Chasing Alpha: Chapter Nine

Chasing Alpha – Chapter NINE

There are a few people who I remember very well outside of our team. Ones who weren’t part of the five of us. Until then, I want to go back a little further. I told about why I signed up and my family, but I wasn’t sure if I painted my family in the best light. I am not taking back how I felt at all, but I also wanted to tell a story I was not sure where else to fit. It’s about my family. My dad and my grandfather to be more exact. Part of it shows a different side since it wasn’t always the fact memorable moments came from disobedience or firearms. It also helps show more insight about the way I felt before I joined. That thin camouflage line I called the velvet rope of the family.

One of the better things about being in the family was at least I never had that weird moment of my parents or some kin member trying to talk me out of enlisting or anything like that. The funny thing was how maybe they didn’t expect to even join since I abstained from talking about most of it. Problem really wasn’t I didn’t want to enlist but no matter what I chose would have probably had someone else try to convince me to switch to another branch or even to drop out if that’s where I was planning to go. I have an uncanny way to know my family. Maybe I am one of the few who is so observant within the clan.

No matter what anyone else in the clan might have thought, I was very serious on giving some time to the stars and bars. Maybe the problem was just wanting to keep everyone pleased at the same time. But I showed a clue of some interest, but I can’t be sure they understood. When I was seventeen, the day of that birthday I went down to the post office and picked up a Selective Service card. Then I clipped it to the refrigerator. That’s the card to fill out and drop off at the post office basically in case there’s a draft, so as I understood it. All I really know is the informational commercials that would run saying it was a crime if not registered when eighteen. It was a hint of me to have that sit there all year. So they would know I was civic minded about that duty, but it also made me remember to weigh everything as to where to hitch my wagon as they might say. They might not have understood it since maybe they assumed I had the card on my fridge as maybe showing I did some sort of duty. There were a couple jokes about it from some of the kin, but I would always leave it as a “maybe” when that was brought up. I didn’t want any outside influence as to where to join. It was all my choice since if I was going to be miserable I wanted only myself to blame.

So I announced it when I turned eighteen. Always had a little party thing, nothing big. Think I was offered a pack of smokes as a joke but I politely turned it down. A little bit of the humor from my dad. Funnier yet was my grandfather was supposed to have been fixing to get me a carton but my dad told him not to. It was almost funnier to hear that story rather than if it went through. When they heard I already had a decision and was supposed to ink a contract with the land of liberty, they were a bit taken back by it but they were happy. It was a little bit funny since it was almost like a movie. My dad and grandfather each grabbing one of my shoulders and then giving me a literal pat on the back. No complaints here.

It really was a surprise from them but they were happy. It was as if I was being born all over again or something. Giving the news and their look of trying to comprehend and then the pleasure of knowing it was a responsibility I had been plotting on my own, as an actual path to manhood rather than waiting to have a choice made or suggested for me. They found out I wasn’t going to take a break to get stuff in order. I already had spoken with someone and was planning to make it official just as soon as I was officially legal. There was something I think I signed just like a promise to come back. I don’t think it was binding since I was a minor but it would have kept whoever else from trying to get me as their prospect. Plus my birthday was on a weekend and would have to be the next Monday before I can get things in legitimate motion.

Once they found out the news, it was basically off to the races. My grandfather was up most all night writing up a list for me. Things I should have before I go to give me the best shot at not having to learn too many things the hard way. From how I heard it from my mom, my grandfather stayed up all night writing and rewriting a shopping list. From what he said and my dad agreed, there’s a lot they try to make a soldier pay for later or things are accepted which are very handy later but aren’t always mentioned. This was not supposed to be giving me an advantage or making it easy, but they were giving me a gift of experience. Two generations in one house were able to send me off properly.

My dad took me along to a military surplus store he went to from time to time. It was familiar territory since I was most often there before hunting season or when I was doing the scouting thing. It was a pretty interesting place and it has a very good purpose now. I think it was also an excuse to show me off as news to the guy who owned the place. The family behind the surplus store saw pretty much all the clan at least once a year at some point of time. They were basically extended family as far as we were concerned. One of the best birthday gifts I ever received came from that shop. Instead of a clubhouse when I was young, my dad ended up getting a giant camo net to string across on the property. I was the envy of the kids that year who came to my party.

My dad didn’t get everything on the list, muttering something like how the old man must be off his rocker, or really fell off the deep end this time. Dad wasn’t angry or serious, but guess he was surprised how complete or over the top the list was. A lot of the items probably wouldn’t be too practical, or would be way too expensive. On the bright side, the owners were in a generous mood and ended up giving us a soldier discount on top of my dad’s veteran discount, as an under the table kind of gift to me. It made me feel good and I couldn’t stop thanking them all.

My grandfather wanted to take me to the airport and send me off the right way, according to him. I never really had a lot of time with him. We spent a lot of time together but that was more in the living way and not anything like I guess the court system would refer to as quality time, heh. As I said before, it was sort of a closed rank type of system as I felt it since they guys who all spent some sort of time in the service had a connection with either other and were often in their own little cluster between the clan. I never tried to ask around if anyone else felt the same. I just kept it to myself.

It was by no means a short trip to make it to our small little area airport. It’s jokingly referred to as the puddle jumper. The itinerary was to get to the airport to fly to another state and then take a bus to meet up with wherever the rest of the recruits were supposed to all bus up to get to the base. Obviously I don’t live in a major metropolitan area. So I was to sit along and have a long ride in a pickup truck with shocks that are slipshod on a good day.

Surprisingly the trip was very interesting and pleasant. It was the closest at the time I ever felt to him in fact. As I said, he served during World War Two and saw more than most could really imagine. He had nothing but advice the entire time. I was more than happy to listen to him above the no so great AM radio of his. The thing picked up more static than a dryer sheet, and his music taste differed by far with mine. Obviously I am joking about wanting to hear the radio rather than him.

Before he went into the service to head overseas, his pappy told him scores of things in the name of advice and instruction. That would have made my great grandfather, who I never met. My grandfather had a blend of his times and what he was told. It applied a lot more I suppose since I was in war time obviously when I made my choice. It impressed him I suppose. In his mind I had a choice. But for me, I really wanted to see if the grass really was greener. The fatigues at least, heh.

Basically the information was kind of like boxing. Protect myself at all times, that kind of thing. It’s ok to think of others, but always keep myself first priority. Not to question orders, give the best of myself. A lot of it was a bit redundant or also something I might expect. Much of it is boring to retell but it served it’s purpose for me at the time. One of the other major points he made was more pointed towards others. He told me not to try to get too familiar with any of the other guys or strike up any friendships. The point being some of them are bound to get killed since I was going to be heading to war and not a summer camp. If I was to think with my brain and not from my feelings then I’d have to keep some distance from the rest. He said it would not be easy but still the smartest way to go about things, because I might not follow orders properly if I was thinking with my heart. Instead I might be putting myself in more of the way of harm.

When we got to there airport there was still a pretty long wait before my flight was to depart. My figuring was I’d just hop out at the curb but my grandfather insisted on coming inside with me. I didn’t mind at all and thought that was a very nice gesture. Once I got checked in and had all my stuff sorted out as far as tickets and boarding passes, we tried to find my gate. Then a page came over the intercom system. I forgot exactly how it went, but it was my name with an overinflated title. Maybe something like first lieutenant or something that made no sense as far as a real rank. I found one of the white phones and a man told me I was being expected in a room beside the lounge.

It was all the way across where I was supposed to be waiting, but I found the lounge. The only door beside it was the pilot’s room which was cracked open. I couldn’t help but look in, and then I saw my dad inside to surprise me. He was standing with one of the pilots. Turns out my Dada and grandfather planned this all out ahead of time once they knew what my flight plans were. It also turned out the pilot hanging out with my dad was once in the National Guard , so he wanted to wish me well also. We had our own small table which ended up just being the three of us actually, my dad with my grandfather and I.  A lot of it was kind of blurry since one of the pilots snuck me a beer and a hard drink. There wasn’t anyone in there to object at least, and they seemed to have been encouraging me. It was just enough I suppose since I did feel decent. I never partook in any of the little shinny parties the clan would hold every now and then. I’m not ratting on who may or may not have been in possession of a still, but now and again there’d be some apple pie moonshine floating around. I never drank until that day in the airport.

Now and again one of the men with the shiny hats and the wings on their lapel would come by and say nice words or wish me well in one of those standard kind of ways. The whole “support our troops” route. It did feel nice and it was easy to see how proud my dad and grandfather were on my decision to join up. It was supposed to be a restricted to everyone except those who had a pilot’s licence. Obviously it wasn’t a biggie with anyone since we spent about the entire time before my flight hanging out there. I’m sure if it actually got rowdy or something then we would have gotten the old Irish toss, but we were all just talking and relaxing. I still was nervous about the flight in general and still not exactly sure where I was supposed to be arriving for basic training, but I didn’t let myself worry too much about it.

Other pilots came up and shook hands with us, all knowing the story about me so it seemed. It was like I was a sudden celebrity, but that wasn’t the highlight, and neither was the alcohol. That time with the other two generations was all I ever really wanted in life. Just to sit at the same table with them and feel accepted. And at that point it was literally happening. I was literally in the restricted area I always felt roped off from. They traded stories about a few things related to their own services. Just bulling around so to speak rather than giving advice. Time got so far away from us that I almost missed my flight. It wasn’t that drastic, but I completely missed the first boarding call. Thankfully one of the pilots in the room pointed it out from asking earlier where I was supposed to be flying to. With a handshake and salute with each of my family members at the table, I skedaddled as fast as I could across the airport.

