Kind of a Funny War Story

By Renee D. Boucher

The funny thing about war is that you don’t walk. You hump. On the hot white sand, in the scorching sun, behind the sand dunes. Yeah, that kind of humping too. Except before you go ahead and think this has a happy ending, catch yourself. Because this isn’t a love story, it’s a war story.

His name was Taylor Benjamin. His eyes were as brown as cow shit and his teeth were as white as fresh snow, but as crooked as a nursery rhyme. So, don’t go thinking he was perfect and shit. No, really, don’t. In fact, please don’t — he’s arrogant enough without people framing him in this limelight of perfection. Well, Taylor Benjamin was a Private Second Class — PV2, as was I, and we were mates. That is, as much mates as a man and a woman can be in a hot-as-fuck desert in Afghanistan.

It all started March 2006 when I arrived in Camp Arifjan, a U.S. Army base outside of Kuwait City — otherwise known as the spa between home and war. I was part of the new Operation Mountain Thrust, a NATO and Afghan-led attempt at quelling the Taliban insurgence. Successful? Some say it was a victory, because of Tactical Coalition, Strategic Taliban Retreat, and a few casualties: ~155 KIA. Which in civilian speech translates to: Americans work well with others and some Taliban belligerents retreated. In other words: Not very successful. Especially since on my last tour in Afghanistan, I lost my best friend in that hot-as-fuck desert.

“Attention! If you are going to Kandahar, Afghanistan — stand in this line. Yeah, right here,” began a short, stumpy turd-shit of a man standing at the Muster point. His chin was raised, his glasses slanted, and his voice booming like he was the god-damn King of Kuwait City, “If you are going to Orussighan, as you were, Uruzgan, you’ll be over here — If you are going to Helmand, get in line over there.”

At the mention of Helmand, I began humping — yes, humping, because I was carrying a ton on my back — to the area the short, stumpy turd was gesticulating to.

Standing in that line made me feel like cattle on the conveyer belt into the slaughterhouse. The other privates chatted nonsensical bull and I just stood, pretending my face was Michelangelo’s David. My eyes dropped to the ground and as I brought my strained eyes up, a man was walking toward me.

His walk was confident: left arm dangling, right arm clutching the strap of his pack. He was tall, with thick muscles that bulged from under the beige of his uniform. I shuffled my feet and let my eyes pierce into him. He was going to be bad for business.

He took the position right behind me and snorted. I shot him a look and rolled my head to the opposite direction from where he was standing. I felt hot with the sun scorching my apple-glaze cheeks. At least, I wanted it to be the sun, but it was his presence — right next to me, almost casting a shadow over where my petite frame stood. Great.

My eyes fluttered up and his face was smeared with a shit-eating-confident grin. I knew I was an open book and couldn’t hide my repulsion.

With a smooth offer of his hand, he proclaimed, “Name’s Benjamin, Taylor.”

My eyes went from his face to his hand back to his face “Uh…Taylor or Benjamin?”

His laugh was so loud, it shook me. “Last name Benjamin, first name Taylor. Most people call me Benjamin — ”

“I’m just going to call you Benny.”

At that, we were best mates. Now, I know I described Mr. Benjamin as a demi-god before, but those were merely first impressions and slight delusions under the sun. Don’t get cross, for I can assure you the closer Benny and I got, the more his cracks shone through. The cow shit eyes, crooked nursery rhyme teeth, and all that holy jazz.

But, before we continue, it is important to note the two separate definitions of humping. Humping means a) an act or instance of coitus; for instance, Benny and Elliot were humping behind the canteen last Saturday or b) to carry or haul; like Elliot humped to the Helmand line.

“And your name would be Miss…”

I grabbed his hand firmly and with two shakes down our relationship formally commenced. “Robinson, but my first name is Elliot — just call me Ellie.”

While we waited for the assignment of our transient barracks, we talked drivel. Over the course of the queue, we not only discussed the most efficient way to prank our new Staff Sergeant, Jack Wiatts, but also our personal histories. Turns out, Benny was from San Diego, California and just finished four years at San Diego State University studying Aerospace Engineering and Military Science. Weird, right? I didn’t understand why somebody would spend four years of their life preparing for a future just to enlist and essentially commit suicide. Pieces didn’t add up. Or at least, they didn’t then.

