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How will I do when that time comes? Men in combat

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US Rangers live fire exericse

How will I be in combat – how will I do? Lads who (think they) want to join the military after school should try to seriously think about that question, but combat is still far away and they are still very young. They are so young and still eliminating video-game legions of ape-like giants with blood canons that turn the apes into blood balls. The computer screen becomes solid red for a few tenths of seconds and:


Combat – it can’t be all that – just grab your chest as you fall, and crunch the red movie capsule in your mouth to simulate blood ejecting from your mouth – looks so real! So thought the lad and the time ticked away with the solid *THUMP* of a prime heart; the heat of a burning heart.

A million and one things happened to steer the lad’s course away from joining the military: the electronic apprentice job offer, the hiring for store-management-grade employees, the Bucca di Bepo server… But consuming an illegal substance, some of which he had on his person during his rocket race through a red intersection, finally steered his course back to the military.

“Yooz got a death wish, son?” the judge asked him puzzled, “Matt, if yooz got one, why don’t you take it to the fight in one of these damned wars we got piled up at our front porch.” And as such, the bright lad stood before the judge and accepted a military tour of duty. The fine young lad felt a twinge as his memory reproduced thoughts he had had years ago about going to war and saving the West.

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U.S. Army privates lay in the prone position while they wait to move through a buddy team live-fire range during their seventh week of basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Sept. 19, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

My fear of combat was overshadowed by my gnarling fear of performing poorly in front of my brothers. And the moment finally came for fight or flight – freeze up, or move out while drawing in the situation, the wounded and overwhelmed, the departed.

A short fizzling sound rushed to my ear, ending with a formidably hearty bang, smoke, and fireball.

It was mouse-quiet immediately after the blast. Then, after about three seconds, a crescendo of men started howling a sad roar that threatened to dispel my dream of enlisting in an Army combat unit.

I felt it would be best if I didn’t look at the faces of the deceased, but I went against my intentions right away when men carried back under cover the most seriously hurt soldier to work on him medically. He screamed and shrieked because of the severity of the wound he had suffered. I certainly doubted if I could bear what that mate had just taken. He very soon was chemically scram-jetted into the sleep zone, as he wasn’t worth anything to us screaming bloody murder.

The second that blast went off that took out our man and others, I instinctively raised my AR and quickly scanned the windows of all the buildings surrounding us. I had perceived a yellow-orange flash that I thought had come from an RPG-7 grenade launcher in one of the windows up in the middle of one building, but it turned out to be the reflection of a mortar’s explosion when it hit the ground.

The window “target” did not suit my fancy well enough to spend any more time on it so I worried myself with the wounded and continued to soak in all available combat data around me like a black hole. I think there were some 13 men taken down by that single blast.

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A man in distress in Mogadishu, Somalia following a bombing. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another lad I approached turned out to be pronounced “expected to die.” He lay on his face, with a wound that far outclassed a body’s ability to heal itself. I avoided gazing into the faces of the fallen, but a medic suddenly flipped him over and I was shocked like mad to see it was one of my best friends in the service.

There we were, cuddled in a raunchy pool of blood, transmission oil, and water. It ran slicker than crap through a goose. Sorry for the arrangements, brother, had I known you were going to fall stricken here, I would have fixed the place up. No friend of mine gets this treatment, Matt.

They put him on a stretcher. We were all friends of his and we confusedly pushed and shoved to be the ones to help carry his stretcher. Alas, since all four handles of the stretcher were occupied, I just hobbled along.

I’m sorry I was not on my game in time to join in with the other stretcher bearers, my brother. But the load of your body was a mere feather – I promise you. I’m sorry I was not part of that detail.

There I stood feeling just absurdly worthless, like a lumberjack watching his forest burn.

So where was I at the end of this? It all amounted to me wanting to go home, be home, stay home, and just cherish home.

Brother, I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, or treat you, lay you on your stretcher, post you in an ambulance, and drive you away – but I DO promise you that from this point on, I shall cherish the prospect of carrying your memory with me for an eternity. It will be light as a feather, you know!

(Delta Force MSG Matthew Rierson, Killed in Action (KIA) October 6, 1993, during combat actions in an attempt to restore peace, sanitation, and sustenance to the people of Mogadishu, Somalia.)

Matthew Rierson died on October 6, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, with a dozen men cuddled with him trying to get in closer to the circle where he was dying.

The medics were frantic: I could see their anguish as they tried the impossible. We cursed ourselves again and again for failing to be of any use in their attempt to slow down a death already in overdrive, its afterburners spitting profusely. Matt died before the ambulance got him. He drew in a deep breath just as we raised his stretcher.

As he exhaled, we sensed a vesper being muttered through the din, but we didn’t know its origin. A fine flimsy zephyr wafted through our small group gathered there. We all looked and acknowledged to each other with a simple nod that we had all felt it.

By Almighty God and with Honor,

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2023. It has been edited for republication.

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.