Sunday, August 30, 2009


*Retold with permission.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being on a vehicle recovery team last tour is that they only called you out if something has gone wrong.  It’s not so bad if a vehicle is simply broken, but more often than not you go out when a vehicle has been disabled by an IED [improvised explosive device].  In many cases, they’re hardly recognizable as vehicles.  More than anything, being vehicle recovery means you see a lot of disasters.

When it’s all happening, you try not to think about it – besides what’s necessary to get the job done.  Since it’s so godawful, you construct a defense mechanism and basically steel yourself.  You have to complete the mission, so it’s in your best interest not to think about it.  It starts to hit you a few days later, but only somewhat.  Even after the first tour, I knew I was coming back over here again, so I continued to not think about it.  To be honest I probably still haven’t actually dealt with it.  I don’t think I will until I’m out of the Army.

I remember one morning last tour.  It was about 0830 and I was showering, and I needed to be at work at about 0900.  As I showered, my team chief came in.

“Hey, we got a catastrophic kill.  Hurry up and get out of there.”

A catastrophic kill basically means nobody survived, and there’s hardly any vehicle left to recover; or it’s in pieces.  I asked him who it was, and he gave me the bumper number, which didn’t really help.  I can’t ever remember who rides in which truck.  Who was it, I asked again, and this time he told me.  They were my three closest friends in the infantry.  None of them had made it.  It was devastating, but we still had to go get the vehicle.

When we got on scene, everything was silent.  It was in an area of town they shouldn’t have been in, on a road where everybody always gets hit.  I remember seeing the Bradley, or what was left of it.  It was ripped open at the seams.  The ramp was down, the turret was on the other side of the street, the engine was down the road, and there was a huge hole in the middle of the vehicle.  Everything was blackened from the blast.

In the chaos of the situation, they’d made a mistake about who was in the vehicle.  One of my three friends they said hadn’t made it was actually sitting on the FOB doing just fine.  There was a third, but they didn’t know who it was, and they also didn’t know WHERE he was.  They hadn’t found a body yet.  They just knew he was dead.

I pulled the 88 over [M88 A1 Tank Recovery Vehicle] and started lifting all the pieces onto the truck, one-by-one.  When I lifted the turret, though, we found the third body, completely unidentifiable from the blast.  They had to use his dog tags to figure out who he was.  I didn’t know him.  I felt immediately relieved that it wasn’t my friend, but then I felt awful for feeling relieved.  It was still one of our guys.  It’s a shitty feeling.

As we inspected what was left of the vehicle, I remember seeing a single boot, wedged into a crevice in the reactive armor.  That’s all.  Just a single, twisted, mangled boot.  It was black instead of tan.  I’m always going to remember that.

This second tour isn’t like that, thank God.  It’s nothing now.  It’s waiting.  We hardly do any recoveries anymore.  The IEDs are too small to do any real damage to the vehicles, so the units are mostly able to self-recover and tow them back without our help.  If we do get called out, it’s because somebody got stuck, which is no big deal.  You just go and pull them.  In truth, it’s boring.

But I’ll take boring.  Nobody’s dying out there.  I’d rather be bored than lose friends.  Our company alone lost fourteen on the last tour, so it’s a relief to not have to go through that again.  Boring is fine.  And at any rate, if this was like it was last time, I’m not sure I could do it.  I still haven’t dealt with it all, and I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I do.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. This seems to me to be an accurate voice for someone who otherwise would not have one. Good job!