Hawija, Iraq, June 2004.Clack! Clack! Clack!
Bullets whizzed by. Every-one ran for cover. The gunfire had come out of nowhere. I ducked behind a concrete wall and looked for the rest of my unit. They were more than 45 feet away, too far for me to get to.
“Hold position!” my sergeant yelled over the gunfire.
We were in a bad spot. We needed backup and couldn’t move until another unit got to us.
I took a deep breath and reloaded my gun.
The ground exploded, shrapnel blasting through the air. Pain seared through my side. I was flat on my back. Was I hit? Breathing fast, I ripped open my body armor and stuck my hand inside. When I pulled it out, it was covered in blood.
I lay there, helpless and alone, as bullets ricocheted around me. Rockets shrieked overhead. I clenched my teeth, bracing against the pain. My breaths came in ragged gasps. Suddenly, there were hands on me, dragging me. One of my fellow soldiers had managed to get to me. He pulled me to a spot with more cover and yelled for a medic.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Evans,” he said. “We’ve got you.” His words came to me through a fog. I fought to keep my eyes open. I struggled to breathe. The medic applied pressure to my side to stop the bleeding. “You have to stay awake,” he said. Still, I felt myself drifting. “Stay with us, Evans.”
Everything went black.
I woke up in another place. It felt as if I were underwater, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Everything was cool. There was no pain. I felt weightless, drifting through this space, so different from the hot, dry Iraqi desert. Where am I? I looked up. Light rippled down, refracted beams from the surface reaching past me. Though I didn’t know what was beyond it, I was overcome with the urge to reach it. I kicked my legs and paddled with my arms. I floated up with ease, as if propelled by an unseen force.
I was not afraid. In fact, I felt more at peace than I ever had before. My life leading up to my military career had been hard. My parents were addicts. My father was abusive; my mother, neglectful. I’d fought against the odds to avoid ending up like them. I struggled to pass my classes in high school and to drown out the criticism from peers—that I was too dumb to make a career in the military. Right out of high school, I’d completed basic training and gotten my orders for a one-year tour in Iraq. I felt meant for the job. Combat was nothing new; I’d been fighting my whole life.
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