You and your enemy share a goal; each has the ethos and equipment to kill the other.
There’s nothing hypothetical about a firefight; or the combined war high/ brain fry that accompanies it.
A firefight is personal in the extreme, an intimate hate exchange; it stretches you beyond your known limits in unimaginable ways… blunt and toxic ways best left unspoken or dwelled on.
Your adrenaline is tuned to max; shifting your body into hyper-drive, narrowing your psyche to a focused consciousness. Fortunately, last night, my instincts held their edge. I could hear myself screaming, “Anyone hit?” over and over, as I fired my weapon. Certain parts of the experience are the same for everyone, every time; beginning as controlled chaos. Though ineffable, it’s what I imagine an infusion of LSD must be like; all senses heighten, there’s a numb awareness of supposed, exaggerated physical capability, hearts mimic trip-hammers and every reaction is an instinctive response born in training and proven by experience. Strangely enough, a huge degree of selfishness is shed; direct and peripheral attention is concerned with where your Platoon Leader is and where your Marines need you to be.
Some aspects of a battle seem to move in slow motion, while 5 feet away, things seem faster than a rapid blur. I always feel as though my head will twist off as I try to track and assess all the elements. Minutes feel like hours before a “system” kicks in; defined, multi-purposed, fully functional and obsessive (despite the deafening confusion). What I call my “system” is a slightly surreal syllabus; it is my simultaneous interpretation of where I am, where medical attention is needed and who do I have to kill to get there. I try to synthesize fear into action, to become a concentrate of myself, almost subconsciously conserving energy until absolutely required…that energy comes in short spasms and is dissipated quickly, diminished by the heat, the strobe of the fight and confused thought.
No one has time to deliberate; analysis paralysis or superfluous thinking gets you dead, “tagged, bagged and flagged” in a hurry. I can hear an agonized “Doc!” even over all the noise. I drop approximately 50 pounds of excess equipment (everything but medical supplies, ammo, pistol, K-bar knife and M16) and MOVE.
The firefight is not really over till hours after you have returned to the relative safety of your base. The residual fear continues to stalk you; realization and regrets remain. Any losses are lamented and anger…almost palpable anger…ebbs and flows, incited by memory. Your personality type, your degree of character and your level of experience are the factors dictating how you react and how long and deeply those reactions will impact you. You learn and create coping mechanisms and comfort zones. The Marine Corps training is Machiavellian; your enemy is not a subject, he/she is an object. You work yourself toward “normal”, but in this war, there isn’t any “normal.” Once you’ve been “in-country” for a while, you realize that there are only two ways home. Once you have clenched that reality between your right and left brain; you can start preparing yourself for the next patrol, the next operation, the next test.
You slowly begin to realize that you are not the same person you were before you got here; you become lesser and lesser to a greater and greater degree, the original “you” no longer exists and will never fully exist again. I’ve been told that sometimes what’s left of your self isn’t worth keeping. Marines and their Corpsman do a 13 month tour. I’ll have to wait to find out which of what I’ve been told is true.
Excerpt from The Bac Si. transcribed ©2021 Ted E.F. Roberts
Tentative release date, January 2023
U. North Texas Press