I did the best I could to stick to everything I could, even if it seemed to contradict here and there. I did keep my head down as I was told. Get through the rough parts as quickly as I could. The whole “tomorrow is another day” kind of thing. I was hoping to do my part as marksman and climb as high as I could on that. It gave me a lot of extra range time as well, which had me pleased. I wasn’t expecting a base to be anything like where I lived or anything, and that open air range was about the closest I go to the shooting I did out of practice when I was all alone with myself hiding in the woods from any spying eyes who could have known I was trying to get some discipline time in. Though I was basically shoulder to shoulder with dozens others popping off shots. No trees either of course. But it was an outdoor range and I felt a lot better being somewhere rather than cramped inside of buildings and fluorescent light stinging my eyes. That stuff is hard to get used to, and would tire me out. Despite it all I still worked to be all I could be, as the television advertisements said. And carrying out the words of my grandfather and dad too.

What I didn’t stick too I must say to my credit, I didn’t break it right away. All through basic. Kept to myself. Holding with the same “head down” approach as before. It worked really well. Until I was officially deployed. Once out in the desert I didn’t seem to have the same opportunity to hide away by myself such as when I was on base. There was a lot more to read back in the states too. I could take a small trip and find some throwaway kind of book, comic or even Archie Digest floating around. I was not the avid reader type but it would help keep my mind fresh. I thought about actually writing down some notes at one time but things were so routine and boring that it might have depressed me actually taking an overhead view of how mundane it all got at one point. Even if I did write everything down, I doubt I would have ever cracked it back open even for putting down my thoughts as now. Since I am a much different person now. Even if I penned it all on in a book from the desert, the outcome might be the very same for not reading it then. That’s because of the same answer, so much changed. I’d rather experience this all by looking back rather than seeing it through the eyes of a different me. Maybe others just have to be in my moccasins to understand it, like the old Eskimo fable.

I was in a humongous desert, and pretty much stuck to a specific perimeter since that was the only spot we were guaranteed safe. That guarantee was thin as a French supermodel but I was more into anything to put the odds more into my favor. Not that I was afraid of a little danger. I was not against sticking my neck out for my country but…  If I was doing absolutely nothing, I’d rather do it with a lower chance of dying or getting torn up.

Sometimes even back in basic I’d still observe. There was often some jackaninny trying to jockey his way into class clown. Or people were the types to not want to think about what was to come up. They’d rather ignore it until it’s staring them right in the face. At first I was slightly concerned since I really didn’t want to be serving alongside. Then I realized it’s not like a whole building all goes the same place. Helped me sleep easier.

Often I’d still keep an eye out. I liked to try to detect things. Try to see the connections others don’t. Most would just call it people watching I guess. I thought it was often more. But sometimes it was better than television. Not that I watched a lot of tv but that wasn’t an issue since there was a lot of horsing around while I was still stateside. I kept to watching it rather than participation. I really didn’t have a want to join in on those reindeer games. The only group I really wanted a part of was my own family. I rationalized it anyway: if I got involved then either I wasn’t seeing them later, or I’d possibly do something dumb when along with them, which could do something to disfigure me or worse when I finally did get back to my family and the clan. It would have been selfish or made me a disappointment in their eyes.

The philosophy worked very well, until I did end up in that desert. I guess we are the lucky ones so other brass would joke about, at least our desert has some rocks in it too. “The other guys don’t even have landmarks, just sand. Be thankful.”  It was a dumb joke all of us got tired of hearing. Most of the guys and superiors didn’t usually come up with fresh material. Humor ecology: one person made a joke, and then it was recycled by everyone else. The line is a little more funny now since at least I’m not stuck in the situation like then.

But yeah, much of it was the same. It’s like in the Star Wars movie when the guy is still unable to focus after he was unfrozen, commenting he went from one dark blur to one bright blur. Then he was told he wasn’t missing much. That’s about the looks of it. Don’t believe the hype about the rocks in our desert.

I was pretty good at giving the cold shoulder for a while. As long as a guy can give a cold shoulder in the hot desert. If I was staring off, I tried to keep it to other guys. Not ones I was exactly lumped with the duration. Then even if I started to like the jib on one of them, I wasn’t right along side. At least it cut the chances of me doing something stupid in the heat of battle. I was even pretty good at forgetting names. Actually I was pretty lousy at remembering names. Family, friends, or even girls. If I liked a girl I could remember her name right away. But that was about the extent of it.

Problem was…  Especially the group I was in, names weren’t what was usually used. Not Christian names as they said. Most of it was all through something stupid. I mean, you eff up and that could very well be your name. Do one dopey thing and it’s a testament in name form, forever. Most embraced it. Not much choice. It’s like that Baba Booey guy from the Howard Stern show. He messed up a name and that became his name. I think professors call that an albatross. An unwanted reminder of something. A cross to bear. At least mine wasn’t out of some buffoon move. Not that I was able to chose it but I was satisfied for the most part.

Going by a nickname wasn’t anything new. With all the boredom setting in and being stuck with one another means there’s nothing to focus on than each other when it comes down to things. And when people are stuck with each other, it’s not the positives people have focused on. I guess taking a nickname in our group was more essential for survival after awhile, or maybe like having an Indian name like the legend goes. In those tales a brave proves himself and the elders gather in a tepee while the young man sits by a campfire. And then some poetic name is chosen. It wasn’t done that way here, but it still had a sort of symbolism. Some didn’t have a name at all and would be just called something mundane, like bub or jeezy. “Hey bub, catch up with the rest of us.”  “You jeezies take a position east.”  Stuff like that. That second one wasn’t my idea of course, and it’s not any sort of military slang that can be found in a manual. It was pretty specific and just for us, thanks to Overthrill as it seemed. There was one guy elsewhere who would always call people he didn’t know tomatoes. He’d try to make people tow the line by calling out to hang on little tomato. It’s supposed to be from some japanimation show I guess where some farmer called little kids tomatoes and later those kids were supposed to turn into future soldiers or something like that. I don’t know if I’d want to be a tomato or one of Overthrill’s jeezies.

Overthrill was one of the coolest names I’ll admit. I have a hankering he made it up himself but that isn’t supposed to be the case. At one point he was said to have a catchphrase that would be “I’m not in it for the blank.” So forth. Like “I’m not in it for the sand or the guns.”  Then after a while someone got in his face and asked what he was in it for. The girls, money, the sense of pride. He answered back “I’m in it for the kill and the thrill. Not this sitting around stuff.”  He was given a talking down by someone in earshot, most likely a brass man. And he was punished somehow for being a little overly ambitious. That’s as close to the truth as I could make out. So whether he coined it himself or had it come naturally, Overthrill was the name he was stuck with. And he embraced it.

For Over, things were very interesting as far as he was concerned. Always a raring to go guy who didn’t let anything turn into a loss. He was “over” so many things, like rising above or beyond in the actual sense. Overabundance of energy, overly wound sometimes, overenthusiastic. I guess the best word to use for him in one word is enthusiasm. Some from the outside would call him a dick. In high school I’m sure many kids would slink away from him for fear of being bullied, at least from my take. He was from Florida I think but he has a drawl of some sort which mean he had more of a city bordering the south most people think about. A lot of people would joke and call him the surfer. Or say “surfs up” in pockets. Not in our group, and I don’t think that they knew he was even from the sunshine state. It was more from the movie Apocalypse Now where the guys kept asking if people wanted to fight or to surf. Over did have blonde hair and showed a Jake Busy sort of vibe. Not tall but not short either. Maybe a charisma that just stood out and above the rest of them. If I didn’t have him in my group, I wouldn’t want him picking on me for sure.

One of the big differences was also how leadership went. Over might have seemed the biggest personality in the team, but he wasn’t the kind of guy to ever question authority. He always had brass dreams, wanting a squad of men as his own. He knew if he was going to end up with that honor there’s no way he’d ever disobey or cause any strife amongst the ranks. He really was honorable in that way. It’s a lot like watching a football team in action. When on the field it may seem like the quarterback is the one who is in control of the whole operation but the truth is on the sidelines. The quarterback still has the coach to answer to, and the coach has even more people hovering above. It was the same between those two. There was never a discrepancy as to who was the shot caller. Worst case, something might get a little hairy on the field but then it was still something where something done was a variation of an agreed upon plan most cases. Never any head butting I ever saw. No airs of uneasiness or tenseness, any of that stuff. The worse I ever heard was just once or twice. There was a plan and Over quietly asked “Is that the plan?” Then after that he’d agree with an “ok” or normally toned agreement. Never a flinch in his voice. Think what they might, there was never any question of who ranked where in the leadership department.

Back to handles…  Nobody had their choice what to be called. Everyone just had to take what they were branded with. Resistance would have been a bad thing, but everyone had a silent understanding. Probably since so many were hoping to end up being more in the circle, they didn’t care what they were called. Of course Prev never had a name since he was above all of us. That would be a very bad practice, within and from the outside. Some names for people just seemed to hit at all angles, and not just one in particular. One of them was Acey. He had at least a few reasons he caught that name. But the few who knew him had a better inside to his being. Outside our little group, they figured he was the one who got the big card games together so he was “the Ace” of games. People used to call him Spades too I remember as a reference to that game or a Motorhead song. I forget now. Most likely the song, since I doubt we ever had an official night of Spades unless it was some churchies or teetotalers paying a visit to the compound. Well it was more of slang for high ups who disapproved of anything but whatever was in a West Point manual. It wasn’t often for us,  but there would be someone here and there we had to be on our best behavior for. Those times a game of Hearts or Spades could have gone on but more as a comfortable token group so the “tourist” types can look on and think the boys in the Middle East are doing it right on the front whether at work or play. They basically turn the whole place into Mayberry for however long. Eight hours or two days. On the bright side, people usually took the heck off after coming through. They were not expecting the heat or the small most likely. Things like a lack of air conditioning have benefits…  Basically keeping all non essentials away from us. But yeah, Acey was not just for cards as we saw it in the group.

This guy was the one who always tried topping whatever else someone else had accomplish. He’d see some sort of a dumb record, and then he took a crack at it. If he saw a few try to out-scale a well, he’d hop in and try to give the person a better run for the money. He was always looking to “ace” anything else. Not always topping it, but making his best effort. He was an ace in the hole, and he was ours.

