I was sitting awkwardly in the passenger seat. Our truck didn’t have enough room for us to move around in and the Kevlar plates in my combat vest were poking my ribs. I couldn’t move much because the truck was already crammed with computers, radios, weapons and other gadgets. To make matters worse, the air conditioner wasn’t working properly and it was spewing stagnant air into my face from its sand imbued air vents. It’s like the truck was trying to smother me, occasionally sputtering sand into my mouth and face. Being over seven thousand two hundred feet above sea level didn’t help, but the truck restricted my breathing more than anything.
If only I switched seats with my gunner at that point. I thought he had the best seat in the truck. He sat in the turret with the wind blowing in his face, holding onto his weapon with one hand, chillin’. He was the most vulnerable, but at least he got to move around and be cool.
Who knew driving up and down the Kandahar-Ghazni Highway would be so boring at times? It allowed me too much time to think. Time to think about the immense heat, my leg falling asleep from the cramped space, what we were going to find and if we were going to be attacked. We were doing the same thing we did every mission, checking the Highway for IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device) and I was packed like a sardine in the canned sauna with four other soldiers.
The five of us would usually poke fun at one another, or talk about what we were going to do when we got back, but we were tired. We were tired of the monotony, unbearable heat, and restrictions that were being imposed on us. Uniformity was the rule for everything, “do as we say”, “follow our lead”, and “speak when spoken to”. Anyone who did otherwise would be in the spotlight.
After about a month of being in Afghanistan, we were ordered to not bring any cellphones, cameras or any other electronic devices. The leadership thought the devices would hinder us from being attentive. Someone got in trouble for posting sensitive information and pictures on social media. Thanks, Man! I tried to go on mission without it but I couldn’t do it, so I chose to not follow that order and bring my iPhone anyway.
It’s not like I had anyone checking up on me in the vehicle, I was in charge. All I had to do when there wasn’t any action was pay attention to my surroundings, the radio, my soldiers (which were already in the truck with me) and the navigation on the computer screen. I needed something to help keep me awake on missions that would sometimes take days to complete. The constant anticipation of something happening was overwhelming and the cure was listening to the sounds of Nas, AC/DC and Daft Punk, to name a few. Music helped me maintain my vigilance. I was able to be more alert and it eased the anxiety and tensions of war I had within.
On our way north that day we received information from military analysts about suspicious activity taking place on a farm near a village. That was something we weren’t used to. Most of the time we drove north, then back south or vice versa and called it a day. Change of plans! We were to drive into an unknown village. That had an unknown amount of inhabitants. For unknown reasons, other than “suspicious activity.” Even though it was out of the norm to go off road and into a random village, I was confident and prepared. At least that’s what Nas’ song “You’re da Man” was portraying to me.
Our massive trucks barely fit the small dirt road in the village. The houses were made out of mud, and there were people hanging outside of them looking at the cold colossal contraptions we were driving. Being the last truck to go through the village put me at the edge of my uncomfortable seat, causing my knees to hit the computer screen. I had scenes from other war movies taking place in my mind. What if we get stuck behind, what if the people start attacking, what if we get blown up?
I had to think positive, but at the same time I had to prepare myself mentally for anything to happen. Some of the younger Afghan men would wave, but most of them stood there with their arms folded behind their back, eerily looking at us without moving. The village elders and older men would glare at us with colored beards, or maybe they were scared and didn’t know how to react.
None of the other vehicles were making any human contact, so we followed suit with their robotic approach through the village. While passing the men, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking and if they were possibly concocting some devise to attack us. I told my gunner to keep an eye on them, just in case. They could have been part of the suspicious activity for all I knew. My gunner acknowledged and moved his turret to the side a bit. That’s when we saw a group of girls.
They were the only females my truck encountered and quite possibly the only ones that were out that day. They looked extremely innocent and I wasn’t sure if the oldest one was a big sister, a mother or a cousin but she was guarding the younger girls. She was holding onto their hands and from her body actions it appeared she was telling them not to stray away from her. I watched them stand barefoot, looking at us in awe while we drove by. I don’t know what it was about the females, but they didn’t worry me. I know they could’ve just as easily strapped themselves with suicide bombs, but I sensed fear in their eyes more than anything.
The rest of the convoy made its way through the village, except us. We were at a halt in between the last two houses. There was a group of six young boys standing near the side of the road by tall grass. They were hesitant to make contact with anyone. It seemed as if they wanted something, but no other vehicles paid them any mind, which made me cautious as well. I wondered what their young minds were possibly trying to make of the situation. If they were thinking about what was going on, who we were and what the gigantic machines were doing in their home. Then again, I thought that moment could be the end of us. What if these kids had bombs strapped to their chest and would run into the vehicle, or if the other guys would ambush us with rocket propelled grenades?
My heart was beating fast, but I don’t know if it was from my frustration of not having enough room to stretch, the heat and the stagnant air blowing in my face or if I was getting agitated from the anticipation I was building in my head of a battle scene. It didn’t look like we would be moving anytime soon, and the kids were standing right by the truck. I didn’t know what they wanted or if something was going to happen.
“Hey Patterson, do you see anything weird about these kids?” I asked my gunner.
“No, they look like normal kids.”
“What about the people in the village?”
“They’re going about their business, the girls went back inside. I don’t see anything strange from up here. Why?”
“I’m getting annoyed not being able to do anything in the truck and I gotta do something.” My leg was making me squirm from those tingly sensations it gets when it falls asleep. It didn’t even hurt anymore and I felt delirious at that point.
“Wanna stretch out a bit? I got you covered.”
He must have seen me uncontrollably fidgeting when he said that. I rushed to open the door, unlatching the lock and pushing the heavy door with all my strength. As soon as I heaved the door open, I was blasted in the face by a gust of fresh air. I took a deep breath and inhaled the clean oxygen that found its way into the vehicle. My lungs felt like they had just been infused with some minty fresh coolness, but the sight I was witnessing was possibly more refreshing than the breeze. Patterson was throwing down extra food supplies from the truck, causing the kids to jump up and down with joy. The air that instantly filled their lungs escaped with laughter.
The commotion must have woken up Williams and Ward. I heard the confused gorilla noises they always made throughout the deployment from the back of the truck, followed by the door behind me flying open. They started making faces and hollering noises at the boys, then threw some of the candy they received from their care packages out of the door. The boys jumped and laughed seeing the friendly life forms in the giant machine that cast an even bigger shadow. The fear or worries any of them had, evaporated when they felt the vibrancy we emitted.
We were stuck in a droning way of being; closed off, cold, and stagnant because we didn’t want to do anything wrong or deviate off the monotonous path we were on. With that event we broke out of the robotic stasis. Opening the door was like opening my heart. It allowed us to have human-to-human contact and express ourselves in an amiable manner regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or any other social barriers. These kids were ecstatic about the simple and necessary things of life. Simple caring, loving human interaction during war can create an immense sense of joy in people’s hearts. Maybe that’s what’s necessary in life in general.
About the Author,
The various roles Raymond Collazo played in his life full of escapades have provided him with a great deal of knowledge. Each role; from soldier to student and traveler to entrepreneur, has taught him more than he expected. With the wisdom he accumulated from these experiences, a burning desire to assist humanity was invigorated within. Ray has deep passions for music, poetry, storytelling and film. With his writings he hopes to inspire others unravel mysteries of the universe, create change in a flawed government system and live in harmony.