It’s cold in here. I bet it is colder in here than outside. These metal walls seem to hold in the cold. Moisture trickles down from the hatches and everything feels wet. We had kept the motor running, hoping it would help, but it didn’t. Every time I wake up in my seat, I can see my breath mist in front of me. I need to scan the area but my breath has fogged up my lens. I can’t move the turret with guys trying to sleep anyway. It’s my shift and the loader is coming down out of the commanders’ hatch. I tell him I’m good and to get some sleep. It will be dawn soon and we will be rolling. My bones are stiff and ache as I climb up the hatch. The loader is making his way to the back deck to get in his bag. Gunny is back from the battalion briefing and must have just gone to sleep up here too. I was only out for two hours. No sleep tonight and what little sleep I have had in the past three days only makes me feel numb and distant. The radios have traffic coming and going just as they have had for days now. It feels like a dream but I know that this is all dangerous. I pick up the binos and take a look out at the distance. There isn’t much you can see at night but the stars are out so there is a little light. I can make out the berms and brush. I put the binos down and hear over the net that a fire for effect is about to take place. The big guns behind us start thumping out rounds. I watch the white trails slice through the night sky. I do not pity what the artillery has targeted. Whatever it is cannot be seen where I am. These days and nights have drug on and all seem the same now. We have pounded them, surprised them, and fought them every step. Yesterday I saw two women walking down the road with bundles on their heads. A man was with them and he asked us for water. I gave it to him and motioned to the women with my water bottle. He had drank most of it but he took it from me again and poured a tiny amount in each of their hands. It angered us all. One Marine snatched it back from him and handed it directly to the oldest lady. They were scared but they drank. We don’t speak their language but everyone speaks gun. To think how their culture is compared to ours, crazy it seems. My shift has only been ten minutes and I have two more hours till day break. I need to get these boots off for a while so I tug them off and switch my socks. I put my boots next to the hatch so they can air out. We must smell like death. I don’t remember the last time I showered. I keep looking at my watch. Only twelve minutes has passed. Everything is quiet except for the hum radios and the yipping of wild dogs far in the distance. That is good I guess, with dogs out there that means the enemy isn’t going to be coming at us from that direction. Some of our support has dug fighting holes and set up a defensive perimeter around our vulnerable assets. I feel bad for those guys sleeping in the dirt every night or in those wheeled vehicles. We are low on food so the First Sergeant has said to ration what we have left. We might not get resupplied for days, who knows? I have a pack of peanut butter in my jacket; maybe it will help me stay awake. My foot is falling asleep sitting here. I need to move around a little. I put my boots back on and climb up higher in the cupola. While I’m standing here I need to put my helmet on to keep hearing the radios. I could care less about battalion tac, company level is where the real orders come from. I bet our driver is passed out snoring. Everybody wishes they had his spot to stretch out and sleep. Sometimes it pays to be the low man on the totem pole. How much longer is this going to go on? Twenty minutes into my watch and I feel like this will be eternity. The wind is picking up. I can smell the hydraulic fluid and grime from the turret. It is probably me I smell. I have fuel and other items staining my suit since before we even rolled out. I can’t wait for a shower.
Photo courtesy of: U.S. Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, perform preparation checks on their M1A1 Abrams prior to a night movement during Exercise Steel Knight 14 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, Calif., Dec. 13, 2013. Exercise Steel Knight 14 is a 1st Marine Division exercise conducted to successfully demonstrate the capability to exercise command and control over forces in a distributed environment with long range movement, while conducting offensive and defensive maneuver and operations integrated with supporting arms. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Luis A. Vega 1st Marine Division Combat Camera/ Released)