But the only one to really spend the most time with Acey, aside from Over was Deucey. He went by a lot of names just as Ace such as the variations go. Usually it would be Deucey only, or “The Deuce” but sometimes it was “Two” briefly also. The deal with the many thing was more how he could have gotten his nickname rather than the real deal. He hung out with Acey by coincidence, so people just figured it was a packaged deal.

There’s a game that’s most popularly known between the Navy and Marines called acey deucey. Without getting into all the details, it’s pretty much a modified version of backgammon. I learned about it long ago due to different times people in the clan would play it. Most of the times it would be outside and a lot of guff circulating about. But it was ok so it seemed since they had that brotherhood of the armed forces so to speak. Every just assumed A and D were just the acey and deucey of the game’s name as a double nickname. The two did actually play acey ducey now and then to be honest, but most of it was probably to just gossip a bit between the two of them and to scheme. They would just look a lot busier messing with the board and all. Some of the service guys can get a tad bit snippy when it comes to distractions if a big game…  So a lot of times people in a game are just avoided for a good amount of time. At least that’s how it was for us. At least once there were a bunch of guys who took photos of them playing the game itself as a photo op for the boys. It was a major thing to the guys serving but also would have been a joke way too inside, nobody else would get what the big deal was. “Had to be there” is the phrase for those situations.

But I don’t want to lump the two of them together, even if they were foils to each other’s scheming. So now I have to get into the truth of The Deuce. It’s really juvenile now that I start diving into it now, but most of the humor was very sophomoric as it’s called politely. Or lowbrow. There isn’t much else to talk about with a place consisting mostly of guys. It’s one of those clubhouse situations as I call it. No girls around to be afraid of getting caught hearing whatever antics. Most of the conversations amongst people there wander to sex stuff or anything related to potty humor. Sometimes both for a few of the more talented linguistic types, heh. There is a lot of crazy humor out there which would only be heard in a place like where we were stationed. Since sometimes potty humor hung in the air literally.

One of these things were due to him running his mouth about a bunch of dirty topics. The potty stuff rather than the sex things. Often guys would just try to top each other by knowing some awful slang. I thought the stuff was always pretty funny even when they were being gross, but it’s not like stuff I can laugh at with a girlfriend or wife while at a dinner party.

Anyway, the origin of the name that I know of came from one of these bull sessions. I can’t remember how these things start, but usually the end with one of the C.O.s yelling that stuff I getting out of hand. This is supposed to be a more civilized armed services but the politically correct thing isn’t something that can be kept up the whole time. If Uncle Sam thinks we’re out there for the tea and crumpets or little cucumber sandwiches, then I have a sad realization for the guy in the red and white striped hat. Any female who wants to serve her country has every right to, but also has to understand if they choose something like that then they need to make sure they don’t mind what a middle school locker room smells like or the way that age talks. Maybe with all the real emotion of sticking one’s neck out, sometimes it’s easier to get a little lax on the manners in order to compensate maybe. Most of the higher ups understand it but still have to get things back to a dull roar often. Otherwise things might get full tilt quick and that would be just entirely too much. Nobody wants the inmates having the keys to the crazy house, so the balance of power is a good thing.

So anyway, this guy was talking all about dumb stuff to do at a party or whatever. People were talking all about stuff that was a bit tame at first. Sex in the host’s bed or smoking in the bathroom, a bunch of stuff I can’t really remember. Then this guy pipes up how he once snuck an upper decker at a good friend’s house and causing a gigantic fallout in the so-called friend’s universe. A few were laughing but not all of them. So he had to explain the whole thing. Basically it’s when in the bathroom, the person takes the tank lid off the toilet and then uses the tank itself rather than the bowl. As he explained it “dropping a duce” which is how some of us kept thinking of him. A lot of people probably even though it was from duces wild poker or something, but trust me on the origin. All of the laughing alone sealed the deal. Not that it was overnight, but soon enough it stuck.

And talk about living up to a name. Deucey didn’t really work hard to, but it just came that way. A couple of incidents in particular, but it wasn’t like he was trying to be a gross out champ or anything. Somehow…  Things like that ended up gravitating towards him sometimes. Just like when he seemed to get his namesake, a lot of people would start jokingly asking if he had any upper deckers that day. Sometimes he’d just laugh or try to joke back how it’s hard to do such a thing in a port o let. It probably seemed way too ridiculous sometimes, but thankfully stuff like those quips really only went on for maybe a week. And that was mostly people outside of our group. We may have often been tasteless but we were too classy for torturing our own with the same old thing. Most of our joking would be more when at the DFAC anyway so he try not to make it too awful since we all have to try to eat something.

This next story I cannot claim as one hundred percent true. The what is the truth but the who and when might be a little off. We all had suspicions but the greatest feats are the ones which cannot be proven. I would say it’s legendary, but this is NOT anything that would ever be included in a history book in a million years. It does make me wonder if a guy like Deucey existed in World War Two. Odds are, it must be. But also they seemed to be doing a whole lot more marching than we did, and we have way more downtime as far as it ever seemed for me.

As legend goes…  Backing it up a short bit. There’s this thing we do here. I don’t know who else does it as far as if it’s a sport in other bases but, it’s just part of what goes with the territory when stuff is reduced to a middle school level. To glance over it as effortlessly as possible, there is an event we unofficially hold called the Tub Scrub. It is basically our own twist on latrine duty that is held very sporadically. Most can’t stand it so we’re hard pressed most of the time to have anyone participate. It’s called a “tub” just for the fact it sounds a little bit more polite. And it has more of a palatable title. In is really more about an uplifting thing like morale rather than how it’s usually handed out to being a demeaning thing. Plus  the word tub makes people a little less likely to wretch at the immediate phrase. Seriously, serving overseas in a war like this really can improve a person’s gag reflex. When-  Well more on that later.

So there was a couple variations to this scrub off. Usually it was a spur of the moment thing but it seems when things were going really rough for everyone, suddenly a Tub Scrub might be announced. This was something NOT condoned whatsoever by anyone higher than us. If a person was a C.O. that meant it was their job to stop any scrub off. Especially this version. It was seriously frowned upon so was kept very low key. This one was an all week event. To skip over the fine details, a side by side pair of the latrines were chosen supposedly randomly. We’d all know which they were. Not with a marking of any sort but news just travels. All week was the preparation” which meant everyone would use one of the two designated ones as often as possible, to give some sort of a sport to the event as it was joked. Superiors tried putting a hammer down on any of that stuff officially. Most sane people could see why, but the soldiers would say it was an excuse to take away any fun they wanted. It was sort of taboo which made it even more enticing I suppose.

So there’s the basic blueprint. As legend goes, another one of these was being prepared in the most graphic of sense. Not that these honey buckets were allowed to be thrashed or anything. But the increase in people was enough to do the trick. This was the moment of truth for the event and I forgot who the competitors were this particular time. I think everyone around didn’t remember the event itself. Only the supposed moment of truth. The two people lined up and the doors were swung open. Then everyone freak out. This time- well…  When they all stared at the latrine, something was staring right back at them. And this chocolate bar didn’t have the name Hershey’s on it. Suffice to say this tub scrub was very unceremoniously canceled. Someone ended up being daring enough to crook their head in since something didn’t seem quite right. It did not look like an accident.

A lot of them had to gather around and look. The entire group were dying of laughter as well as getting grossed out, so anyone not right in that area had to start rubbernecking like it was some car pileup on the highway. One of them ended up looking up and freaked out while covering his mouth. Everyone else started to take a second look also. It seemed this was an assault from above. No joke this thing ended up an actual upper decker.

People would look up and then freak out, most often meaning running away from the crowd. It seems someone did prove such a feat could be accomplished. There are shafts on a number of these port o lets for letting in light. This one proved there really can be trouble from above. All the eyes suddenly focused on Duecey. He looked many shades of gobsmacked even though he was having to get a look and a laugh like the rest of them. Whoever it was, if someone besides us saw it…  That could spell very bad news. The way some try to cut into antics, I was afraid of Deucey getting railroaded all the way into a court-martial. Nobody wanted that. Neither did see, so he sprung to action. The scrub was officially “scrubbed” sorry for the pun. But Deucey went to work in the most blurringly fast way I ever saw. The human tornado he was, cleaned all evidence. Bottom to top. Whoever it was we all forgot about and were amazed at what he did. It really was the only option he had. Who knew when someone would have tried to see what was happening. All I know is everyone had swell of sudden admiration for him, errr…  Taking the matter into his own hands. Though we all hoped not too literally whether it really was him or not responsible. At least everyone in our group and beyond knew he could be counted on in a pinch. Sorry for all of the terrible double meanings.

Nobody ever was completely sure if it was really him or not. Deucey did seem to have a pretty gritty sense of humor with some of the tales he told us all in the past. Some of the stories I don’t know how far widespread, but one did involve him being a construction worker and the lack of facilities on the job. One of his tales did involve occasionally crapping in a spackle bucket. Part of me leans to the obvious, but I also like the air of mystery. Safe to say nobody has ever attempted to pull off a feat like that again, at least that I ever heard of.

Another incident with him had to do with something else unsettling sadly. As I said, he seemed to have a nickname that really had a way of following close behind him. This is another thing not too pleasant but at least there’s a ninety nine and a half percent chance nobody reading this is anywhere near this place…

Sometimes this place is known as Emerald Lake in some pockets. If it’s supposed to sound cleaned up or a bit nicer than the truth then that’s an officially unofficial name. If the president was happening through or top brass, it was most often called “Emerald Lake” if not able to have attention diverted from it altogether. The running joke is the only fish a man can catch in that body of water is a speckled brown trout. The real name of that so-called lake is actually the “shit pond.”  No joke.

People get all grossed out by the name, and they should. This place was never really ideal conditions as far as standing ground or having an actually permanent or long term facility. What goes in must come out. There is no actual plumbing. As I said, the latrines are basically the same thing anyone would see at a sporting event. Those rows of the port o johns, or honey wagons as a lot of people joke. A euphemism of course. To me, “tub” sounds way more nicer, but maybe I am just used to it by now. Nobody can be used to the pond however. The only possible light is sometimes it makes the smell of death out on the field just a smidge less terrible if going strictly on smell alone.

