The Wait

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He lay there, up against the damp, rotting, cell wall, desperately gasping for breath, having been on the receiving end of an Iraqi soldier’s fist and tossed across the rough, gravel floor, like a piece of rubbish. Slowly recovering from the pain, he dragged himself to a wall to support his battered and bruised body, and as he came round into full consciousness, began to notice the droplets of rain seeping through the ever widening crack in the ceiling, dripping onto his forehead.

Turning his head to observe his surroundings, he gazed through the small hole that had been knocked into the opposite wall and watched the build up of a formation of dark clouds. The sunrays, unable to penetrate the storm clouds, were slowly disappearing. The cell was becoming darker by the minute, leaving sight to a radius of only five or six metres. The only light that came through was the occasional glimpse of the moonlight, sneaking through between the clouds. The cooling breeze rapidly turned into a bitter, bone-chilling gust, carrying sleet and snow, as day quickly became night.

Luckily he was still wearing his thermals and was able to keep his body heat at a sufficient temperature. This was the extreme climate change he had been constantly warned about by his superiors at the mission briefing, back in his native country a few weeks earlier, which now seemed a distant memory to him, as he lay there, captured, alone, in an Iraqi cell. Unexpectedly, an Iraqi guard switched on the light but the crackling, old light bulb hardly made a difference to the light level in the seven by three foot cell. The cell was cramped and dirty, like it hadn’t been cleaned for years.

There were still stains of dried blood, probably of another victim of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. The walls were damp and rotting away. The light bulb was broken; there were exposed wires, water seeping through the ceiling and there were spiders and rats crawling on the gravel-sand like floor. It was filthy. They were the worst conditions he’d ever been in. He could smell rotting flesh John kept waving in and out of consciousness, as he was hit by the sharp bursts of pain every now and then in his leg and abdominal area where he had been wounded, while struggling with Iraqi soldiers.

He was afraid he would never live to see the beautiful faces of his wife and daughter again. Millions of the thoughts were rushing through his head, whether he would live through the conditions, whether he would see his family again or if he’d be shot or killed in battle and never be able to say goodbye. He didn’t want to throw in the towel and surrender to the Iraqi’s as he was so determined to see his family but was in no fit state to formulate a plan to escape.

As he came round into full consciousness, he sat there staring at some markings that had been carved into the opposite wall, thinking of his lovely daughter’s smile and her wonderful laughter, as he wondered into a memory, a distant memory of his eventful journey, that had led him to lying in a cell somewhere in Iraq. It began on September 9th, shortly after midday. News had come in that the war had developed faster than the allied forces had anticipated and that extra men were needed to deal with the Saddam’s forces.

An emergency meeting was called at 2249h, and everyone at camp Siege attended. That night everyone was briefed on their mission objectives, everything from when they would leave and where they would be dropped, to the equipment that would be needed and the targets they would hit was covered. All in the entire meeting carried on well into the early hours in the morning. Nothing was spared, every little detail was covered fully, and the departure date given was Wednesday 30th August, at 0600h. Exactly one week from the day.

A slight tremor in the ground jogged John’s memory and he jumped up onto his feet quickly, in order to see what all the commotion outside was caused by. The tremor had made him alert and assertive, temporarily stopping him from resuming his train of thought. In the distance, he could hear what sounded to him like a convoy of vehicles approaching the unknown building, in which he was located. He could hear the nervous shouts of Iraqi’s, as if they were readying themselves for something. From what he could make out with his basic knowledge of Arabic, they were panicking.

Something was approaching, approaching fast. Both eager and anxious to find out what this unknown convoy was and what it was carrying, he awkwardly climbed onto a loose brick to catch a glimpse of it but was unable to get a peep through the holes in the wall. John paced anxiously around the tiny cell anxiously waiting to hear the arrival of the convoy but within minutes, the frenzied activity had died down, and so John retired back into the corner of the run down insect infested cell and slowly settled back into the flashback. In a matter of a few seconds he resumed his flashback on August 30th at 0600h.

He had just boarded the helicopter to Iraq, there was a nervous silence, and everyone was busy in their own thoughts, no doubt thinking about their families and the crucial mission. John couldn’t get his mind off his family. Thousands of thoughts rushed through his head simultaneously. He couldn’t stop himself from visualising his death. Pictures and thoughts of him being stabbed and shot kept popping up in the front of his mind, as well as thoughts of his family. Would he ever see his beautiful family again? Would he die alone in the desert, or be killed in combat? Would he die in the hands of the enemy?

All of these questions rushed through his head, while he sat there, anxiously. His muscles tightened as he sat here sweating and waiting for their arrival. For many of the others with him it was the same. He could sense the tension in the air, even amongst the pilots, who didn’t say a word throughout the whole five-hour journey. Stepping off the helicopter, after a torrid flight, he could call back to mind the complete contrast in atmosphere, than that in the helicopter. There was a buzz around the whole base, everyone was busy and the base felt as though it was alive.

It gave a huge morale lift to the regiment after the depressing atmosphere during their flight. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue and there was a cooling breeze, it was perfect weather. The smell of the fresh breeze gave John a lift and all he heard was good news from those working there, about his fellow soldiers. News kept flooding on the good progress of the U. S forces in the south and the British forces in the west, but the news wasn’t as good in the north, there were huge firefights going on in the city, but the allied forces were holding out well.

