Through the fog. A journey through the hell of war and PTSD. Part I.

The ground was met with a thud. The gravel crushed under BT’s boots as he walked down the path. He had no idea where he was. The road was lined with thick trees. Paper Birch, he believed. He would have told someone that, or asked someone, had there been anyone to talk to. He could not recollect the last time he saw another human. BT was not even sure where here was. He remembers a fog, the same fog that clings to the sky while he walks down the gravel path. He kept going because he never considered stopping. The questions grew in his head, but he had no idea how to answer any of them. He concluded his brain had engaged his legs, and there had to be an answer at the end of it. Who was he to question millions of years in the garage of evolution? His honed lower mind operated in a way that his conscious mind could never dream of achieving. The upper brain had artistic ability, but art does not keep you alive.

In the distance, BT could hear the low rumble of what sounded like a truck exhaust. He looked around but was unable to see anything through the thick trees. The sound was there, but he could not locate the distance or direction of the sound. It was all around, and it was nowhere. Suddenly a loud crashing sound filled the area. The groaning of metal straining in new and undesired directions. It was similar to a soda can being crushed. A soda can filled with human life. A big red truck comes out of nowhere, it must have been a blind intersection. The red truck flipped, and a man crawled through the window. How in the world did he drag his fat ass out of that truck without a scratch? He looked bigger than the window. Suicide. BT had just been dealing with a suicidal soldier, that was why he was so late in coming home. The impact caused a blackout. BT waved away the paramedics. The front end of the car is totaled and facing the opposite direction of travel just a few minutes before. BT is alone still in the woods, and he was walking.

The lacking continued, holes so large it seems that important information was held in. There was no hunger, no thirst, no heat, no cold, nothing beyond the foggy gravel path with the thick trees.

The small changes are easy to notice when the noise has been drowned out. BT realized that the sky was darkening, the first time he could remember that happening. It makes sense, it had to have only been about 20 minutes or so. For the life of him, he could not remember how he got here. With the darkening of the sky, a light grey cloud of ash began to shower on him. Suddenly he could smell smoke. Fear and panic gripped BT. If there is a fire, then I am trapped here. We are surrounded by a forest. He could see the images of flames, but not the flames themselves. It was like everything was hiding in the shadows, in the corners, so close just out of reach.

The imagery of flames dancing 70 feet above the ground. It jumps to roughly 90 feet. Buried high in the upper canopy of the trees. The trees do not even burn away completely. Just the flames licking the thin layer of life off of the tree robbing it of life. Leaves that photosynthesized just moments previous, wither, and die. No longer will they host shade, now their twisted, charred remains will manifest the ooze of fear. A look into a child’s nightmare. Except, where is the child?

Child… Child… Children… BT feels like this should be important. Really important. He does not know what to do, so he focuses on the hose that is in his hand. A red Ford Expedition rolls backward and away. It seems to stop at BT for a moment. The window opens, but the interior is gone, hidden away in the corner. An empty vacuum, a gaping maw into nothing. No noise comes out of the vehicle because it is now all behind him. The heat slams its presence into existence again. It is an attempt at a warning. He continues fighting the dragon of flames that is growing in front of him. He has the urge to protect, but protect what? He decides to keep his focus on the hose. He understands it, a pressurized tube where water is shot out. Water beats fire that he knows. BT sprays water at the flames.

A magnet pulls him away. Authority. A fire captain. The chainsaws come out. They lay down a layer of noxious exhaust into the air. The char of wood. Smoke and ash. Now a noise the glint of the sun reveals that an air tanker is dropping flame retardant on our home. I should be ecstatic observing the drop so close. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Lost to time for life. Frantic calls to insurance. Help us. Family… It is like a backward telescope, they seem to melt into the background the faster I reach out to see them. All I can recall is featureless faces. Nightmares, I MUST GET AWAY! I am stuck, the glue traps the feet. The first atlas stone is laid down on this day. He has no clue the number that will pile up over the coming years.

Back on the path. Smoke is gone. Fog is an old friend; his only friend left. The images he has seen feel familiar to him like he had lived them before. BT had no memory of them. This path seems so long, how far could it possibly be? How long has BT been walking? He has not seen anyone and only experienced weird fleeting images in his mind. They seem to be bleeding through like how everything becomes mucked up when you cut your skin. The clean separation dissolves and becomes a mixed mass. The order breaks down.

A rope noose hangs off of a tall branch. The knot feels comforting, like how the sun and its warm radiance makes a summer day so beautiful. At the same time, a cold draft seems to emit off the coils. Danger. A mental roulette Causes a series of images to flicker before him. There is a noose hanging from a tall structure. A very narrow landing pad. 30-story buildings directly in front. Sides are flanked by tall buildings as well. Old mod. The name seemed vaguely familiar. The new series of images start. It is dark. With a green hue Green. The barely visible outline of an Iraqi Army helicopter. No lights. A danger.

“Hey, this is left rear. I have a blacked-out MI17 helicopter at 11 o’clock.”

“Uhh… Okay, I have it, do you see it, Dave?”

