Small Wars Journal

The Patrol

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The Patrol

Keith Nightingale

No big deal. Go here.  See what you can find.

Platoon is not what the book says.  Small is not necessarily good.

Serious bad guy country.

Concern. Anger. Anxiety. Anticipation. Imagination. Resignation.

Preparation. Squad leaders are seriously serious.  Lives matter.

Anxious eyes. More smoking. Hasty chow. Ammo check.

What have I forgotten?

Quiet conversations. Disciplined preparation.

Serious shit.

Marks on a map. Lines and circles on grids.  Reality is different.

Higher has no clue.

Hasty conversations, orders, and suggestions.

Serious listening.  We are on our own.

The enemy votes on the grease penciled lines.

Why doesn’t Higher get it?  F--- it!

Ain’t no big deal.

Ruck up.  Move out.  Quietly.

Lingering looks at the family behind.

We are alone.

Ruck hurts.  Diverts attention. Time melts the mind. 

Animal response kicks in.  Just move.

Endure.  Someone must know and protect.

Right!

The green intermittently recedes to elephant grass, rocks, and blinding sunlight.

Everything is up.  Never down.

Physics always screws us. Gravity sucks.

Sweat, heat, and pain become soporific.

The mind and brain recedes.  We are just lizards and bugs on the landscape.

Ain’t no different.

STOP!  Immediate action. Something ahead.

Face in the dirt.  Ruck slams the helmet.

Anxious breath.  WTF?

Life through a front sight.

Quiet.  Still as death.  Do it.  Lives depend on it.

A column of cotton khaki moves through the open grass.

I can see them!  Never done that.

Look at all the shit on them!  Serious soldiers.

Where did they come from?

Where are they going?

A whole lot more than us.

Please God.  We can’t F--- this up.  I hope the Lt knows what he is doing.

Here.  We stay. No movement.  Good call.

Night comes quickly.  Way before planned.

Fruit and crackers.

Popping a can makes a noise.

I can’t see S---. 

I hear my buddy breathing.  Asleep.  I have to stay awake. We will talk tomorrow.

He owes me.

Green and yellow phosphors sparkle and shine as a mass of bugs and lizards reconstitute the organic material.

I am organic. Mosquitos and leeches know that.  Silent anesthesia.  Tomorrow I will know of their successes.

Sudden rain invades everything.  The sound deadens thoughts.

Discomfort erodes to ignoral.  It is now part of me.

Sudden quiet. The rain ceases and the mind re-engages.

Sounds to the front.

Quiet.  Not a breath. Not a sound.

Pain can’t speak tonight.

Didn’t know I could take a piss without moving from the prone.

Sweat trickles.  Even at night, the jungle leeches life.

Dirt and sweat are a part of me.

My life. 

For now.

Hopes and wishes.

No smoking.

Distant sounds of artillery.

Better them than me.

I sleep like the rest of the jungle.  Bits and pieces.  Sounds and lights awaken.

An animal edge.

Dawn like the animals.  Alert. Sensing.

I am alive. 

What’s to the front?

What made those noises?

Are we all here?

Now what?

Coffee.  Cigarette. Wipe my rifle.

Is this the calm before today’s storm?

Anxious eyes. Wondering?

Do we find those guys again?

What are we doing?

Why?

Ruck up.

Endless lines through the green.

Flashes of brilliant sunlight.

Then deep shade and shadows.

Heat, moisture and humidity. The Grunt’s placenta.

Primordial sensing aroused.

Below.  A small red road, snakes from the plain to the mountains.

Furtive figures.  The khaki clads.

Quietly.  Slowly.  Stay above.

Maybe they will go.

Down!  Wait.

Breathing so quiet.

Suddenly, smoke out. A purple haze curling upward, barely twisted by the air.

UP.  Birds inbound.

On the red road.

Where are they? 

Quick!  Get here quick!

Take me away.  Make me safe.

Blowing dust coating my sweat.

Out of here!

Gouts of JP 4 vapor envelope.

Last birds.  Every door gunner clears a belt.

Sudden ascent. Grab the cargo ring.  Almost lost it.

Deep green, flashing reflections, distant trails of smoke.

Receding to the clear deep blue.

Peace.  For the moment.

War below.  Peace aloft.  A wispy thought with the thinnest tendril to reality.

20 minutes in Wonderland.

Wind evaporates and invigorates.

Descent.  Reality.

Basecamp below. Tin roofs, ochre wood, and no shade.

Home in its form.

Safe.  For the day.

A cold beer and shower.

Sit down shitter.

Backyard BBQ.

Just like home.

X the calendar.

Tomorrow?

Patrol.

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.