The whole back-ended thing on the shit pond is the fact all of us proud people have nothing but the odor hanging over us the entire time. If the enemy had smell o vision then we’d have been done for sure a long time ago. This pond is basically where all the tubs empty into since the laws of science can only allow so much erosion from lye and that blue ice stuff. Sooner or later, whatever humans pump into those things need to get pumped back out.

Nobody is entirely too sure about why that exact spot was chosen. Maybe it was laziness or perhaps some Ramp Corps engineers forgot to carry a one. Or they just plain underestimated what a soldier’s insides are capable of. (U- S- A!)  Whatever the reason, life is not present. Part of the fun here is even seeing some dignitary land only to wish he was in the middle of a war zone so long as that smell could be instantly forgotten. If it wasn’t for the gag reflex due TO that ponds, I would have already been kissing the porcelain a dozen times by now. Nobody said war was pretty.

Anyway…  It doesn’t take Mister Wizard and a dozen pie charts to prove there has been no official unadulterated H2O ever in that pond of dubious origin. Nobody goes near it unless they are one of the “tub pumpers” or unless it is something related to the utmost of national security. Heck! If the government’s most wanted had numbers two through ten in there for the taking, I think a soldier would STILL think twice even though it would be a ticket straight to a beefy reward and promotion. I couldn’t really tell you what I’d choose, but let’s just say something with a clothespin might be one of the options, heh.

So I still have no clue how the planets lined up for this incident but…  Somehow Deucey ever got suckered or was cajoling someone. There’s no real way to find out which the truth is. Rumors amongst the place were as numerous as opinions in the whole wide world. But I’ll tell it the best I can from the jigsaw pieces I have been given.

For WHATEVER reason:  There was some sort of dare or bet that was going around involving the most notorious body of “water” I know. Someone who I think was fresh meat in the desert or someone way to dumb to care got into an argument of the crossing of the pond. Deucey may or may not have been trying to chase after this guy for his own well being. Geeze I hope The Deuce wasn’t suicidal in his own right, but I still think that would be an extreme stretch of the imagination. So anyway, there was basically some sort of a dare at crossing the English Channel, to say it in a nice way. The two were said to have walked around the entire thing and saw a place which  seemed to not be the same as the full width. Maybe they were overcome by the fumes. A couple of us have joked huffing it in a paper bag would be a “brown acid” so to speak. And then…  Splashdown. They were to have launched into the water and swum like the wind. But the outcropping area they chose was still a lot wider than they expected. So it was a bit of a struggle to cross, and from what I was told it was a very different consistency than what they might have expected when it was a pool, so they may have had a longer time in there for that reason. When they got out, Deucey is said to have had to have pulled the other guy out. All I know was he was supposed to be looking a lot like the name. He had to pull the other guy out and they both were looking like Swamp Thing.

A couple were said to have actually seen them, but stuff varies greatly. It reminded me of someone who died at my high school…  Whether people knew the guy or not, everyone said it was a friend of theirs. Same for this and whoever may or may not have been present made no difference- A dozen different stories were said. One said Deucey was carrying the other guy. One said they were both kind of holding each other up. At any rate, they both made it out of the undrinkable drink and one if not both of them were not doing too well. What is surely known is both successfully made it to sick bay. The only one I am sure about is Duecey. A few days later he got transferred somewhere else. None of us were able to see him. I guess he and the other guy inhaled or something and that was the initial major issue but then infection suddenly set in also. From what we  best know, the other guy dies. To this day I never heard anything from Deucey himself or anything else related. When the few of us snuck in to see him, he was not looking good and had a huge breathing tube setup going through him. I’m not certain if it was a full ventilator, but he was really weak and couldn’t speak for obvious reasons. Some guys circulated the idea Deucey ended up going away more for depression rather than further medical illness. All I know is that I never saw him again after that. And no contact from any of us.

All of that was bringing another story to mind. It was our little adoption so to speak. It’s not exactly a soldier story. At least not at first. I’d give a time but most of all the days blurred together, or the longer I ignored a calendar meant the time seemed to pass just a little bit faster. Nobody really knows how we got him, but we did.

It made its way to us with some sort of cunning. A guard or someone might have put a bullet through it sadly or at least shoo the thing off by popping a few shots over it’s head for a stern warning. We are frowned upon as far as pets usually. It can lead to more trouble than it’s often worth. But anyway…

We first laid eyes on it trying to scope out the chocolaty Emerald Lake. Guess it was too much even for this dog. It ended up circling then heading towards a couple of us in the group. If I hadn’t mentioned it a dozen or so times already, it’s pretty tough trying to keep from getting bored on downtime. So anything is a welcome distraction for most of us. Even if that distraction might be carrying rabies or whatever foreign substance which might cause a zombie scourge. We didn’t care and placed our palms up and below nose level slowly, as I suggested. It seemed to take right too us. The thing wasn’t overjoyed but seemed not to want to tear out our jugulars either.

It was a mutt of course. There are a lot of actual breeds as I was told another time, but I wasn’t really a kennel club member or anything. To me dogs were dogs and only a half dozen in my eyes are worthy enough to be hunting ones in most cases back where I’m from. This one was most surely a mutt, and not too skittish of humans so that must have meant a few things.

It seemed to be a little like an afghan but with none of the hair. It was rather slender like one, but this one had looks more like a breed known there as a koochi if that’s right. Those are usually a bit more with a look like a husky but don’t have the wolf style ears as a husky does. This one had ears smaller than a husky would but these ears also had a little bit of a flop to them. They could fold over or stand straight up depending the expression of this dog. It had a bit of a tail like a mastiff. It was not thin like a Dalmatian or a fluffy husky kind, and it didn’t seem to curl. It usually didn’t wag either. Just unfurled and stood out, but it was maybe half the size of a mastiff tail too. It didn’t have the long hair like an afghan breed would. This stuff wasn’t soft either, even though it looked at first to be a bit on the fuzzy side on a good day. Petting it always felt like I was always going against the grain for some reason.

There was an importance to the aspects of its looks. Over there one of the major pastimes is dog fighting. Most all the dogs born with an inkling for that sad trade usually had its ears and tail chopped off as soon as possible for the barbaric reason it keeps the fights lasting longer, and that is supposed to keep things more interesting. It gave us a good indication this animal may never even had an owner. It looked full sized to us, and none of that puppy way of acting.

There were a lot of ideas about how the thing was born and grew up with a possibility of little human contact. It seemed to come up like a wild animal who didn’t know it was supposed to have a fear of people for the plain case of survival instinct. This guy likely was never anyone’s pet, though hundreds of these animals were either scared and ran when the bombs started dropping. Or they weren’t able to follow their masters when they were fleeing for their lives. Any number of reasons really. Some treated them nicely as pets of course, but a lot of them were less than scrupulous. Just like back at the states. And with so little regard for even how females were treated in so many areas, how could there be laws protecting animals. Damn shame all around.

Whatever the backstory on this guy was, we know he must have seen some sort of action. It had a lighter brown coloring on it. Kind of the same color scheme as a corgi maybe as best to explain. The more orangish and white combination, but more of a light tan rather than that copper kind of coloring. It was mostly that orange and tan kind of color in sport, but mostly a very light tan or almost white. The belly was white with spots of the light brown coloring, like speckles or circles. We knew it has some sort of story since its coat had powder burns on it. It was like a handful of painted pellets from a bb gun smacked against the full length of one side of it.

As soon as we noticed it seemed to be friendly enough, or just neutral to all of us near it, we took it to K.  Thankfully with a day off. Short for Kay I think. But most of the people in our group called her K5 as a nickname. The handle seemed inappropriate from some’s point of view because that’s jargon I think from the FBI about a kill zone on a target. Five was dead as fried chicken as I remember. But she got the name from some carnie speak or wrestling code meaning to keep things on the down low. And example would be “This info isn’t going to be public until next week so for now it’s K5.”  That’s what she would usually do for people. It was very true for us at least. She’d score some extra supplies for Threeage or something when he was low on something like anesthetic or even gauze, whatever.

K was able to give our little canine a decent once over and give us some info. Yeah, Threeage could have done it a little bit but he’s more of a stitch ’em up kind of guy and she also had more access to equipment, since she was a tent person not a field type. Plus she spent a lot more time out here and knew a bit more than us about the region and random local type things. She was also a girl. I don’t mean she was a woman in a bad way, but she was female so was extra sensitive about a few guys trying to give a four legged friend a little help. She got that so it seemed. She thought it was cute or sweet, even though he was smelling a little oily and ripe. Then again it was roses compared to a “tub scrub situation” to drop an obvious hint.

Our assumption checked out with flying colors since she did like the idea we were taking an interest in something other than ourselves. She also had a lot of small animal experience, which I think was code for being related to the veterinarian profession. She was also the one to first school us about the different breeds and what a lot of the bastards did out here as treatment to animals. She was just as surprised as us about the powder burns. From K’s point of view, the thing should have been really painful or traumatic if not flat out dead. The physics just didn’t add up and she was first to say what we had on our hands was a little miracle; though a filthy little rascal.

We ended up with some sort of antibacterial soap she had and some old fashioned bars of stuff that was like Lava soap but what had what we swore as fiberglass and sand mixed it. The idea was it wouldn’t have hurt the fur of the dog, and maybe we’d try to get some of that gunpowder off him. We couldn’t really heal ourselves from some of the stuff we saw, but we thought maybe we could try to do something similar for him, even if a dog. We got some pails and filled them with water and took the dog out a ways to keep from too much prying as far as the wrong people peeping. We could have been in some deep trouble even only for the fact it was wasting water. That could have been something more serious than any other violation short of causing a major medical malady. We could have tried to get some brown water going- well not THAT brown like from Emerald Lake but it’s a slang for recycled. Like if one of us saved the water from washing our face in a pail, or rinsing our arms off as an example. We thought with whatever kind of life this dog had up until now, it deserved at least one wash with actual water, not recycled or reclaimed stuff. We got the dog out and away from prying eyes.

