Eagle Down - Prescott College

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1 Winner of Alligator Junipers James and Judith Walsh Award in Creative Nonfiction! Eagle Down by Jason Inman Im alive, and Im screaming. My right arm is on fire and wont move. My chest is burning. My hands are numb. I cant see anything. Powdered glass has gotten into my mouth. I think Paul and Brendan are both screaming, but I cant tell. I can only hear myself. I can taste blood, hot and metallic. I can smell flesh on fire. ... Its May 8th, 2007. Home is a small compound in the center of Al Hillah, Iraq. Were right along the Euphrates, where we often watch people wash their livestock, children, cars, or selves in the river. Any day of the week, you can see someone taking a shit ten meters upstream of someone gathering drinking water. Were surrounded by concrete walls, courtesy of the bastards at Kellogg, Brown, & Root. Almost everything in our compound but the three main buildings themselves, those poorly constructed brick and plaster jobs, comes from KBR, a company owned by Halliburton, and its hard not to imagine Dick Cheney grinning like the devil whenever you see a KBR stencil. We came to Hillah a few months ago and took over a previous units task out here training the local Iraqi SWAT team, supporting six US detachments across South Central Iraq, and chipping away at our High Value Target list. Were responsible for operations in Hillah, Iskandariya, Najaf, Diwaniyah, and Al Kut. We spend a lot of time running the roads, day and night. Youve never really lived until youve driven a 13,000-pound truck bristling like a porcupine from hell with automatic weapons across the Iraqi desert at three a.m., with nothing but a night-vision monocle to guide you. Our company commander Major Neil calls us into the Operations Center to let us know he needs to get some face-time with a local Shiite cleric working at Al Mustaqbal University just a few kilometers away from us. So we load up in our three armored trucks and roll out. Its a brief meeting, mostly for show, but in passing, the Major tells the dude well be heading the twenty or so kilometers northwest to Iskandariya the next day to meet with our Iraqi Army counterparts. None of us realize it, but the cleric is playing us. His duplicitous machinations grow behind his dull brown eyes and artificial smile as he nods and wrings his hands. We return to our compound an hour or two later, and complete the usual evening business of briefings and gear prep for the next morning with a few hours to spare. A few guys climb onto the flat rooftop of the aging brick building in the center of our compound to provide security. They make small talk as their eyes scan the horizon from behind a high perimeter of sandbags topped with automatic weapons. Several others go to the makeshift gym or to their quarters to kill time before bed.

2 Ten kilometers away, under the cover of darkness, a hole is being dug. Nothing too big. Just a foot deep and about three feet wide. The sound of shovels penetrating the ground and extracting their burden breaks the silence along the roadside. Nameless faces converge over the hole while hands gently lower their creation into it with the affection of pallbearers. The hole is filled with dirt solemnly yet quickly. With the moon still below the horizon, the freshly turned soil is indistinguishable from the surrounding earth. ... Its May 9th. The muezzin is calling adhan over loudspeakers to the East. Were up early, checking the three trucks well be rolling in. Our trucks are heavily modified M1114 Humvees. The windshields and windows are thick, bulletproof glass panels sandwiched between steel plates. The doors are reinforced with steel, each one weighing in at around 600 pounds. Mounted on top of each truck is a Browning M2 machine gun housed within a swiveling turret of bulletproof glass and steel. The rear of each truck has been armor-plated as well, and a second, smaller machine gun is mounted on a swivel for our rear gunners. Our inspections are almost ritualistic with dipsticks withdrawn and examined in silent reverence, belts and hoses caressed like relics, and ammunition handled with such care that one might mistake the cartridges for communion wafers. The Companys Sergeant Major, Brad, is rolling with us today. He reviews the route with us as we finish fueling up, and we receive his benediction, climbing into our trucks and turning them over. Lead vehicle roll call: Paul on the rear gun, Brendan on the M2, Brad sitting in the rear passenger seat on our navigation system. Me, Im driving. Two trucks will follow us, with Major Neil riding shotgun in the middle, being driven by Brian. Harry, our medic, rides passenger in the rear vehicle, and the rest of the roll call is muted background noise as I rev the engine and change the frequency on our radio. I love this rig almost as much as I love my newborn son, Logan. Having a son is half the reason Im willing to drive in front: Ive sired. Somehow, by my reckoning, this justifies being in the most dangerous part of a convoy. Its all very Spartan. If anything happens to me, life will go on. Id rather it did. Id rather something happen to me than to anyone else here. As our Iraqi guards open the gate and usher us out into the cacophony and chaos that is Hillah, we call our departure over the radio for points northwest. I turn our signal-jamming gear on, briefly contemplating the effect that that much electromagnetic energy might have on our brains, but quickly dismiss the thought as I steer to avoid a Toyota Hilux thats stopped on the shoulder. As we turn east onto a small highway, I dig my iPod out of one of the dozen or so pouches on my body armor and pop in an earbud. The highway is practically deserted, but within a few minutes, I start tailgating a gray Opel Ascona until the driver checks his rear-view mirror. I can see him practically jump out of his seat, and he veers off onto the shoulder with his hands raised. Were cruising at around 50 kilometers an hour out here, scanning the sides of the road for trash that might conceal a roadside bomb. Its an exercise in futility since both shoulders are rife with litter this close to town.

