Friday, December 7, 2012

the Dungeon Master of Weapons Platoon

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There were four of us back then, in those early sessions- me, Cory, Bill, and Teddy Freeman. We were all Lance Corporals. This was the first deployment for all of us, except for Teddy who had been to Marsoc and gotten busted down.
I had never played before, when the game started, which suprised everyone because I was already known as "Nerd." This nickname had stuck because of comic books and action figures discovered in the barracks during a wall locker inspection. While it was true that I enjoyed Comics and collectibles, I had never gotten around to playing Dungeons and Dragons, until just then.
Both Cory and later Bill admitted to having played before. They each had their own justifications, Cory said the people he smoked weed with in college were into it, Bill said he was trying to get with a nerdy girl in high school. Teddy offered no such explanation. All the books were his, thick hardcover tomes with price tags on them that looked like fifty bucks each. The map was his, hand drawn on gridded drafting paper, and the miniatures were his, each painted intricately, the result of an obvious hours worth of work.
It was the first week of deployment and we were not scheduled to relieve Chosin Company for another two days. We were Marines of D Company, Weapons Platoon, christened "Dogfight" Company by our not-overly-bright Company Commander. Most of our platoon was borded up inside the FOB in a series of steel cargo containers known as Connex boxes. Due to the overflow, we were fortunate enough through no fault of our own to recieve an actual trailer, with air conditioning and electricity. It could have held two people comfortably, and with four it was a hassle. But we were all friends, and used to living tightly on ship. Even with our ballistic vests and helmets, piled under the beds, and our rifles hanging off the posts by their slings, I would still describe it today in pleasant terms.
We were all from diferent sections. Cory and Bill were machine gunners. Teddy was a mortarman, and I was an assaultman. Or "rocketman" like they mockingly called me, from time to time. When we made up our characters, I can see now how that influenced things. Cory and Bill wanted to roll fighters, and I wanted a Wizard, for the firepower. Or fireballs, or whatever.
Looking at it now, with time gone, I have a lot more appreciation for the care Teddy put into that fantasy world. Or "campaign" as I guess its called. There were a lot of rules, some of which he had made up himself. We couldnt make our characters anything but human. We had to be the good guy, which sounds pretty common sense if you just hear it like that, but in D and D your allowed to make characters with "alignments" of good, evil or neutral. This turned into a small arguement, as apparently Cory and Bill had spent time playing as evil, and enjoyed it.
I'll give you a little background on Cory and Bill, so you can see how this would be weird for me: Cory Hunter was a giant of a man, from Tulsa Oklahoma. His email adress was SoonerLite34 which kind of shows you where his mind was, OU football and Miller Lite beer. He imbimbed other things, chemically when he could get them, including freebase cocaine with Jon Odle. That means smoking crack, in case you didnt know it. He had a fiancee back home and a girl on the side at the base. He fell out of runs but never humps. He had been promoted E-3 Lance Corporal out of infantry school and non-recommended for every promotion after that.
Bill Mcgovern was shorter and smaller, with the sort of permenant tan that only comes from having a Puerto Rican mother. He was in JROTC in high school and ran a near perfect score on the physical fitness test. He was immediatedly promoted to team leader. He liked Lite beer as much as Cory, but stayed away from the illicit stuff. Of course, everything was illicit for the both of them, being both twenty years old. Now that I think about it, most of the platoon was under twenty-one, or just over that.
Both of them wore preppy clothes when off duty, Abercrombie and Fitch instead of anything military related. Both of them grew their hair out as long and low as Marine Corps regulations would let them get away with, which wasnt that long and low at all, but was a far cry from Gunny Kurre's high and tight. If you had to pull them out of a line up for possible role-playing game enthusiast, it would be a long shot. But here we all were.
All we managed to do that first night was get our characters made, and have Teddy describe the where all of this was taking place. It was a ruined tower outside a forest. We didnt kill a dragon, which I was a little dissapointed in, but we got to hack apart a few goblins. I earned experience points.
In the morning I was sent out to a different unit on a Humvee patrol. This would prove to be a common enough event for all of us in Weapons, mostly the machine gunners, who were put atop the turrets of the AMRAP's and the Humvee's to man the heavy 50 caliber machine gun. But there just happened to be one Humvee which was outfitted with a TOW missile launcher, and I was put out bright and early, to stand the turret.
