Templeton simply smiled and said, “Yeah, and you can call me Rat. Everyone always does.” It obviously was just same-ole, same ole to Templeton, and Roddy smiled as Rat leaned back against the buckboard seat of the Stryker as we plodded on through the dust. Rat, with his sunglasses on in the near total darkness, fit right in. A white toothpick in his slit of a mouth was the only thing I could see of him in the pitch dark of the moonless sky.


The new guy, PFC Samuel Cooper, was a big man. So big that they had equipped him with a M240 machine gun. He had massive biceps and high cheekbones. His eyelids were just creases and his eyebrows were almost nonexistent. I thought he looked like a cobra, and so as Roddy and Penny discussed what his nickname should be, I expected Snake to come up. But Cooper heard them talking. He said, “I don’t need your fucking nicknames. I’m here to kill me some Iraqi motherfuckers with my badass machine gun, not to have some goddamn nickname.”

Roddy, who was every bit as big as Cooper, said back, “Gotcha, Nick.”


Roddy smiled. “I said okay, Nick.”

Cooper frowned. “Why you callin’ me that?”

Roddy met the big man’s eyes. “You don’t want a nickname, so I’ll call you Nick to remind me.”


Tone-Def staggered, taking a hit in the shoulder from the second floor window of the building on my right. I fired that way, but missed as the asshole inside ducked in time. Cooper blasted away at the second floor. The M240 destroyed the window jamb of Tone Def’s assailant. Cooper’s burst shattered all the surrounding woodwork and much of the masonry. No telling if the shooter inside was still breathing. Tone was still on two feet after being shot, but the grenade launcher was now nothing but a drag, a useless weight, to him, as he couldn’t raise one arm. I yelled for him to drop it and he did, pulling a grenade from his belt with his left hand.


The remaining 17 recruits, including me, stood at attention, glad not to be the focus of the drill sergeant’s ire. But then it went  from a scene I expected—the unit CO letting a new recruit have it—to a more ugly, more uncomfortable thing. As the kid, ironically named Fortune, scrambled to follow the sergeant’s instructions, nearly in a blind panic, he stepped onto the sergeant’s boots. He left a scar across the polished gleam of a boot—a fatal error. The drill sergeant’s fury mounted to volcanic levels and he actually slammed the kid to the floor. Fortune landed face first and the CO yelled for him to begin giving him 50. The kid didn’t look strong enough in a good mindset to do 50, but he was trying, quivering as he sagged to the floor and then struggled up. The sergeant was losing it as the weak and frightened Fortune slowed with each proceeding push-up, his arms shaking and his eyes welling with tears. Sarge upped the ante, rubbing the toe of his boot into the kid’s nose. From my vantage, perhaps 12 feet away, I could tell Fortune was going to pieces, right there in front of the other 17 men in his barracks. The kid was going to give up and drop to the floor. He was going to stop trying. His will was gone.
And then it happened—Roddy laughed. Sarge’s attention switched immediately to Roddy who continued to smirk at the scene in front of him, glad to take the head off the kid. Fortune, who could not believe his luck, staggered to his feet, forgotten in the CO’s new wave of anger.

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