Monday, January 09, 2012
The loneliness of the support gunner
My sniper and I are crouched in the tall grass in a field overlooking an antenna site. We have an excellent vantage point from which to observe the comings and goings of troops in enemy-controlled territory. The sniper is an expert. Slowly, methodically, he picks off one Russian soldier after another. It is a beautiful sight. I feel blessed to be here, in this moment, in the sun-dappled splendor of these Central Asian hills. I am moved. It is not enough to witness this moment -- I must become a part of it.
Here's your ammo! I cry, hurling a crate of ammo next to my sniper.
He has stood up and is running away. The dull metal crate sits in the grass, unloved, never to know the warm touch of a restocking sniper.
I sprint after him. Wait! Wait! Got your ammo!
My energy is flagging and he is disappearing over a rise. I wonder: Had he even known I was there? Had I imagined our moment of shared transcendence?
And I wonder: Will no one take my ammo?
We are riding in an LAV through the streets of Paris. Through a small window, I see little but gray stone buildings passing by, sometimes only feet away. Judging by the thump-thump-thump of our machine gun above my head, we are eliminating hostiles with precision and efficiency. Our driver deftly navigates the narrow streets, as though he is driving a sports car rather than a truck loaded down with infantry and armor.
I am holding an ammo crate in my lap, drumming my fingers to the rhythm of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."
We have captured an overpass that command has assured us is of utmost strategic importance. We have faced little resistance. We are moving on. There is a city square up ahead. Our leaders tell us that the fate of the entire battle may hinge on control of this square. Our gunner keeps firing. Our driver keeps rolling.
Soon, I am sure, we will stop, and someone will need ammo.
Someone must need ammo.
Before the war, this marketplace must have been the place to be in Tehran. I can picture families strolling through the bazaar, politely shrugging off entreaties from enthusiastic salesmen. I imagine young men buying fancy baubles for their dates. I can almost smell the roasting lamb from a nearby kebab stand. You could spend a whole day here and not see it all.
No longer. This is nothing more than a meat grinder into which dozens of young men are being thrown with a terrifying fervor. No sooner has a squadmate been been cut down than another arrives to take his place. You stop even trying to tell them apart after awhile.
I am lying prone in an alleyway, sweeping the optical sight of my M249 across the narrow opening to a nearby plaza. Behind me I hear a more lusty firefight, but I have chosen to defend our rear flank, which, to my mind, is pitifully exposed.
Now and then an enemy straggler stumbles into my line of fire. I let loose a volley of suppressing fire. They are not killed. Nor do they return.
I toss a bountiful ammo crate into the empty alley next to me. No one is there to reap its fruits.
Our company is huddled in the concourse of a Metro station, beset on four sides by encroaching enemy fighters. This is, at last, war at its most senseless. What possible strategic importance could this subway stop have for us? This isn't a battle -- it's mass murder. I can hardly hear myself screaming over the gunfire and the grenade blasts. But scream I do.
Got your ammo!
My comrades receive my ammo as manna. I have barely turned back to the fighting than the box is stripped and its contents depleted. It is no concern. I am prepared.
Again they throw themselves onto my supply crate, gorging like starving men who have discovered a freshly killed boar. Again they turn toward our enemies, weapons laden with deadly cargo, and relieve themselves of their payload without sense or reason. Again their triggers click dry, and again they return to me. Again am ready.
Shoot! Shoot, my brothers, shoot! Empty your weapons and feast upon my ammo! May the fighting never end!