The crisp fall breeze cut across my face like ice. This night was turning out to be a no different from the past twenty or thirty that I had spent in the field. Little was it known that while the day would end the same, tomorrow when the sun rose in the sky, I would look back and realize that overnight my life had changed.
The sun had not fully set in the western sky, but the moon made its presence known nonetheless. The sky had turned into a palette of tangerine, yellow, and deep reds that seemed to float above the tree line and created a wonderful masterpiece of fall colors. I stood there in admiration of the beauty before my eyes only to be jerked suddenly back to reality by a familiar voice I had grown to loathe.
“What are you looking at, soldier?! You getting all tender on me? ” The familiar voice of the Sergeant echoed through the night air for everyone to hear.
“No, Sergeant!” Simple and short was the way the Sergeant the liked it, no need for an explanation unless you were asked. Even then, a simple answer was expected. With that quick answer, I was on my way back to the rest of the platoon. I knew it was not good to stand around and give the Sergeant a reason to grill me further.
As the platoon made their way down the dimly lit dirt road, it was obvious that the day’s activities had taken a toll on everyone, including myself. Every stone on the road could be felt through my boots. Crisp fall wind cut through my clothes; only the ceramic plate in my flak vest provided a little warmth and protection from the evening air. The helmet I wore made my head feel as if it weighed three times as heavy. I tightened the pack on my back and adjusted the strap on my shoulder and continued on, despite the fact that I was exhausted and sore.
I had lost track of time as we made our way into the dark of the night. The moon gave little light in the darkness of that fall night and I watched as soldiers in front of me slowly disappeared into darkness. The haunting silhouette of barren trees cast shadows across the diminishing road. All was quiet. Not even the crickets sang their familiar tunes, only the sound of my own breath. Lost in the night, or so I had thought, but I was sure someone knew where we were heading.
I had just made my way to the trench that had been dug days before, when I was greeted with a familiar sound. A low whistle, a sound I had heard before, grew ever louder in the stillness of night. This was not a welcoming sound, in fact, quite the opposite. As the whistle became louder, I knew what was about to happen.
“Incoming!” someone shouted. Before the word could even be finished, my face was in the muddy dirt of the trench. With my heart pounding hard against my vest, I covered my head. The explosion was a good distance away, but that did not matter. Adrenaline was high and everyone was preparing for the worst.
That familiar voice once again echoed through the night “Let’s move out, soldiers! Over that wall! Move! Move! Move!”
One by one my fellow soldiers and I went over the wall. Not much could be seen in the dark, only the occasional glimpse of the sky as I crawled across the ground. The sound of gun fire and explosions dominated the once tranquil night air. The smell of exploded mortars took over my nostrils and burned with every breath. Through watery sand pits, barbwire traps, and over barricade walls, I followed my fellow soldiers into the unknown. As I made my way into the center of the field, I had to turn over onto my back in order to crawl underneath barbwire netting. Looking up into the clear sky, I caught a glimpse of bullet trails. For a brief moment they looked like shooting stars flying overhead. My thought was interrupted by a nearby explosion that shook me to the very core. The shockwave hit so hard I thought my heart had skipped a beat, which it probably did. Not much was on my mind at that time, only one thought. Make it to the other side.
I could hear the voice of my Sergeant in the back of my mind, “Move!” So I did just that. I crawled as fast as I could towards the other end of the field. Once I reached the other side I was greeted by other soldiers who had made it there before me. They pulled me over a wall and down to safety. My forearms and knees were bloodied from the field, but I couldn’t feel the sting as bandages were wrapped around them.
Still full of adrenaline, I went back to the top of the wall and looked back out over the field. Fire and explosions that shook the very ground filled my senses like watching a scene out of an action movie. A few men still lingered in the field, slowly making their way towards us. I jumped back into the fray and pulled one or two of my fellow soldiers across to the threshold of safety.
Everyone was accounted for and we pressed on with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Later that night, as I stood in front of my Sergeant, I reflected back to the events of the field. As he gave his speech about determination and teamwork, I realized everything they had taught, everything they had drilled into my mind, was right. I learned a lot that night, a few hours that taught me a lesson I would carry for a lifetime: No matter the obstacles, no matter the dangers, I can do anything if I have the determination and drive to finish.