Unrelenting, sheer monotony, to which there is no recipe for alleviating the extreme level of boredom. Any infantryman in the history of warfare, from the hoplites of the Roman Army, to the mud covered Yanks deep in the trenches of World War I, to the rain soaked sodden GI of Vietnam, has disliked standing a post. To stand a post is to be “static” in military jargon, meaning a fixed position from which you do not move. Nor does time, or space, or the rotation of the earth. You stand and watch your sector – and watch your sector – and watch your sector.
The first time I ever received indirect fire was while standing post during one of the hottest days I have ever experienced in Iraq. Regularly the thermometers we had scattered around the abandon potato factory—turned Marine OP—would easily reach 130 degrees by the afternoon. This particular day felt hotter. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because we had just come off a late night patrol, and working party to off load cases upon cases of water and sandbags from a resupply convoy. Or maybe it was the awkwardly bucktoothed, severely undereducated, and grossly immature Iraq Army “Soldier” with whom I had to stand post. This particular Iraqi soldier looked as if at any moment he would start gnawing on the buttstock of his Russian made AK-47 assault rifle like a salivating woodchuck.
Combine that with the added weight of body armor, Kevlar, long sleeves, trousers, and the ungodly searing heat, the suck factor remained at an extremely high level. I often chuckle, out loud, zero restraint or semblance of tact, when a civilian asks the question “So it was hot over there right?” This isn’t the part where I laugh, it’s after I answer and then explain the grossly unbound, oppressively scorching, and unrelenting heat, to which they reply something to the effect of “Yea but it’s a dry heat.” Okay –yes, thanks Cornelius, there is in fact an acute absence of humidity in the air, but of all the countless patrols I’ve done, or the multitude of deserts I’ve found myself in around the world, I’ve never once heard a fellow grunt turn to his comrades and cheerily say “At least it’s dry heat.” He would probably be physically assaulted on the spot and forbidden to open his mouth for the remainder of the patrol for fear of spreading his matter-of-fact stupidity.
The point is, it’s hot. And when the mercury leaps from a nighttime temp of 90 degrees to a daytime temp of 120 – 130 degrees in a matter of hours, dry heat ceases to hold any validity as a condition in which you can operate comfortably.
So there I was, in a sandbagged position on top of a sandbagged roof of an abandon potato factory, with Snaggle Tooth crazy eyes from the Iraqi Army. The post was open to the front and both sides giving way to a spectacular eyesore of a view.
Like every post in the Marine Corps, you had a range card, drawn on a piece of cardboard from an MRE box, detailing distances to certain objects and your specific sectors of fire and other pertinent information. You would have a radio that would allow you to contact the other Marines on posts around the OP, as well as the COG or Corporal of the Guard, and a standard issue lenzatic compass for determining direction and distance to possible targets. Some snacks, a bottle of water, and chewing tobacco were a must. Reading material or anything else that could possibly distract you from watching the area around you was strictly forbidden and harshly punishable for those failing to adhere to the order. There wouldn’t be a place to sit since our Commanding Officer had all the seats or things you could possibly conceive as using as a seat removed from all the posts at every OP in our Area of Operations.
So you would stand there. For no less than 4 hours, probably longer, and watch your sector and listen to Suck Tooth the freedom fighter suck his teeth and rub his two index fingers together while calling you “Sadeek!”
So we stood there, Suck Tooth and I, watching the ripples of heat rise off the scorched landscape. My sector included a large field, a few mundane buildings, an irrigation ditch, and a road that snaked its way through the landscape, running parallel with our OP. The boredom, for me, was almost instantaneous. Every vehicle that came down the road, I watched through the slight magnification of my ACOG mounted to the top of my rifle, praying that they would stop and offload a hoard of black pajama-wearing jihadist fighters. But they don’t, and after two hours of hanging with Suck Tooth, I don’t care anymore. I start plotting against him, thinking, if he sucks his goddamn teeth one more time, I’m going to buttstroke his jaw line till my watch is over.
I imagine every possibility and facet of my ploy as well as the intricacies of how I could develop a fictitious story so airtight as to avoid any punishment. I stand there, deep inside my own mind, plotting against Suck Tooth. Finally, the blazing heat breaks me from my evil hypnotic trance. I checked my watch, another 45 minutes has transpired. I’m not thirsty but grabbed my bottled of water, opened it, took a swig and reflexively spit it out. In my daydreaming about making raspberry pudding out of Suck Tooth’s mouth, I forgot to move my water, which had been roasting in the sun, turning extremely hot. I cursed at the bottle that I still held tightly in my hand. I intensely glared at the water, swearing up a storm and slowly squeezing it as the contents spilled out through the top to make loud splatter noises on the plywood floor, cognizant of the fact that Suck Tooth had stopped sucking his teeth and was cautiously staring at me.
I jam the bottle into a sandbag, spilling the rest of the hot water, and huff as I look at my watch. That’s when it happened. I must not have heard the shot during my water bottle crinkling fit, because the very next thing I heard when I looked up was an enormously loud and sickly CRUMMMMP of an explosion behind my post. Small rocks and sand pelted the entranceway as the dust drifted into my sandbagged position.
Instantaneously the PRC 148 Radio on my post erupted in collective chatter while Marines checked in, by post, ensuring that they were not hit. At the same time the COG radioed “Post Five” and awaited my answer, a distant but audible “pop” could be heard.
“Post Five okay, another shout out, over” I finally replied.
Another Marine on a different post facing the attackers immediately transmitted a direction and distance to targets after having spotted the puff of smoke coming from the mortar’s launch site. Over all the commotion, a high pitched whistle of an incoming round rang ominously inside my eardrums as the heavy explosive tore through the sky in the down flight of its high trajectory. The closer the round got, the rougher and louder the whistle became. What took a matter of seconds, less than fifteen to be specific, felt like a lifetime.
Not being able to see out the backside of my post that was chocked with dust, I crouched down with my rifle and radio as the whistle became louder. Looking up, I discover Suck Tooth standing in the front corner of the post with his back toward the sector, facing the open doorway, eyes as wide as mine but his head shaking like someone was using a whisk to scramble his brains.
“Get the fuck down you fucking idiot,” I said as I grabbed his uniform and yanked him to the floor.
In the last few heart beats of time, as the mortar screamed towards earth, I placed my hand on the top of my helmet and hunched my shoulders, thinking this thing is going fly right through the open door and land in between me and dumbass. I contemplated for a heartbeat longer that this could be the end, my only regret would be having to share my fate with a drooling snaggle toothed idiot convulsively shaking in the corner.
In a final heart beat the sound of the incoming round was tremendously loud, then very abruptly it ended. No explosion, no black cloud of dust, just silence. I strained my ears, my mouth hanging open as I waited for the explosion that I surely missed.
Was someone calling me? I looked at my radio.
“Post Five!?” I heard again, this time realizing the sound was coming from outside the post and not from my radio. I crouched low and hustled to the doorway.
“Yes sir?” I shouted back in response having recognized the voice of my Company Commander.
“Well why don’t you roger the fuck up? You alright?” He asked.
“We’re good sir.” I replied, amazed at how he was just standing there next to the crater the first mortar left while the dust hadn’t even settled yet. It was as if the mortar exploded and in its place left my CO.
“How about you stand the fuck up and see where those rounds are coming from?” he asked.
“Roger that!” I replied as I scrambled to my feet and looked out over the terrain.
I heard shuffling of feet and looked down to see Suck Tooth still squatting like he’s about to take a shit. I grab him by the collar and help him up as he nodded his head, smiling and patting my back.
I smile back; relieved I didn’t have to die with him in the same vicinity.