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Thomas Bauschke - Fasten Your Seatbelt

ORDERS: Something you are told to do by someone else and which you must do.

Spring 2009: I deploy to Afghanistan with 10th Mountain Division

Day 17: The first time I ever ride in a military helicopter I take enemy fire
Like a sitting duck in a flying school bus – nowhere to run or hide
Most of us are cherries – wide eyed and new to the adventure of war
We follow orders

Day 46: The fighting season begins
A huge explosion at dusk knocks me to the ground
I can’t see or hear, but I have my aid bag – someone would be calling for a medic
They call me doc
The smoke finally clears; I can see all our guns firing but can’t hear them
I run to get my platoon sergeant who lies wounded out in the open
I stumble over fins from rocket propelled grenades on the way back
I don’t hear them land behind me; thank God the enemy is a terrible shot
Imagine that a medic is trained to wait until it’s safe to treat patients
Saving a comrade is more important than orders

My platoon sergeant gets Medevac’d home; I get shrapnel taken out of my side
I call home and then demand to get back to my guys
Back at the combat outpost we laugh in bunkers, chain-smoke cigarettes and takes turns manning the .50 Caliber machine guns until dawn because payback is a bitch
Loyalty is beyond orders

Day 68: I have treated hundreds of local people with donated medicines I get from home
They are mostly children and old men; women are hidden and untouchable
The children are brought with fevers, infections, and burns; most have never seen a doctor
There is no worse sound on this earth than a child suffering with pain
There is no more joyful sound in the world than a child’s laughter amidst the carnage of war
My superiors want to forbid me from treating locals, it’s not our mission
I request that order in writing
I continue to treat locals in spite of threats from my superiors
I know my congressman personally: Rick Larsen, 2nd District, State of Washington who just so happens to sit on the House Armed Services Committee
My Bronze Star for Valor from day 46 is suddenly “lost,” never to be heard of until a year later
Human compassion should be beyond orders

Day 125: Every day I’m a target, the enemy watches – always
They know which vehicle I ride in, they know exactly where I walk in formation on patrol
But I survive them all, again and again, day after bloody day
Back on base I have no privacy, my war is relentless
In the shower, in the shitter, at the chow hall, in the middle of the night
Hey doc, hey doc, hey doc, hey doc, hey doc, hey doc, hey doc, hey doc
I would do anything for these men, they know because they’ve seen
Orders never seem to include sleep

Day 141: The first beautiful quiet afternoon under a hundred degrees
I man a Browning Machine Gun, Caliber, .50, Serial # 1625742
A bullet snaps by my head; so close it makes me blink
When a bullet whizzes by you, it’s 20-30 feet away
When a bullet crackles, it’s within maybe 5-10 feet
But when a bullet snaps or pops, it’s within inches
Taliban follow orders too

It was luck or chance that I was looking at just the right spot on that rather large mountain
I saw his muzzle flash; I knew exactly where he was
I fired five rounds and saw what I thought was an arm or his rifle fly up in the air
It was him or me. I chose him – I wasn’t right. He wasn’t wrong
I may very well have saved his little daughter from a 104 fever 2 days ago
Sometimes orders don’t make sense

Day 223: The enemy is in every village and watches every road
A wounded 4th ID soldier arrives in my tine makeshift aid station
I hold his severed leg behind my back so he won’t freak out
He’s telling me a dirty joke as the morphine hits him
I realize I’m not worthy to hang up his coat
He goes beyond orders

We bring him to the chopper sheathed with tourniquets, bandages, and IV’s
Tell my mom I love her, he says.  Tell her yourself dude, I wink
I learn later that he makes it
One leg, both arms, AND a penis; I think a man can work with that
The surgeons save his right leg with pieces of his left leg
No one had to give those orders

They give me a medal just for doing my job on day 223
But withhold the medal for directly risking my life on day 46
Sometimes orders don’t make sense

Day 224: A 4th ID Captain visits my aid station to see who took care of his soldier last night
He yells at me for the syringes sticking out of my dartboard
That, he says is a misuse of valuable government property
I laugh in his face and he threatens to take my stripes
An officer like that can only but follow orders

Fast forward 3 years: I survived another deployment, with my limbs and my stripes
Now I sit in a shit bar in a shit town on the shores of Lake Ontario, it’s a beautiful sunset
A kid pesters me; his cute girlfriends eggs him on
You vets think you’re all heroes; You think you just know something we don’t
Against the warning from the bartender he continues, he just can’t let it go
HE…does not follow orders
He asks the final bullshit clichéd question, “So what does it feel like to kill a man?”
All the rage and carnage of heartbreak of war welled up inside me
I felt Ahab’s hatred shoot out from my own heart and onto this poor kid’s face
He falls onto a pile of bar stools
The cutie rolls her eyes at me; arms crossed
The bartender leans over the bar laughing at the kid, “Guess you ain’t getting laid tonight.”
I lean over the kid with my hands resting on my knees
“That’s what it feels like to kill a man. It’s the ultimate fuck you.”
I should have been a better man – used to be a better man.
Some people still call me doc, maybe I’ll just have to settle for that
At midnight on October 21st 2012 I was honorably discharged from the US Army
And I no longer have to follow orders either