August 15, 2010

Running for Stability

by Matthew Freire, Syracuse University, August 2010

With a sober face and straight voice Staff Sergeant Smith said, “I got some bad news. Marcy got hit.”

I wanted to laugh and joke like usual until I saw the Sergeant’s eyes. Staring into them I could triangulate the tone of his voice. Truth overcame my body. Hunger grew in my throat like a foreign object. I couldn't swallow.

“What happened?”

“We don't really know the full story yet but we do know he was hit by some type of rocket, and he’s in critical condition right now in the Bahgram hospital. He will lose one leg, possibly both. Once he’s stable enough they will send him to Walter Reed,” Sergeant Smith said.

With hope I said, “so he’s alive.”

“Yes,” Smitty said, “he’s still alive. When I get more information I'll let you know.”

Silence suffocated the room. I stood looking at nothing, biting my lower lip, nodding my head.

Smitty broke the silence. “Are you all right?”

I was now staring at my tactical gear on the floor. Still nodding my head as if I could not breathe, I looked at Smitty and said, “at least he's not dead.” I needed air. I turned and walked out the door.

It was dark outside. Only red lights were authorized at night at the FOB (Forward Operation Base). White lights provide directions to incoming rockets. It was pouring rain. In moments I was completely soaked, realizing this was the first time Afghanistan skies rained on me. My team of eleven had only been “in country” for three weeks and I had only been on four missions. Now five words were on playback in my head, “At least he’s not dead.”

My mind was racing, so I ran to see if I could catch it. I began to reminisce about old times of fun and adventure Marcy and I shared. I wished I could be with him, and hear his loud Long Island accent. Will I see him again? What state will he be in? Marcy loved his job more than anything. Being a combat camera soldier was all he wanted to do. Will he be able to keep his job? My thoughts became self-centered. If Marcy died I would have to document his memorial ceremony. But my desire to do Marcy justice in documenting his fallen comrade ceremony would compete with my desire as a friend to be a pall bearer. There were more selfish thoughts. I had just arrived down range in Afghanistan. I wanted to stay. I wanted to do my job. There was so much I wanted to experience.

Ashamed of my egocentric thoughts I started thinking about the process of thinking, of running for stability. The rain acted like the tears I could not shed. Tears were inadequate to honor my friend.

Soaking wet I realized how crazy we combat camera soldiers are. We run into combat with weapons that cannot immediately kill the enemy. We run with our cameras up and our rifles slung at our sides. I was jealous of Marcy because he had already experienced combat. I had to slap my self-centered face and pivot back to those five words, “At least he’s not dead.”


  1. not being dead IS nice...

  2. well said or written. pretty dang honest.

  3. come on. smitty? the sergeant really was named smitty? give me a break. other than that, i like the story.

  4. Really?... Smitty just might be a nickname, moniker, pseudonym... A familiar or shortened form of a proper name...? Just guessing I think I read it incorrectly.

  5. Nice post Matt....very well written.

  6. I'd echo the comment above - a painful sentiment, honestly depicted.


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