Back when I was a PFC, my company was out in the field for a week for MOUT training. The first day was spent practicing reflexive fire. When the sun goes down at Ft. Bragg the humidity rises and the temperature seems to hold steady.
Even with the sun's burning stare gone we did not find any relief. An hour before midnight we started our march. We followed a tank trail around the perimeter of the training areas. I could only see the cat eyes (glow in the dark patches we attach to the back of our helmets) of the man in front of me. The night was silent except for the sound of soldiers on the march. There wasn't even a breath of wind as we trudged through the darkness. Loaded down with our equipment and already tired from the day's training we walked in muted silence.
At about 2 A.M. the wind picked up and a mummer passed down the line. Everyone knew what was coming. This wind brought no relief, it brought rain.
The temperature remained just under sweltering as we were bombarded by rain being blown so hard it was coming horizontally.
The miles stretched out and we walked. The rain finally slacked off to a drizzle and then to a mist. I remember listening to the slosh of my boots with each step.
From forward of my position I witnessed a member of a heavy gun team trip and go down. The other two members of his team rushed to help him as I neared their location. They had almost gotten up on his feet again right as I was passing them. I admit I was paying more attention to that micro drama than on the ground in front of me. Little did I know that there was a large hole in the road, directly in my path.
As I was taking my very next step I noticed there was no ground there and I fell face first on top of my weapon in 5 inches of water. Under those 5 inches of water was a bed of large sharp rocks. My right knee had taken a direct hit on one of said rocks in my less than graceful landing. This is the same knee I've injured several times over the years and being jammed with a rock really aggravated it.
My squad leader jogged up to my position to ask if I was "O.K." I said something to the effect of: "I'm wet, now I'm cold, I'm hungry, my knee is filling with fluid, I can feel it swelling... O.K. just isn't the word for how I'm doing right now."
He walked with me for a mile to see if I was going to make it or not then returned to his position in the line. As soon as he was gone I dropped the tough guy act and started limping and cussing to myself.
We stopped counting miles and started counting hours. Soon I was no longer following cat eyes as the light returned to the world. My knee had stopped bending and now everyone behind me could see me limping. My squad leader returned with a worried look on his face but I refuse to be beaten by a pebble.
We were entering a clearing when the sun finally crested the horizon. To our left there was a great marble pillar, a memorial to fallen soldiers. Above us the remnants of the rain clouds were painted with the brightest red, and the deepest violet. As the sun's rays painted a fiery panorama I picked up another mummer coming from the front of the formation. Slowly the murmer rose and more voices joined it and I picked out a rhythm. It was a simple song, just a few notes. The soldiers were just humming a few lines over and over. As the soldier in front of me started humming the song I recognized it and started singing along to myself. "Swing low, sweet chariot"
Walk with us in your mind's eye as 130 soldiers, tired, wet, cold and hot all at the same time, walked past a memorial to our fallen brother's under a sky set afire by the rising sun of a new day. One hundred and thirty male voices softly humming that tune barely loud enough to hear.
There are moments when I hate my job. Then there are moments that remind me why I do what I do. It is something we cannot understand or make someone else understand. You can only experience it and if you're like me, try to write about it (and do a poor job of portraying the way I felt too).