One of us was also smart enough to scrounge up a plastic tarp also. It helped keep a little more water, so we were still recycling it so to speak. But it was reclaimed doggie suds. He stood still for the whole thing and that was really how we found out its literal true colors. Before we thought it has German Shepherd coloring because it was so dark almost everywhere. Brownish black like seen on police dogs. Once we got the thing lathered, it was coming up more and more like the corgi colors. That orangey sort of color, but a bit more on the brownish side. More and more of the dark filth and such kept dripping and sluffing of almost like it was some sort of coating, like that magic shell stuff kids put on their ice cream to give it a  hard layer of caramel coating. But this would have been like a gel version rather than a thick shell. Gross stuff. One of the guys joked that he was walking squalor. One of the other guys complained about saying anything negative since he’s had it bad enough, the dog that is. We thought maybe it was running through an oil field or something as dark as it got, but it just didn’t add up. Guess accumulating so much grime and it all comes up a bit like oil or whatnot.

When he was all done, then we ended up with the dog we all generally knew. But we still couldn’t get the powder burns scrubbed off or out of him. They went all the way through to the undercoat according to what K saw. She couldn’t tell if he was actually burned on the skin itself or not, but either way it was fine since she said he didn’t seem to have any pain from it at all so that was a bright point. That was of course on a post-bath examination. It had a really think coat as far as the density went. It  really didn’t look like much fur at all but I guess it was just the way the mutt’s hair all packed together. It may have been the key to how it survived so long or had no other outside help like a pack to go to. Most dogs not in a pack can’t fend for their selves as K put it. They need a group of some sort to eck it out on a day to day basis. But this rapscallion  seemed to have been defying the odds up to this point. K said this was probably the pack according to the eyes of the mongrel. It was another reason why it seemed not to have fussed us or anything like that. It was always in a need to have a pack to please. We were more than welcome to accept him to the pack also, even if we couldn’t get its marks off. But as one of the guys joked, girls love it when a guy’s got a little battle damage on him. After he was all cleaned off, the consensus was to name the little guy Pepper. It was kind of based off of some surf punk kind of Hawaii band one of the guys loved to listen to on rotation, and it was also one of the groups we all liked to sing along with anyway. “Please Pepper, no salt” was already something based off the group’s lyrics which we’d say as a random slang with each other that never meant anything in particular. There were some things guys said just to get the rest of their group to say along or finish. It was sort of like a high school color shout or cheer. It was silly but kind of kept some stuff just to us. Each division of us would do something like that but it was always a friendly rivalry.

So all of us who were like his little pack, we all eventually ended up calling ourselves the Pepper Posse by taking turns helping the little dog out. It wasn’t that big of thing, but it would have been a wee too much for any one person. Plus it’d not like all we did was sit around. There was a lot of stuff we really were doing which meant we often needed someone else keeping an eye on Pepper. Most often it was K who would do it. We knew the guy was fine on his own since he was always out but himself from our best guess, but we wanted to make sure he was pampered so to speak. At the very least so he’d have some access to water. It was basic, but it’s what we thought was important.

Long as Pepper stayed out from people’s way, there wasn’t an issue. He never got anyone in a lather really. Some might be jealous that liked our group of guys best, but we just said we knew he had good taste because of it. Others joked back how there’s no accounting for taste if that’s the truth of the matter. We felt the most comfortable when K could attend to him while we were away. She had a good instinct for animals and they got along the best besides us. She said it was more because she was not inside the pack like us. As an outsider we respected, then he also did. We would joke it’s only because she’s a girl. She would joke back it’s probably though all of us project affection towards her even though none of us had a chance with her. It was all true in a way I guess. I never did a lot of animal raising but I always had respect for them, even if I was killing critters out in the woods here and there. Most of it I put to real use in one way or another. Food or pelt for the most part. So even if I didn’t raise them, I still felt some bit of respect. The idea is as long as I gave nature the respect I should get a bit of that respect back in turn. I won’t say I was the chief care giver of Pepper, but I made a very large and conscious effort. Maybe it was another way to give back to nature in a weird way.

I tried to work with Pepper here and there but there really wasn’t ever a need. It just seemed everything was inborn or second nature. K would say it was because Pepper probably needed a pack so badly it didn’t want to do anything but please us. When we were giving him that bath on the tarp, one of us was holding him. He seemed to already know we were helping him out, so Pepper was just staying in place and not giving any resistance. We didn’t put much of a tight hold on him I mean. We kept talking to him and each other, and I think he was just happy for all the attention. The funny thing was how he seemed to just know what we wanted him to do. It was also funny to see Pepper walk off the tarp and shake himself off. Between heat and the coat of his, that dog came out looking bone dry. Some of them thought he was smiling even, but I think that was a pant load.

We tried to give him some commands. Basic stuff. We told it to sit and gave a hand command and he listened and followed. Then we tried to get him to lay. Pepper did it. That’s all we tried at first. There was something with K we learned. Supposed to be the stages of training, and we all worked with him bit by bit. It didn’t really take too long though in comparison from what it may be for a normal dog. I think everyone for the most part was either feeding him a bit or rechecking on water for him, or trying to show Pepper a hand command of some sort. We agreed on pretty standard hand commands after a while. First voice then hand signs we all agreed on. We figured maybe he wasn’t used to English anyway as a joke, but actually we had a plan for it. If we could take him around, then using hands would be best. Especially playing with him without disturbing any of the others. That kind of thing. We would usually only try to use good vibes so to speak- not saying anything negative to Pepper. The major agreement was he went through enough. It was a standard answer for anything that was bad in any form. There was a more major reason, whether it was obvious or not. We all really looked at this dog as our God-send. Something to help make us more aware in a way, or a good omen. We do a lot of ribbing with each other and busting balls due to all the high stress situations that sporadically pop up, so it was a way for us all to focus in a positive way. We are just a dumb group of guys and avoid anything to do with feelings or looking wimpy. So we were able to show a little affection in a neutral sort of way towards the dog. Most all of us bonded with him anyway. All of us in the Pepper Posse for sure.

That pack of firecrackers of a dog was more and more a part of us. I don’t know how it happened, but we ended up getting a collar for him too. However luck had it, we ended up with one. It wasn’t really what we wanted for him but we made due. It was at least Army green. Prevante said we needed something more official for him anyway. He couldn’t officially condone Pepper but he took as much of a blind eye as he could. He liked the dog a lot I’m sure. So we somehow turned up a collar as I said, and one of them ended up using a black felt pen to mark his name in capital letters: P E P P E R.  The dog liked his collar from the first get go. We made sure to keep it loose on him, but that wasn’t much of a problem either. He was still pretty thin for a dog. Acey would  even jokingly call him Ribsy at first, from some kid’s book. Pepper didn’t always let his ribs show once we got him. He didn’t look fat or anything, just right as I always saw it.

Later on we ended up getting Pepper an upgrade. Somehow we god some shredded up pants or some sort of uniform material. I mean it was our camouflage specifically for us, not the generic camo pattern that circulates everywhere and people recognize most often in the states. This was our version of the desert camouflage. One of us got ahold of it and we got Threeage to do a free sewing job for us. We were able to get that piece of material. And then Threeage sheared a long enough piece of material to go all the way around the collar. Then he was able to sew it as a covering over, and it blended in much better than the green as it was. It was basically our form of branding. Three even went the extra mile by cutting out the loop where a leash attaches and also the adjustment holes in the collar and stitching all of that together also to keep from any fraying. He had the tightest stitches I ever saw whether it was on clothing or matters of the skin. To this day, when I see a doctor’s stitch they look like a Frankenstein job compared to how Threeage did it. We also somehow came across a set of blank dog tags. Come to think of it, they were more just shaped similar and a blank metal rather than actual G.I. grade. Somehow we ended up getting our hands on a metal press, well it was used to imprint names or whatever. It was something guys paid for that was in the supply room I think. Pay a set amount and get your name pressed into a book or any other item to keep tabs on. It was also used to put someone’s name on to mail something to add a touch, like a greeting card envelope. There are many uses, but home brewing a name on some dog tags were not one of the intended uses. We almost broke the dang thing actually once we swiped it. They couldn’t know what we were doing, so they happened to present an opportunity for us to get our hands on the thing. There was a little bit of trouble with the size of the opening on the device, since the dog tag was a little too thick to press the whole name at once. So the guy just pressed the name in letter by letter. On the bright side, at least nobody could make the accusation we were trying to forge a dog tag. Besides it just looking similar, there was a very non-military look to the letters in spacing and not entirely even since it was done in a bit of a guess and a freehand way. But it looked just  fine by all of us in the Pepper Posse. A dog tag for an actual dog.

We got the whole thing together but then we ended up with a bit of flack. It wasn’t any brass or C.O.  Not even Prevante. But it was someone in our crew, which slowly turned into a mini bandwagon effort. One which we all tried to keep poor Pepper out of. I forgot who said it first. I know it wasn’t anyone like Maffick or Deucey. Of Course not Prevante since he abstained on all of that from an official point of view. On one hand, he could have ordered us to banish Pepper from our base altogether. He didn’t ever say much either direction in an on the record stance, so we figured he didn’t mind it as long as it didn’t turn into one of those situations where everyone is fighting over the Christmas present. But this time there’s not mom or dad’s closet to hide the item being fought over- Just the desolate desert of which he came. None of us wanted that, especially the Pepper Posse no doubt about it. But there was still an issue with this new getup for the dog.

For some reason I remember Overkill being one not to chime in until many of the others already had. Maybe it was Ubu who chimed up about it. If so, that meant he was the cause and also solution to the entire ruckus. Go fig. Well the spark to the kindling was Pepper shouldn’t have been a member of our ranks for the plain reason he wasn’t one of us. That’s American I mean.