Despite Taylor Benjamin’s cocky, annoying demeanor, he was a solid guy. No jests intended. Before I met him, Afghanistan had been dull. Each day was the same monotonous routine and every person I knew was on their last tour. Now that was me, and Benny was on his first ever tour in Afghanistan. We were both twenty-two, but we couldn’t have been more apart in the paths our lives had taken. He was college-educated from the West Coast and I was a farm girl (the reason I know the color of cow shit) from Vermont. Still, we somehow ended up next to each other on the Helmand line in a hot-as-fuck desert. Kind of funny how war works out, innit?

Well, we were mates. At least, most of the time anyway. The other 25 percent of the time involved us sneaking around in the sand dunes to fuck. Yeah, fuck. That factor of our friendship was unique, seeing how we would make a horrendous couple in the relationship sense. And funny enough? I wasn’t the one who started it.

It all started two weeks after we arrived at Camp Bastion (currently Camp Shorabak) in Helmand, after a month of cock-eyed bullshit in Camp Arifjan. It was a relatively cool night and we were both on watch. It was the first time we were actually alone, coincidentally, without the ensemble of boisterous soldiers in our periphery. We were on the exterior of camp, our backs against a steep sand dune that served as a divider between the safe zone and the unknown. Our goal was to watch the unknown, but given the eerie darkness and dry silence, we filled the empty space with conversation.

“Just because I don’t want a relationship doesn’t mean I’m immature — It just…It just means that I don’t want a relationship.”

He shook his head. “The fact that you don’t want a relationship isn’t what is immature. What makes it immature is your reasoning behind the decision.”

I gawked at him. “But, I never specified my reasoning, fucktard.”

He gave me that confident grin, before raising his hands, but I continued, “You see, the fact that I am aware of my current position and am able to assess the likelihood of relationship success is responsible. If I were to just…jump into something serious without considering my future — which is pretty fucking fuzzy right now — then I would be ultimately dooming the relationship. I mean how am I supposed to be in a relationship with somebody if I don’t even have my stupid ducks in a row?”

His eyes widened, but he settled his shoulders before rubbing the shadow of stubble that emerged over the course of the day. His eyes flickered up to me. “Well, private, I guess I can’t argue with fact. Maybe I just see avoiding relationships as a way of delaying responsibility, but well, since you justified that isn’t the case, I suppose you’re in the clear.”

I wasn’t completely convinced that he understood my reasoning and felt rather unintelligible given his eloquent response, but saw no point in pursuing an argument over difference of opinion. Cue the commencement of the long silence. I wasn’t sure what to say so I just focused on what we were supposed to be doing, watching the empty black rolls of sand. Which naturally was the best part of the night.

I cleared my throat, because, obviously, I was congested, but really, I was becoming increasingly unsettled by the prolonged silence. The silence resumed and I was once more, uncomfortable. So instead of allowing my eyes to blur into the rolling darkness, I closed them.

After ten minutes, my eyes open and I turn to look at Taylor, who is staring straight ahead at an orange-yellow orb in the distance. Presumably a small fire. He turns to me and I look him straight in those eyes and without saying anything, he stirs. Like a rush of wind, he is on top of me, kissing me, touching me. The whole fucking shebang. Even humping[1].

Fast forward and we are reapplying our uniforms: socks, underwear, trousers, t-shirts, desert boots, jackets, headgear. Sorry — not actually sorry — to all you hopeless romantics out there, because there was no after-sex cuddling. Instead, we sit back down in the sand and resume our watch, except he gives me a look. You know, that puppy-dog-eyes-I’m-guilty-for-having-good-sex look.

“What now?” I ask.

“I kind of had a thing with this girl in San Diego…”

I turn to him directly and scoff, “You mention that now, after the fact?”

He spaces out, staring into the orange-yellow orb that is gradually fading into the night. “Well we aren’t dating, but she asked me if I was seeing anyone and I — uh — I just feel guilty. I mean, we had this connection, like fireworks and shit.”

Thanks, asshole. I’m clearly not looking for anything serious in a warzone, but now I feel somewhat dejected. Am I not capable of a connection, some fireworks, and shit? Of course, I don’t say this, seeing how we’re just friends and all, but the thoughts don’t stop coming. In fact, they persist for almost three weeks.

