By Andrew Jones

Tuesday, March 25, 2003, Al Gharraf, Iraq
A.R. Jones

It was dark. No; it was beyond dark. It was beyond any darkness I had ever experienced. It was the complete and absolute absence of light. Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s) were useless because they needed the slightest bit of light to operate. Flashlights were not only tactically unsound to use, but they wouldn’t have helped anyways. The dust in the air was so thick the light beam wouldn’t even cut through it. There was no “getting used to it” or waiting for your eyes to dilate enough to see a little bit. There was nothing to see. The world was completely void of light and was now over taken by the darkness. It’s Tuesday, March 25, 2003, in Al Gharraf, Iraq.

Earlier in the day our company had pushed through An Nassiryah, taking small fire arms and encountering our first sight of death. The bodies littered the streets, torn to pieces, flattened to the asphalt by vehicles running over them. Their blood and insides spilled out next to them. After pushing our way through this city recently plagued with death and destruction, we received a distress call. Alpha Battery 1/11 has been ambushed north of our position and they’ve taken casualties. They need help and they need it fast. Excitement rushes over me as the convoy speeds up and we receive our orders. Five days in this damn country and we were finally about to see some real action. This is what war stories are made of and I’m about to make mine. What a stupid little shit I was. The convoy pulls off of the road and into the dirt as we immediately start taking fire. Rounds ricochet as we dismount the trucks. A feeling of calm came over me and I didn’t feel scared at all; I wanted to get in the action and do my part. I wanted to kill. Rox and I were the last to dismount and we started rushing to the road side where our brothers were already laying down heavy fire into the town across the street.

I reach the position, but wait… where’s Rox? He was right behind me. I look back and I see a sight that will haunt me for eternity. Now I’ll admit, it could’ve been worse. He wasn’t dead, nor did he die. And until my dying day I will testify that he is alive due to the grace of God, not due to the inaccurate shooting of the enemy. Rox always had a force field around him. And when he was near me, it extended around me as well. Rox was a man of God and he had the strongest faith I had ever seen. There was Rox, low crawling in the dirt about 20 meters behind me. Struggling, exerting all bits of energy and looking helpless as he tried to make it to the road side. Bullet after bullet ricocheted around his body and flew over his head. Did I go get him? Did I rush back and grab him and help him get to the road side to a safer position of cover? No. I stared at him and his situation and all I could do was yell. “Let’s go Rox, HURRY UP!!!” Yea, because yelling at him was going to save his life. Yelling at him was going to protect his body from the one bullet that finds him. Like I said, what a stupid little shit I was. Rox made it to the road side and to this day he holds no hard feelings for my inaction. But seeing him in that situation replays in my head on a constant daily basis. It haunts my dreams at night. Because in my dreams and in my thoughts, he doesn’t make it. His force field fails him and Rox dies five meters from my arms with a gunshot to the face. Why does that happen in my dreams? Because in all reality, that is exactly what should have happened. I was too weak to rush to him and pull him. I was too weak to protect him. Rox made it to the road side and we loaded up my rocket launcher. We acquired a target about 150 meters across the street and I aimed in to blow it to hell. CRACK!!! A bullet strikes the asphalt in front of me, shooting rocks into my face. I look at Rox as I touch my face feeling for blood and he gives me the thumbs up. “You’re ok, you’re ok!” There he is comforting me, just seconds after I left him hanging in the dirt. I’m ok. Rox told me I’m ok so it must be true. I aim again and send 83mm of destruction down range. BOOM!!! There goes that building. What made that building my target? Mainly the bastard that ran into it as he was holding a baby in one arm and shooting an AK-47 with the other. As well as the barrage of gun fire coming from multiple windows. But that was over now. Time to acquire the next target. BOOM!!! Another rocket down range, another fiery explosion in another building filled with these bastards, children, mothers and God knows who else. The battle shifts and we drop back to a support position as tanks and tracks start rolling in. They send their own barrage of fire into the town. Leveling buildings. Homes.

The unit starts regrouping to mount the trucks and move out. And here it comes. What the Iraqis refer to as Shamal, The Mother of All Sand Storms. A sand storm of biblical proportions. A sand storm that only hits this hard on very rare occasions. This was The Nothing. It engulfed everything around us. It ate the light from the world. Instead of moving out, orders came down to stay put and hold our position until morning due to the weather. There was no air support available and all units were to stay where they were. It’s not like we could’ve gone anywhere if we tried. There was nowhere to go. There was literally nothing. The sun had descended and the world went from a dark brownish color to black. To blacker than black. A blink of your eye went unnoticed because there was no change of color or scenery. And this is where it began. My night in Hell. Rox and I held our position and we stayed close- at no point did we lose touch of the other. Every voice seemed distant, no matter how close the Marine was. I felt alone. We decided to try to get some sleep. Maybe it would all be better when I woke up. Maybe the world would be visible again. But how could one sleep? Only a couple hundred meters across the street was the village we just helped to destroy. A village dealing with the death and destruction we rained upon them. They did not go quietly into the night. They did not pick up their dead and go to sleep. No. They screamed. They screamed in terror. Mothers screamed as they were undoubtedly holding their children. Children screamed as they were undoubtedly holding their mothers. Men screamed at other men. And then there was that smell. What the fuck was that smell? Was it sewage? Was it trash? No. It came over me without a sprinkle of doubt. It was death. It was flesh being burned. Fires cracked from the village as bodies burned. Screams filled the air as mothers and children grieved their loss that we so proudly gave to them. This was Hell. A sand storm didn’t block out the sky tonight. We fell into the pits of Hell. Darkness, screams, death. Isn’t that what Hell is? This night has to eventually end, right? Time has to continue moving no matter what the weather or situation is like, right? Wait it out. Go to sleep. Plug your ears. Pull your flak jacket over your face to mask out the smell. It’s not real. It’s just my imagination. This doesn’t happen in real life. This isn’t real. It’s just a dream. Wake up!!! WAKE THE FUCK UP!!! No. It’s real. The news articles say it’s real. The Captain from Alpha Battery 1/11 that later thanked us for their rescue said it was real. Every night of my life since then that I have found the courage to lie in bed and close my eyes says it was real. Every scream from a woman or child tells me it was real. But every night it’s just a nightmare. A sick and twisted nightmare that on occasion I can scream my way out of. So maybe it never actually happened. Maybe it has just been a nightmare all along. Maybe I’m just crazy. No. It was real.

Morning came, the dust began to clear and we moved out to our next mission. Leaving Al Gharraf and Tuesday March 25, 2003 physically behind us. But never mentally. Mentally, I will never leave. I am stuck in this night in Hell. One day it will be over. One day I will be able to rest peacefully. One day.

My name is Andrew Jones and I was born in San Diego, raised in Las Vegas and currently reside in Phoenix with my girlfriend and two boys, ages 4 and 6. I attend Glendale Community College and plan to transfer to ASU in the fall of 2013 to pursue an English Creative Writing degree, so that I may become a better writer and hopefully teach others to do the same.