Since we found one another here, that meant Pepper was in all likelihood Afghani or haji, which could be far worse. No disrespect from me, I don’t mean it in a bad way. But some do. It’s a word that has a lot more uses depending the way it’s said. But sometimes haji cuts a few different ways. We had a huddle away from Pepper though, so we all kept with the rules. We were like the parents fighting outside of earshot of our kid. I know Ubu was vocal enough about it. About how we knew Pepper wasn’t a traitor. It was a bit of a joshing way but there was an undertow of truth to it.

We were getting to a point of distrust when we ended up with Pepper in all honesty. Not for what was going on with our base or our group at all. But there is a large outside factor. The X of it, meaning the unknown factor like in algebra. There were a lot of things which our group felt wasn’t self sufficient. Not to besmerge the fine brass and commander in chief for this freedom war. A lot of it lay in the outside factors rather than something like the Desert Shield or Storm which most remembered around my age. That was a war of bombardment and with an entire world behind us. This go around it more a war of information. We are often like what people watch on Cops. We hear of a disturbance and then head out to the property in question and then ask questions, follow the info and all of that. Much of that is what fueled our distrust. That and wanting to stay alive long enough to at least get back home to the states in one piece and die by getting slammed into by a bus or something rather than dropping on the soil or sand of an unknown land.

We all have to depend on a translator for most of these excursions. None of us have a grasp of the language and we also wouldn’t have the same impact as someone who is native to the land and area. It’s nothing personal on the person exactly translating. But people need to look at it from our point of view. I am an American. If I am supposed to help soldiers on my turf from another country who may be going through my neighborhood? I might be giving a tip off of some sort if I am unsure of what might happen to the family I knew when I knock on the door. People who watch a lot of the Cops show would know what I mean on things going the way of wonky in no time at all. That’s my point at least. Houses that are dark in high noon. No electricity, and barely enough room for even just a couple of us in battle rattle to move through at once. Bad logistics, but no other choice as it goes. We have to do what we are commanded or asked. Follow the info, ride the intel. Just because it’s what we accept doesn’t mean it’s something we can’t have some fear of also. It’s why he have our own names. It’s why we have our own field language. It’s why some people say we were closing off out there more and more. It was agreed self preservation.

So from the standpoint of Ubes, we shouldn’t allow Pepper to be part of our circle or at least nothing related to an official part of our group. It was ok for him to be with us, but to be in anything elevated towards us was simply not going to cut it. A dog tag on anyone not part of us was being seen as deceptive now or beyond reproach, whatever it was. But then Maffick helped us with a plan.

We got hold of a couple files. One was supposed to be a version of when Americans are sworn in, whatever it’s called. Naturalization speech or something along those lines. Like when they show news stories every July Fourth of people who have become new citizens the day of our nation’s birth. Then we found something closest as we could to what the interpreters are supposed to be agreeing to when they work with us. Similar to the soldier’s oath or presidential inauguration but also very much like when a posse is being deputized in the movies. At least that’s how the thing was written up when I saw and heard it, but that was possibly thanks a bit to Ubes.

From what I can tell, the whole written out thing was done by Edgerider. He was the most poetic so to speak, so I think he was the one with the least complaints as to writing something out long form. Edge is the one to get us all to write our thoughts like this. And he kept a lot of journals or something. I never really saw what he was ever writing since he was pretty quick with literally keeping it to his chest. In fact, Edge taught me a lot about writing. He was not a pro or anything but I guess he did a lot of it in high school and joined some groups for creative writing and fiction classifications. He wasn’t really one to share much about himself but I found out little by little when we’d talk about writing and I’d show him some stuff I worked on when I was bored. He was much better than me when I got to read some of the small stuff. We used to write a piece of fiction that went back and forth. It’s the only way I ever say anything he personally wrote. We called it our B.S. Masterpiece. Something he learned from a guy in a writing group. We just passed it back and forth and had a deadline each time. I highly doubt he still has it. If I remember it right, he had it in his possession when we all caught the big bounce. I am not comfortable getting into all of that right now. The story is really about Pepper.

Edge did a great job. He smashed all the stuff together and then Ubu did an edit job, I think to make it a lot more like when the guys in the old west were deputized. There was all of us present. We lined up and saluted along either side while three others got around Pepper. Ubu read the document, one had a bible for Pepper’s left paw, and the other held the right hand up to take the oath in the “swearing” position like in so many tv court shows. We took it as an understood sign as he understood. It was good enough for Ubu and the rest of us. Pepper was an official deputy and temporary United States citizen so far as we all saw it. Some asked if it was really necessary to have him renounce his country. We made it basically joint but fired back how nobody in this desert but us even knew who he was, let alone give a darn for. Far as we were concerned, he was government property as much as we were. He ate enough dang M.R.E.s to prove that. He was the Cool Hand Luke of those things. The ones we fed were sort of on the expired side anyway. Though they have a shelf life to rival a twinkie for the most part, there’s some sort of cycling done on the MREs: Meals Ready to Eat. Probably imposed at some time thanks to Amnesty International, heh.

Besides eating enough of the food we didn’t want to be a soldier, he was officially one of us. We’d say he was below the rank of whoever our interpreter was, but all of us inside the group didn’t subscribe to it- Pepper was the same level as us. Maybe a little bit below for being a doogie and all, but if we had to choose between him or our interpreter, the one with four legs would probably have been brought to safety first. That would not “bode well” as they say, so that was just between us. Whatever anyone thought, Pepper ended up being something of an insurance policy for us.

Once we finally made things official so to speak… Swearing our puppster in as one of us, tagging and re-collaring him. It started the eventual next phase of him. Sadly we couldn’t get him a brain bucket or his own baby battle rattle, but Pepper was not an on the books kind of animal. He was in the eyes of the others, a mascot so to speak. But we didn’t care since at least we got to keep him around. We weren’t going to “go Ubu” to protect the little guy, so we stayed in perception at least.

Now that he was like we were, we didn’t want to keep him a fobbit either. That’s slang for people who basically stay on base all the time. They don’t head out like us into more dangerous territory. On the food chain, we were already pretty much the big guys. We would get handed whatever others had doubts about. No flack towards the rest or unkind words, but we just ended up being very reliable with a decent record of things going the right way. I won’t say it’s entirely because of the measures we took entirely, but I also can’t say it was harming what we did either. Towards the end it had some of its own effects, but I would not say it was overall negative. We stopped getting less fresh meat, but that could have also helped us keep things successful. I know there was a strain on an influx. And we were told by people like Prevante and Edgerider that it wasn’t such a new thing. Maybe our rep dictated the cutoff of people, but it could be the fact less were upping, or the stop-losses were from other areas and getting reassigned where they were last at. No problem with it where I stand. Though last I heard, our group isn’t even there now due to The Incident.

With our interpreter, it was not the same thing as having embedded reporters, which I am glad to say we never had. There was talk of it, but Overthrill was very vocal against it. For matters of fairness, Prevante asked us and the floor was open to discussion. We all sided with what Over said and Prev made the decision based on the feedback of his men. So there was not out of turn for the record. So when we had an H.I. as it was later known as, code as Haji Interpreter: which Edge would point out as being open to interpretation as was. It was slang we didn’t openly say though since it was not about hurting the feelings of the guy doing the job, but self preservation on our part. But the issue was we wouldn’t have one H.I. the whole time.

The interpreter varied depending on the situation, location, or what type of person we  are expecting to come across. Kind of like substitute teachers in a school. Just because I had one sub for one class didn’t mean I’d be expecting the same one next time, or for a different class. Yeah, there were times that sort of thing happened and we’d know each other (in school just as in our interpreters pool) but that went both ways. We tried not to give a vibe one way or the other, we were usually neutral in how we handled it like if on a business call with another region. We were polite and listened, but didn’t try to show a pals emotion or an ice gaze. It was a polite poker face as Acey might have worded it. It helped keep any of them thinking one way or the other. But we didn’t really have a choice or anything. Whoever we were given we were stuck with. And we had to have this guy “innocent until proven guilty” as they say it in American court or Cops shows.

When we had Pepper…  As I said, it was kind of an insurance policy for us. Everybody knows dogs are pretty good judges of character. Sure it might be up for debate with him coming up to us? I’m just joshing. But our rationale was the dog was from the same vibe as the interpreters, so it was the best way to get a gut feeling. Some of these less than credible ones who were fudging the info here and there we could scope out thanks to Pepper. We figured any who had respected Pepper as much as we did would be decent enough to be with. Not that we could refuse, or nor would we if given a choice for the sake of good will. But now we had a sniff test as it’s called. All swell by me.

Some who were dog fighters would catch Pepper’s eye. Some would owe up to it. It really was a more interesting ride when we started taking Pepper along for the literal ride. If he caught something he didn’t like especially. Usually Prevante would just be kicked back as if napping or not caring. He knew he could trust us for nothing to get out of hand. As it’s said, just putting a scare into someone. Overthrill would usually be the one to start mentioning something, good or bad. He was a natural at conversation so it seemed. Overthrill wasn’t usually the person to go to for advice, but he would be the best out of snaking info whether to an interpreter or through one. He said he “had a flow” and usually it worked in our favor. Opinionated as Over got a lot, he never let that get in his way when it was a mission or an objective to complete. But he would squash anything related to advice or settlement of anything seeming petty in the eyes of Over. He wouldn’t want to really insert himself since it would be ripe for breeding some sort of conflict or dramatics. A famous line being, “Save the drama for Usama.” Which was most of the time enough to crack us all up even if we already knew what the line was going to be.

If we needed something, that was a job for Edge. Usually Edgerider had a way to get an item needed, or tell us what course of action to take, such as if someone had girl trouble or even needed to borrow five bucks off another guy. There was a technique Edge seemed to use which would help keep himself free of any blow back. Maffick called the style “the yeas and nays of it” when there was some sort of issue. Over would say a pro and con situation. So he would stay on the fence of it. It would be Edge saying something like if the person is guilty then whatever, but if the person was innocent whatever. The “whatever” meaning fill in the blank for whatever he was saying to answer the question. Not to convolute, but just trying to help give an insight to a guy who doesn’t reveal much.

