Episode 78 - I'll never understand how hard it is to lose something I never had

It was mid-afternoon on May 30, 2007. There were approximately a dozen men eagerly awaiting the signal to proceed. Captain MacAlister sat waiting in his Willis MB, one of the few old Jeeps left at Fort Carson. He noticed that things were being done differently from the other setups. This time they were packing more ammo and the commander had come out to see them off. The troops were being sent in because of us: The stranded Pond Patrol Third Force Recon Team. Capt. MacAlister’s men would move in on the Mulberry Ridge Base Camp, grab our surviving team members and injured personnel and leave behind a Special Forces Squad to secure the area. When Sgt. Palmer left the Ridge in search of help, I couldn’t stop thinking something might have gone wrong. In fact, since we arrived at the Mulberry Ridge 20 months ago, nothing really happened as we had planned. At 1600 hours, radio silence was broken when Rodriguez received a radio transmission confirming MacAlister’s departure from Fort Carson. For the first time in months I was able to breathe a little easier. MacAlister’s convoy kept us informed of their progress through out the night, as they ventured into the darkness of the logging road. For us soldiers at Base Camp it was a long night. I hardly slept, impatiently waiting for the convoy’s arrival. The next morning, around 800 hours, we heard the roar of the convoy, slowly moving closer to Base Camp. Rodriguez and I ran passed the Mulberry tree towards the logging road. Not far behind us, Malloy and Susan followed. Once at the road we finally spotted the vehicles. I raised my left hand and waved at the convoy. They waved back at us. I could see the excitement on my teammates’ faces. The convoy finally stopped a few yards in front of us. Special Forces soldiers crowded the logging road, securing the near by area. Unsure what to do I approached the first vehicle. - You must be Corporal Harris, I assume. You’ve done a hell of a job out here, son! - said the Captain extending his hand for a handshake. I replied the gesture and nodded,acknowledging his assumption. I briefed the Captain on the situation and asked if there were any concerns about their assignment. Ivanov was still on the run and although his entourage had been reduced to a very small numbers, he still posed a compromising threat to the Captain’s Squad. MacAlister showed a lot of knowledge about the mission including relevant information about Ben. He assured me of his good intentions. Although the Captain looked like a seasoned officer, scarred and wrinkled by years in the service, he spoke softly and kindly. While we discussed the logistics, MacAlister’s men unloaded their gear from the vehicles. A few minutes later I introduced the rest of the fire team to the Captain, who had nothing but good things to tell them. - Shall we take care of business? I heard you have one of Ivanov’s men in your possession. Let’s load him in, so we can get you guys out of here - said the Captain jovially. And so we went back to Base Camp. We spend a few minutes gathering some of our belongings; I even took the time to say a last goodbye to Jill by her grave. No matter how things were getting better, her death still upset me badly. After a while, I headed back to the logging road where we watched Baxter being escorted to the Humvee. Shame stamped his face, as he walked passed us. One of MacAlister’s men instructed us to board the Humvee as well. Rodriguez took the lead, as we scrambled through the vehicles with our belongings. As I watched Malloy and Rodriguez pack the back of the truck, I caught Susan Walker gazing at my direction. I smile at her, remembering the events that happened just two nights before. I then helped her climb the back gate with Malloy’s help. - It’s hard to believe we are going home! - said Rodriguez excited. And then it hit me: home? Where’s that? I felt ill at ease. After all, the Marine Corps had being my family and home for a number of years. Suddenly, the thought of leaving Mulberry Ridge started a whole new dilemma. As I climbed the truck I asked myself: Where will I go? What will I do? My internal crisis was interrupted by the closing of the Humvee’s back gate. - Farewell, faithful soldiers, you'll soon be reassigned, have a safe trip home - said Capt. MacAlister standing behind the Humvee. I nodded unsure, taking my seat beside Susan Walker. I must’ve looked troubled. As soon as the vehicle started to move Susan held my hand and asked me if I was ok. - I’ll be fine - I mumbled. And so we were off, on our way out of the Ridge. MacAlister held his cap out in the air, waving at the departing Humvee. As we drove through the logging road a wealth of memories flooded my mind. I felt like I had lost any remaining innocence, any purity. I would remember myself as a young soldier, I couldn’t fathom that this would ever happen. I was going home and I was pretty miserable about it. What is wrong with me?

by Corporal John Harris, May 31, 2007