“I have it.”

Back to the very narrow landing pad. The tall buildings are masked in darkness. Vibrating, you are always vibrating. An old crew chief who is bitching about the pain in his back. The aircraft is a banshee. The screaming that comes out of her engines and transmission requires two layers of hearing protection. The sound is unforgettable, though. Landing. Struts compress, and airframe settles. The airframe was the first specifically designed for the rigors of combat. The steel soldier had the final mission of doing everything to keep her crew and passengers safe. Fuck the cargo though, send it out the door. “Right rear stepping out.” Faceless passengers come and go. Right rear returns. Cargo door was slammed shut. “Two to fly,” “Clear up left.” Now we liftoff, the two turboshaft engines each have 1,800 shaft horsepower screaming out of it as it consumed JP-8 at an alarming rate. Her 360 gallons keep her satiated for roughly two hours. The fuel cell interior fumes are bittersweet. BT loves the smell. Or he used to. Now the scent of even his van exhaust can send him into an episode. At the very least he is exceptionally nauseated by it, he has to leave. The city kills him inside.

“The UH-60 uses breakaway connections on the fuel lines to reduce fire hazards.”

Flying over the city. The city of hatred. BT had been taught to hate and fear everyone in the city. Every single one of them wanted you dead. An Afghani kid in freshman health. The look of fear in his eyes on 9/11. One week into high school. “Hey, did you hear the planes flew into the Pentagon?” What that sounds like a shitty plot for a movie. It was not a movie. The coming day the reoccurring images. Jumping flaming jumping flaming jumping flaming jumping flaming. Dust covers everyone, a recurring theme. Flags. “Flags are symbols, and I leave symbols to the symbol-minded.” The comedy was lost, far too young to understand. Life had not pressed down on his neck enough. The Army would be the start. How can they be evil? The kid in health seems normal.

At any moment, a heat-seeking missile could be pointing right into the exhaust from the engines. A few pounds of pressure is all that stands between calm and storm. The illumination is low, vision is reduced even with the goggles. They require levels of light to work. A clear night with a full moon looks like a green day, not the band, under the goggles. They strain BTs eyes though.

“Watch out for that MI-17.”

Confusion, chaos breaks out. Suddenly the aircraft is banking hard to the left.

“Fuck fuck fuck,” the words of someone untrained, not a goddamn combat pilot.

“Shit shit shit,” now the aircraft and crew are thrown to the right.

“Left rear, you are clear to engage.”

Engage? Engage what? Do you want me to shoot down a helicopter? BT doesn’t know. BT does nothing. We were being shot at the commander said. The crew was really safe. The likelihood of being shot was slim to none. Thanks for the Doppler effect. The sound in the aircraft never lineup and visual site. You are even less likely to hit one at night. The fear was real. Logical reasoning is not something the lower brain understands. The upper brain cannot understand the lower brain. Like an old Hollywood heavy, you wanted someone around you who know what the fuck to do when. That is why people surround themselves with security.

BT’s first thought was an impending mid-air collision. This is not something that anyone can prepare for. BT constantly war-gamed things out in his head. Practicing taking aim at imaginary enemies. Drawing on his Scout experience on the ground. Where would the enemy find cover to hide their rockets? What people on the roof looked shifty? If we were shot down and landed somehow, where would we go? BT tried to keep himself sharp, he was a reluctant warrior. He carried 210 rounds of ammo on his air warrior vest, most in the Vultures carried 60. He carried the ground conversion kit for the M-240H machine gun in his grip. In helicopter mode, it has no buttstock to accommodate the cramped space. Most Vultures didn’t know it existed. BT drilled himself to try to commit to muscle memory the idea of kicking off the feed-tray on the 240 if he had to abandon it. Nothing worse then your own gun turned on you.

Never never. Gun meticulously cleaned. Function check. BT is not going to die without his own terms being established. Don’t rely on the pilot’s guns. Most of them don’t seem to fucking care. One of the rifles has fucking soda spilled on it. The internals are gummed up. He is a risk. Yet, he has the more compact version of the one BT carried. Haji soda is shit compared to the real thing. Better for the urban environment that they flew over. Flight after flight, he did this. Picked up from his Scout days. Always keep the mind sharp, yet now it is dull and cracked. The dark images became darker. Survivable landing became grotesque piles of hot steel and warm severed flesh. Homes are burning. Someone kind of survived. Pinned down with bones crushed, no hope for being saved. God does not exist here. Children scream before they snuff out of existence. Fear not American, you have been conditioned to not give a fuck. That is how humanity was wiped away from people because that is what they want you to.

“The Army aviator is the tip of the spear for professionalism and excellence.”

