We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this May. In honor of Armed Forces Day, we bring to you A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael.
A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael
mme “Doogie” Sawyer sat packed into the back of a Humvee with a bunch of Marines. The convoy was headed to a compound housing a local school. The stale air inside was charged with a nervous energy. The temperature was stifling. The desert remained at a consistent one hundred twenty degrees during the day, but they kept the windows rolled up due to the possibility of hitting an IED. More importantly, they did it to keep the fine grains of sand from filling the truck. At this point, Doogie seriously thought a little sand wouldn’t hurt.
“Good to have you with us, Doc,” the Sergeant said over his shoulder.
Before she could answer, the interpreter started rattling off a frantic string of guttural sounds. At least thirty-four different languages were native to Afghanistan. Doogie had basic medical terms in two, and the faster he spoke, the more his words sounded like he was clearing the phlegm out of his throat.
“Hey man, slow down. I can’t understand you,” the Sergeant said.
“Road block ahead.” A voice on the radio cut through the chaos. The line of Humvees stopped, waiting for their next directive. The drivers always amazed her with their ability to keep an equal distance between the vehicles at all times. It was like synchronized swimming, except with vehicles.
The formation protected them if one of the trucks happened to run over an IED. It made it so only one would take the full impact. She prayed it wasn’t hers. Not because she didn’t want to be blown up, but because as the medical corpsman, she needed to be there in case the others did.
The Sergeant turned to the interpreter, raising his eyebrows.” Terp, what’s the call?”
“It’s not real. They’re not real military.”
The Sergeant yelled into the radio, “Go! Go! Go! Break through! Break through!”
Doogie looked out the window. Despite the heat, she shivered. Scarves covering their faces, the insurgents emerged along the dirt road with AK-47’s held at the ready.
“They’re everywhere.” The statement echoed from the men around her.
“Don’t stop. Don’t stop.” Terp pulled a black mask down to cover his face in an attempt to keep the insurgents from identifying him.
“Shut up!” yelled one of the men.
“They can’t see me. They will kill my family if they see me helping the Americans.” Terp was frantic.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. Get to the school,” the Sergeant ordered.
The procession took off, wheels spinning and dirt flying. They took the corner, sped through the roadblock and into the blown-out compound where the school was located.
“So much for this being a safe zone.” Doogie tightened her hands around her M16 assault rifle.
They spun to a stop, falling over each other to exit the vehicle. Doogie ran to a nearby wall and slid up next to it. She dropped her rucksack full of medical gear at her feet and did a quick mental inventory of her supplies. She’d packed light for combat wounds, replacing her normal combat ready supplies with smaller bandages and immunizations for the school children. Peeking around the wall, she could see about twenty guys watching from the dirt buildings lining the street. Another small group moved from an adjacent tree line. Finally, about fifteen men filed into the compound where Doogie and the others were holed up. Doogie’s heart raced. Her position was about to be attacked. This was supposed to be a humanitarian mission to a school, which was why Doogie had offered to provide medical care for the kids. She honestly never thought she’d see action.
Doogie ducked. Bullets hit the wall behind her, ricocheting small shards of cement off her helmet. The Sergeant yelled, “Take cover.”
“Permission to engage?” yelled the men.
The sickening pop, pop, pop of gunfire filled the air as they returned fire. Covering their flank, they headed toward the school. “I’m hit,” yelled the soldier to her left, but kept running another thirty meters before collapsing. Doogie pushed her back to a wall and started firing randomly in the direction of the incoming bullets. These men weren’t her Marines, but they were her men for the moment, and she’d do what was necessary to keep them alive. The automatic weapon fire from the insurgents rained down from all directions when the call came: “Corpsman up!”
Doogie got up and half ran, half crawled toward the downed soldier. The rapid pop of machine guns followed at her heels. He appeared to be okay—no blood—all limbs attached, but he wasn’t moving and had rolled into a ball. Doogie kneeled by the man and ran through her mental ABC’s: he was conscious; the airway was clear; bleeding? She ran her hands over and under his body—none. “You okay?” she asked.
“I’m good. I’m good.” He pushed himself back until he was behind a short wall. “Give me a minute. I’ll be up.”
She patted him on the arm; then ducked when the bullets hit, exploding the wall and sending a cloud of dust into her face. Doogie used her forearm to clear the dust from her eyes, sneezing as it filled her nose.
