Monday, May 23, 2016

When I was in Iraq: Part Eight

The Second Attack

I had heard the low thuds of car bombs going off in the distant city on June 24. Our base was on the outskirts. I sincerely hoped that my three months could pass without any significant incident in my immediate proximity.

That was all about to change.

I don't remember what day it was. It doesn't matter. As I have described, you are constantly rehydrating in Iraq, so I was on my way to the latrine (in the daytime I treated myself to the bathroom itself).

On my way, I heard someone slam a door so hard, so loudly, that my visceral reaction was anger.

"Why should someone slam a door like that??!!" I thought.

I kept walking. And then it happened again. Someone was slamming a door shut, so hard that it echoed through our compound. And my anger mounted. Why the f%$k was someone slamming a door shut like that?

And that's when I saw it. This object was tumbling end over end through the sky, it landed outside our concrete walls. And then I both saw, heard, and felt the shock wave of an explosion. I had just seen a mortar land. And I retroactively realized--the slamming door had also been mortars.

And then I saw another one. It was tumbling end over end. I stood there, watching it as it also, thankfully, landed on the other side of our wall. The explosion washed over me.

A moment of silence. It was over. Only then, I suddenly realized, HOLY SHIT! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK! I ran to the CIA blast resistant work space. I would wait there until they declared the all clear.

I should have run to cover the moment I knew I was in danger. But I had not done so. And that's because, like so many people, I don't realize I'm in danger until long after the danger passes. 

I have learned after the fact that the human body turns new experiences into things it understands. That's why I heard those first mortar attacks as slamming doors. My brain was turning those sounds into something it understood. Once I saw the bombs in the air, I was able to hear the explosions occurring around me.

I have called this the "FIRST ATTACK" because it would not be the last.

As we all caught our breath that day, we took stock of the fact that we were in a war zone. I recall pensive and nervous glances exchanged over dinner. It was only somewhere inside July. I would not leave until mid-September. My tour would not be as long as many people. But it was longer than anyone I knew at the time. 

That would not be the last attack our base would face. But that's for another day...

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