Then why am I clinging to the side of the aircraft? Boots are planted firmly at a terrifying angle. The parking brake is released in flight. So they are free to rotate. That is on the checklist. Also on the checklist is making sure your crew chiefs are inside the aircraft. That was not done. That is why I am here right now. I believe the kids call this a record scratch. How do they know what a record even is? Back to the situation at hand. Both hands are gripping the window, just on the wrong side. The microphone clip is on the vest, out of reach. The communication box is the item in the aircraft that seems to die the most. It has a setting called VOX. That is voice-activated. It would be useless except for right now. The floor switch is on the floor inside. The aircraft is now 10 feet up. The jump up was so unexpected. I had said I was climbing in. The Puerto Rican Decan was inside and strapped in. 15 feet. A useless scenario plays in the head. He jumps down and walks up to the air traffic control. Get on the radio.

“Icon 2-1, this is right rear, can you pick me up?”

So goddamn funny. It is the Battalion Commander so he can look like a total ass. The Decon senses my terror. He has the commander elevator down. No apology. Never an apology. The oath is we will never leave behind. I cannot trust not being left in a safe area, how can I trust you not leaving me in a combat landing?

“How many layers does the fuel cell have?” “Seven,” someone speaks up. There is always that jackass that loves obscure facts because, according to them, it is the true sign of a competent mechanic. Yet, we have mechanics that we are leery of allowing them to operate their own dicks, let alone the components on an aircraft. A single aircraft washer could bring down an aircraft. It is YOUR JOB to fight FOD. A fat fuck comes before him. A disgusting human being, he refused to shower. Refolded dirty laundry and put it in a laundry bag to act like it is clean. His rotting stench made everyone want to vomit. His competence was on the same level as his personal hygiene. A child, BT thought, I am raising a child.

BT was in shape, 15-20 pull-ups easy. 70+ pushups in two minutes. 70+ sit-ups in two minutes. 100% on both categories of the test. The run was 13 minutes, 10 seconds. Just shy of 13:00 to get 100 percent. Never again would he run that fast. A month before his fastest time was 15:35. Slow, fat, and pathetic. Those 10 seconds will haunt him. Such a pathetic thing to be haunted by. Helpless. Out of control. The fat fuck tries to tell him about nutrition. He says that soda has water in it. He is double-fisting two Dr. Pepper’s back into his insatiable gullet. He is like an egret. He eats things that are larger than him. He is devouring BTs time and frustration, and professional patients. BT inspects the fat fucks work. Just a simple panel over the landing struts. All he had to do was screw it in place.

All the machine head screws are silver. Yet one is gold. One of the washers is way too thick. Hell, is it even the right material? Two out of the eleven screws are not even fastened down properly. How the fuck is this possible? Images of a cartoon. A poorly penciled caveman is using a flat-tipped screwdriver and a hammer to break something open. His name is Primitive Pete, and he has no idea how to properly use his tools. They tell us not to be like Primitive Pete.

The tools have a job to do, but they cannot do it if the mechanic does not have competence. The fat fuck does not have competence. No longer will the fat fuck be allowed to touch the aircraft. He can sweep he can mop not that he understands the concept of cleaning. He had pizza slices in his sleeping bag. Someone took the snow globe of reality and flipped it over. Backfire? Retaliation comes from the top. The authority vested in the power of the three stripes on my chest is single-handedly removed. The power to make decisions to best suit the needs of the company is stomped out. Yet another crushing blow. From a high to a low. From being ready to take on every challenge to barely being able to drag himself out of bed.

A shoulder injury. This would chip away at the situps. Mile upon mile of running. 12 to 15 miles at a time. Running in cheap painful boots. Running with 45-pound rucksacks uphill downhill, uphill downhill. Running with arms at side. Running with a handful of metal formed death. There is a stud towards the end of the 20-inch barrel. Stab the bayonet into the dummy.

“What makes the green grass grow?”

Everybody yells with the orgasmic release, “blood! blood! bright red blood!” If you ain’t Cav, you ain’t shit! Programming. The panel at the back of our head was dropped while science type people thrashed around in our heads. The smartest psychologists on Earth are in marketing. Learning how to thrash about in people’s minds. If you make enough jump shots with the neuron’s your… dendrite… to mess something up. I feel like the circuit board on a fancy little washing machine. Set me to the “kill” mode. Flip the switch. Hear the click of the metal. Look down the sight. Exhale… Pause… Apply rearward pressure. DON’T FUCKING ANTICIPATE THE SHOT FUCKNUT! THAT IS WHY YOU SHOOT LIKE A FUCKING MORON! The bolt carrier group slams backward. The firing pin dropped on the primer. The M198 propels forward. Hot steaming death on the rails to hell. The gas expanding is what pushed the carrier back. Reload my mind with new programming. Take the dummy out. Rounds. No more lasers. Death. Killing. Ripping flesh with the bayonet.

This is what you do when you close with the enemy. Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes, throw strategy and tactical advantage out the window. It is what your forefathers did, warmed their knives with the blood of vicious Nazis. The Marines had those dirty Japs to ensure their blades were coated against corrosion. All the running and marching and climbing, hiking, and carrying loads have damaged the knees.

BT wanted it to stop, craved for it to stop, but he was not in control. He was simply in the passenger seat of his brain. The nearest controls are all just out of reach, visible in a haze, but useless all the same.

To be continued.