Days are long, nights are cold. At times I find myself numb from the chill, all but my fingers and toes which ache and burn, try as I may to warm my frozen blood. I can’t shake, no matter how hard the wind blows. I can’t shiver, no matter how far the temperature drops. I must stay still. If I move, people will die.
I will die.
Blink and breathe. Control the rise and fall of your chest. Four counts in, three counts out.
Do not sweat. If you sweat, your camouflage will smear and your skin will be exposed. You will be exposed. They will see you.
If I am seen, I will die.
Be silent. Clench your jaw when your teeth begin to chatter. Hold your breath when your lungs ache to cough. Never speak a word. They will hear you.
If I am heard, I will die.
Do not die. You are alive because of your brothers, and they are alive because of you. Be prepared to die, but continue to live. You live for them, you kill for them.
If I die, I cannot kill.
Look down your scope. Both eyes open, red dot blaring in your vision, you wait, and you watch.
For days, I’ve sat in the same spot with the same image in my sight, as my rifle never moves. This building is burned in my mind as I wait patiently for the image to change. Soon, it will. I can hear them talking, laughing, plotting. I can hear them, but they will never hear me. I know they’re there, hiding somewhere my scope can’t see. For days I’ve waited, taunted by their invisible presence, knowing yet never seeing. But I need this shot. This is the kill to end the killing. This man, my target, our enemy, is our checkmate. All I need is the perfect opportunity, and I can turn the war. My shot is lined up perfectly, all I need is for him to walk into focus. And after days of waiting, he does.
One man, one life. He walks on two legs as you do. He has two arms and two hands, wears clothes and has hair just as you do.
We are both humans.
He carries a rifle. He has ammunition, and is never without a weapon. He is prepared to kill and believes in a mission.
We are both soldiers.
I see him through my scope. I line my red dot on his head, and for a split second, weakness creeps in. Thoughts flood my brain and tell me not to pull the trigger. They tell me to have mercy. They tell me not to take this man's life. They bring with them images of his family. His wife waiting at home, cooking him a hot meal and dreaming of her husband. His son playing in the yard, believing his father is nothing short of a superhero. His parents are proud of him and what he supports, honored that their son is fighting for their country. And for another second, that weakness is replaced by horror. It seeps into my brain and suddenly my mind is enveloped in the fog of war. The fog tells me that mercy will end with more blood than death. He will kill me, and he will not stop. He will never stop. Every soldier in my platoon, every man, woman, and child in my country, every human that I swore with my life that I would protect will be wiped out, but I won’t know that I was responsible for the death of so many innocent people because I was too weak to do what I was trained to do, what I took an oath to do. Suddenly, I am drowning in their blood, deafened by their screams, blinded by the horrifying images of their lifeless bodies and I am responsible.
And then I blink.
The fog of war is gone, leaving only my red dot steady on my targets head.
I will not be weak.
I will not be responsible.
I will not fail.