The Human Condition by Codey Herrera

The Human Condition by Codey Herrera 

 I sit here in my barracks room, surrounded by these haunting walls, reminiscing on a
time when the world wasn’t such an ugly place. Growing up, I always believed that the world was black
and white, a belief that can only be found through a child’s eyes, for only someone still so young can be
so naïve. Looking back now, I can recall the moment in time when the world changed for me, when the
world revealed itself and the human condition spoke volumes that would move the very foundation I
tread upon.

“Hey, wake up man, it’s time to move.” The last man standing fire watch whispered as he shook
me from my sleep. My clock read 0300, and it was time to move.
We had been operating in Afghanistan for over three months. We were in the midst of the
unrelenting month of August, and our bodies fought to keep the heat at bay and our temperatures safe.
We had left FOB1
 Payne the afternoon before to set in at the attack position. We were miles out from
Safar bazaar, a village that had been rumored by Marine intelligence to be a Taliban stronghold. We had
been tasked with clearing the village and confiscating any drugs, poppy, or IED materials found within, a
task that would prove to be catastrophic.
Loaded up and ready to move under the cover of darkness we began our short trip to the
outskirts of the village. The plan had been laid out and etched into our memories. We would arrive at
the village early enough in the morning to keep the element of surprise, leaving the enemy scrambling,
and with little time to organize, plan, or execute any effective movement against us. Upon arrival the
scouts would dismount and conduct movements into the village where they would begin clearing
procedures of huts and shops occupying the village. My section, made up of mortar men and

 Forward Operating Base. Herrera 2

appropriate assets, had been tasked to sit on the outskirts of the village and provide indirect fire
As morning came to a rise, the day had started off slow and easy. Scouts would began their
movement into the village, while we sat on the sidelines anticipating what was to come. Marines grew
impatient as the day progressed without the slightest hint of clandestine activity.
“Some Taliban stronghold, right, I could clear this worthless, godforsaken village by myself,” one
Marine spat out, eager to speed up his day with a little excitement.
The vehicle would quickly erupt with banter, snide remarks, and feelings of suppressed anger
being expressed toward our current situation. This seems to be typical behavior when grown men find
themselves bored and without any other form of entertainment.
The day was going by unbearably slow. Complacency was quickly setting in as a loud blast
vibrated the air waves and brought inevitable panic amongst the Marines.
“What the hell was that?” The vehicle commander yelled as we all jumped to our feet and
quickly scanned the village.
“Give me the damn binoculars,” my Staff Sergeant barked indignantly. I turned with haste and
tried to dig out the binoculars as several more explosions ripped through the earth’s atmosphere and
rang in our ears.
Clouds of smoke marked the spots where enemy mortars were latently falling from the sky,
invisible to the human eye, yet diminishing to the human senses.
Radios came alive as one transmission after another passed through the encoded nets.
“We’re taking enemy mortar fire inside the village. We cannot see enemies point of origin, (POO
site),” came the voice over the static. Herrera 3

“We copy all. Have all of your marines hold tight, a truck has been observed driving around with
a mounted mortar system. Enemy is not static; I repeat enemy is not static,” replied another vehicle as
more mortars began their ascent to glory.
Fear had set in amongst the dismounted Marines as mortars landed closer to their current
position, and with little else they could do in such a mode of panic, they called over the nets, “Steel rain
this is Alpha Whiskey, stand by for fire mission.”
The squawk box sounded the alarm, an alarm that would leave buildings in rubble and innocent
lives torn from existence.
“Roger Alpha Whiskey, standing by for fire mission,” The marine running the plotting board
calmly muttered.
“Adjust fire over. Grid 1573, break, 7091. Enemy troops in the open, Alpha Whiskey out.” The
transmission sequentially came as the data was called out and given to the gunner. The gunner quickly
applied the data to the sight unit and adjusted the gun properly. We were cleared to fire, cleared to take
innocent lives.
My heart in sheer disaccord, I watched as the final preparations were made. The transmissions
were real, and the realization hit me with a force unsurpassed by nature. We were about to drop 81 mm
explosives on a village in an attempt to hit an enemy vehicle that was not sitting in a static position. The
situation played through my head a thousand different ways, but the variables didn’t matter, the
outcome was always the same. The only souls we would be reaping were the souls of innocent
bystanders caught in the crossfire.
“Herrera, give me the goddamn rounds,” the Gunner yelled, bringing me back into reality.
“I won’t be a part of this Corporal. I’m not dropping rounds on a village full of people who have
done nothing wrong.” I respectfully and quickly refused to participate in dropping mortars. If their lives
could not be saved, my conscience would be. Herrera 4

“Then get out of the damn vehicle!” he said in anger. “Mills get back there and hand us those
rounds.” The driver jumped out and quickly took my position in the back of the vehicle.
I would later take the repercussions of denying a direct order and would be fired from my job as
ammo man, but death would not be stopped.
The mortars were adjusted to where the last POO site was recorded and bombs ripped through
the air, bursting in proximity over the many homes occupied by Afghans. The shrapnel from a five round
fire for effect inevitably tore through the flesh of the poor souls bound by the crude laws of nature in
only a matter of minutes.
Hours would pass before we would watch as families collected their dead, dragging the adults
while carrying their young in the aftermath of a fight that had not been justified, for no enemy was ever
neutralized. The apathetic Marines would grin with no remorse. They took little to no interest in the
lives taken from these “Sand Niggers.” The operation was continued and later led to the confiscation of
hundreds of pounds of poppy and Marines raiding the recently abandoned Bazaar of all cigarettes,
sodas, and food. No justice came to the lives lost by the innocent, for these events would never surface
in America’s ever aware media.

Confined by these walls, in barracks occupied by apathetic Marines, Life will go sadly on, and I
will never be the same. Subjected to the violence, and contention of man, I had learned that the world
isn’t always black and white, and government born entities will always dwell in the darkest shades of

 Herrera 5