The following is a flashback chapter taken from my forthcoming novel, Dorchester Court. It is provided to garner feedback for accuracy.
Jodie was stuffed in the back of a Humvee a little after one in the morning, Ramadi time. Even without the uniforms and equipment, it would have been extremely hot in the vehicle. With them, it was nearly unbearable. The smell of marine body odor was hanging in the air like a thick fog. Jodie’s stomach was already a mess, but the heat and the stench were making it turn upside down and inside out. It was all a horribly far cry from sitting at a desk and processing paperwork.
Jodie was sat next to the Army interpreter, James Garcia, and shared a few awkward glances with him before looking back down at her boots. They had become friends, but this sure as shit wasn’t the time to talk. They had driven a few miles away from the relative safety of the forward operating base, and Jodie watched as the Ramadi houses started to come into view on both sides of the Humvee. Nearly all of the homes had big concrete walls in the front and it was incredibly easy to get ambushed if you weren’t careful. And even if you were, sometimes it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Not to mention the fucking rooftops.
“Hey, Lioness, is this your first time on a black route?” one of the marines asked Jodie. He had to yell to be heard over the engine.
“No. Been on a few of them before you guys even showed up.”
“I said no. I’ve been out a few times before,” Jodie yelled. “Before you guys even got here.”
“You mean the Army actually did something out here?” the marine grunted back.
Jodie went back to looking at her boots and tried not to look outside too much more now that they were in town. She didn’t want to see all the crap strewn about the road that could easily be IEDs—so much was out of her control. Yes, it was painfully boring at times on the base, but this was not the excitement she was looking for.
James was looking dead ahead at nothing in particular. He had only been on one other raid and his faced showed it. Jodie wondered what bill of goods he had been sold when he signed up as an interpreter. It was easy for the paper pushers to promise the moon when there was a good chance the enlistee would be dead within a year. And there weren’t many American universities to attend in Ramadi.
“You going to be okay?” Jodie asked him, sensing that he needed a pickup.
“I have to be, right?” James responded.
“You’ll be okay. Just stick close to me. And look at it this way, this is going to give you a shit ton of material to write about. You’ll be a famous author when we get home.”
James cracked a careful smile, but it was clear he was far from sold on the idea. Home might as well be on another planet in the back of that Humvee.
“We’re here,” one of the marines barked out. “Everyone out, fast!”
The two vehicles came to a stop and everybody quickly stepped out and linked up a few feet from the target. Jodie checked to make sure her helmet was on nice and tight—she was terrified of all the rooftops. The place was incredibly dark, and anything could have been lurking above. It was ridiculous how easy it was to be ambushed.
Jodie moved to the back of the firing team with the interpreter—he suddenly seemed clueless and she had to grab his arm to tell him where to stand. She was always given the same three jobs: Protect the unarmed interpreter, cover the rear of the firing team, and be ready to search any women. This was only her fourth raid and things weren’t getting any easier. It was like Russian roulette each time—she knew it was only a matter of time before something went horribly wrong.
Approaching the front door, Jodie had the same thoughts she’d had on each of the last three raids. What if somebody did this to my house in Arkansas? How would I react? Would I give them the benefit of the doubt? Like all the times before, she tried to brush the thoughts aside and hoped that they were acting on good intel and that the people inside deserved what was about to happen to them. They were the good guys, she told herself. America had to be the good guys. She couldn’t afford to think differently.
The marines didn’t hang around—the fire team quickly beat down the front door and within seconds they were all cramming inside the small house. The front room was quickly secured and within a few seconds they had made it into the rear room. There was a ton of yelling, but it was all just loud noise to Jodie. She didn’t even listen to the screaming and yelling anymore. She just hoped the yelling never turned to gunfire.
Within a minute, the marines had separated the men from the women and children. Jodie was still in the first room, weapon draw, with James standing a couple of feet behind and safely away from the front door and windows. He was shaking and Jodie tried to flash him a calm look to tell him that everything was okay. Never mind that she was terrified herself.
With the house secure, Jodie began the mental countdown; she knew that if they hung around too long they would be susceptible to an attack from the surrounding neighborhood. They were getting reports that the this area of Ramadi was fast becoming a haven for the enemy before they moved on to Baghdad. It was scary as hell.
“Marston, come here!” one of the marines yelled from one of the two rear rooms.
Jodie signaled for James to follow behind her while she carefully but quickly went into the room where the women were being kept. Inside, there were three older women and two young girls. Everyone was crying and huddled together like a pack of scared dogs that you might see in an animal shelter. It was a completely horrific sight. Again, if this was Arkansas, how would she respond?
“We need you to search these three,” the marine barked out. “Quickly.”
Jodie rapidly began the process of searching the first woman, but it was never going to go smoothly. The Iraqi woman was already openly sobbing and working herself up into a frenzy. Jodie pulled the only non-violent trick she had; she pulled off her helmet and showed the woman that she was a female soldier. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t.
“Put your fucking helmet back on!” the marine yelled.
It had never been a problem with the Army guys, but the apparently the marines couldn’t stand the thought of a helmet coming off.
Jodie picked the helmet up off the floor and was about to—
“Ambush!” a marine yelled from the other room where the men were being kept.
Before Jodie could even turn around, the firefight was on outside. There were several shots back and forth. It felt as if her eardrums had been smashed in with a pick axe. She scooped up her weapon and slammed her back against the wall. The whole situation had become completely chaotic—she could hear automatic and pistol fire coming from outside and above them.
“Stay here!” the marine next to her yelled, before bolting back into the front room.
“Ambush!” somebody yelled out again amongst the fire.
The women and children in the room took the opportunity to scurry out of the back of the house. Jodie saw them running away, but wasn’t about to do anything to stop them. She crept along the wall and somehow found the bravery to look into the first room.
It was horrific.
One of the marines was already dead on the floor while another was bloodied and collapsed a few feet away. There were two dead Iraqi men laying on the ground near the front door and a blood trail leading outside.
Jodie’s ears were ringing horribly from the gunfire. There was more shooting going on outside and Jodie worried that the place was about to be flooded with insurgents. She was mentally bracing to die.
Suddenly one of the dead Iraqi men wasn’t dead anymore. He started to move a little and Jodie took aim on him—but she couldn’t pull the trigger. She hadn’t ever killed a human before, and couldn’t do it now.
Jodie heard a noise to her right and feared the worst, the insurgents must have been about to descend on the house. Maybe they were upstairs and about to come down to kill her.
But it wasn’t the enemy—it was James. He came running out from behind a short wall and scrambled toward the front door.
Boom! Boom! Two shots rang out and echoed throughout the house and in Jodie’s ears.
James took the two clean shots in the back and lifelessly slumped to the ground just a few feet outside the front door—shot by the same man that Jodie could have killed just moments earlier.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Just like that, the Iraqi man was dead too—shot by the wounded marine. These were the first and second humans that Jodie had ever seen killed. But there was no time to process anything—she scrambled out of the back room and toward the front door. She collapsed to her knees and tugged at James’ body, hoping against hope that he was somehow still alive.
“James!” Jodie screamed. “James!”
She tugged at him desperately to try and get him to wake up. But there was no movement.
“We have to go,” one of the marines yelled as he grabbed Jodie and forced her back to her feet.
“We have to get him!” Jodie yelled out, looking back at James.
“He’s gone! We have to go now! They’re coming! More of them!”
Jodie squirmed free of the marine’s grasp and tried to pull James’ body up by herself, but he was way too heavy. She collapsed beside him and used all of her strength to roll him onto his back. She wanted to see his face one more time. She had to be sure he was gone before she could leave. Finally, the body slumped over.