From SGT Mark (now civilian):
It's pitch black in the back of those things. Pitch black and the noise from the engines is deafening. Packed in one on top of another, it was a very long ride. Though it was my first mission, first trip “outside the wire,” I wasn't scared. The first half an hour after we left Camp Spiecher my nerves settled. A coolness and a calm came over me. My breathing became shallow and my heart rate slowed. My mind completely focused, not a stray thought crossed. I felt what I imagine a cat feels as it crouches in tall grass just before it pounces.
Someone next to me yelled in my ear, “Six minutes!” A quick, tense sigh escaped my nostrils and my heart rate tripled the moment those words entered my inner ear. Instinctively I reached down, laid a belt of ammo across the feed tray of my M249 machine gun between my legs. The bird shook and banked hard and forced my stomach into my feet. Then came the three-minute warning and, a lifetime later, came the thirty seconds. The Chinook helicopter hit the ground with a thud. “Go, go, go!” In the noise and confusion, I grabbed myself up off the cargo net, turned and started running towards the ramp.
* * *
It was only fitting that today was overcast. The day I was to sign out of the Army and end my short career, only an overcast morning would do, as depressing as that sounds. Turned my truck into the 2nd BCT brigade area. After making several passes, I finally found a parking space within a reasonable walking distance of my battalion headquarters building. Pulled past and backed into the tiny parking space. (Don't get me starting on the parking situation around here.) After straightening out and resting the back tires on the curb, I shut the engine off and pulled the keys into my lap. I sighed and looked toward the building.
The commanders flag was posted on the flag pole out front of the Red Falcon headquarters. The dark blue flag with a large embroidered falcon flapping gently in the morning wind. With every flicker the metal clips which secured it to the pole tapped the steel pole. the steady clanking noise flowed with the breeze through my open windows. I sat there motionless, staring intensely. I slowly blinked and looked down at my cell phone. 0900. “It's time.,” I thought aloud.
My left hand reached across and grabbed the lever popping the door open. The sound of the door brought back that old familiar feeling. My heart rate jumped and I let loose a measured sigh. With the pause over as soon as it began, I pushed open the truck door and stepped down to the asphalt. After closing the door and pulling my beret across my head, I turned and started walking towards the building.
* * *
Most would think that both of those moments in my life could in no way be related. And yes, there is considerably less chance I will be shot or blown up leaving the Army to attend college. As crazy as it sounds, I was never really afraid of that when it was likely. Then, just as now, it's the unknown. Signing that piece of paper and taking off the uniform, I am shedding the persona of the sergeant stripes. No longer a double life. Using one life to hide myself from the other and vice versa. I can no longer disappear into the uniform. I can no longer share that weight with my brothers. It is only up to me whether I fail or succeed.
But, as usual, I am not afraid and will do what a paratrooper does. Always demonstrate nothing but confidence though I maybe nervous - and put one foot in front of the other in the direction I have to go. Though now it's the direction I want to go.