It was probably the coldest morning we have ever encountered. It was easily below zero this morning. It’s about two in the morning and the wind and snow are so harsh that you can barely see your hands if you held it in front of you.
” Why did we have to have tonight, out of any other night, we get this night.” James vented.
James is not the strongest willed man you’ll ever meet. He is a small built man but has a large mind. He might not be able to run the fastest, lift the most, or influence a person to do any small task, but you ask him anything about the way of the land or even ask him a question about quantum physics, he’ll give you an answer. He has been a good friend to me since I’ve met him.
“We are almost done.” I chuckle.
“Dude, we aren’t even halfway through!” he recalls back to me.
I always give him a tough time about challenging times like this. I was cold, my hands have already passed the numbing phase of the cold and went into the burning phase. We do ten-hour shifts on these posts and usually not to bad. James and I will usually play Texas Hold ’em or play “remember when we” stories, but tonight we couldn’t do anything.
“Fire going out, can you get that?” James asked.
I get up to get the firewood. This is a true task. I carry a Barret REC7, slick gun in my eyes and is my default carry at any post watch. I turned on my flashlight, stumbled to my feet, and went to the wood stack, “Nine more days man and we are done with this crap. We can go back home, be back in our families arms.”
“Gonna be good times.” James sighed.
You can tell that James has had enough of this. He not necessarily built to be in the military. “What are you gonna do when you get back?” I asked.
“I’m gonna buy some bud light, sit on my couch, and just watch a football game without the fear of being ambushed,” James said with a little too much excitement.
I placed the firewood onto the little fire that we had going and once the wood hit the fire you could just hear the snow melt and the fire dimmed. At this moment, I couldn’t even see what James was doing. With the fire so dimmed, the snow and the wind blowing, it was just black. Moments like this is when I really miss home. My wife Ava and I would just sit on our back patio, stare into the sky and watch the stars. As Ava would stare off into space I would look into her eyes and just watch the stars reflect and just whisper, I love you. She would giggle and go back to watching the stars.
“You alright if I rest my eyes for a bit?” I asked James. I did half of a post last night and just needed an hour or two of sleep.
“No problem brother, get your rest, I’ll wake you if I need you,” James responded.
I laid my head back, I am wearing four layers of clothing so it already feels like I am laying on a bed, got up close to the fire, and closed my eyes. As I drifted off to sleep I just kept imagining coming home to Ava and going back to my life.
“Travis, get up,” James hit me and stated, Travis, I need you up!”
I scrambled around, still in my foggy dream state, “What’s up?”
” Some of our sensors were set off a few moments ago,” James whispers.
“Dude, why are you whispering I doubt the wind is gonna care what you are saying,” I chuckle again. ” let’s go check it out.”
James and I start to walk and since visibility is so low we are walking at a two-step interval from each other. We have a total of eight sensors, two for each direction of our camp. Our camp has approximately thirty other military personnel. We are stationed twenty-three miles outside of “Zhizn’ d’yavola” which is translated to “Devil’s Life” Zhizn’ is a camp that has multiple of our fellow members and is where they enslave our people and put them to work. We have yet to successfully rescue any of our people. Once you go in, you don’t come back out, or not alive anyway.
Walking toward the south sensors was a task since we were stationed on the North West corner of our camp. The Snow is thick and we don’t have the correct gear to walk far distances. Walking to one corner of our camp to the other in this snow feels like running a 5K in mud, very exhausting, even to the most athletic people here.
“I shouldn’t have eaten those burritos earlier,” James holds his stomach as he talks.
“You know if you want to catch up to me you actually have to do some work around here,” I mouth to James. “Might lose that beer gut if you try hard enough.”
“Shut up,” James snipped back.
We are about thirty yards from the sensors and there is no sign of anyone or anything coming from the sensors. It’s not uncommon for our sensors to have fifteen false warnings in just one night, and tonight this was the first. We slowly inched our way to the sensors, the wind has died down a bunch but it seems that the snow has picked up even more.
