Out Of The Dark – Snippet 08

Chapter .III.

Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky climbed out of the MRAP, stretched, collected his personal weapon, and nodded to the driver.

“Go find yourself some coffee. I don’t really expect this to take very long, but you know how good I am at predicting things like that.”

“Gotcha, Top,” the corporal behind the wheel agreed with a grin. He stepped on the gas, and the Cougar four-by-four (officially redesignated years ago as an MRAP, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle, largely as a PR move after IED attacks had taken out so many Humvees in Iraq) moved away. It headed for the mess tent at the far end of the position, while Buchevsky started hiking towards the sandbagged command bunker perched on top of the sharp-edged ridge.

The morning air was thin and cold, but little more than a month from the end of his current deployment, Buchevsky was used to that. It wasn’t exactly as if it were the first time he’d been here, either. And while many of Bravo Company’s Marines considered it the armpit of the universe, Buchevsky had seen substantially worse during the seventeen years since a deceitfully honest-faced recruiter had taken shameless advantage of an impressionable youth — a family friend, no less! — to fill his recruiting quota.

“Oh, the places you’ll go — the things you’ll see!” the recruiter in question had told him enthusiastically. And Stephen Buchevsky had indeed been places and seen things since. Along the way, he’d been wounded in action no less than six times, and at age thirty- five, his marriage had just finished coming unglued, mostly over the issue of lengthy, repeat deployments. He walked with a slight limp the physical therapists hadn’t been able to completely eradicate, the ache in his right hand was a faithful predictor of rain or snow, and the scar that curved up his left temple was clearly visible through his buzz- cut hair, especially against his dark skin. But while he sometimes entertained fantasies about sitting down with “Uncle Rob” and . . . “discussing” his inducements to get him to sign on the dotted line, he’d always reupped.

Which probably says something unhealthy about my personality. Besides, Dad would be really pissed with me for blaming it all on someone else! He reflected as he paused to gaze down at the narrow twisting road so far below.

On his first trip to sunny Afghanistan, he’d spent his time at Camp Rhine down near Kandahar. That was when he’d acquired the limp, too. For the next deployment, he’d been located up near Ghanzi, helping to keep an eye on the A01 highway from Kandahar to Kabul. That had been less . . . interesting than his time in Kandahar Province, although he’d still managed to take a rocket splinter in the ass. Which had been good for another gold star on the purple heart ribbon (and unmerciful “humor” from his so- called friends). But then the Poles had taken over in Ghanzi, and so, for his third Afghanistan deployment, he’d been sent back to Kandahar, where things had been heating up again. He’d stayed there, too . . . until his battalion had gotten new orders, at least. The situation in Paktika Province — the one the Poles had turned down in favor of Ghanzi because Paktika was so much more lively — had also worsened, and they’d been moved to help deal with the situation.

At the moment he was on his fourth deployment, and he and the rest of First Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division (known as the “Lava Dogs”), had been operating in Helmand Province, conducting operations in support of the Afghan Army. Although, in Buchevsky’s opinion, it had been rather the other way around as far as who was supporting whom was concerned. Still, like most professional members of the United States military he’d gotten used to the sometimes inventive fashion in which operations’ purposes were described to the public. In this case he even understood why it had to be described that way. And despite his own lingering concerns over the corruption of the national government, the overall situation really had improved a lot. The local governor in Helmand seemed to be working hard to provide the people of his province with genuine security, and most of the Afghan soldiers they’d been working with this time around seemed motivated to keep it that way. For that matter, they were even acquiring the rudiments of genuine fire discipline! They weren’t as good as Marines, of course, but then, who was?

His lips twitched at that thought, which he reminded himself to keep to himself. At the moment, Bravo Company — his company — had been detached from Battalion and sent back up into Paktika yet again, this time tasked as backup for the Army’s 508th Parachute Infantry while the Army tried to pry loose some of its own people for the job.

Despite all the emphasis on “jointness,” it hadn’t made for the smoothest relationship imaginable. The fact that everyone recognized it as a stopgap and Bravo as only temporary visitors (they’d been due to deploy back to the States in less than three months when they got the call) didn’t help, either. They’d arrived without the logistic support which would normally have accompanied them, and despite the commonality of so much of their equipment, that had still put an additional strain on the 508th’s supply services. But the Army types had been glad enough to see them and they’d done their best to make the “jarheads” welcome.