“Don’t stress about it, I’m kind of into Jax, anyway.”

Which, by the way, is true. Jax, the giant, platinum blond, blue-eyed war god of Helmand. Otherwise known as our PFC, or Private First Class. I was into Jax before Benny even remotely showed interest in me with his flirtatious jokes and subtle hints — which started two weeks ago — that I dutifully ignored until that spontaneous, out-of-the-fucking-blue kiss.

Oh, shit, really? Charles Jaxon?”

“Yeah, and anyway, this is just a one-shot thing.”

We never agreed nor disagreed that it would or wouldn’t happen again. Regardless, each time we were alone around or in camp ended in us fucking behind something. It was a cycle, where each time was spectacular, because we had this physical chemistry, and each time after, he felt shitty about San Diego girl. Cue me wondering why after how many fucking times — double entendre intended — she is still relevant?

But that is exactly why this is a war story, not a love story, because after another month of fucking and laughing, we hump to Kajaki, a southern village in the Helmand province known for its dam. Which means it’s going to be hot-as-fuck, by the way. Our mission in this hot-ass dam-village is to gather intel on the terrain surrounding suspected Taliban insurgents.

The hump to Kajaki was a sweaty 125km, partially motorized, but mostly on foot — around 40km to be exact, which took two days.

The first day we set up camp was a clusterfuck — partly, because 1) Benny decided this was the perfect time to prank Staff Sergeant Wiatts and 2) We were still in a hot-as-fuck desert in Afghanistan.

The prank occurred after 10km, which was a bad decision he later regretted.

It was around 1500 and we were in the middle of the desert at the peak of the scorching sun. Naturally, every soldier was in a shallow ditch passed out — even Wiatts.

Psst — Robinson — Shit, Ellie…Ellie!”

I open my foggy eyes and push my neck out to see Benny crouching over Sergeant Wiatts’ ditch. Fuck.

Benny casually reaches into the ditch and from the corner of my eye, I see the tip of Wiatts M4 exiting the sand. Which means, our prank, that clever-ass prank from the first meeting is about to be executed.

With the speed of any well-trained soldier, Benny begins switching the red magazines to empty ones, and just as quickly as he removes the rifle, it is returned to Wiatts’ arms.

Benny gets on his forearms and crawls back into the adjacent ditch — on top of another private, a newbie-goodie-two-shoes — what we call a rink — who starts hollering, “Benjamin! What the hell are you doing?”

Benny pushes his hand into the Private’s face — whose name I forget — and lifts an apple in his hand, cue the grin.

“INCOMING! HIGH ANGLE HELL!” and chucks the apple into Sergeant Wiatts’ ditch.

Sergeant Wiatts begins shooting his gun like hell, sending bursts of air to the now awake soldiers as a darkened patch of camo appears near his crotch.

Benny crumbles into a fit of hysterics and Wiatts’ face turns to beets —

“BENJAMIN, I hope you enjoyed this little fucking prank, because tomorrow you and every fucking soldier here will be walking the remaining distance to Kajaki — Jaxon! Ensure Mr. Benjamin will be directly behind us on tomorrow’s mission — Oh, and, you’ll be on watch from now until 0300 — so get your dumb fucking ass over to that motherfucking dune!”

Benny’s grin slowly disintegrates into a smirk and every soldier breaks into a cacophony of “What the fuck, Benjamin,” “Why’d you have to be such an idiot?” and, “Come on, man.”

End the clusterfuck.

Enter the burning sun and begin the humping of 30km to the outskirts of Kajaki.

Benny and I were positioned half a klick back from Sergeant Wiatts and PFC Jax, followed by three more groups of 2. Which gave us plenty of time to talk about our lives back home, meaning those little pieces started adding up.

“I don’t get it. Why would a college-educated man like yourself enlist in the army during the worst possible insurgency? You’re practically committing suicide.”

Because, I love defending my country. I’m not ‘committing suicide’, it isn’t about that — Look, I had opportunities to make a lot of money in Aerospace Engineering — heck, NASA was shadowing me for years” — I roll my eyes at his arrogance — “trying to get me to work for them, but this,” he gesticulates to the arid, rocky terrain around us, “This place is where I belong.”

