Raggab / The Ultimate Mistake

2013 Barrett Winner

5th Place Amir Al-Aswad


When I saw him every day
At his house on the Mediterranean,
I tugged on his six inch beard and he would
Laugh and teach me until the clock struck six.

He taught me how to multiply and divide numbers.
From him I learned about the different dialects
Of Arabic. And the six frontiers in which he fought.

I admired the creases near his
Aging eyes. The deep scars on his hand.
His six children envied me
Because he gave me far more attention.

Then the sixth of April came.
He was sixty when the disease struck.
For years he fought his greatest battle
But lost when I was sixteen.

Aside from the cease of lessons,
Little has changed.
I visit him at his new home
As he rests six feet under.

The Ultimate Mistake

I rest my head on the scratched, reinforced bullet proof window. The Sun’s golden rays peak through the top of a magnificent mountain range in the distance. Dried bushes, rocks, and little, worn down mud houses pass by as the SUV zooms across the pot-hole infested dirt road. We are streamlining for a military base in the Kandahar Valley, Afghanistan. Our $250,000 contract entails that we provide safe transportation for the Army’s engineers. Because mercenaries are technically illegal, private military companies act as taxis. Taxis armed to the teeth with the greatest retired warriors and the most expensive hardware available. We typically ride with three agents per SUV with at least three SUVs in a group. We’re only moving in two vehicles today because we are just on a routine trip to the local market for supplies.

“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” I mumbled. I wrapped my lips around the nearly finished joint, sucked in, and exhaled slowly. The pale smoke balled up around my mouth and whisked away towards the shattered window of the run-down apartment near 6 Mile, Detroit.

“Move on. Find a job. Live a life.” David grumbled back while he was grinding up the dry, crumbly, Mexican weed to pack the next one up. He sprinkled the bits into a wrap and rolled it up expertly. He had been smoking since he was thirteen. “It ain’t like we’re going back. The contracts are up.”

I took another drag from the joint and snuffed it out. David and I go back. Way back. I knew the bastard since I was learning my “ABCs”. We never were the school types; always getting in trouble, starting fights, scamming kids, and getting stoned. We were tough though. He got 1st place in the Michigan state-wide wrestling conference during high school. I got 3rd.

We signed up for military service right after high school. We weren’t interested in standard infantry. We were better than that. We joined the Rangers in ’04, right smack dab in the middle of the invasion of Iraq. It turned out, we were made for war. It was in our blood. We both lasted four years in that disaster and made it out relatively without a scratch.

To be honest, the service wasn’t bad. Actually, it was fun. Fun as hell. Yeah, we nearly got killed on several occasions, but that’s all part of the thrill of it. I’ve smoked pot, snorted coke, and shot up dope before; I can honestly say that nothing quite beats the rush of bullets kicking up dirt all around me. The adrenaline surge during a firefight can’t be compared to anything. We had a blast, but no good thing lasts forever. Our contracts were finished and we were sent back home for good in ’08.

“What if the contract wasn’t over?” I replied.

“They only last four years.”

“Not for PMC’s.”

“Contractors? Forget it. War is for soldiers, not businessmen.”

“What else do we have going for us? Retail jobs? We’d fit right in, these men come from specops all over the world.”

“How much?”

“Upwards of $600 a day.”

I am shaken awake by the deafening sound of an explosion. As soon as I get situated, I see the smoking wreck of the SUV ahead of us. The shell of the SUV is completely engulfed in roaring flames and pitch black smoke. Within a split second, an IED wiped out three of my partners. The driver of my SUV, Derek, an ex-marine, jerks the SUV to the left and slams on the accelerator. We travel about twenty feet and are stopped by the rattle of small arms fire. The left side window shatters. Derek shrieks and begins convulsing. “Keep moving!” I scream at him. He doesn’t reply and the car slows down considerably. I grab Derek by the color and his head slumps over towards me. I can’t recognize his face. It’s completely mangled. All I can see is a helmet, blood, flesh, and glass. The bullet took his jaw off.

David and I, being the only ones left, swiftly exit the vehicle and crouch down by the right side. All I can hear is the roar of numerous AK47, all of which are aiming right at us. “How many targets?” I shout over the fire.

David shakes his head, falls to his stomach and returns fire from under the SUV. I decide to keep crouching by the engine and return fire. I can see several distant men crouching on a large hill about one hundred feet in front of us. I estimate there are about ten or so of them actively engaging us. If we were in the military, we would be able to call in for further support. I begin to think back on that fateful conversation with David in my apartment. He was right. War isn’t for businessmen. There’s no way for us to be prepared for an engagement of this severity.

Rounds are ricocheting from the SUV and while earth is continuously upturned by bullets piercing all around me. At this point its kill or be killed. Time slows to a near halt. I repeatedly squeeze the trigger. Bullet shells fly past the right side of my head as my rifle spits them out. I empty about three magazines from my M4 carbine and roughly knocked out four or so combatants. It’s hard to count while taking fire. David seems to be holding his own quite well. Five minutes pass and I run out of ammunition. I can only count two insurgents left. “Mag!” I exclaim to David, hoping that he can throw me some ammunition. He doesn’t reply, so I shout it louder. Still no reply. I try moving to his location but trip over a helmet.

I look over and find him lying still without his helmet on. “David! I’m out!” I yell again to no avail. I look at him for a few seconds and see a puddle of bright red blood forming a puddle near his skull. I couldn’t see a hole though. A piece of shrapnel must have slipped under his helmet. If he was hit by an AK round, I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.

This was my fault. My idea. We never would have been here if I didn’t talk him into it. I desperately reach for my 9 millimeter pistol. It might as well be a toy. I pop over the side of the SUV and target an assailant with the iron sight. I squeeze the trigger. Dirt kicks up to the left. I squeeze again. This time it was to the right. From his muzzle flashes, I can tell he’s firing back. Thankfully, with terrible accuracy. I stop breathing and block out all eternal senses. I can’t hear the guns roar, I don’t notice my dead comrades, and I don’t see the dirt exploding around me. It’s just me and him. I raise the pistol again. With a serene calm I target his chest and squeeze the trigger. The man’s head jerks back; his body slumps to the ground. The bullet was a little high but I can’t complain.

Just one guy left. I hear his AK rattling at me but I can’t pin point where. I peek my head out to the left side of the vehicle, I see him on top of a small hill to my ten o’clock. The force of a train crashes into my stomach and roughly throws me on my back several feet away. In a daze, I see red liquid seeping slightly below my combat vest. The sound of gun fire softly drifts away. My peripheral vision rapidly vanishes. All I can see though my small tunnel of vision are clouds slowly floating across the mild blue sky and the rays of the Sun still peaking over the mountain range.