by Jason Arment
Moon is above the Euphrates River. The vehicles halt and noncritical personnel dismount. Captain Vorgang wants the squad to line the riverbank, as if foolishness is our business, not death. I stay behind the wheel in Vic-II, playing Minesweeper and Solitaire on the palm-pilot connected to the jammer—its domed antenna a lollipop jutting skyward from the rear bumper.
Reports of a dinghy after curfew has brought out the squad, along with our Captain, to set up a Listening Post/Observation Post (LPOP). The Captain and Sergeant Prockop reckoned the dinghy was smuggling bomb making materials, money, or medicine for opposition forces. Higher-ups assign malice, usually via Hobson’s Choice, when it comes to the intent of the defiant. If there isn’t any rule barring Iraqis from crossing during daylight, why assume nefarious plots in the dark? The small boat has been reported to cross at midnight, so Captain Vorgang posts up behind the reeds. But it’s not that easy or simple—never is.
“They probably saw the patrol’s high-beams light up the Euphrates, and then watched Marines sit on the riverbank,” I say to Ulrich, who is up in the turret. “Whoever crosses the river usually gets a call, but won’t tonight. Not with the jammers.”
“Do you think someone is sick?” Ulrich says.
Diseases aren’t uncommon; diabetics have it especially bad since allied forces dismantled the country. Now, no medication exists in rural areas. In the town we occupy, Iraqis beg for help. We always turn them away.
“Fuck, I don’t know,” I say, my cigarette bobbing. “Maybe someone is out there with a fever, burning up.”
Ulrich shifts his ass on the turret’s seat-strap.
“I thought if you play games on the palm-pilot, it could crash the jammer.”
I take a long drag before replying, noting the change of subject.
“Yeah, well, it’s happened twice while we’ve been here, and each time I just restart the damn thing,” I say. “Besides, if it goes down, maybe the call makes it through.”
“There are too many jammers running for that to happen,” Ulrich’s voice barely audible.
“Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t.”
Nothing disturbs the great river’s waters tonight, so the squad sits on the Euphrates’ northern slope in silence, one eye mapping the stars while their night vision goggles’ indigo glow blasts the other. When we leave, thin wisps of clouds hide the moon. Prockop calls it the nature of the beast that we sit and wait in the dark, that fever might consume a mother or father or child.
Jason Arment served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Machine Gunner in the USMC. He’s earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, Lunch Ticket, Chautauqua, Hippocampus, The Burrow Press Review (Pushcart nomination), Dirty Chai,COG, Phoebe, Pithead Chapel, The Indianola Review, Brevity, The Florida Review (Best American Essays inclusion), Atticus Review, Zone 3, New Madrid, Veterans Writing Project, Midwestern Gothic, Duende, Hypertext, and War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities; anthologized in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volumes 2, 4, & 5; and in the 2017 Best American Essays collection. University of Hell Press will publish his memoir Musalaheen in 2017. Jason lives in Denver, where he coordinates the Denver Veterans Writing Workshop with the Colorado Humanities and Lighthouse. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.