eye and attempted to gain sight of my target.
The shrill impact of the bullet into the hood of the truck startled me, and the following pressure in my left leg assured me that although the steel hood may have slowed the path of the bullet, I had been hit.
I tightened my jaw and steadied my rifle.
“Tandy, Rickman, get him out of there before he gets himself killed,” I heard someone shout from the direction of the convoy.
“I gave a fucking order, and I’ll see to it that you’re court martialed if you cross that fucking street,” I shouted over my shoulder.
“Get my fucking Marines medevac’d. Come get me after I shoot this prick,” I shouted.
The impact of the bullet into my back pressed me into the ground, but I could tell it wasn’t a through shot, probably either a ricochet or a deep surface wound.
You mother fucker.
I could no longer hear anything. Either from the massive amount of adrenaline I was producing, from being shot repeatedly, or from the loss of blood, I had gone completely deaf. As I saw a few of the vehicles pull away, I exhaled the remaining breath in my lungs. It didn’t matter if he shot me again or not, I fully realized I had only a few minutes to live either way.
You either put me here to die, or to administer your will.
I don’t know which it is, but all I need is one more shot.
A bullet caught the heel of my boot. It felt like I had been hit in the foot by a sledgehammer. Out of time, completely out of energy, and almost out of blood, I regained my line of sight, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger just as he was preparing to take another shot.
As I watched his body collapse over the edge of the window opening, everything around me disappeared.
And the smell of Suzanne’s perfume engulfed me.