The Fear of Death | Rational or Irrational?

I remember sitting in my turret, wondering if today was the concluding cycle of my life. Thinking to myself, realistically, how long would I last. After looking around at my peers and leaders, I realized I wasn’t alone with this reasoning.


The Day Of Hell

Below is a back brief of this day, showcasing the events that took place during this reflection. 

On April 17, 2006, the second Battle of Ramadi began. A complex and heavy attack was launched by insurgents attacking Observation Post Virginia, the Government Center, the Snake Pit Outpost, and Camp Ramadi all simultaneously by forces led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. OP Virginia was the target of a heavily armed vehicle-born suicide bomber. The suicide bomber drove an armored yellow dump truck loaded with approximately one thousand pounds of explosives through the gate of the outpost and detonated it. Insurgents with small arms and RPG’s then moved in on the post; a major firefight ensued. The Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, eventually repelled the attack, killing dozens of insurgents with few Marine casualties. Simultaneously, the Government Center defended by Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, had repelled insurgents trying to infiltrate the government compound and kidnap the Governor. (Source)

The Fear of Death

Now my point of view is back in my turret, within my four vehicle convoy. I am a Lance Corporal machine gunner with one deployment under my belt starting off number two. We have been in Ramadi for about a month, already learning what type of deployment this is going to be. We realized the fight was going to be tough, no matter what area of operation you are responsible for within the Battalion.

When this day kicked off in April, our section was immediately stood up in case their was a need for a Quick Reaction Force. Listening to the Battalion Net, we were listening to the chaos of war going on all around us. We had just seen and heard explosions while also listening to the radio traffic. Fear had crept in slowly, making each person wonder what we were about to get ourselves into.

One of the reports had stated there were abandoned vehicles along the side of the roads. This made many of us nervous, especially with follow on reports that a number of those “abandoned” vehicles were actually Vehicle Borne IED’s. The anxiety kicked up, the fear became stronger, the crippling effect was happening.

I remember sitting in my turret, with my head leaned forward against the turret. All I could do was listen to the traffic on the radio, unable to move or think independently. We had already experienced our “Hell Night” early on in the deployment, with our section hitting multiple IED’s in one night while acting as a security element for a route clearance mission. We had hit an IED before in Karmah the year before, but multiple strikes on different vehicles in one patrol! We knew this was a fight that wouldn’t end soon.

As I was sitting there listening, I remember saying to myself that this was it. The entire city is under siege, Marines are fighting for their lives throughout, and we were about to throw ourselves out there in the middle of it all. A report had just come in that a convoy had punched out of their camp and hadn’t made it two minutes before getting attacked. Patrol Bases and Camps were repelling enemy assaults. We were next, IDF began to strike our own camp suddenly.

Ducking down inside the truck, I became more fearful, wondering if I would go down as a coward. As I looked around, I realized I wasn’t alone. Fear had spread among the ranks, causing uncertainty in everyone. The only thing we could do is look to our leaders. Below is a quote from my Vehicle Commander during that deployment, and who was also sitting there in the truck that dreary morning.

“Shits popping off! The city is stirred up and we are sitting on QRF ready to push out. These are the moments I hate. It’s the lull and moments of anticipation before the battle, during the fight there is no room for fear, it’s all reaction but now you have the opportunity to think about all the bad shit that can happen. I am not really scared for myself, I have accepted the danger to myself. As a vehicle commander I fear making a critical mistake that could cost one of my brothers their life. Mixed in with that feeling is the excitement of knowing you are about to fulfill your duty as a Marine infantrymen and go “get some”! This fucked up fear, excitement cocktail is like nothing you have or will ever feel in your life.”

Keith Richardson (Instagram | Twitter)

Rational or Irrational

So are these feelings rational, or not? Looking at the definition, we see what it means to be rational.

  • agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible:a rational plan for economic development.
  • having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense:a calm and rational negotiator.
  • being in or characterized by full possession of one’s reason; sane; lucid:The patient appeared perfectly rational.
  • endowed with the faculty of reason:rational beings.

The fact is, when your looking at a nemesis, right in the face, fear is automatic. Every Marine I talk to, no matter how many years they have under their belt, is nervous during a physical assessment. Why is that? Could it be that we are accustomed to feeling afraid that our entire career could be diminished in a matter of thirty minutes? How about with war? Are we all indoctrinated to understand that war brings death. That there is a level on uncontrollable outcomes.

We all know that at any moment someone could reach the end and pay the ultimate sacrifice. The fear may not be death entirely then, but maybe the unknown. There is no way of knowing if it will be the guy sitting next to you, or in the other truck, or all of you. There is no warning, it just happens. You have no way of knowing if the conversation you had with Jim last night would be the last between the two of you.

So what if you knew? What if there was a way to predict what would happen each day. You knew that you would be the one that dies today, and the others live. Would the fear subside, or grow?

The fear that day was crippling, causing everyone to question the real reason we were there that morning. Finally the call came in, it was time to punch out. With no reasoning for us to leave, no mission set presented, we accepted the fact that we should have called our loved ones that morning. We wouldn’t get another chance! The gate was opening, the first truck lurched forward. Approaching the gate, the truck took a quick right turn and turned around inside camp. The new call had come in, it wasn’t worth risking more lives, creating more havoc in an already chaotic environment. Standing down, a feeling of relief swept over a majority of us.

That’s when the doubt crept in. Could we have made a difference going out there? Maybe save a life from those we had loss that day? So the question still lingers, is The Fear of Death Rational or Irrational?

So the question still lingers, is The Fear of Death Rational or Irrational?

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