Back to Overpush and the ways he could operate with Pepper in tow…  I was saying how we weren’t trying to be cold or too kind to our interpreter, whether we liked him or not. If we were out and then there was something from the dog, Over would take the opportunity presented and use it to our advantage.

If there was someone Pepper wasn’t sure of, that would be something known right away. Some sort of action by the dog or how he reacted at first glance. We’d pretend not to notice anything like that, but most of us knew. Especially those of us in the Pepper Posse who spent a lot of time with the lovable mongrel. But like I said, we would just wait until the time was right instead of right at the moment.

Often it would be known by Over and he’d just bide his time until a certain point. Then when he felt the time was right, he’d drop some mention. The dog could blink or crook its head for no reason, but the interpreter wouldn’t notice. Overthrill would spring and ask “Did you see that?” Then however the reply went whether yes or no, then Over would ask “Do you like dogs?” It would get into some subsequent talk. Overthrill often got someone to even admit if they were hiding some additional information or even if they were a dog fighter or spectator. Actually, turns out there was something easy about catching  a guy who was a dog fighter for the most part. Somehow there was  a porcupine thing the dog would do in those situations. It was like the undercoat would spike out as if someone combed hair gel into it. I’d call it his razorback, since it was kind of like a hog’s bristles when it popped up on his back like that. Overthrill knew when the razorback action happened then there was something to be known of the interpreter. We would joke Pepper is a  local so can read emotion better than us.

A lot of times an interpreter wouldn’t want to work with us again because of the dog. Or it was a begrudging sort of thing. Didn’t bother me of course. None of us. We’d laugh about it to ourselves secretly. It wasn’t like we really were trying to scare any off or make anyone suffer. It was just to get a read in all cases, and it usually went just fine. But the times something had a chance of being odd…  There was a great warning from Pepper. There were times Pepper sensed something. Not exactly our interpreter I mean, just something didn’t seem right and Pepper made some sort of action. We followed his vibe and it saved at least a few lives. Often it was helping save the bacon of the interpreter also. That little dog earned its keep as far as the Pepper Posse felt and our whole group. Honestly I don’t think any interpreter would even that the dog because it may not look becoming, but we were sprat enough to be thankful. Haha

Pep was great at all the commands. Usually we just had him laying down once we were near a property. At first we’d make him stay in our vehicle, but somehow he started slowly coming out and following behind us time and time again.

Once stuff did get out a bit out of hand, and Pepper bolted off, only to run around to the back of a house. He tackled someone trying to escape and had the guy freaking out like no tomorrow. I don’t know how he did it but Pepper had the guy on the ground and his mouth was wrapped almost all the way around the person’s neck. The guy had an automatic weapon which he was close to grabbing but he couldn’t grab it in time. He just stayed there knowing he life was in the hands of a dog’s teeth. I still don’t know how he had his mouth open up like that. He never saw anything like it. We joked maybe the dogs out there could unhinge their jaw like a snake. We later figured maybe the guy still had gunpowder on him and Pepper sniffed it out, due to that mystery mark he was “peppered” with. Maybe it was the way our dog finally got some poetic justice.

He left no marks either on our suspect, which we rounded up and were very thankful nothing worse happened at that location. Stuff would have been much worse if not for Pepper. That’s the best image I have for him. I still remember that guy was trying to exclaim when we brought him in how we had a wild animal and was forcing it to attack him, and it had. But with no marks whatsoever and our interpreter explaining we caught him while reaching for some high capacity firepower when taken down, there wasn’t a leg for our culprit to stand on. At least that’s one time we had the side of the interpreter. Despite how we felt about that one, he was glad to be alive just as all of us. Despite how any of us initially felt on that interpreter, all we know is there was never a problem with that H.I. ever again. Guess that’s the bond people can have when they almost all die together.

Pepper proved himself many times. I wished he didn’t sometimes. But I don’t think the fobbit thing was what he was cut out for. He really was one of us. We were his pack, whether he was really playing for team Uncle Sam or just happy to be one of us. He would have qualified for one of those dog chow awards when the mightiest heroic dog sits on a Thanksgiving parade float in New York. He never seemed to have doubters or haters. After his little oath, anything like that vanished- It was not that we all took it seriously, but there was just a bitter humor to it. It was kind of kidding but it really was reinforcing our issue with closing ourselves off for our own good. It worked since we all pretty much stayed intact. But the last run we made with Pepper was what sealed the deal as far as our status of him.

It’s tough to explain a lot of this part of the story. We all decided not to give too many details for the sake of national security for our country and brotherhood. But it was also something related to our second lives later on which we didn’t want to get too heavy upon. One of the same? I don’t want to get into too much of that. Time isn’t right.

We already had a warning on this one. This thing had a designation of CTSF. That was our own jargon for this Can Turn to Shit Fast. We had limited info but this was something which was already marked as a doozy status. From what we knew, this was a bunker house sort of setup where it could or could not be “officially” but we were sure this thing was a lot more than how it was going to look from the horizon. Some operations are built specifically to look like a single unit dwelling. So we all look like the baddies by relentlessly pummeling smalltime farmers who have no link to anything in the realm of terror. In reality it’s all made to look that way, but often those kinds of places are like icebergs. More underneath than what’s shown on top. A lot of these places have drug labs, weapons and chemical capabilities, and store a healthy amount of firepower. It just all depends from structure to structure. I’m not saying they are all like this, but the art of deception is not lost amongst those people. It’s the same as houses with a whole hydroponic operation in the basement when a drug raid. All looks fine but…

So this is what we were going with. A structure that could be much more. But we still had no more than usual against it. We were walking right up to the front door and trick or treating basically. We never wanted trouble or anything messy, but we also knew we were the ones for the job. If there weren’t things out there like this, then there would be no reason for troops like us to be in the rocks and sand. We were pretty sure our interpreter was decent, but we still weren’t certain since we didn’t know him and our usual playbook. Nothing to go on from Pepper either. All we had were our own instincts, with healthy suspicion and a mission.

This wasn’t our first, nor the last. We took our formation and tried to see if there were any indicators of something uncool. Sometimes silos can be a marker of weapons or incomplete weapon systems, or housing firepower I don’t want to get into. They were dirt farmers, which was a code for possible drugs or various contraband. A lot of places will decoy by looking like the mold for a facility but then come up clean save for an area of a field which has the illegal goods in cases underneath. Most of the time those dirt farms show signs of freshness to tip things off. This farm was crusted over, looked as if they skipped a season or two of planting.

A lot of what happened still runs through my mind, like a bad DVD that starts to skip around and change speeds. I remember stuff pretty well at the point of knocking. Then I know there was an odd posture when I saw the guy answering the door. I wasn’t right up front so it wasn’t like I heard him or watched his face, not that I’d even know what he was saying of course. The interpreter seemed to respond fast and then seem to take longer than usual. It seemed odd to me. I couldn’t hear him, but I saw the pauses of lip movement. I also saw a difference in gestures. The interpreter was almost holding his clothes. Most of the times I have seen our H.I. make arm movements. Just like a house party when someone introduces people to one another in a friendly way. Not so much if I knew it so obviously then, but I know it now. Looking backwards with perfection.

I was supposed to be straddling both sides, which I was. Bit more on the front but able to swing my weapon to the back if we had a runner or worse. We had some of the newer guys to have a further back look of the back. Apparently stuff was taking much longer. More stalling than some complication from translation. Gut feelings all around it seems, since Prev was leading the guys further around back. All I do know is… Boom.

Without warning we heard an explosion. It wasn’t the same as hearing mortar sounds crashing from above. It was still loud but it had a slight muffle as I remember now. A rear door was detonated. Not by us, but from within. We could have lost much more but at that point the worst was winded and heavily stunned. The door blew outwards and was a thinner material. Almost a titanium rather than the usual heavy iron which is found on the “unbreechable” style doors, such as what we called a middle east bomb shelter for example. If that was a full style heavy iron door, they would have gotten at least one killed by either impact or crushing under the insane weight of those. One of the guys had rattle who took full force; heavy combat armor. That’s why he was breech position lead in the first place. By whatever twist of luck, he took the full hit and it was much thinner than the usual fare. Lucky to be alive.

Soon as we heard that sound, it was all bets off and our fingers flipped to the triggers. It must have been a straight shot from back to front since a good billowing of debris and powder flung past the guy in the doorway and clear out the front door. Must have been an amateur at the wiring and direction, so the force clearly went more back than front. If it was a more seasoned demo man, there would have been a blast to shred the door into projectiles for us to take to the face or to carry our limbs away from us. Somehow the guy thankfully for us had it ass backwards, and there was more bark than bite in the detonation.

The fouled explosion dazed all the people inside so it seemed. It bought us just enough reaction time. Any men trying to round the gaping hole in back had a rude surprise from our welcoming party. With the new guys, they may had bough a coinflip of a chance to have at least one to get away clean. Luck on our side, everyone fleeing out back had too shot of equilibrium to think beyond hitting the dirt when seeing those barrels on them. An intimidation I cannot explain since I’m on the side of right.

Those in the front saw powder and dust flying out the front. It’s what I saw, and it made me think at first the framing wiped out, but those things are way too solid. All I knew next was a blitz was on. The man who opened the door had now threw himself though the doorframe. It was blink of an eye speed. We had a runner on our hands. The problem wasn’t we were slow or too lax. It was a combination of the events as well as the spacing. We aren’t supposed to take random shots, and even if I squeezed trigger, there were too many friendlies packed in around that door. This guy formed a pick, like in basketball- I was blocked by my own teammates, human barricade style. We’d rather also let one go rather than nick one of our own guys. Most of the time it’s more the goods or supply chain we’re following, not the people so much. It would be spiting a pack mule for the supplies on its back, most of them are shills or fooled into holding the bag. We’re taught to have a bit of compassion for the plight and situation. But in a blink, that guy flew with the filth and debris. At the time it seemed simultaneous. That’s when it the bad kept stacking up on us.