3 The road winds to the north, and the trash on the road diminishes as neighborhoods give way to fields of grain. A few people are working the land, their backs turned to us as we pass by. A Datsun Vanette pulls out in front of us from the west, driving rapidly ahead to avoid being harassed by us as we continue heading for Iskan. The Vanettes passenger looks back over his shoulder, then down at his cell phone. Once hes out of the range of our signal jammers, he makes a phone call. Under a small mound of earth a few hundred feet in front of us, a small infrared sensor kicks on. Im tearing up the Iraqi pavement at 55 kilometers an hour, listening to System of a Down crank out The kombucha mushroom people, sitting around all day! Paul is looking off to his right, scanning the fields. Who can believe you, who can believe you? Brendan is resting in a sling that supports his weight as he stands in the turret, looking ahead of us, watching the Datsun disappear over the horizon. Let your mother pray! Brad looks down at the navigation gear, scanning for the blue icons that represent other friendly units in the area. Sugar! Everything goes red and white and I cant see I scream what the fuck and Brendan and Paul are both screaming and it hurts everywhere and Im slapping at myself to put the fire out but its molten copper and its everywhere Someone yells Brad but I know hes already dead because I cant hear him screaming and I know Im still driving but I cant see anything and I cant move my right arm but I try to steer and stop the Humvee when Paul yells Brad is hit Brad is hit and the smell Oh God the smell is like burning greasy chicken and iron and blood and Brendan yells Im hit and I say me too bro and I pull the Humvee over and put it in park and turn it off and switch off the signal-jamming gear . . . Eagle down! Call Stack, Call in a 9-line, Eagle down! Im screaming into the handset, but judging by the silence that follows, the others havent turned their jammers off. My call goes unanswered for an eternity. As the white dust begins to dissipate, I see that were all hit. Theres molten copper embedded in my shoulder, face, and arm. Its all over my body armor. A thick wad of it skipped off my sunglasses, leaving a scar across the lens. Brendan is sagging in his seat, his left leg covered in blood. Hes got over two dozen chunks of glass and metal embedded in his thighs, all of which managed to miss his arteries. Paul has blood on his face, but its not his. Hes trembling and clutching a pressure dressing, his eyes rolling in fear as he motions towards Brad. Brad is slumped forward in his seat, his face and neck a ruin from the thick copper plate used to penetrate our vehicles armor. The chatter on the radio finally begins, frantic and rapidthe others are waiting for a follow-on attack. Nothing happens. The two vehicles behind mine maneuver to provide support in case of an ambush, but no one comes. The roads are deserted save for our convoy. I push the door open and get out of my truck. Harry and the Major are both moving towards us. I point at Brads door and bring my rifle up, scanning the field for movement. Within a matter of minutes, Brendan has been bandaged. Paul has only suffered a concussion from the blast. Brad is dead. The Major covers him in a poncho, and I regard it like its the Shroud of Turin.

4 A medical evacuation helicopter descends minutes later, scattering the soil in all directions under the rotor wash, and though I can barely move my right arm, I find the strength to pull Brad out of my truck with Brians help. Hes heavier than I thought, especially with his body armor on. We put him on a litter and bear him across the road to the helicopter. Harry, looking wild and exhausted, tells Brendan and me to take the flight with him. We climb into the Black Hawk, stowing Brads body with care, and the flight medics begin attending to our wounds. Were borne away like warriors being carried by the Valkyries to Valhalla. As we gain altitude and begin our flight to the north, I look down at my hands. Theyre covered in Brads blood. I try to wipe the blood off, but its thick, coagulated, sticky. My heart races. I cant wipe the blood off. Its drying on my pants, my hands, my chest. A chill travels down my spine, and somewhere deep within myself, Im screaming. I scream to the gods for justice. To take me instead of him. To show a modicum of interest in the suffering of the living. To erase this entire country from the earth. To make the pain go away. No reply. All I can hear is the constant whop-whop-whop of the rotor blades against the Iraqi sky. _________________________________________ Jason Inman is a BA student in Human Development & Psychology at Prescott College. Eagle Down will appear in Alligator Juniper XX this spring. This essay is his first to be accepted for publication in a national journal. _________________________________________ A note from Debra Marquart, the judge for the James and Judith Walsh Award in Creative Nonfiction: Jason Inmans Eagle Down, honors us with its retelling. By narrating this story of war in such vivid and indelible detail, the author invites the reader to share and assist in carrying the memory as a cultural burden. There is only this one sadness that accompanies my decision to choose Eagle Down as the winner in the Prescott College Nonfiction Awardthe very fact of its existence as an experience that any person should have to carry as a lived memory. The author writes with a lean, elegant style and maintains a cool tone that allows the reader, the citizen, to enter in and understand what we as a nation ask our warriors to accomplish and suffer through when we send them into the path of danger. Judges Bio Debra Marquart is the author of three poetry collectionsSmall Buried Things, Everything's a Verb, and From Sweetnessand a short story collection, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories. Her memoir, The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, received the "Elle Lettres" award from Elle Magazine and the 2007 PEN USA Creative Nonfiction Award.

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