When they woke up this fateful morning they were just a bunch of soldiers about to go on a routine patrol. The same thing they did yesterday and the day before and almost everyday for months. The expectation of something happening had faded away long ago. They were not complacent in any way, after all, it was Afghanistan and they were at war but none of them had fired a shot or seen any action in a long while. This was a good thing. So they dutifully patrolled day in and day out enduring the desert heat, the dust, and the parched air. Although they keep keen eyes surveying the land as they rode along in the armored HMMWV (Humvee) their thoughts were of home and family and getting back to them when their deployment was over, which was very soon.
The Humvee left a thick trail of dust as it sped along on the barren sandy road that led away from base camp. The sound of the well tuned engine was accompanied by all terrain tires digging into the layer of desert sand that lay atop the dirt road. Suddenly, there was no sound at all. The horizon rolled down and to the left then disappeared in a cloud of dust and debris. Images of loved ones from back home were vivid in their mind’s eyes. The soldiers were assaulted by loose gear bouncing around in the vehicle. The sound of nothing had quickly change to intense ringing. Ringing so loud that they could not hear anything else. An Improvised Explosive Device had detonated beneath the vehicle as they passed over it. Instinctively, each man ran through a bodily inventory in their head checking for damage. Only minor bumps, bruises, and superficial cuts. They struggled to dig out from beneath the gear. The vehicle lay on its side and both front and rear windows were still intact so they had to climb up and out of the driver side windows, which fortunately were rolled down, because the doors were crumpled and jammed shut.
The men quickly armed themselves and secured the area the best they could while one of them radioed for help. No insurgents seemed to be in the area. Reinforcements on the way. The tension was still high and would remain so until help arrived from base. Looking at the toppled vehicle that could have easily been their tomb, the men were reassured that they were part of the greatest army the world had ever seen. The under armor was severely dented. Metal was twisted and torn. The front wheels pointed in opposite directions and fluids leaked from everywhere. A Humvee died so that men could live.
These brave troops will not die on foreign soil the victims of terrorists who plant bombs on the side of roads in the dark of night. They will be reunited with their loved ones. Some of them will return to battle time and time again answering the call of duty to protect and serve their country. They are American Heroes!
The water ran cold and swift on the south fork of the American River. Snow run-off from the Sierra Nevada Mountains made icy rapids that taunted us at the river’s edge. On a bright Saturday morning the river teamed with kayaks and rafts and was lined with spectators clinging to the rocks. People waded in calm pools along the river’s length and pelted their enemies with torrents of water squirted from toy guns. Photographers, perched high on the rocky banks, captured the battles between rafter and river on film to be sold to the survivors.
As we carried the raft above our heads to the water’s edge I felt a curious sensation in the pit of my stomach. This was not my first trip on the white waters but for some reason that I couldn’t explain this time was different. There were eight of us in my raft including the guide, a robust young woman who in the off season worked as a rescue diver. I was hoping none of us would need her off season skills on this venture. I couldn’t help, though, reflecting on the waiver of liability for accidental death that the rafting company made us sign before departure, along with our sandwich choice for the mid-trip lunch they provide.
Having defeated rapid after rapid with such colorful names as “Hospital Bar” and “Barking Dog” there were only two left until total victory but they were near the end of the trip and we enjoyed calm waters for a while until then. The water was calm, the rafters were not. This was the time for war on the river. Water cannons of every size and configuration appeared and unleashed their fury. Arcs of water crisscrossed the sky in all directions. One boat even fired pre-loaded water balloons (How did they survive the rapids?). No one was safe. It was blissful chaos with every boat being its own navy attacking whomever was in range. And who knew the handle of an oar made a perfect grappling hook to snatch an opponent out of his battle ship by the straps of his life vest? I learned quickly not to squirt an experienced guide in the face (they generally leave the water play to the paying customers), and then turn your back on him. He hooked me like a trout and pulled me right off my raft before I knew what happened. Down but not out, I was rescued by my crew to fight again.
With the war over it was time to face the last of the rapids. I sat at the rear of the raft with the guide on my right. Because these last two rapids were small by comparison she decided to “swim” this one. I wasn’t sure what that meant until she leaned back and slipped out of the raft like a SCUBA diver. Unfortunately I was not prepared for the sudden increase in buoyancy on her side of the raft that made my side dip down and expel me backward into the water. When I realized what had happened I was upside down under water and out of breath. Without her guidance the raft veered left with the current and slammed into a boulder that breached the water’s surface. My watery world moved in slow motion. Stay calm. Think. Somehow I managed to right myself but I still had only a normal lung full of air not the deep breath you would take before plunging into the water. And before my life jacket could perform its duty I was also pinned to the boulder by the current with a raft full of people above me. I could see the surface which looked within reach and yet unreachable. I pawed my way across the bottom of the raft until I reached the edge and popped up above the water. The next thing I knew I was back inside the raft. A fellow crewman had hoisted me aboard much to my relief. I didn’t notice that I had lost my paddle until someone from the raft behind ours tossed it to me as they passed by laughing. The ordeal lasted only seconds but had it been any longer I would have started to see my life flash before me.