The fact that the Vermont-sized province shared six hundred miles of border with Pakistan, coupled with the way the political situation in Pakistan had once more become “interesting” (in the Chinese sense of the word) and the continuing upsurge in opium production under the Taliban’s auspices (odd how the fundamentalists’ onetime bitter opposition to the trade had vanished when they decided they needed cash to support their operations), had prevented Company B from feeling bored. There was always a large-scale trade in opium, and the recent upsurge in weapon-smuggling, infiltration, and cross- border attacks by the jihadists based among the Pakistani hill tribes hadn’t helped, either. Still, the situation was beginning to show signs of stabilizing, and Buchevsky still preferred Paktika to his 2004 deployment to Iraq. Or his more recent visit to Helmand, for that matter.

Now he looked down through the thin mountain air at the twisting trail Second Platoon was here to keep a close eye on.

All the fancy recon assets in the world couldn’t provide the kind of constant presence and eyes- on surveillance needed to interdict traffic through a place like this. An orbiting unmanned reconnaissance drone wasn’t very good at intercepting a bunch of mujahedin backpacking in rocket-propelled grenades, for example. It could spot them, but it couldn’t suppress the traffic. Not even helicopter-borne pounces could do that as well as troops permanently on the ground with good lines of oversight… and infantry wasn’t likely to be downed by MANPADs, either. Not that anything was ever going to make the job simple. It was probably easier than the job Buchevsky’s father had faced trying to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail — at least his people could see a lot farther! — but that wasn’t saying very much, all things taken together. And he didn’t recall his dad’s mentioning anything about lunatic martyrs out to blow people up in job lots for the glory of God.

He found himself thinking about the odd twists and turns fate took as he gazed down at the serpentine trail. His father had been a Marine, too, serving two enlistments as a combat infantryman before he got his divinity degree and transferred to the Navy to become a chaplain. Buchevsky the Younger, as he’d been referred to by his dad’s buddies, had grown up on one Marine or Navy base after another, so if anyone should have known the truth when Uncle Rob spoke his seductive lies, it should have been Stephen Buchevsky.

Face it, he told himself. You did know what you were getting into, and you’d do the same thing today. Which probably proves you are an idiot, just like Trish says. He smiled sadly, thinking about that last conversation. You could’ve
gotten out, just like she wanted. God knows you’ve put in more than your share of time in places like this! And she had a point about what you owe the girls, too. You knew she did. That was why you got so pissed at her for playing that card. Because you knew she was absolutely right to say it… and you were too much of a coward to admit it. You’re just lucky — damned lucky — she wants your daughters to grow up knowing their daddy. How many cases have you seen where it went the other way?

He thought about the perversity of his own nature, but he knew the real reason he’d reupped so many times and why he was where he was. His dad had put it into words years ago, when Commander Buchevsky had finally retired and taken over a small church in his South Carolina hometown.

“Son,” Alvin Buchevsky had said sadly, looking somehow like a stranger out of the uniform he’d worn as long as his son had been alive, “you’re not just a lifer, you’re a combat arms lifer. You’re just never going to be satisfied doing anything else, and that’s the way it is. I’ve seen it in plenty of others. In fact, to be honest, I was afraid I saw it in myself, once upon a time. Might be I really did, too, looking back on it. That’s the real reason I was so relieved when I realized I had a genuine call to the ministry.”

The Methodist pastor had looked up at his towering son and shaken his head.

“You’ve got that protective bug, too,” he’d said. “That crazy notion — probably your mom’s and my fault — that you’re supposed to fix everything. Just don’t have it in you to not answer to it, either. And you’re good at leading Marines, and you’re good at killing people you think need killing. I don’t say you like doing it, because I know you don’t, and I hate what I know that’s costing you. But the truth is you’d never be happy leaving ‘your job’ to someone else — someone who might not be as good at it as you are and got more of your Marines killed because they screwed up where you might not’ve. I know better than most that sometimes people like you are exactly what we need, too. There’s always going to be plenty of bad people in the world, and that means we need people like you to stop ’em. You know I’ll never condemn you for it, either. Never love you any less. But what you do . . . it can be hard on a man’s soul, and it’s hard on his family, Steve. It’s awful hard.”

You were right, Dad, he thought now. Accepting that hadn’t been the easiest thing he’d ever done, yet he’d had no choice, in the end. And sometimes I think the real reason Trish is working so hard on “keeping the channels open” is because she wants to make damned sure she and the girls stay close to you and Mom, thank God. I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but what ever it was, I’m glad I did it.

He gave himself a shake. He had a lot on his plate organizing the Company’s rotation home, and he turned back towards the command bunker to inform Gunnery Sergeant Wilson that his platoon’s Army relief would begin arriving within forty-eight hours. It was time to get the turnover organized and Second Platoon back to its FOB to participate in all the endless paperwork and equipment checks involved in any company movement.

Not that Buchevsky expected anyone to complain about this move.