Excerpt – I’m Still Standing

From: I’m Still Standing, From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen — My Journey Home.

Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.  2010

INTO CUSTODY

One man grabbed my ankles, one in each hand, and dragged me out from under the truck.  My instinct was to struggled a bit, not wanting the indignity of being dragged from my shelter against my will, but the violent jerk on my wounded legs made me scream out in pain.  Agony washed up my legs and exploded through me.  Putting up a fight dimmed to nothing after that. I was helpless.

Boots, sandaled feet, weapon butts came out from everywhere, hitting my arms, my head, my wounded legs.  I cowered and covered up; trying to protect my head and body, but the kicks and the triumphant shouts of the angry men around me went on and on.  I have no idea how many of them there were. We had wandered into their town by mistake.  We had killed some of them.  They had killed some of us, and they were the victors.  They were all yelling at once and I didn’t understand a word of it, only that they were furious, they were wild with victory, they were really hurting me, and I wasn’t convinced that they weren’t done killing people.  I thought they might literally tear me apart in their frenzy.

The pummeling continued for a long time, finally, one major kick connected squarely with my head, knocking my helmet off and the Kevlar protection went rolling away.  The man who kicked my helmet started talking excitedly, pushing and shoving others out of the way.  I lay there for a second, expecting more blows to come at any time, instead he violently pulled my flak vest and the jacket of my chemical suit open, the Velcro closure ripping loudly in my ears.  There was a long pause as they stared down at me, and I realized they were figuring out that I was a woman.  They had seen my braids and confirmed my sex with a check that I had breasts.  There was more excited talking, pushing and shoving around me, but evidently having boobs meant the beatings would stop.  There wasn’t time to take much comfort in that.

A couple of the men grabbed me and hauled me to my feet, attempting to stand me up on my shattered legs.

“My legs,” I screamed.  “I can’t walk!”

There was little sympathy from them but a lot more yelling, everyone shouting at once.  I was on my feet long enough to see that Riley and Hernandez were getting the same treatment I had received.  A wild looking group of men were kicking, slapping, and pushing them around.  I had glimpses of more people pouring out of buildings and gathering around us, swarming over my truck.

Our convoy had stretched out over several blocks and the truck I was in had fallen behind.  I had no idea how many of our vehicles had been trapped in the fight.  I could see only my five-ton and the Humvee that had struck us from behind.  The Humvee that had carried Piestowa, First Sergeant Dowdy, Lynch and two others they had picked up when their truck broke down.  Five people rode in that Humvee, but none of them were moving.  People surrounded it, were peering into the windshield, the doors.  The truck was mangled pretty badly.  I worried about my friends.

Since I couldn’t see past my truck, I had no way of knowing how many of our soldiers might have been wounded or killed.  There was still the possibility that some had gotten out, had gone for help, would be coming back to get us.  If they were coming, I figured they’d better come pretty quick.

People were climbing into my truck, into the cab and into the back where all of our gear was packed for travel.  A mob danced around, waving their arms in the air, dancing to triumphant whoops and shouts.  They hauled out my rucksack and my camelback water carrier from the cab of the truck.  They would get my CD player and my music; Missy Elliot, The Dixie Chicks, Patty LaBelle and Green Day.  They would find my disposable camera filled with souvenir photos of our trek across the desert.  They had the romance novels I had shoved in a side pocket and the rosary I put in the bag at the last minute.  I had packed so carefully, packed and re-packed trying to get everything to fit.  I had shopped for body spray and hair products worried about not being able to get what I wanted, buying enough to last me for a while.  Now it was all gone.

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