I finch at the white light as I remove my protective goggles so I can clear out the crust. This place is desolate. I sigh as my vision gets used to the searing light. We are lost, so very lost. A quick wind picks up blowing sand all over. I put my goggles back on.
“Have you checked the azimuth yet?” I turn to see who asked. Our NCO is leaning against the driver side passenger door; his Kevlar sat on the hood of the HMMWV exposing his bald head. His armor is open and his weapon hung lazily on the mamba sling he uses, holding it at a vague ready position. Whether his eyes are open or closed, I can’t tell since the tint of his goggles block the light. Either way I have a feeling that they’d be apathetic in appearance.
“Yeah, yeah.” I shake my head and remove my GPS and map from my unused ammo pouch. I kneel down and lay out the map. I turn on the GPS, it states that the battery is lower. Yeah, I know, that’s why we’re lost. I mark the point the GPS reads and turn it off. Next I take out my compass and protractor to measure the angle at which we are off and then plot a new azimuth to get us to the destination. We aren’t that far off so the correction should be easy to follow. I tell our NCO as much.
He smiles and bangs on the driver’s door, “Can you keep us straight this time?”
The drivers window falls open with a thump, “As long as there ain’t any more storms.”
Having collected up my gear I made my way back to the vehicle, “Even with some minor derivation we should be able to see it with binos.”
“Right,” Our NCO grabs his Kevlar and plops it on, “Let’s be moving.”
The loud hum of the motor and makeshift AC makes it hard to talk without yelling. It isn’t much of a conversation, mostly just small talk and whatnot. That’s the problem with these types of missions; you are out for days with the same two or three people and you just run out of things to say. Our mission? I can’t say; it’s all classified. Like most things we do.
The day draws on and the sun begins to set. “We should be close.” I inform them as I check my GPS. “Damn, it’s dead.” I toss it into the empty seat next to me. “Fine, I’ll take a look.” I crawl out of my seat and into the middle of the vehicle. I reach above and open the gun top. Our NCO hands me the binos and I look out over the desert, “Go right,” I yell to the driver, “I can see some faint lights.” I steady myself against the hood as the driver makes a sharp turn. I squat and grab the M249, then sat on the belt seat so I can turn about in the turret better. For now, I scan the front for any misleading shadows or trash.
Surprisingly, there is nothing to hinder our advance. As we get closer we find that the tent village might be abandoned. The vehicle stops abruptly causing me to almost run my face into my weapon. Someone taps my leg, “Let’s have a look.” Our NCO says as he exits the vehicle. I push myself onto the hood and pick up my weapon before sliding off to the ground. The dim light of late twilight makes it hard to see clearly so we flip down our night vision goggles. The pale green light is always a bit disorienting at first.
There is no movement, no sounds but our own. Strange that. The two of us split off and check a few tents. The people seemed to have left in a hurry sometime ago. Great. The NCO waves me over, “Think they knew we were coming.” He whispers.
I shrug, “That or they were lead away by the cell.”
“Well,” The NCO opens the flap of the tent behind him, “There’s some food and water in here. Grab what you can carry and we’ll head back to camp.” I nod and proceed to “acquire” some water and grain bars.
That’s just the way things work out here. Not every mission succeeds, not all people are our enemies. But what can you do? Grab some water and food stuffs and keep moving, that’s what we do. It ain’t pretty sometimes, but it keeps you alive. And being alive is better than anything else.