I should go into a little detail about my MOS-stands for Military Occupational Specialty- my job. I was trained at Infantry school to operate and fire the Shoulder Mounted Antitank Weapon, and the Javelin missile system. I only fired the SMAW, being that every Javelin missile costs about a million dollars, which is a little more than the Marines have to waste on training. There was a special school for the TOW, which I never went to. But it fell within my MOS, so I said roger that, and listened to the patrol briefing. I was a little nervous, it being my first deployment, and first time outside the wire.
"Okay." The Sergeant in charge said. "This is like any other day. Were making a circuit around Anbar and back."
"Are we going to stop around Motel Six?" A Marine asked.
"Fuck no." the Sgt. said. "If we get called up we'll respond. Other than that just drive straight on through."
"What if we take fire?" Someone said.
"Then we'll use the TOW." He said finally.
Inside the driver made me practice getting down fast in case the Humvee rolled. He offered me a dip of copenhagen, which I accepted. I never used tobacco before the Marines, and quit soon after, but at that time I dipped and smoked. The dip kept me awake. It calmed my nerves and gave me something to do.
I cant overestimate how important that was. The main thing I didnt know before signing up, I mean the one thing I wish I did have some clue about, was just how fucking boring everything was going to be. We sat for a good hour in the humvee's doing nothing. When we drove out the front gate, on the patrol, even that was really doing nothing, driving around in a truck with your head stuck out the top. Once you figure that out, and you start getting uncomfortable, because a fifty pound ballistic vest and helmet combination is really uncomfortable, you start looking for anything to do. Something to thing about, in your head, besides how much everything sucks. For me, right then, it was the dip in my mouth, and then a minute later, the TOW missile, and wondering if I could fire it if I had to. After that, I was thinking about D and D with the guys back in the trailer. I was trying to picture that fantasy world, which was mostly large forests with medieval architecture, overlaying itself on the trash ridden streets of Al Anbar. I was trying to think of myself in Wizard's robes and with a Magic Staff. It probably sounds stupid right now, but that helped out a lot. The whole time I was doing this, the unconscious part of my brain was swiveling around in the turret, trying to see if we were going to be attacked. All this went on until the radio in my helmet blared out "We've got some activity at the Motel Six."
"What's up?"
"Second platoon received fire. Calling for heavy support. There's no striker available."
"Roger that. Guess were it, then."
The whole time the humvee had been going pretty fast, but after that the driver really floored it. I had my hands tight around the TOW's controls, trying to remember the one class I had about the thing. In my mind I saw the missile firing out, and launching wide of its target, into the hazy blue sky. A million dollars wasted and a rough end to my first ever convoy mission. The passenger had his rifle out the window, ready to take a shot if he needed too. The traffic cleared up the closer we got, where I had my first experience getting shot at.
Its funny the things you dont know, until going to Iraq. For example, AK-47 and RPK tracer rounds are green, not red. The AK-47 makes a distinctive noise that's entirely different than a M4 or 16. And most memorable, bullets that are fired well over your head zing. But the ones that come close, they crack, and if you ever get close enough, you can pretty much gauge how much to the right or left you would have to be to die.
All of this happened when we got close enough to the building that had MOTEL nonsensically scrawled across the front, which otherwise would have been anonymous enough from its neighbors, clad in dirt and dirty yellow concrete. I made some kind of sound out my mouth that must have been "Awp." and I started to get back inside, to make myself small and less exposed in the turret. "Shoot!" The driver was saying. "Shoot the motherfucker!"
At this point the Humvee next to us in the convoy was lighting up the building with the 50. You hear stories of what the fifty is like, the damage it can do. Shoot people into body parts, or kill without touching someone, just the blast of air being enough. It was going POOM POOM POOM POOM and the passenger up front was going BRAAT BRAAT with his rifle on burst, and I was thinking fuck it. Better come up and do my part. The TOW had a display I turn on, a switch to press, and in the end, a trigger like everything else. Like any other weapon. It went FWEEE! through the window I aimed at, and then the whole front of the building shuddered. Dirt fell off it, along with a few loose bricks.
"Fuck." The sergeant leading the patrol said on the radio. "Was that the TOW?"
And it was, which I said on the radio, and it was pretty fucking dissapointing. The firefight lulled down until it stopped completely. As we drove back I started thinking about other ways I could tell the story. What I was coming up with was a fireball, massive and fiery. This occupied me for a while as I stared out at nothing through the turret. Finally I gave up completely. Only when we pulled back through the gate did I remember the game again.

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