Though the good news rapidly turned sour, the first and second regiments had walked into trouble in northeast Iraq. They had been ambushed on their way to help out their colleagues. Half of the regiment had been left dead, with numerous others injured. Those who had survived were fleeing for the Syrian border. The atmosphere around the base transformed as well. There was panic, everyone was shouting and rushing about, it was a sharp contrast to the atmosphere just a few hours earlier.

Even the weather changed, storm clouds formed rapidly, bringing heavy rain and thunder, there was a powerful, chilling wind blowing from west to east across the base. It had suddenly become as cold as it was when John went on an expedition to the Alps, where it was less than zero degrees centigrade. Given hardly any time to recover from their long, tiring flight and jetlag, they were hurriedly summoned to the headquarters by a messenger of the general. There they were told that they were to enter Iraq from the Syrian border, and aid and protect the survivors at all costs.

It was supposed to be a rescue mission, fly in, support the soldiers to the Syrian border and fly back to base, but it was easier said than done, as John found out. They left Camp David only hours after arriving. Sitting in the Chinook helicopter, John vividly remembered the expressions on his fellow soldiers’ faces. They were all in nervous wrecks, desperately trying to focus on the task laid down in front of them. They all knew success was the only option, failure wasn’t. They all knew that everything that they learnt in training didn’t mean anything.

They were going to be in something completely different that they had never experienced before. Sweat poured down John’s face. His hands were all clammy, he could taste his sweat, the nerves crept in but there was nothing he could do about them. At 0100h the following day, the regiment parachuted from eight thousand feet, it was pitch black, they wouldn’t have been seen but the only danger was that, if they had been heard, there could have been Iraqi’s waiting on the ground to capture. Fortunately, they landed without any problems, much to the relief of John and his fellow comrades.

There was a strong wind, accompanied by a bit of rain to make conditions bad for them. They put on their heat seeking goggles as quickly as possible, to make sure their location was safe. John distinctively remembered the order he gave out on the radio: “Right lads, come on, let’s push it, only a few hours to go till sunrise. ” Travelling in a column, with hardly a yard to spare between them, they travelled relentlessly at a blistering pace, covering over four miles an hour. According to their GPRS systems, they were only fifteen to twenty miles away.

While marching through the desert, the wind picked up, it ripped through their clothes, penetrating to the bone, fortunately they were wearing their thermals, but nevertheless, they were freezing, almost like ice cubes. After five hours of solid marching at a relentless pace, they got their rest, a few hundred metres away from their comrades. As they lay in a rare dip in the terrain, they took a moment to rest and get some fluids into them. John was absolutely exhausted, never in his life had he pushed himself physically and mentally that far.

His clothes were drenched with sweat and were stuck to his body, but he knew there was still work to be done. The job hadn’t finished. After temporarily stopping to observe the situation and radio their whereabouts to command, they drew up a plan. According to their colleagues at Camp David, the survivors weren’t far off their position, less than half a kilometre, in an old, derelict building. After formulating a plan between them, they went to their positions and waited for any sign of movement from the building.

This was the first time they could have come into contact with the enemy, everyone was nervous but focused on the task in hand. They knew they could only have one chance, and didn’t want to blow it with a foolish mistake. John got butterflies in his stomach and his legs went numb, but still he focused through his scope at the exits of the building, not letting anything distract him. After an hour, there was still nothing coming from the concrete construction, so they decided they had to go in to check out the circumstances.

One by one, they made a run for the building, there were a few tense moments, when various members lost their footing and would have been sitting ducks for any enemies, but everyone reached it safely. From that moment onwards, John couldn’t remember anything, until he was woken, beaten and then tossed into his cell. His thought was suddenly interrupted, three Iraqis burst into the cell, and grabbed him, he was going to be executed, as a message to the allied forces. He knew his fate after one look at their faces; their grins said it all.

Dragged through the dirt floor by his feet he felt a sickening feeling in his stomach, it was the moment, the one he dreaded for so long, dying in the hands of the enemy. All he could think about were his family and his funeral that was if they would ever get his body back. As the door of the execution chamber opened, the smiling face of Lieutenant Carter greeted him. Shook by utter disbelief he shouted: “You bastard! ” Lieutenant Carter was one of the survivors from the ambush.

He stood there smiling and greeted him with the words: I’m sorry I had to meet you under these circumstances but you have to be eliminated. I’ll give my commiserations to Sarah (his wife)” John repeated the seven-letter phrase again and again, but it couldn’t help him, he was to be executed. John made one last attempt to get away but was stopped in his tracks by Carter’s bodyguards. By force, he had his head laid on a table ready for his death. The executioner raised his axe; John took in one last breath before his death, when a deafening noise halted the process.

Tanks and soldiers stormed through the walls; there was panic amongst Carter’s men. The U. S forces had arrived just in time. They obliterated the opposition with a powerful range of weapons. No one was spared, the building was blown to shreds and the opposition were eliminated. Lucky to escape with his life, John, with great relief thanked his allies. The final mission objective was complete. It was a day John would never ever forget, as he walked out of that building, with his body still intact.

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