Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sensing Combat: Sight

(This post is part two in a five part series. See the previous post: Hearing. And don't forget to vote!)


"Put your fucking NODS down, Horton."

For the hundredth time, my platoon sergeant whisper-yelled at me to put my night vision goggles back over my eye. I resented every second that I had to peer through the muddy neon green peephole so I could stumble my way through the dark. While boosting the ability to see further in the dead of night, night vision plays a dangerous game with depth perception. When focused on objects close up, things around you (like the ground) appear to be more distant than they actually are. When tweaked to see further, objects up close take on a fish-eye appearance; everything appears rounded and blurry. After being scolded yet again for my reluctance to use my equipment, I shoved the bright green monocular lens into my eye and followed after my team leader.

Walking through a field strewn with garbage and septic waste, it isn't clear what is solid ground and what is a cesspool of festering human feces when looking through night vision. I used my team leader as a pathway guinea pig: anywhere he stepped in shit, I would walk around with boots free of black sludge. Just feet in front of me, Matt walked cautiously along, probing with his foot for stable soil. He made it nearly halfway across the field before he appeared to shrink nearly a foot, letting a quiet "FUCK!" slip out before pulling half his leg out of excremental quicksand. I lifted up my goggles to see where he had fallen prey. A septic wasteland the size of a swimming pool, and he barely slipped into the edge of it. It glistened under the moonlight but looked like ground through night vision. He never saw it coming.

Payday made it through the field, but not unscathed (look at his right foot for the dreaded poop boot)

"Did you fucking see that?"

Sadr City was almost a mythical fortress of pure evil to us. Deadly battles with Shiite militias raged there after the invasion, and by the winter of 2006 it was completely off limits to any coalition force. It was simply too dangerous to walk into. Instead, the higher-ups insisted that we probe the physical boundary of Sadr City by setting up a position across the street from where the neighborhood began. To nestle up to the hornet's nest before throwing a big fucking rock at it.

Staring over the scattered brown houses in Sadr City became a paranoid frenzy. Little old ladies doing their laundry on a rooftop looked perfectly ordinary anywhere else in Baghdad. In Sadr City limits they could have been men setting up mortar tubes and machine gun positions. Kids playing soccer in the street seemed to be giving our position away to insurgents waiting in ambush. Nothing was as it appeared to be.

It took only twenty minutes for a brave yet dumb insurgent to climb to the roof of a house across the street and open fire on us. With a spray of AK-47 rounds he shot up the wall below our position, eliciting a measured response of rifle and machine gun fire that peppered the doorway he stood in. It wasn't clear if he had died in the initial wave of fire, so we kept shooting until either blood or body became apparent. I glanced down to street level to ensure the shootout wasn't a distraction for something bigger while we were distracted by a single guy with an AK . Out of nowhere, an elderly man came walking out of his house with a plastic chair in tow. As rounds crackled thirty feet above him, he positioned his chair at the midway point between Baghdad and Hell and took a seat as the firing continued unabated.

"Dude. Did you fucking see that?" I yelled to Bill over the din of semi-automatic fire.

"See what?" he shouted back.

"Some old dude...just watching this shit."


In flashes of combat, one sees very little of what is actually going on. The most anyone can perceive is tiny flickers of human motion caught in a whirlwind of sensory overload. But if you look in the right place at the right time, you might see something that no one ever noticed.

The man quickly walked back into his house after the firefight ended. There was nothing left to see that morning. Surrounded by spent shell casings and the smell of gunpowder swirling in the air, our eyes went back to Sadr City to watch for anything else the fortress might have in store for us.


Anonymous said...

That kind of reminds me of a similar situation I had at my great aunts funeral. This dude just stood on his deck, smoking a cigg and drinking something, watching nonchalantly as we bury my great aunt. Morbid curiousity turns everyday life into theater for the viewer, I suppose.

Annette said...

What a story...I am so enjoying your writing. I have posted a link to your blog on mine asking people to read yours and then vote for you. I hope it helps.

Good Luck!!!

13 Stoploss said...

I refused my NVG's in most circumstances, and they do little to help me, as I am red and green color blind. This isn't to say that I don't see red or green--I do. But when the two colors are close together, my eye does not see the subtle differences in the shades of each. A good example why at least one guy needs to be nod-free: http://13stoploss.blogspot.com/2008/05/first-mission-night-patrol-in-najaf.html

good feature man, looking forward to the next 3.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/06/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

JT said...

14% thus far... respectable!

bigD said...

Hi Alex,
To NOD or not to NOD that is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the sea of green, or
to blindly take arms against a
sea of excrement and by stepping into it up to our hips, be forever known as poop boot.

Voting fast and furious, great job Alex.

Anonymous said...

"...Nothing was as it appeared to be."

The refrain of "modern" warfare.