Which Limb Would You Choose?

When you ride in a Rhino you can wear a headset and listen in to the radio chatter between Rhinos and among the crew. There is an internal conversation and and external conversation going on all the time, and the two are very different. Today, while riding from FOB Delta to FOB Shocker, I got to listen in to one that made me wonder.

“Which limb would you lose, if you got to choose?”

“I’d totally lose a leg to get out of the army.”

“I’m not talking about a foot or a hand, I’m talking about the whole thing.”

“I’d lose my right leg. It’s my dominant foot, but that means I jump off my left foot, so that’s the one I’d want to keep.”

“It may sound stupid, but some of those space-age limbs they have now look pretty cool, and you can still run and do sports and shit.”

It does sound pretty stupid, but then again in my job I usually don’t think twice about the possibility of losing my arm. Things are calm here — at the convoy briefing the sergeant said they hadn’t been hit by IEDs in more than a month — but that doesn’t mean they will stay calm. Iraq can always get out of hand, as recent bombings attest. How do you spend concerns facing such possibilities? Is it any wonder the talk might get morbid?

I have not been shot at yet on this trip, but at times I’ve felt naked. When I stepped off the Blackhawk at FOB Kalsu the soldier directing passengers announced they get shelled every night, so be prepared for anything. I couldn’t help thinking my helmet and vest were pathetic protection for explosives falling like rain. That’s not a sane world. Is it any wonder soldiers ask which limb you’d choose?

“If you get hit by IDF (indirect fire), it was just your time,” a lieutenant told me at Delta. The bases are big, she said, and they can’t aim IDF. Sometimes they don’t even hit the bases, much less the barracks or anywhere important.

But it’s not a sane way to live, thinking you’re probably fine, but there’s a slight chance you’ll be engulfed. One in a million, perhaps, but certainly a little more stressful than car accidents or cancer.

Which limb would you choose? It’s just a question, asked during the carpool to work.

I interviewed a master sergeant the other day, and every time he said soldier it was clear there was more to the word than I understood. As a civilian, I understand it only concept, not in practice. When it becomes time to consider which limb you’re losing that’s when I get off the bus. But here it’s something people have to contend with, part of the job, part of a day’s work.

This trip has opened my eyes to that reality. My respect has grown for the sacrifices soldiers make. Why? Because even if you don’t come home missing a limb, there’s a good chance you were willing to. I barely breathe when the helicopter flies over the city, and these people are out there everyday. Naked. Exposed. Holding their limbs out for the taking. Even if an IED doesn’t claim it, that’s one hell of commitment. It’s a black conversation, but at the same time real. What a world to live in. I’m glad I get to go to home.

2 thoughts on “Which Limb Would You Choose?

  1. Erik,

    interesting stuff. Given the terrain in the pictures, what if anything do people do with their down time such as exercise and sports? Can they get out and throw a football or kick a soccer ball? Are the troops pulling for anyone in the playoffs?

    Be safe,


    1. Hey Lloyd —

      Sports Center is always on, and I’ve even got a photo to share with you regarding the Patriots. They are definitely plugged in to who’s winning. Most people spend their free time either watching movies, playing video games, on the internet or working out. The gym facilities are pretty nice in a couple spots, but it really depends on the base. Lots of people use their free time to catch up on sleep. It’s a hectic schedule here, as you might imagine, so people take advantage of the downtime.

      Thanks for keeping up.


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