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God and Sand

A Pigeon in Time

By Aaron Michael GrantPublished 3 months ago 7 min read
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Iraq, 2003. Halfway to Baghdad, the greatest sandstorm in history halted the coalition forces. And a pigeon paid a visit..

The world changed from heavenly blue to a dusty, rotten orange. Standing outside our tanks, sand washed gently against thousands of American faces. An entire wall of storm headed straight for them.

Since the Iraq war began, the marines had traveled primarily under the cover of darkness on highway one, the main thoroughfare that led straight to Baghdad. Conserving energy during the day and running the columns ever northward at night has had its toll. Days and nights blended together as one memory; one giant day full of events that one can scarcely track. The heat of day kept them all awake, nocturnal marines fighting the candle on both ends. The orange sky signaled the precursor to a sandstorm. In the lull between movement, a marine took time to pen in his journal:

It seemed like a dream; one of those that you could not discern from fantasy or reality. Like a fairy tale, how they depict the surroundings totally foreign and unique from ours. I have never before seen skies like this.

Hopping up on his tank "Hells Wrecker," a corporal assumed the machine gun position on a sweltering commander’s hatch. It came slowly, his friends sealed inside to save them from the dust. He sat on top alone, standing watch behind a machine gun. Fastening helmet and fixing his goggles for the onslaught, he waited. “This damn M2!” He swore aloud, “If they only could fire from the inside!” These thoughts did not save him. A tidal wave of sand clawed its way directly engulfing all in its path. So fierce, it appeared to have purpose to its windy destruction. Papers and light pieces of garbage accompanied the storm, could well have traveled hundreds of miles to where he sat now. It surrounded him.

He pursed his lips, and suddenly realized it would be impossible to make a shot in any direction to simply defend himself. Everyone in the column had underestimated the storm, quickly discovering that their weapons were hopelessly jammed with dust adhering to every oiled point. He attempted to see the hand in front of his face. Quickly tying a bandanna around his sand salted mouth, he looked at every crevice of his person invaded with sand. He gave up. What could he do? Like a flood back home, there was no way to fight it, and he sat like there wasn't a moveable joint in his body, a worthless lump on a gigantic, iron log.

His mind wandered, taking peace with the lack of sight that the storm brought. In the rush of wind and orange earth, he pictured though he didn't understand why; being in different place at another time. Images of the ancient armies of Sargon the Great, and the mighty Hammurabi marched by him, marching in the same desert waste. Their faces were blasted like his, forming salty rings around thousands of dry mouths...sand carried their story. He envisioned history in the grit between his teeth. A powerful wind slammed his body; he looked down through green tinted goggles at his uniform. No difference in fabric could he detect, only a flat shelf of orange filling all possible wrinkles. He had become a dune...and he didn't mind. Though the sand encroached the uniform at an incredible rate, he sat still. There was safety now. No one could shoot him, and he could not shoot back. Ironically, for the first time in months he actually felt safe. By all manner of reality, he was surrounded by chaos. By all manner of spirit, he was at peace.

For nearly an hour he could breathe free.

Then the storm was almost over. His eyes could see again, forcing imagination back down to earth. He tensed under a new blue sky, the sand rolling off his hands. He gazed about to see that the scattered trash that the convoy produced had been carried along with the storm, its sole companion for another hundred miles. It was time to clean the gun. It was time to fight. It was time to cast away childish thoughts.

God has always used the weather to intervene in human events. The marines later discovered that satellite images from that exact time picked up extensive enemy movement while the entire coalition remained still. It was no simple act of nature. What was foiled because of the sandstorm, or what was done because of it have infinite possibilities. Recalling a story from the Revolutionary War, the corporal remembered how George Washington and his retreating Army crossed the East River in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights; 1776. The General took advantage of the night to move his Army in boats across the river to Manhattan but didn’t have enough time to complete the task.

All of the sudden a deep fog settled just at dawn so thick one could barely see a foot in any direction. The British, hot on his heels, could do nothing but wait it out. 6am. 7am. 8am. Three precious hours. By the time it lifted, the Americans had long finished their task known as one of the greatest, most organized military retreats in history saving nearly 10,000 Americans; and the revolution itself. Thanks to God, and God only. Now, it was apparent to the blinded corporal that God was doing the same, lifting the enemy from fox holes so he could find them after it cleared. It was clear, too, it allowed Iraqi’s time to adapt to their perilous situation without harassment from the Americans. God designs the outcome of battles.

It was around this time a blessing landed on "Hells Wrecker." The marine looked back hearing a commotion and met the gaze of a pigeon under the tinted sky. He wasn’t surprised looking at it until it hopped down inside the freshly opened hatch. The shining purple and pale grey creature searched; oblivious to four marines inside staring at it. Up until this point, birds had not been seen in Iraq, and here one was like it had brain damage nestling into a cap that hung on the bulkhead. He fluffed himself up, circled a few times, and fell asleep. And there he stayed for three days. He became “Willie,” and he let the marines pet him, feed him, put him on their shoulders, and every evening he would return to his cap and fall asleep...it had a purpose; writing in his journal about him, the corporal knew it was more than it seemed:

In the direction I was looking, a pigeon landed on the tank. Some people see things as a simple coincidence, an act of chance. Others see it as more of a chance; they see a sign. I am the latter, and this fearless creature is a sign. My spirit, as of late, has run too fast. Too little time to focus and see like I normally do. ‘He’s probably someone’s pet’ I tell myself. He reminds me of how simple life can be, and how content you can be if you let yourself. Who knows when he’ll leave; for the time being I will enjoy his company as he does mine.

For days in its company, it obliged the marines to be content. Looking at it sleeping in the smelly tank regardless of combat made the corporal think of faith. Have faith. God would teach him later in life to be content, and he now saw that if a bird, who could be squashed at any time, could be content with marines; then they should be content and have faith they could deal with a few Iraqis.

The corporal took time to pen in his journal, pigeon pooping on his shoulder:

...engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you will love the entire book: Taking Baghdad: Victory in Iraq with the US Marines...

Find it here: https://a.co/d/fJHiStL

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About the Creator

Aaron Michael Grant

Grant retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2008 after serving a combat tour 2nd Tank Battalion in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is the author of "Taking Baghdad," available at Barnes & Noble stores, and Amazon.

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