Relief flooded through me. It was over. I’d survived another of what my team called ‘fire fights’. There was no way to adjust to the change from combat to whatever this was. It was still dark. My ears still rang. But with my night vision returning, I could vaguely see a moon above the ever-present clouds. There was no rain or mist. Just the quiet after the raging sounds of screaming combat with tracers, bullets and explosions blasting the air everywhere. I hadn’t lain in the muck watching for movement, or looking for an enemy who might be attacking at any second. I’d lain face-down like that very first night, my eyes squeezed shut and my face buried in jungle debris and mud. But it was over. I got to my feet and unkinked my shoulders, hips and knees.

The scout unit formed around me, Fusner standing at my side and Zippo moving around absently trying to clear his ears by sticking his fingers in them and shaking his head. I looked up, wondering how to spend a night in the bush with nothing. I’d left all of my stuff back up on the ridge. I wasn’t at all ready, physically or mentally, to be struck by a fast-moving freight train of a Marine Gunnery Sergeant. I flew through the air, the Gunny’s shoulder buried in my right side as he dug his boots into the cloying muck. The weight of his body drove me down hard onto a bed of fern fronds and rough-edged branches. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe even when he sat back and stared down at me, his anger all but paralyzing. Holding my sides I waited, panicked that I would never get my breath back.

“You dumb fucking new guy asshole,” the Gunny hissed at me, his face coming down to only inches above my own. “This is the same goddamned move you pulled when I saw you get off that chopper. I knew you were bad news then and you’re bad news now. You think this is over? Nine or eighteen holes and we all turn in our clubs and get showered up for the drive home?”