“Hey, LT.” SSG Boondock’s rapid banter rose above the incessant prattling of four Iraqi women, upset at being shepherded out of their house in the desert orange dawn. “You’ll want to check this out.”
I left the terp Billy the Kid with the locals, and followed SSG Boondock’s lead around the corner of the house – a mud hut, really, only consisting of two small rooms that supposedly housed two military-aged males, one of the men’s mother, three younger women, and four children. We were operating in the farmland outskirts of Anu al-Verona, acting on a tip one of the local Sheiks had provided us about a new family in his area possibly housing insurgents. The information relayed to us had been flimsy at best, and that combined with the unabated exhaustion that comes after an all-night OP immediately transitions into a predawn raid, left the majority of the Gravediggers impatient, annoyed, and eager to get back to the combat outpost. All we had found of note thus far had been a litany of poorly-threaded blankets, some homemade herb the grandmother claimed helped the children with their many illnesses, and a torn Van Halen tee shirt that SPC Big Ern thought he had owned in 1987 when he sported a mullet and drove a pesticide truck for a living.
SGT Axel and PV2 Das Boot awaited our arrival on the backside of the mud hut. They stood next to a well, from which a water pipe emerged, connecting to the residence in question. Through the eyes of a green lieutenant, everything looked about as normal as an Iraqi hellhole can look. They didn’t exactly cover what happened next in ROTC, you know?
“Watch this, Sir,” SSG Boondock said, not breaking stride in his steps. He raised his arms at the center of the water pipe to grasp it, stood up on his tip toes, and tilted the pipe towards PV2 Das Boot. “Reach in there,” he instructed the young private.
The soldier did as he was told. “There’s hay in here, Sergeant,” he said.
A look of confusion crossed PV2 Das Boot’s face as he strained his reach further into the pipe. Confusion subsequently developed into bewilderment. He pulled out an elongated piece of metal, approximately eight inches long and three inches in diameter, that glinted alluringly in the arriving daylight. It shined with polish and showed no signs of rust or neglect.
SSG Boondock and I spoke concurrently. “Mother fuckers,” I said, while SSG Boondock said, perhaps just as eloquently but definitely more accurately, “a mother fucking bolt.”
The next half-hour passed as a blur. With the discovery of the rifle bolt, I unleashed my platoon’s rejuvenated energy and instinctive hunting skills upon the mud hut. The two men, who had already been separated, simply hung their heads in resignation when I showed them the metal piece. Billy the Kid laughed in their faces and told me that they knew better than to claim ignorance at this point. The rest of the family quietly stood off to the side and gathered around a homemade fire in a barrel as we ransacked – as gently as possible, I may add – through their personal belongings, unearthing a trigger assembly, five ammo magazines, and at least 100 7.62mm rounds in a carefully dug cubby hole found underneath a rug. CPL Spot unwrapped the mother-load that had been buried even deeper in the water pipe – a Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifle, carefully wrapped up in dishtowels and very recently cleaned. SFC Big Country’s brow was still furrowed, though, when I suggested that we were nearing the end of the search. “We’re still missing the stock,” he said, racking his mind for potential hiding spots we had overlooked.
“Damn it,” he continued, stalking over to the barrel where the family huddled around the fire for warmth. He shooed them away, and doused the flames with water from his Camelbak.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, walking up behind him.
He smirked, and reached a burly Midwestern paw into the barrel, pulling out a very charred but still recognizable homemade wooden rifle stock. I shook my head in disbelief, as Billy the Kid started grilling the grandmother. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“A mother’s instincts protecting her son?” I asked the terp, when he finished.
“Yes,” he answered. “Crazy female.”
I instructed the Gravediggers to start policing up the hut and blindfold the two detainees while I inventoried our bounty; SFC Big Country walked back to his Stryker to update Headquarters. As SSG Boondock and SGT Axel led the two men away, I snuck a glance towards the family left behind to clean up after our spontaneous foray. The grandmother stared stonily off in the distance, seemingly oblivious to her departing son, his friend, and the incurring Americans. Two of the younger women fought back tears, while the third walked back inside, nursing the youngest of the children. The other three children wept openly, and one of them tried to run after our detainees, before the women collectively scooped him up.
As we walked back to my Stryker, the sniper rifle and accessory parts in hand, I looked over at Billy the Kid. “I feel kind of bad, you know? These guys are probably just stooges, trying to make some money.” I nodded back at the women and the children. “I mean, it’s not like this is their fault. How are they going to support themselves now?”
He looked at me skeptically. “Do not feel bad, LT. They should not have bred with stupid mother fuckers.”
You don’t always have to use big words or utilize profound analogies to articulate a philosophical known.