“Avalon 7, do you copy.” first noise we’ve heard from my walkie this whole night.
“Avalon to Base I copy.”
“Have you made it to sector Ds sensors?” The walkie screams.
“We are approaching now, I will give you update once we arrive.” I cop back to them.
James and I make it to the first sensor and everything looks fine just like I thought it would. James gets closer and starts to inspection the device, he does the same thing every time, puts his face inches from this foot tall stake, taps it a few times, and say “yup, seems like it’s working.”
“Avalon to base, the first sensor is clear.” I walkie.
“10-4” The walkie states back.
We march our way to the sensor, “Hey Travis, you think you are ever gonna sign another contract?”
I take a few seconds to think about this, “I don’t think I will, I have already given them four years of my life and look how I am repaid, walking in a foot of snow, the whole body is numb just to go check a stupid sensor, so probably not man.”
“Yeah, me too..” James seemed very hesitant with that answer, almost like he only wanted to agree with my answer. I looked over and he is walking with his head down which is strange since he has always walked with a pep in his step.
“You alright man?” I ask him, expecting no reply.
“I’m not sure, I think so.” again says with hesitance. “I just… nevermind, let’s just get to that sensor.”
I don’t pry into peoples lives, never felt like I ever had the right to do so, if he wants to tell me what’s on his mind I will give him all my attention, but as of now, we are both tired and cold and probably can wait until we have a beer.
“Avalon to base, we have arrived to the second sensor.” I had stated over the walkie.
“Report” The walkie slapped back.
As we approached the sensor it was knocked over, this has happened a few times. The wind gets tough out here and we can only put the stake so far into the snow to get accurate readings. James went over to the sensor and stood it back up.
“Appears that the sensor has fallen over due to the wind,” I called back to the base.
“10-4, return back to post.” The walkie stated coldly.
“copy,” I sighed back.
“Hey, we should do a quick look around, don’t want to just blame the wind.” I told James.
“Alright” James stated back.
“I’ll check to section E if you want to check to C?” I asked.
James gave the same answer but seemed even less amused, “Alright.”
I started to make my way toward Section E and dragging each step. Just from this walk, the snow has raised another inch or two since we started. My feet have lost all feeling and it feels like I am walking with two amputated feet as I would imagine it’ll feel. After five minutes of walking, I made it to Section E, no signs of people or animals, so I turned around and started my way back to Section D.
“Heading back to D, see you in a minute” I walkied to James.
“Copy” James responded.
I made it back to Section D, and of course, I beat James there. I waited for about ten minutes and he still has not made it back.
“James” I called over the walkie.
“James, do you copy?” I call over the walkie with a little bit more urgency.
Still no response.
“Avalon to Base, have you heard from 412?” I called HQ.
“Avalon, I thought 412 was with you? Base questioned.
“I separated from 412 to check the other sectors to clear all possible intruders.”
“Avalon, go to his last position and report back.” They commanded.
The snow started to slow but it was still cold. Each breath I took felt like ice was stabbing my lungs and every time I would exhale my breath would show up like a cloud of smoke. This is not the first time that James would wander off and shut his walkie off, he tells me that he likes to have his own “space” sometimes. I am almost to Section C, the wind and snow has slowed to almost a halt, I can now see our camp. It’s not much of a camp but it has almost turned into my home. I have spent five months at this location and almost can’t remember what my real home feels like.
With the clearing of the snow, I can see where Section C is, but there is no sign of James. I inch slowly, with my primary up to my shoulder, getting little nervous now. I see something of in the distance. Not knowing what I might walk up on, I called back to base, ” Avalon to Base, no sign of 412.
Static.. That’s all I hear, “Avalon to Base, do you copy?”
I keep pushing through the snow, I am about five feet from the object I saw. It looks like a stick is just sticking out of the ground but as I start getting closer it appears it may be the walkie-talkie. I bend over and pick it up. It’s James’s walkie.
“Avalon to Base” I call desperately. “Base?”
..To be Continued..