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Four Years at the Mount

The Graduate

Petersburg 1865

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(7/2017) "During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grantís Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Leeís Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The two massive armies would not become disentangled until April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered and his men went home" (History.com).

Normally, Iím the first one up.

Normally, I stir before daylight, my body responds to the temperature rising, and normally I have time to sit up and just look around before my battles start to toss around and groan about the rising sun.

Today I woke sharply as I felt my buddyís hand rock my shoulder back and forth: "Hey, Carter, get up," he shouted through a whisper, "theyíre here again."

There is no way I slept through the sunrise or stand-to, I thought, as I opened my eyes slowly and most unsure. It was still dark outside; the stars still hanging in the sky.

"Theyíre here early today," I thought as I flipped onto my stomach and pulled myself up. About 35 seconds later, my sack was stuffed into my ruck and I was pulling on my Kevlar helmet. I turned to my right and counted, "one, two, three guys Ė all mine." I turned to my left and found my squad leader. I called to him, "Alpha is all good, ready to move."

Eighty-five seconds later and the squad was ready. We knew the plan. The last few months had been the same, from morning to night, they just got here early this morning. I started out, slightly crouched, and made my way through the hatchery, nine guys followed me. We were ready.

Day in and day out nothing had changed much, I didnít really expect today to be any different.

I heard the crack of the stick breaking under my left foot before I heard the loud bang of the artillery off in the distance Ė it meant go time.

For the last three months we spent every morning at the hands of their artillery. They shot past us, around us, and fifty feet in front of us, but somehow, so far, we had zero casualties. The companies to our left and rear have each taken some, but we have somehow slipped by Ė today would be no different.

My mind flipped quickly from routine to reaction as I scanned the face of Brown, who stood right behind me. He reached out and grabbed my forearm, "Sergeant," he whispered, "that was close."

"I know," I answered quickly as I turned to count once again, "one, two threeÖ"

Another bang went off, this time closer. I have no way of telling where they are landing through these wood lines, but closer was my best guess.

I turned back around and started pointing, my mind at this moment is working.

Where are the closest known friendly elements?

Where is my squad leader?

Where do my guys need to go?

Will the next bang be closer?

"Okay, be productive."

How much closer was the last one?

Can we exfil at 180 degrees?

I donít see any enemy in uniform

Iím not paired with any artillery or heavy weapons, Iím out here with nine guys walking and feeling like an exposed nerve.

As the recon team, our job is to evaluate the area, examine any suspected enemy activity, remain invisible; nothing, but undetectable ghosts and shadowsĖ thatís really all there is to it.

However, with the crack of every branch I step on Iím breaking one of the few rules, and in so doing, I risk the lives of all nine of these my unit. At this moment, I know I need to move closer. I have answers to zero of my questions and though I only paused for 60 seconds, itís feeling like a break that will never end. Before pushing forward, I looked back and see my guys looking restless, but ready to go. I sighed the smallest sigh before once again pushing myself up and pulling my Kevlar helmet forward on my head.

"Letís go," I waved my left arm forward. In the few milliseconds, it took to turn my head back around I knew I had to turn my focus back on Ė watch my step, ears open, eyes peeled, head on a swivel. I have one job.

The next bang came then, and it hit close.

Before I could turn to count I heard another Ė "Get down!" I heard someone else shout for me.

I fell to the ground and rolled over to count, "One. Two. ThreeÖ," then itís all good. Well, here at least.

They all looked at me with varying expressions, the most common being carefully veiled fear. But they all looked to me for answers I didnít know.

"Get it together," I scolded myself, and seven seconds later I was setting up a security formation and moving around to find my squad leader.

-----

We returned later that day as lucky as we left. All fine and all together. Seven seconds of hesitation and a crack of a branch could have changed all of that, and Iím feeling much luckier than the rest.

Tomorrow will be more of the same, but tomorrow I will have to be smarter, quicker, and better. Strange, though, because as the days drag on I feel slower, less able. I donít even know what side Iím fighting for anymore.

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