Did that just happen?

Have you ever experienced a singular moment?   A moment that seems to suddenly stop time, where you achieve some awareness you didn’t have before?

My moment came amidst one of my worst experiences.   This specific moment is one that I will never forget.

As a leader, I was very fortunate.   I had an awesome group of Soldiers under me.   We had every battle drill rehearsed.   Every situation we encountered had an immediate reaction.  When someone went down, someone else immediately stepped up.

This type of training and rehearsal is automatic.   It reduces stress.   It removes the thought process and chances for error, you become a single collective machine accomplishing a programmed function.   This is a pretty honest description of how I felt sometimes.   Truck 1 gets hit, equals truck 2 and 3 move up….establish security, evaluate casualties, report to higher, and so on….

On this night we got hit pretty bad.   All of my reactions were so automatic that I do not remember some of them even now.    Alot of things happened that night and I am still working on trying to put them into words, but I remember this one moment sooooo clearly that as I think of it now my body will physically react to my thoughts.

I was outside of my vehicle with the injured Soldier.   My driver was in charge of my vehicle and had assumed my responsibility of sending reports to higher.   The gunner had been on mission with us before, but was not our usual gunner.   My driver was preparing a SITREP and MEDEVAC request, he looked back out of the open door to ask me about the injuries.   I automatically replied with the Soldier’s name and extent of injury (lower leg amputation, priority medevac.)

<BOOM, slow motion> Every one of my immediate reactions and pre-rehearsed drills stop.   It is only an instant, but it seems much longer.   I had no problem telling the driver, but I think… “Did that just happen?  Did the gunner hear me?  What will their reaction be?  What did I do?”

I knew that I was one of only a few Soldiers on the ground.   Everyone else in the squad was still pulling security for us, requesting support, or some other activity.   Up until the moment I made that statement, only those Soldiers on the ground knew how bad his injuries were.   The gunner was pretty close to the Soldier who lost his leg.   To be honest, he was a great guy all around.   No matter how serious I was, or how shitty of a day I was having…he ALWAYS made me laugh or smile.    He never said “No” or “I cant.”   He was great, but the gunner and injured Soldier were pretty close.

At that moment everything stopped becoming programmed for me.   “Did they hear me?  Do they know?  How are they going to take it? What are they thinking?”   Holy shit!!!   Now, there were suddenly not only actions and reactions, but now there was a third or fourth dimensional effect to an event.   I could understand how I felt(push aside, worry later) but how did the other Soldiers feel?   Could they function?   Did I have secondary emotional casualties?   It would all be my fault.  What the hell will I do now?

<BOOM, time rushes back to normal>   continue mission…WTF?

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2 responses to “Did that just happen?

  • drwilden

    My clock first sped up, then after a few attacks it would slow way down, then after too many time would remain normal. then when i was cracking, time would drag, i would beg and plead in my mind for time to catch up to my mind and hands so we could just get out of it.

  • Michael Orban

    I am a Vietnam vet but was told I could hang out with you guys on this site.
    Bryan, your post elicits many thoughts. I was never able to put war/firefights
    in a context of time except night, day, first light, last light. Time was a dimension
    postponed. What you call a ‘singular moment’ I have come to call ‘significant
    moments’, events beyong the ordinary and mundane that shape my critical thinking.
    I can only share experiences. It seemed that every soldier was unique in emotions
    and responses. Some froze their first time in combat but never again, some responded
    aggresively, some were fine but needed to be given orders/commands during a firefight.
    Seems it also depended on time in-country, we became better/efficient/stealthy/experienced
    with time. Many things learned in battle were quickly adapted as traits to keep/disgard/refine
    or simply never do again.
    I try to think of myself as one under your command when you passed sitrep info to your driver.
    In my experience, hearing your message , I would not have been an emotional casualty, I would have
    thought, ‘This ain’t no fuckin joke, this is real”! and done my job. I can’t imagine being upset with you.
    I would also have thought more about the wounded soldier and the desperation to save him and get
    that medevac in. I guess I just don’t see where a soldier would be so self absorbed that he/she
    would find anything to hold against you. Do you think you were just a great sergeant thinking of
    your men/mission?

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