I haven’t been to many funerals, and I only handle real blood well in certain contexts. It has been about a week and a half since I experienced this event that I will write about.
I received a call from a colleague in my field that there was a detainee at one of the Aid Stations on our base. Pat (my senior NCO) and I met him and another colleague, and the four of us traveled there together. This detainee had been at the site of an IED (improvised explosive device) that had been positioned for detonation on US convoys nearby. He was in his truck at the time of explosion with his 3-year-old brother in the cab with him.
Reports were conflicted. We got the detainee’s version first. There was an explosion. He pulled off to the side of the road to get out of the way of the convoy. As the US vehicles cleared the site, they fired upon him and his vehicle multiple times. When asked why he thought they fired, he just kept saying I don’t know, I don’t know in Arabic. He had been shot four times, with shrapnel wounds on his body and severe burns on his hands. His wounded hands were swiped for explosive residue analysis. The wounds on his body were exposed for treatment; I had never seen such a thing. I was troubled at the bits of his blood and flesh that were littering the hospital table. I shivered when this adult man whimpered and shook from the pain and early stages of shock.
From the other room I could hear a child screaming. My heart was in my stomach. If the little boy had sustained even half the wounds of his older brother, I feared for his life. The head doctor quickly assured us that the child has taken but one shot or piece of shrapnel (they were yet uncertain which) to the buttock and that he would be just fine. He hadn’t even cried until the IV was administered.
I was angry. I wanted someone to be at fault. How could innocent blood be shed like this? How could we wantonly involve children and simply make apologies later? How could we fire upon someone just because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time?
A couple days passed, giving time for the other side of the story to be examined. We had conducted more careful analysis on exactly which direction the rounds had traveled through the man’s body and compared fact against his version of the story. The little boy was ok. The “detainee” was ok. The swipe test was expected to reveal the presence of the actual explosive residual, what would be left on someone positioned close to the blast. Instead, the man’s test was positive for something else: the explosive material used to pack and prepare the IED.
HE HELPED MAKE THE BOMB! Then he sat and waited with his baby brother in the vehicle, while he acted as spotter for the approach of a convoy! Then we fired upon him but didn’t kill him; we were required to provide him medical aid. We were required to feed him, sustain him, and do our best to preserve his life.
I don’t have answers, only observations. I can report that my emotions were sufficiently occupied for the following couple days. I was frustrated, confused, angry, and returning to the question of who exactly I thought I should be angry at. Mostly I was just blindsided by standing only a foot or two from a man who had tried to kill my brothers in arms. I was shocked at how quickly we do (and “must”?) open fire upon someone who is suspicious or badly positioned. I was not there. I did not see what happened. Rather, I was left with fragments of reality and aftermath, to pick up pieces, as shrapnel, and find in them clues of what had happened, and maybe just maybe a remnant of would could be better done in the future.
But after passing through that challenge, I return full circle to more questions of what we’re doing here. Believe me, good things are being accomplished. But let us ask ourselves how many other troubled regions of the world would improve if infused with such resources and order-keeping assets? How many within our own United States borders?