“They’re coming down left flank.” The soldier she’d helped met her gaze before pushing her to the ground as an RPG blew down the road. Shards of debris blew their way.
When the dust settled, Doogie wiped it from her face and asked, “Everyone all right?”
“Man down! Man down!”
She drew in a breath, ducked, and ran across the road, sliding to where the man lay sprawled. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay,” she said while assessing his injuries. Doogie took a shaky breath and tried to keep her expression blank. Corpsman learned from day one not to freak out at the grotesque injuries they faced. Stay calm at all times. Doogie knew he was in trouble, but she ran through her checkpoints to make sure she didn’t overlook anything. If she focused on the largest wound but ignored a smaller, harder to see injury, he could die just as easily.
“No head trauma, body okay . . .” Doogie ticked off her list. She pushed a large section of cement off his legs. “Crap,” she said to herself, and then turned away to open her ruck. No matter how many times she saw these injuries, her stomach always got tight. The IED had completely removed one of his legs. The other hung at an odd angle, badly damaged. She dug in his pocket for his blowout patch to slap on the large gash pumping bright red blood out of the better leg. Doogie wasn’t too concerned with the missing leg. Explosive amputations usually caused the blood vessels to contract and close up so they tended to take care of themselves. Just to be safe, she dug out two rubber straps to secure around each leg; then stabbed him with a shot of morphine.
“You’re a medic?” the soldier groaned. “You’re a girl. A little girl.”
“Corpsman,” she corrected. Thanks to television and movies everyone wanted to call her a medic, but Doogie was a Navy Corpsman and corpsman didn’t like being called medics. Her unit didn’t see her as a girl, just their savior. Pretty soon, this guy wouldn’t care if she was a purple elephant as long as she kept the morphine coming.
“You’re still a girl,” he argued.
“That is true.” Doogie forced herself to smile.
“Is it bad?” he asked.
“You’re going to be fine.”
“I can’t feel my feet.”
“Okay I’ll be sure to check that out.” She kept her voice even.
Always tell them they’re fine. They didn’t really want to know the truth. The last thing they wanted to hear was they were going to lose a leg, or maybe their life, in the middle of Afghanistan. Even if they knew it wasn’t true, they wanted to hear they were going to be okay. Doogie didn’t like lying, but she figured God had a special spot in heaven for corpsmen.
Another RPG blew. Dirt rained down on them. Doogie fell over, protecting him.
“I need a medevac!” She brushed the dust from him the best she could; then went looking for a vein to start an IV.
“You’re beautiful. Do you want to go on a date?” The morphine had kicked in. “You know . . . when we get back?”
“Let’s see how you feel when we get out of here.” His veins had collapsed. Doogie searched for somewhere to open up and get fluids in him. She was using all her resources on this guy. She hoped they could get out of this with a limited number of casualties.
Another round hit the wall behind her. Doogie reached out for her rifle, spun around, and then leaned back against the man before she let a few rounds go into the dusty street.
“Heads down! Keep moving into the school!” came the directive. The general philosophy was a moving target was harder to hit than a stationary one, but as of now, they were stuck.
“I’ve got one down,” Doogie yelled. Things were progressively going downhill. She got the IV secured and gave him the bag to hold.
“We’re moving forward into the school,” barked the Sergeant.
Doogie wasn’t big enough or strong enough to carry the guy. She got an arm under each of the soldier’s and pulled. She slipped onto her back, and the man fell directly on top of her, pinning her to the ground. A stocky soldier came to her side, lifted the guy off, and then took over the task of pulling the wounded man through the door.
“Crap.” A blow knocked them back into a wall.
“Get back! Get back!” the men began yelling.
Dazed, Doogie barely heard the voices around her. Someone’s strong hands grabbed her around the waist and tossed her over his shoulder to carry her through the door.
The unit piled through after them. Snipers and spotters headed up the stairs ready to take position and end the firefight.
The soldier dropped Doogie to the floor with a thud.
“You okay?” he asked, looking at the wet, red mess down the front of her pants.
“Doc! Doc!” everyone started yelling at the same time.
“Holy hell.” She turned to see what the commotion was about. The floor was covered in sticky blood. Light sticks cracked on, giving the room an eerie green glow. Doogie didn’t need the light to know what was in the room. The smell of blood and death was everywhere.
“They’re just kids,” said the soldier who dropped her.
“Corpsman up! Mass casualties!” frantic voices yelled.
