December 9, 2010

Brian and Me from Rucksack to Backpack by 13 Stoploss

Rucksack to Backpack: Brian and Me -
We crept across the road while the holy city slept. Through dirt clod fields and manure-muck furrows, each trampling foot, left step, right step in time, brought us nearer the green, two-dimensional objective. In the infantry’s field of view, a dark-green night vision sky bled without separation into light green sand. Only the silhouette fortresses of grainy, green-black boxes, stacked like children’s building blocks, divided the twinkling expanse from the earth beneath our feet.

West of our objective, beyond the slumbering box city and across the great smelly river, silence disappeared. Six towed giants stomped the earth—fire mission: immediate suppression! Fire for effect!

SGT Brian Colby’s eyes glowed.

“Davis,” he yelled, “that’s one-five-five!”

For ten years previous, Brian served as a “gun bunny,” a dirt-shoveling, bomb-loading string puller and he knew all about the sound and operation of US Army artillery. But in Korea the year before we deployed to Iraq, Brian switched sides. He volunteered to become a fister (Forward Observer)—the eyes of the artillery. He learned fire support: how to plot grid coordinates on a map, the formulated procedure to call for fire and how to work as an asset to the infantry. When he transferred to 1/320th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Campbell, home of the Army’s prestigious 101st Airborne, he became my Forward Observer and protective older brother.

When Brian met my wife, the first thing he said was, “Don’t worry, I’ll bring Jason back home.” In the farm fields then, he yelled at me for walking beside him and not behind him. Minutes before crossing the border into Iraq, I snapped our only long-whip radio antennae while ducking under the flap in a tent. His eyes glared at me like a wild man, but the scowling aggression always turned to patient understanding.

Brian didn’t bring me home, but he got me through the invasion.

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