The Heart of the Matter

There were a dozen tents in an open field. Sergeant Tare Radost decided this is where he would be, so there they were. Around him was a portable fence and twenty-five men doing their national duty. Ditches were being dug, wires strung, rifles cleaned.

Private Leo Baldwin was worried. Boot camp had been rough, and now here he is, digging a ditch, waiting.

“Cory,” he said, “I don’t know about this mission. You said we’re going to the center of the village?”

Corporal Cordura Abocado had been assigned to Radost for six months. He told his wife that it felt like six years.

Abocado intoned the Army line: “We have to deliver a message to the tribal chief, and we have to make a showing of it.”

“So, the Sergeant thinks that we have to put on this act of bravery to keep our credibility here? “

“That’s not how to look at it.”

How should this be looked at, Abocado thought to himself. I report to a crazy damn bastard who doesn’t give a shit if he lives or dies.

Baldwin had heard some of the stories.

“I heard last week Radost went to the chief and almost got his ass blown up.”

“Yeah, they had some problems. But Radost would do the same thing again. He has a good sense of duty.”

“I’m nothing like Radost. He doesn’t give a shit about where he is or what he is doing. He has no fear at all.”

“Things are more complicated than that.”

Radost walked by. “Saddle up ladies, we’re going shopping.”

Radost, Abocado, Baldwin, and two other Privates climbed into the back of a truck to ride the three miles. Half a mile in, Baldwin felt that familiar fear creeping through his back. He looked around and saw Radost’s face, a study in serenity. Radost looked like he was going to a football tailgate party.

Abocardo knew that look on Radost’s face. Oh, shit, he thought.

At the entrance to the village, an escort joined them to the tribal chief’s hut. Radost went in alone for five minutes. Abocardo heard nothing. A good sign.

Four shots rang out. Abocardo shouted, “Snipers on the roof.” Abocardo and the two privates hit the ground behind the truck. Baldwin swung around quickly, raised his rifle, fired, re-aimed, and fired again. He took down both snipers in four seconds.

Abocardo yelled from the ground, “Holy shit, that was some good shooting”.

Baldwin started shaking, first on his hands, then his legs. Abocardo stood up and grabbed him. “What the hell is going on?”

Baldwin cried, “I’m a damn coward, get me out of here, get me the hell out of here.”

Radost stepped out of the hut, looked quickly at what was happening. He heard Baldwin say he was a coward, and ran towards him.

Radost yelled, “Maggot, get your ass in gear, or I will put a bullet in your brain.”

Radost gave Baldwin five seconds to stop shaking, and then gave him a punch in the gut. Baldwin groaned and went quiet.

Radost walked back into the hut. The men heard yelling for a couple of minutes, then he stormed out and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Baldwin trembled all the way back to the base.

Later that evening in the mess tent, during the night’s meal, Baldwin sat with Abocardo. The shakes had stopped two hours ago.

Baldwin whispered, “I felt like a damn yellow coward.”

Abocardo tried to make the best of it. “You were great! You killed two snipers just before they were going to kill us both. That was a very brave action.”

“I don’t feel brave. I was just a little girl out there.”

“Sometimes bravery is what we do.”

“I’m a coward. I didn’t want to be there, and don’t want to go back.”

“If you were there again, facing those snipers, would you do the same thing?”

“Of course I would.”

“We all have fears. Bravery is what we do when we have those fears.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Radost walked into the mess tent, and everyone stopped talking.

During the night watch, at about 1:00am, there was an explosion at the gate. A couple of mortar rounds arced in. The camp lights went off. Shots rang out as four insurgents ran through, firing in all directions.

Abocardo grabbed his gun, ran out of his tent, and started firing at the insurgents. He killed one. Radost, who was behind him, shot quickly and took out two of them quickly. The last shot just missed Abocardo’s shoulder and into the face of the last insurgent.

Radost yelled, “Did you see his face explode? Friggin target practice, best fun I’ve had all week.”

Abocardo turned quickly and looked straight at Radost. “How could you enjoy what we just had to do? What is that smile on your face?”

Radost said, “What the hell is wrong with you, Soldier?”

Abocardo asked, “I just don’t understand, I don’t get it.”

Radost laughed. “It’s simple. You’ve known me for a while, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out. I only really live when I kill the enemy. You know, from that movie – ‘I love the smell of Napalm in the morning’. This is my hobby, my joy. When this war is over, I’m going to find myself some shitty little private situation and do what I like to do. I’ll just follow my bliss, like all them damn hippies. You and all of the other Army assholes can call me Kurtz. I’m going up river.”

Abocardo let slip his feelings. “You are one sick soldier.”

“What did you say, you bag of shit?”

Six months of shit from a psycho Sergeant. What the hell.

“Sir, you are one sick soldier, Sir.”

Radost slammed his knee into Abocardo’s groin, punched him in the stomach, and then pushed him to the ground. Abocardo raised his rifle and aimed at the Sergeant’s head.

Radost whispered, “You don’t have the guts.”

A nearby MP saw Abocardo raise his rifle, and yelled, “Soldier, put down that weapon, that is an order!” The MP disarmed Abocardo, cuffed him, and marched him to the HQ tent.

At the morning’s light, Baldwin visited Abocardo, standing inside a makeshift brig, with an MP a few feet away.

Abocardo started. “I guess my life is over.”

“I’m sure the officers at the Court Marshal will understand that Radost attacked you.”

“No, that not how it works. How are you doing?”

“I did better last night. I heard the shooting start, then a couple of bullets went through my tent. I ran outside and fired a few times until you and the Sergeant finished them off. Didn’t hit anything. Then I shook for an hour. I guess that is better than before.”

Abocardo looked down, thinking of his wife back in Indiana. “My life is over, I’ll be sitting in some prison camp for years, day by day.”

“Cory, never give up.”

“What the hell.”

The MP walked over and said, “Ok Private, visiting time is over, now get the hell out of here.”

As Baldwin walked away, he passed Radost.

Radost looked at Baldwin straight in the eye and said, “Did you just visit that piece of shit?”

“Sir, I visited the Corporal.”

“You watch yourself and stay out of my way, or you will be put into a world of pain that there is no returning from.”

“Sir, yes Sir.”

Leo Baldwin walked back to his tent, and sat on his cot. Ten thousand miles from home. This is his world now. He thinks, maybe being brave is just surviving from one day to the next. Maybe I am brave. Damn, I’m going to miss Cory. He understood this stuff. Damn.

Cordura Abocado sat in his cell.

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