The 23rd night sky over Ramadi in December was cold and blue. Christmas was in two days. The only lights were the stars above and strange fluorescent lights in the village. The Marines in front of me cautiously crept along the muddy, fog-enshrouded road past stucco concrete brick houses and silent cows.
For a long time I heard the gentle sound of my camera clicking against my rifle and my boots scraping across the wet pavement. Unseen dogs began to bark and growl as if rabid and starved.
A few pops went off in the distance. My head turned and followed a few tracer rounds that cut the air like red lasers between me and the Marine in front of me, who I just met in the back of a seven-ton truck. He had a syrupy Texas drawl and was kind of a cool guy.
Amidst the cries of contact I clung to the Earth and I heard others do the same. The beating of my heart became thunderous in my chest, louder than my heavy breathing and the tremorous explosions nearby that shook me to my bones. The faces of my wife and sons passed before me in the mud as if ghosts.
Expecting to be hit with hot metal, soon all went quiet and a general calm swept over me. "Expletive, that was not cool," I whispered to myself out loud.