I watched him with the shit-eating-confident smile on his face, but it was a little more. There was this sunburst in his eyes, which told me he wasn’t feigning happiness. Happiness, in fucking Afghanistan — the crazy motherfucker.

We humped the remaining 10km before setting camp 5km outside of the site of inquiry in Kajaki. In the morning, we were set for the coordinates to complete our mission to gather intel: suppress the Taliban insurgents outside of Kajaki and locate any weapons in the terrain. It was the middle of May, so the June heat began working into the normally cool nights. This made the shitty cot we had nearly unbearable, because it sucked up all the heat. Despite the unfavorable conditions, I was thankful for the long-ass commute, because the only reason I slept that night was the physical exhaustion.

The next day, we humped to the coordinates of the suspected Taliban insurgents in Kajaki. The terrain was arid rock, chunky and rough, beside a teal river. Everything went smooth until the squad converged a quarter klick off the coordinates.

Jax and Wiatts were debating the best plan of entry — the coordinates denoted weathered, rock houses, a dirt path, and flat, open terrain on either side — which before this moment had been uncharted for safety. Taylor, the cocky motherfucker, overhearing this conversation spoke up, “Sergeant Wiatts, permission to speak?”

Wiatts laughed at the confident grin and waved his hand at the formality, “Granted.”

“Sir, I volunteer to perform recon on the terrain before the squad advances — this way, you may ensure the safety of the team,” his eyes flicker to me, “and gather intel on the uncharted terrain.”

Wiatts sighed, opening his hands in an outward motion, “It’s risky, Benjamin and no matter how much I hate you, I don’t want to put your life at stake. Request denied.”

Benny smiled confidently, before his lips pressed into a line. His jaw clenched, twitching before he boomed, “Sir, this is the best way to gather intelligence — ”

“Request denied, private. All those fucking insurgents could be hiding behind those walls over yonder for an ambush — we don’t know if there are IEDs in that sand.”

Benny raised his chin, but restrained his omniscient tongue. Wiatts returned his gaze to Jax and they continued discussing the best tactics, while the other soldiers stood still, staring at the foreboding structure.

I should’ve expected what was about to happen, because I knew Benny, but even though I knew he was an arrogant fuck, I didn’t take him for an idiot.

His eyes flare at the bickering officers, before grabbing his weapon and marching down the sandy path.

I yelp, jittering in my spot before Wiatts and Jax notice Benny strutting down the path. They’re silently watching him like a gazelle before it’s taken by the lion — using him as a seal decoy in shark-infested waters, or even — perhaps they’re just as stunned as I am at this moment.

Benny is three-quarters of the way to the structure before he expands into a cloud of blood, dust, sand, and orange.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit! What a god-damn idiot. Why did he have to be such a fucking cocky asshole? Shit. Fuck,” I start to run, the dusty terrain becoming a blur on either side of me.

Jax slowly morphs into my periphery as he draws his weapon and begins to shoot at the now visible insurgents — awakened by the explosion. Shit. Fuck. Shit. God-damn. Now I’m being a fucking idiot. I feel the tears on my face and my skin feels cold. Bullets fly out of my M4, but I don’t know where they’re going, only that they hit something, someone, somewhere.

The insurgents drop like ants crumbling under the weight of a boot, but I am not satisfied. The remainder of the squad goes guns-blazing into the structure, killing and capturing insurgents, but I stop a quarter of the way, collapsing into the dusty mass where the IED turned my best friend into sand. There is blood on my hands, my knees, my nostrils. Snot is running down my sandy face, combining with the hot water leaking from my eyes.

Benny’s cow-shit eyes are open, dilated, and blankly staring back at me. His face is sprayed with blood and sand. His mouth is open and crimson. His chest is bare and shredded, shrapnel and flesh making him the first bionic man. His chest is steady, his diaphragm motionless, his legs pulverized into strings of thick muscle and blood. He has become one with Afghanistan, the place he said he belonged. Which, I guess, is kind of a funny coincidence — almost, a funny fucking war story.

[1] Refer to the definition of hump

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R.D. Boucher

Dami grew up in Hillside, NJ and attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. She is currently working on her PhD in Santa Cruz, CA.