Army Soldier lost soul In Iraq

October 2nd, 2006 by CJ

I’ve been debating sharing this story here for a LONG time. Even when I sort of wrote about it when I shared my journal a few years ago, I glossed over this episode. I’ve been ignoring it for a long time publicly, while battling it daily privately.

I recently started back to school in a difficult step towards getting a degree. One of my assignments for my English class was to write about an event that shaped my life. Before I even finished reading the assignment, this story popped into my head. I don’t share it in an attempt to gain sympathy or cry for help. To me, it’s just therapy; one of the reasons I began this blog to begin with. I believe that war is an inhumane act. It forces people to become animals. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m a pacifist or that war isn’t necessary. On the contrary, it is unfortunately. However, I can’t help but feel like war took me a few steps back in an evolutionary sense. Survival tends to tap an instinct most of us suppress until called upon. The story I’m about to tell isn’t pretty. You won’t find a hero in this story. You won’t even find a noble soldier. You’ll find a human who was required to make a difficult decision…and made the wrong one.

army-soldier-lose-your-soulMarch 26, 2003: The day I lost my soul.

We had been fighting a very determined, though ill-trained, enemy. The smell of moisture mixed with dust and sand was in the air, forcing its way into our lungs. The blistering sound silence resonated into the core of our ears, it threatened to drive us mad. In the distance, the howl of a mangy dog sounded the attack. The silence was broken by the unmistakable whistling sound that precedes the thunderous boom of an artillery shell landing nearby. The concussion literally steals the very breath from your lungs. The air turned into the stale odor of explosives. The air seemed to thicken around us in a hail of bullets. The fight had only just begun. Before it was all over, I would abandon my personal values and lose my soul.

In the distance I could make out a flash. At first it appeared as if it could have been lightning. However, lightning does not whistle after it flashes, and it doesn’t get louder and closer. “INCOMING!!” I shouted. My team hit the ground. We covered our faces with our hands as if that would save us. At such a moment, one tries to minimize his presence and the fetal position seems to be the best way to hide. Katink, tink, tink….

The round is a dud and lands within several feet from our position. In the distance, I heard a loud boom and instantly the radios came to life.

Everyone was talking over everyone else trying to find out what had happened. A familiar voice finally waded through all the static and fuss and the commander told everyone to shut up. A few minutes earlier, we were told that a car slammed into one our tanks. Shortly after the loud boom, a blur moved past us just a few inches above our truck. It was followed by a whoosh and left a smoke cloud in its wake. It had come and gone before we even had a chance to react to the RPG being fired at us. The shooter was taken down. I was getting angry at all these close calls.

The occupants of the car arrived at my position. The loud boom I heard two minutes earlier was their car exploding in a huge ball of fire and debris. After it crashed into the tank it was pushed off to the side of road. It had failed to detonate when it crashed, but was obviously still armed. No one was hurt in the explosion.

Through the thick sand I could make out the three silhouettes moving towards us. One of the men was dressed in common Iraqi clothing – tan, baggy pants, a plain white t-shirt with a few splotches of blood on it, and some generic brown tennis shoes. The second man had been shot a few times. His upper, left shoulder looked like it had been hit twice and a trail of blood dripping down his right arm most likely hid the evidence of a third shot. He wore a tan, short sleeve, button-up shirt that was tarnished with sparkling red blood oozing from the bullet wounds. He wore a greasy mop of dark hair that appeared to have a mind of its own, collecting as much mud, blood, and dirt as possible. The last individual appeared to be the oldest and most in trouble. He was propped between the shoulders of the other two men, hunched over and barely able to keep his head up. As he approached us, his knobby knees, covered with tattered material from what used to be his jeans, buckled twice. His leathery face attempted an awkward smile as his defeated brown eyes met mine. Without saying a word, every expression called out for my help.

My training was very specific in times like this: I was to provide first aid to anyone that needed it. This old man needed it. His left hand was all but nonexistent. He had maybe two fingers left. The brilliant white bone what once connected fingers jutted out like quills of a porcupine. One of his bloody, mangled fingers simply hung from his hand, swinging from side to side freely with each movement. A skeletal pinky bone was all that remained of the last finger. It had been stripped of its meat and muscle. Someone had placed a tourniquet around his lower arm in an attempt to stem the bleeding. It wasn’t working. The stench of iron permeated my nasal cavities as we seated the bloodied men next to our truck.

We were still getting shot at and he kept asking for help. I asked him where the soldiers were coming from. They claimed to have no idea. I asked him why he rammed into one our tanks. Silence. Swooooosh…. Another near miss from an RPG, though not as close as the last one. My face turned red. My pulse quickened. My blood pressure shot up. I decided I didn’t care if this old man died right then and there. We stopped trying to stem the flow of blood and forced him to keep walking. For the first time in this war, I refused medical care to someone in need and I paid for that decision with my soul. The shell of my body returned to its position, unloading my weapon into the forest.

For the remainder of my time in Iraq, I thought about this one event. What became of that old man? Did he make it over the bridge behind us? Did I now have blood on my hands, both literally and metaphorically speaking? My parents always raised me to think of others before myself. My faith teaches me to love everyone, even those would rather see me mangled and lifeless. To this day, I think about that man and wonder…

(Courtesy of

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