The room was full of children piled on top of each other. Deep slashes covered the bodies. Blood pooled around them, seeping into the floor. It took only moments for her to turn off the horror and begin triaging the wounded or the dead. She slid across the blood soaked floor, landing next to a boy. He couldn’t have been older than ten. In fact, all the kids weren’t older than ten. Doogie scanned the group, her stomach dropping at the loss of life. It wasn’t fair. All they wanted was an education. They were too young die for this stupid war.
“Dear God,” Doogie muttered, “what kind of monsters could do this to kids?”
Two men came up to assist. “I don’t think God was around.”
“We were too late,” Doogie said. Above her, she could hear the sniper rifles begin their assault on whoever was throwing rounds their way.
“Anything over there?” she yelled. There had to be survivors. She couldn’t handle it if she was too late to save any of them.
“Hold this wound. Pressure!” she told the man next to her before leaving her soldier. The shield she used to protect her from the violence began to dissolve as she moved through the children. Doogie stopped, turning her back to take a deep breath and regroup. “Don’t be afraid of those that want to kill you. They can only kill the body; they cannot do any more to you.” She tightened her jaw, she couldn’t fall apart.
Battlefield triage makes perfect sense when sitting in a classroom. Leave those beyond saving. Focus on the guys that can be saved. Deciding who gets help first is brutal, but deciding it with a room full of children was impossible.
Doogie lost track of time as she moved from one individual to the next, looking for anyone who had survived the brutality. She was the only corpsman. The number of casualties was overwhelming. The room was dark, and it was impossible to tell if it was still daylight. She had no idea how long they had been held up, but if the injured were going to survive, they needed to get moving. The constant pop of the insurgents’ rifles made it clear getting everyone out was going to be a challenge.
The soldiers hunkered down, firing out any crack or opening in the walls. Rounds were going everywhere. She enlisted the man who helped earlier, having him support her in triaging as many as they could. “Stop the bleeding and stabilize them,” she said.
Doogie imagined the school children locked in this room. Their young tortured screams. She moved from one body to the next, praying for the quiet beat of a pulse. Her clothes were heavy, soaked in the sticky blood. This is what she did. She was in the fray. This is where she excelled. But she felt her heart breaking at the disregard for life these people showed. The children were the future of their country, and they had slaughtered them like they were nothing. Doogie pressed back the emotions that threatened to bubble up. She knew she’d deal with them later, whether she wanted to or not.
There were fifteen kids, primarily boys since girls weren’t allowed to attend school. Eliminating the boys made the chance of them fighting against the Taliban a moot point. The men helped her separate the dead from the injured and move them into another room.
They called for a QRT, quick response team, even asked for a bomb drop, but were denied. The Army’s Strykers were heading their way, but had to make it through the mess outside. Doogie tried to make the wounded comfortable and settled in between the soldier she’d helped earlier and a young boy, while the snipers continued to hold off the assault. It seemed the Taliban had a never ending amount of ammo. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say the same for the U. S. troops.
One of the children regained consciousness. He began a continuous moaning that soon turned to screaming. “Shut him up,” spat one of the men.
“You’re going to be okay, shh.” The boy couldn’t understand her, but she hoped her tone would calm him.
An explosion detonated outside their hideout. The building across the street turned into an inferno. The smoke turned the sky an eerie orange. Doogie glanced down at the boy. His eyes fluttered opened, staring deep into hers. They were filled with fear. She checked his vitals again before she watched his eyes close for the last time.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away,” (Rev. 21:4) Doogie whispered.
“He wasn’t a Christian,” the soldier next to her said.
She looked over at him. “Yeah, but I am.”
“You think we’re going to get out of here?” A grimace distorted his face until the pain subsided. “Can you give me something for the pain?”
Doogie ran a hand over the man’s forehead. “They’ll come and get us. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not going to make it am I?” A tear slid down his cheek, leaving a trail in the caked on dirt.
“If I have anything to say about it, we’re all getting out of here.” Doogie took his hand and held on.
“Thank you.” His voice was hoarse.
Doogie grabbed her water, propped the man’s head up, and held it to his lips. “Nothing to thank me for. It’s what I do.”
The Strykers came in under heavy fire. The trucks were reinforced on all sides and ran on tracks. They came up through a back alley. The team loaded the wounded onto litters, and then hoisted them into the back of the vehicles. An RPG skidded down the road, landing beside the truck. They all froze, waiting for the impending explosion. None came.
“Holy crap,” said the soldier next to her.
“Yeah,” was her lame response.
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