Chess stood at the side of the door and pulled it open, letting the two unhurt guards exit. Immediately, he heard Ellis’s raised voice outside.
“You guys sleeping in there or what?” Ellis demanded. “How could you let --”
“Yeah, what were you doing out here?” Brandt roared back at him. “All standing around scratching your asses.” And, suddenly, the hilltop seemed filled with loud voices as the entire team got involved in the argument.
Now, Chess thought. He stepped outside, with Tenor right behind him, and hurled the balled-up jacket high into the starry midnight sky. With a hoarse, desperate cry, he sent a prayer heavenward that his own team, at the foot of the hill, was paying attention.
Almost instantly, jackets all over the hilltop began to light up, and arguing turned to cries of dismay. The recruits on the hilltop moved quickly, firing right back down the hill, as Dallow reported later, but Chess and Tenor were already around the back of the cabin and pounding down the other side of the hill to safety.
Chess rode back to the army compound in silence. Recruits tried to talk to him, but he made no response. He could barely keep his eyes open.
When the truck stopped, he staggered out, feeling great weakness in every muscle. He hung back in the shadows, letting the others go on ahead of him, but Dallow sought him out. The ecstatic leader of the winning team started to speak, but Chess shook his head. “I really need a shower, and…” he pleaded. Dallow seemed to understand, and they walked slowly back to the barracks together.
The night sky seemed lighter in color, as if dawn was coming on. The previous dark hours of crawling through dirt seemed like a dream now, and Chess banished the thoughts from his mind.
He swung open the door to their part of the barracks, his gaze on the floor, intending to make directly for his cot and grab his shower gear. Suddenly, a piece of cloth was slipped over his head and he could see nothing. Sucking in his breath, he turned and swung out wildly. His fists connected with warm bodies, but his defensive strikes did not seem to deter his captors. He felt someone punch him hard in the stomach and, gasping, he doubled over. Next, he felt a sharp pain below one shoulder as a punch landed there, and then a multitude of fists landed all over his chest and back.
Completely disoriented, but wide-awake now, Chess gave up trying to hit his attackers. Blind and panicked, he covered his face with his arms and sank down onto the floor. There, the storm around him continued, but the blows became less fierce. Over the thunderous pounding of his own heart, he could hear voices laughing and joking now, whereas, before, he could hear nothing but the white noise in his head. It felt like an army surrounded him and, desperately, he wondered why this was happening.
He decided that his attackers must be Brandt and his buddies, furious at him for winning the field exercise. The thought terrified him. They would show him no mercy. He had to get up, he told himself. Somewhere in the blank distance, he thought he heard Dallow cry out.
They were attacking Dallow too? Chess exhaled forcefully. What if they were hurting Mal? With a cry, he ripped the covering off his head and propelled himself up from the floor. He stood for a moment, looking at the crowd around him: they were all his own teammates from the field exercise… and they were all grinning at him. “What the hell…?” he cried in terrified surprise. One of the guys patted Chess on the back and he flinched.
A few feet away, he saw Dallow casually shoving a recruit away from him. “We won,” Dallow called to him in explanation. The guy actually looked pleased. “It’s tradition.”
Chess stared at the jovial group and realized this was their way of congratulating him. He moved a hand to his chest: his ribs felt bruised. He was going to war with these guys, he thought. They expected him to be tough. How he reacted now was crucial. He narrowed his eyes at them in what he hoped was a fierce scowl. “I just wanna know,” he growled, “which one of you grabbed my ass?”
Continued next page...
They all depended on each other for their lives, so they needed a way to show that the group was the most important thing… They demonstrated that kind of symbolically with these group beatings.
The Daily Show Interview with Sebastian Junger, 11 May 2010, 4:10
An interview on the Daily Show first introduced me to Sebastian Junger, who is also the author of The Perfect Storm. He is truly an interesting writer: one of those people who goes around and tries to experience the things that he later writes about. His book Fire is a potpourri of dangerous situations, from fighting massive forests fires to conducting forensic investigations in active war zones. But in War, he outdid himself by embedding with troops for a year at an outpost in Afghanistan. In the process, he also filmed a documentary, Restrepo, with Tim Hetherington (who died about a year later while covering the conflict in Libya.)
While I was doing some research on war and the military, I ran across his book and remembered this interview. If you want to see the documentary film (you can get it from the public library), I highly recommend that you read the book first -- unless you have some experience with the military -- because I would not have had more than the most basic idea of what was going on by just watching the film.
The best thing about watching the documentary, though, is that you can get a decent impression of the amount of time that is spent by soldiers in just waiting. You can also get an appreciation for how rapidly a little village or an area of stone wall can become a battle zone. And, if you watch it for no other reason, definitely check out the goofy disco scene, and remember that these guys are set up on the side of a mountain in very dangerous territory.
C: Are you going to their performance on Friday?
S: No, I don’t really like their music.
C: Oh, I like them. They’re also really big on “supporting the troops.”
S: Yeah, that’s great and all, but they could be big on supporting ME and I still wouldn’t like their music.
C: That’s fair. (pause) Of course, if they were big on supporting you, they’d probably play music that you liked.
-paraphrased conversation heard at a nightclub, years ago - still makes me chuckle.
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