I have tried to live deliberately, taking on the world with a keen sense of discovery. The creative side yearns to see beauty in all things living, and as the radius of my world view expands I do find beauty in most everything.
I thought going into combat would be yet another needed experience to be fulfilled as a warriors rights of passage. I trained for war, I put my self in the mentality that aggressive reactions and actions will save lives. I do believe that there are bad and purely evil forces in this world, and we should take every effort to eliminate those elements. I thought I was physically and mentally ready for our deployment.
I was exposed to IED’s, firefights, in the remote deserts and mountains. I was scared but the adrenaline rush was fantastic, the scenery was raw and beautiful in a primal un touched way. For my mentality the one unexpected element that haunts me to this day were the children. While in a compound along the Helmand River we received small arms fire from from a man by a motorcycle. As the crescendo of automatic weapons increased I was completely saddened by the sound of small children screaming. I never imagined in all of my training that there would be kids on the field of battle. Their screams are like sharp claws that scratch at my soul. We did capture the gunman named Abdul Walley in a field hiding in a woman’s Burka. He tested positive for gunshot residue on his cheek. He was interviews by MI, then sent to Kandahar.
I awoke one day with the feeling like I could handle what ever this deployment thrust in front of me and my unit. The heavy ness of leaving the wire every day pushed down on my shoulders but I finally felt that I would make it out. It was the September 7th 2005 0900 Zulu! I was finally in the lead vehicle up in the gun. Before leaving Firebase Price near Gereshk in Helmand Province I said s little prayer and kissed my small St. Joseph Coopertino medallion. I was elated for being the first vehicle; which meant that there would be no dust to choke on as we ripped through the desert.
We rallied out to hwy one and jumped onto the hard ball/pavement. I felt good. As we entered the market area of Gereshk we slowed down to avoid the bustling street. I watched very intently to possible threats yet was distracted by a young boy maybe 12 years old on a bike in the middle of the street and I thought how peculiar he is and unsafe to be amongst all if these zooming vehicles with out a helmet on. As he was right next to my vehicle I looked into his eyes and the last thing I saw was his entire body disappear in a horrific blast. Just behind him was a suicide bomber driving a vehicle borne IED (VBIED) that detonated enough c-4 and Propane tanks filled with explosives to kill 8 Afghans the suicide bomber the boy, and wound 26 others. I was knocked unconscious by the blast and fire ball. Being covered in blood and burnt flesh with shrapnel imbedded in my ballistic vest added to the gore. I woke up to the Medic -Doc Li from California, who was working on my vital signs, the vertebrae in my neck were fractured and my internal organs collapsed. My mouth was full of blood and grit. The medic said Jokingly that I had all of my arms and legs and that I would be ok. I told my team
Leader SGT Gattling the we needed to get the fuck out of here!
There was more gunfire in the distance as our squad was shooting their way to our location. Our radio had been knocked out by the blast but the driver SPC Adkins from Minnesota pushed through the kill zone and got us to a safe place. We gathered our gear and made it back to the Fire Base where the SF Medic checked me out, shortly after I was on a Blackhawk med evac Helicopter back to Kandahar. It took Only 30 minutes, which would of taken us 10 hours. I finally felt really safe. I had the option to go back to Landhstuhl in Germany or stay in Afghanistan with my unit. I staid with my guys!
After further evaluations I was sent back on the advanced party called Advon. To start the long road to recovery. The Army medically retired me on Sept 9 2007.
I now at 7 years later still hear the children’s screams and see the boy on his bike being vaporized every day.
You can see their image show up once in a while unintentionally in my paintings. I am celebrating my alive day by thanking and remembering the Heros who never made it home. I will thank my fellow veterans from a sincere hand shake and hug. I will continue to
Live a life with purpose, with passion, and as a precious gift as I live on borrowed time.
YOURS IN PATRIOTISM
SPC Mark D. Duran US Army Retired