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“What am I doing here?” Rick thought to himself.
Just yesterday morning he had gotten out of his warm bed. He had kissed his wife goodbye and told her that he would be home around lunch time. He had explained to her that, because it was the Christmas season, he only had to work a half-day schedule until
after New Years.
Now, eighteen short hours later, he and one hundred and nineteen other paratroopers are packed like sardines in a military airplane bound for Panama. He has a parachute strapped on his back and is loaded down with so much equipment that he can hardly breath. This equipment, however, is different from what he has trained with over the last three years. This equipment is real. The bullets are real and so is the mission.
“I can’t believe this is really happening” he whispers to himself, for about the millionth time. He doesn’t have to worry about anybody hearing him, though, for the whine of the aircraft’s engines has pushed each man on the airplane into his own mind. The men are squeezed so tightly together that there is no hope of movement. The only light in the aircraft comes from the soft red glow of the emergency lights overhead.
Rick has been sitting in the same position for over three hours. The weight of the backpack on his lap has cut off the circulation to his feet but there in no way to relieve that weight. He would like a drink of water but he can’t reach either canteen on his hips. The only thing he can do is go over the last eighteen hours in his head again.
It started off normal enough. He had gotten to his company and done the usual physical training. The rest of the morning, also, had gone as usual. At lunch time, however, things started to rapidly go crazy. He had returned from the chow hall expecting to be released for the rest of the day. Instead, he was hurried into the company breakroom, along with the rest of the artillery spotting teams, and told that they were being alerted for an emergency deployment. This was not an unusual occurrence. Many times in the past they had been alerted. This time, however, there was no misunderstanding the platoon sergeant when he asked if everyone had his will in order.
Right away, Rick decided that he really didn’t want to be on this mission, whatever it was. His mind flooded with all the complications that any mission entailed. The first was that he wouldn’t be home “around lunch time” as he had told his wife. This was not an unusual occurrence either. Too many times in the past he had been sent away with little or no warning. That was the nature of his job, yes, and he understood that. It was, however, getting very old very fast. Some men could put their careers and the Army before their families. Rick could not.
Danger was another complication that was becoming too familiar. Rick never considered himself a very lucky man. In his whole life he had never used Luck and Consistency in the same sentence. Yet, lately he had been pushing his luck in dangerous situations with great consistency. He had a feeling that Danger and Luck were dice he didn’t want to roll too many more times.
The next several hours where absorbed by the overwhelming task of trying to get twelve hundred men from a “standing start” to “fully ready for combat” in an unbelievably short amount of time. Reluctantly, and still not knowing what the mission was, Rick did his best to aid in accomplishing that task.
He went and got his rucksack out of his locker. It was already packed with the standard combat load. Company policy required it. He carried a portable (15 pounds) two-way radio in it. His job in the infantry was to call in artillery strikes when they got onto trouble. The men in his platoon trusted him to save them if ever the need should arise. He trusted they would do the same for him. It was a mutual understanding.
He then went and got his rifle from the arms room. He didn’t mind carrying it because it offered survival. He knew, however, that his true and most powerful weapon was the radio on his back.
After he had gotten his rifle he was called into another meeting. When he walked into the Commanders briefing room he instantly knew he would not be going home for many days to come, maybe never. There was a large map of Panama City on the wall with arrows, lines, and numbers drawn on it. The Commander told him that his platoon would be parachuting onto the Panamanian International Airport. There would probably be a lot of angry Panamanians on the ground to welcome them.
“I can’t believe this is really happening” he whispered to himself, for the first time.
He was still in denial, even after they gave him a full load of ammunition and a flak vest. Even after they feed him a steak dinner in the middle of an ice storm he didn’t believe they would really go through with this mission. He just wanted to go home to his wife. He wasn’t proud of the way he felt. He had been a soldier for so long and trained for this exact mission so often that he was ashamed for not being thrilled at the thought of actually doing it for real.
“Given a choice, what man wouldn’t choose going home to a nice safe living room over going to some god forsaken country to kill and possibly be killed?” he wondered to himself.
Then he was given that very choice.
It turned out that some high ranking, glory hungry, ticket punching officers wanted to take some of the limited parachutes. In order for this to happen some of the low ranking, ground pounding, dog-faced enlisted would be forced off the mission. This could be done in two ways. First, they could take volunteer or second, they could “pick” volunteers.
Rick started to raise his hand. Then he put it back down. He wanted so much, so very much, to just go home. But then he realized that he had to go on this mission. As much as he wanted to just walk away, he knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he did. He couldn’t let those men, who were counting on him, down. If they were going, he was going too.
A sudden jerk of the plane as it hit an air pocket brought him back to the present.
“I’m still thirsty, I can’t feel my feet, my head hurts and I don’t know if I’ll live to see the sun rise. Other than that, things are going pretty smooth on this flight,” he thinks to himself. The mass meditation on the plane is broken by word that the drop zone is “hot”, meaning that there is hostile gunfire on the ground at the airport.
“Great” he thinks, as he shakes his head in wonder.
“OK, the jokes over guys, real funny, ha ha, trying to make me believe that we’re really over Panama, right? Well, I’m not buying it. I know that we’ve been flying around in circles for four hours and that we’re really still over Fort Bragg” He forces on his mind.
Just then the side doors of the airplane are opened and the unmistakable roar of the wind outside fills an already loud cabin. Along with the roar of the wind comes a very disturbing rise in temperature as the sweltering atmosphere of Central America makes it’s presence known within the aircraft.
Reality comes crashing down on Rick’s heart and soul, cracks like an egg, and spills fear throughout his nerves. It’s a kind of fear that he has never known before. He struggles and barely wins a battle against uncontrolled shaking.
“My God, this is real” he admits for the first time.
“What am I doing here? I don’t want to do this. This can’t be happening.” he mumbles to himself.
“Rick, what’s wrong with you? Are you a chicken?” he hears another voice in his head say.
“No, I’m not a chicken: he answers “I can handle all of this just fine. I can handle getting shot. I can even handle getting killed. But what happens to my wife and unborn child if I do get killed? It is her I’m most afraid for. I’m scared, yes. Who isn’t? But I’ve come to realize that my concerns for my family are interfering with my concentration, which should be on this mission and my job”.
The order is given for the troops to stand up. Rick checks his equipment. He sets his eyes on the red light next to the door, knowing that when that light turns green there will be no turning back. Deep in his mind he hopes that it never turns green.
The wait seems like forever.
The light turns green.
A great stream of men starts flowing out the door.
“May God protect us all” he prays as he reaches the door.
“I can’t believe this is really happening” he thinks for the last time as he is sucked into the unknown.
To Be Continued….
This story is written in the omniscient point of view. The arthur (me) chose this point of view so that the reader would be able to know what was going on in the main characters mind as well as his actions. That is an important concern because the conflict of the story is an internal one and would be difficult to relate had I chosen a different point of view. The thoughts and feelings of the main character are more important than any other element of the story. This fact suggests that the arthur use a point of view that would best allow these thoughts and feelings to be presented. The omniscent point of view would seem to be the best choice.
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