Our patrol froze mid-step as the dreaded sound of a M-203 echoed through the woods around us. A grenade launcher attached to the bottom of a rifle, the M-203 has a very distinct thump sound, always followed by anxious silence as we wait to see where the impact hits. Immediately, our squad leader radioed the rest of our squad to stop firing until we could locate their exact positioning. We had intentionally split up but through the intense fighting, thick tree line and scattered villages we had lost their exact location. When the response crackled back through the radio “that’s not us – those are not our 203s,” our frozen position turned to quick maneuvers.
For the first time in three months, the enemy was launching grenades at us.
Happy birthday to me.
Me in Marjah, Afghanistan 2010
Running through the woods of Afghanistan while being shot at was completely surreal. The last time I was in this position, I was playing paintball in the woods back home. My only concern was grabbing the other team’s flag before they secured ours. Losing in that fight resulted in a bruise or two, I took that for granted at the time.
As we maneuvered out of the tree line and approached a compound on the outskirts of the next village, we encountered the family’s livestock. Two goats were tied up to the tree and chickens were strutting around pecking at the ground, hunting for food. As our movement slowed and footsteps became quieter, we could hear the dreaded thump of 203s continue. It very quickly became obvious where it landed.
Like a scene out of a movie, a grenade hit too close for comfort and vaporized one of the nearby chickens. At the time, I didn’t know if it was more funny or terrifying – but I was just thankful it wasn’t me or a fellow Marine. Just when I thought I had seen everything Afghanistan had to offer, I found myself comparing my life to a chicken.
The deadly game of cat and mouse lasted for over four hours. At one point, I vividly remember crawling through a field under flying enemy bullets with my weapon on my back, holding my barrel over my shoulder to keep it as clean as possible, thinking how strange it was that I may not make it to enjoy my first legal beer.
My team leader, Lance Corporal Charles Stringer preparing to step down into a canal. Wading through canals was a common and daily activity for us. It helped reduce our chances of stepping on a improvised explosive device.