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The bright glare of a middle eastern sun shone through a narrow gap in the barracks wall, slashing down through the dirty room in a glowing blade of sharply lit dust motes.
The distant sound of a chopper landing and spinning down could be heard. With a gust of air the motes vanished and the main door slammed open and the raucous sound of men laughter spilled into the hall.
Large athletically framed soldiers clad in tactical camouflage gear lumbered their way in amongst the bunks with the casual grace of seasoned professionals, unconsciously keeping muzzles controlled while weapons were made clear and equipment was stowed.
Side arms hammer-down with plus one got checked and holstered or tucked beneath pillows; part of the sop’s of an active forward operating base.
The leader came in last, checking the procedures of his men with a ready smile on his face. He moved through the squad making a few encouraging comments or patting a shoulder here and there. It is clear the man has earned his mens respect.
Lieutenant John VanOsch racked his weapon and dropped his heavy ruck down onto his bunk. An NCO pushed through to him.
“L.T.” we have a debrief with tacops in 20, just got word.”
“Copy that.” The lieutenant responded, quickly making eye contact with his sergeant. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, the posts here.”
John takes the offered bundle of letters, “Thanks Dan.” The sergeant took his leave as Johns unwrapped and started sorting through his mail.
He smiled brightly as he pulled out one letter and ripped it open. After a few lines a concerned look crossed his face and he quickly fanned to the last page. His head shook a dark, dark, expression forming. His left hand balled in a fist and he brought it to his mouth and then bit down hard on his gloved knuckle.
“Everyone!” his bark was the loud and trained voice of one familiar with giving orders in battle, “I need the room.”
After a moments pause in the action, the men immediately obeyed.
John scanned the room as the last man left. Then he turned to stare at the photo of a young man in a police officers uniform, handsome and smiling. Adjoining it was a shot of John and the young man in tuxedos showing off their rings. The last picture was of the man kissing John’s cheek while John is in his BDU’s. Tears began to well in his eyes.
He squatted mechanically leaning back against the edge of his bed. Suddenly inhaling, his head dropped and his shoulders begin heaving as his body was wracked with sobs. The letter with the words “killed in the line of duty” hung limply from his hands.