“My god, we see so much alcohol on base,” says Tyler, “I kid you not; the government gives us more bottles than we could ever drink. I brought down four of ‘em just for this weekend.”
“Wait, they just give you guys alcohol?” asks my roommate Connor.
“Well, we normally go out on a mission for five, maybe six days. Most of that time the five of us are crammed into one Humvee. Just in the shit, you know? So, when we get back to base, there’s usually a bottle of Jack waiting for us.” Tyler takes a drag of his Black and Mild and blows a thick cloud of smoke into the warm air outside the balcony. He examines the burning tip, “Man, these pull so well.”
“What do normally you do when you’re out on patrol?” I ask, twirling my drink.
“Mostly just sit around in the ‘vee smoking cigarettes and waiting for something to happen. My squad is always on cargo duty, so we ride around guarding crates of ammo all day.” He runs a hand through his slicked back military haircut.
“I tell you though, there’s nothing like hearing a bullet fly passed your head for the first time. It sounds like a goddamn whip cracking.”
I swallow some whiskey. “Shit Jaeger, I thought you were just in the army band.”
“Yeah, I’m a bandsman when I’m still in the states, but once I’m deployed I don’t get any special treatment. There’s not a huge demand for horn players over there in the desert.”
At football games, Tyler was the kid you could hear over everybody else in the band stands, blaring a double high C in the middle of the fight song, eyes wide, mouth in a mad smile pressed to the trumpet. I try to imagine him trudging through an alien country wearing camo and carrying an automatic rifle.
Tyler stands up and sways slowly back and forth.
“I’m going for another bottle.” He makes a gun with his right hand as he swings the door open.
“Don’t go anywhere!” I hear before it slams shut.
“I thought he said he wasn’t going overseas?” I say to Connor.
“Yeah, I don’t think he expected to, but they asked him to volunteer and he said yes.”
The sun is down now, leaving us in the amber glow of the streetlights. Tyler could have walked on to any University band he wanted to. Instead he chose to ship out to a third world country to get shot at by men hiding in caves. The tall stack of textbooks on my desk suddenly didn’t seem so horrifying.
He returns with a massive bottle of Jagermeister. You know, the really fuckin huge one. I’m not sure if he actually likes Jagermeister or just buys it all the time because it sounds like his last name. He never can stomach the stuff.
“Boy I am sitting pretty.” He takes a swig and passes the bottle to Connor.
“When you were on tour did you see a lot of action?” I probe, egged on by the booze.
“What I saw, well I wouldn’t call it action. I’m a gunner, so I sit up on that M240 bravo for hours at a time. It only ever really gets sticky when we climb out of the vehicle. Did I tell you about the time I got stabbed in the leg?” I shake my head no as Connor hands me the bottle.
“Well, I’m out on my first ground patrol ever, so I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing. We’re walking down this road somewhere in the mountains, and this young guy comes up to me. He starts to say something but right as he gets close enough he pulls out a knife and sticks me right in the thigh. Turns out the dude is wearing a suicide vest. Before I can do anything my squad shoots him twice in the head.”
To this I have nothing to say. Instead I pass the bottle back to him.
“Thanks,” he takes a long pull. “That wasn’t even the worst of it either.” His foot taps wildly to the beat of the song. “Our orders are to not fire our weapons unless we’re attacked first. Now, the enemy knows this, so they like to piss us off knowing we can’t touch ‘em. One day we’re walking through this village and when the local people see us, a commotion starts. The natives begin yelling and running around; I’m thinking this is all about to go to hell. Then I see what everyone is shouting about. Two men are raping a little girl in the middle of the street. She wasn’t older than twelve. We just had to sit there and fucking watch.” He tips back the Jagermeister once more.
I watch the air bubbles gurgle to the top of the bottle and wonder if I am a coward. Both my father’s father and my mother’s father fought in wars. Both eventually died from the chronic effects of being exposed to exploding bombs above jungles thousands of miles away. They were fighting for their country. They were saving the world. Tyler was almost blown up in the street “bringing democracy” to a country that didn’t want it. He finally lowers the bottle.
“To Jaegar,” I say. Our glasses rise into the air and clink together. “To Jaegar.”
by NICHOLAS FARREL / staff writer