Seeming right behind our guy on the run, our interpreter bolted. He was buzzing right behind almost a matter of steps. We didn’t know if it was random flight from fear or whatever else known as collusion. Whatever the truth was, it was all happening a slight bit faster than we could comprehend. At least those closest to making a choice. I may have been even further behind on the comprehension, but playing it back made it feel like I should have known. Regardless.

However the motivation fell, now we had two runners on our hands. The interpreter was moving with his hands gripping his clothes and then a waving motion. Almost an angel sort of flapping, sides then more around his head. Seemed they were making a buzz run towards the fields of the “dirt farm” from the way they cut the turn around the house’s. Thinking back, I guess it was funny how I didn’t see any ghosts of furrows. The others who were at the entrance quickly turned to make sure nobody was going to make a side attack from the entryway of the room. Our guys started clearing from the back. I was already running towards the other side in a diagonal motion so I was able to see where they were heading. I can’t say what else really was happening at that point but here’s what I recall…

Whoosh. I saw another blur which at first I thought was another explosion since it seemed to be crossing past my peripheral vision. It was Pepper. Before I could think twice to say anything, the dog was throttling down towards the fleeing hajis. I had my weapon up since I modded it for more than one scope. With the way these guys were making a clip, I had a long scope just to see what was happening. They were moving to avoid gunfire. I read a lot of those “Last Resort” manuals. They were books that were a bit lighthearted and had info about how to get out of a variety of situations. One of them showed how to escape gunfire, with a variety of techniques. Key word: serpentine. Running while swerving was a good way to be missed in the crosshairs and it seems to have been exactly what they were doing since the field was flat as can be. I wasn’t watching their feet but I saw the motion. It was pretty close to the same. The interpreter still flailing in a motion I couldn’t figure out. And then it hit me. Way too late. And I hit back.

When I tried dialing in my scope’s focus, it was a makeshift version of binoculars. I wasn’t drawing down, but I was trying to keep a bearing in case we were ordered to give chase. When I dial and when much of my sighting I use both eyes open. It’s not only safer in many aspects but it also gives me a literal wider field. I’m not saying I am any kind of chameleon or whatever the lizard thing is that can see two directions at once, but I can at least detect motion much easier. And that’s what I suddenly saw grazing past my left eye. It was motion. Pepper did what he knew and cut the corner of the house and losing no traction whatsoever. Off towards the dirt farm.

Pepper kept bounding and got right to the dirt field. Seemed he was actually tracking the lead rather than our interpreter. Pep must have just known who was the one leading the charge and the other was following, even though the most visual was the interpreter. He did a few shuck turns and was following almost the same path as the other two. I pulled from the scope to keep my eyes on Pepper. I swear I finally had it all figured out. But if I did, it was only a split second from what happened next. Pepper cut in front of the interpreter and then made a bold move towards the head runner. Pepper tried to swing around the front of the escapee, kind of like a herding type of move. Then it went south.

Whether I did know it just a moment before or if it was my mind trying to make me feel worse…  I realized it wasn’t for dirt farming or contraband to be dug up later. This wa as do not disturb type of contraband. The reason for the sporadic weaving wasn’t just to avoid bullets, the dirt farming was in reality a mine field. The misstep from Pepper confirmed it. Detonation. I know I tried to yell. I think I did. Nothing came out but I seized my weapon. My mind could be playing tricks on me but that’s what I thought happened. Looking through the scope I saw the sidestep from Pepper. He was fast but the trigger was faster. The force tore at our dog and my heart. It flung the dog like a physics experiment and smashed the dog into the man who burst through the doorway seconds earlier. Pepper got his target. The man tried to dodge but didn’t react fast enough. His foot caught a mine and he met the same fate as Pepper.

Our interpreter. Former H.I. turned suspect saw it all in front of him, just as I had to witness. What I know is a hundred voices and thoughts ran through my head at the same time but I don’t think I listened to any of them. I felt programmed as it was. Kind of robotic and going through the motions while numb. I knew I couldn’t do what I really wanted or wished. All the things zoomed through my brain. Much as I wished to slice that interpreter to dust with the heat I was packing I knew I couldn’t. I really was in an outer body kind of moment the way I see it when playing it all back. I fired my weapon. It could have been five or a  dozen. Maybe more. I saw spirals of dirt and sand spout from the land as I shot in bursts of twos or threes. Tat tat tat. Right  at his feet. The man still alive could see it. He didn’t dare stop. He knew what I was capable of. And I knew it too, whether I chose to follow through directly or not. Tat tat tat. More dust and land. The man tried to leap. His feet always in motion. He landed and that was the end. His flight from my weapon made him do himself in. I’m sure I knew  what I was doing, but I didn’t realize it until it was over with.

There was no way for me to tell how much time really went by. I was in a cold sweat and thought the feel was almost a half hour. It had to be a minute at best. All of the sound made me sure everyone from the squad would be heading my way. I slapped at my weapon and grabbed the scopes off in one fast move. The grip I took was so hard I almost tore the mounts off with it. I had a pouch that I kept around my waist with various stuff I don’t want to look for on the rest of my gear, for emergencies. I shoved the scopes into my pouch hard. It was probably the most careless I ever was with any of my gear.

The equipment was what I heard first. All the metal from buckles and zippers, then the feet. I’m sure they were shouting at me way before they reached me but I didn’t hear it. Two of them bounded past me and saw what I did. The trio of lifelessness. I forgot if it was Threeage or Over who tried to bound ahead of me to catch up to the bodies. I grabbed as hard as I could and said it’s nothing but death. Prevante called out for us all to stand down, seeing nobody was going anywhere. He looked at my weapon and asked if I fired. I told him I open fired but the bodies weren’t my doing. It was a minefield. When everyone took a look it was obvious, but adrenaline was running high for us all. Prev knew I guess how we don’t like to let anyone get away, whether we allow it or not. He also knew…  Well, I am in the back in most formations because I’m not known to miss. Nobody’s perfect, but even when having an off day I’m usually chosen as the one who may need to fire a Hail Mary of a shot. Prevante looked at the stock of my weapon. It felt like steam was piling off it, but maybe my hands were just sweating. He asked if I was positive none of my rounds caught any of the subjects. I said it was only warning fire. Prev didn’t feel like grilling me any further. I knew he was just testing me to make sure  I didn’t accidentally take the situation too far. I knew I took it just as far as it needed to go to qualify as something just.

All in all, it ended up being a minefield just as I saw- laid down as a last ditch escape route. Most likely the die was to kite some of our guys in pursuit who would find out the hard way. When a group came out to investigate, they noticed a Frankensteined sort of vehicle parked in an alcove we couldn’t see, across the mine field. Their last ditch escape plan. That facility was a smorgasbord of bad stuff. Everything I basically signed up to fight against was found in there- not literally but the ideals and all of that. We didn’t get the info as we are usually out chasing, but we got the goods. And that was very good. It would have been perfect except…

Once I turned around I didn’t look back in that direction. I hugged on of the walls. My back to a wall rather. All of us in the Pepper Posse just hung around each other. We didn’t say why or even say much at all. But we all silently knew why we were suddenly in that grouping. Thankfully my aim was true as advertised, and nothing as far as my ammunition penetrated anything but the ground. There was even a bonus in my favor. Apparently there was some sort of chromed pistol our interpreter had. I thought the whole thing with his hand clutching himself was odd. I have no idea what he might have intended with that weapon but I am glad I never got to find out. Everything turned clean for me so I was off the hook almost immediately. It took a long time to get a sweeping crew for the mines to reach the victims.

Pepper at least had a chance to prove how much the pack meant to him. We were grateful for all the times we had. We didn’t want to rile up anyone with a true soldier type style, though we knew he was one of us in our hearts. Prevante helped out with retrieving Pepper, and Ubu also. They had him wrapped in a canvas I think. All of us in the Pepper Posse had to give a salute to him, and send him off in style. We knew that was pretty much the last time we’d ever see him, and at the same time we didn’t want to look. We’d rather remember him as he was. Not how he ended up in his last act. I think one of the guys of our former Pepper Posse ended up with the collar. And another with the dog’s tag.

Not to sound foolish but I still think of it many times. I’ve ran the situation through my head best I could. Sometimes my brain tries to tell me something that wasn’t there. Sometimes it even tries to show me how Pepper would have survived. One of us might have been charged or fool enough to have charged ahead. It was for the best for Pepper to lead the way that time I guess. Overthrill likes to say he leads the way, but at least for once I am sure he’s glad it wasn’t him.

But still…  I think about how I could have gotten Pepper out. If things went better for me and the rest of our squad, I would have wanted Pepper to have come home with me. Though we might have needed to have come up with a way to have solved that. But considering the incident…  Fate probably wouldn’t have let Pepper ever seen the states. But at least he was to have died where he was born. The guys still out there don’t have that luxury. The ones who never make it home.

I did actually do the research on it. It might have been more risky to get a dog back to the States than running through a war zone. For example, a lot of people won’t transport an animal. There is a high risk involved when getting through checkpoints. Plus animals can’t be transported in kennel carriers like what’s standard here, so it would have to be roped tied in a borderline unhealthy way. Doing anything otherwise tips people off such as guards that it’s for an American or somebody from another land wanting it. Transporting a dog for a foreigner there is punishable by death. No joke. That would be an awful big risk which I couldn’t place upon a private citizen who was just trying to make an honest wage. I did the next best thing though. I saved up a bit of cash and made a few donations in Pepper’s honor: mostly to the organization Nowzad Dogs, but also another named Mayhew International. They knew the name but not Pepper’s whole story. Some day when things stabilize over there a bit, I want to get a Koochi dog of my own, even if it doesn’t look just the same. At least I could have another chance at making the life of another war-torn dog’s a bit better and much more comfortable.

If Pepper moved you too:


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