“Brothers” by Aaron McMullin

The three of us had become best friends during our deployment and we had just arrived back home. Everyone wanted something from us– phone calls, hugs, stories, presents, the list went on. We decided to go camping because we just wanted to be left alone. 

Although he was the same age as Dan and three years younger than me,  John was always the voice of reason in our group.  Danny, a towering 6’3” tall man, was the wild child. He didn’t think about things, he just ‘did’ things. As for me, I was the joker of the bunch, always trying to make my friends smile and laugh.

John, a stout man from Alabama, matter-of-factly said to Dan, “Hey, dipshit, if you throw that RipIt into the fire, it WILL explode. Get it out. NOW.” A RipIt was essentially ‘crack-in-a-can’, energy drinks we would chug by the case in Afghanistan just to stay awake. Danny rolled his eyes, stood up and walked away to find a stick, as he grudgingly listened to his friend. I just stared at John as we continued sitting on opposite sides of the fire. He was smirking, as if to say to me, “We know better, we’re not as dumb as him,” and I certainly agreed with that smirk.

When Dan came back a few moments later, stick in hand, he attempted to flip the expanding can, but his wild stabbing succeeded only at flinging bits of flaming wood into the night. John had a look of disgust on his face, his normally toothy grin was now replaced with a closed-mouth frown and piercing blue eyes. He hung his head in defeat, let out an audible sigh, then softly spoke, “Danny, what in the fuck is wrong with-” KA-BOOOOM!! The sound of the explosion shattered the silence of the night. The three of us quickly dove behind trees and rocks. Fire, boiling liquid, ash, and glowing debris rained down upon us. The pressure of the small explosion sent burning embers coursing through the night sky like rockets. An ash cloud instantly enveloped the area and the three of us were momentarily blinded– transported back to the sandstorms of Kuwait that turned day into night. We had done exactly what we were trained to do­– we reacted.

Any normal person would’ve had every right to be mad at Danny, but not us, we weren’t mad and we damn sure weren’t normal. We shared a bond forged by the fires of war. We were brothers. And as we sat around the campfire later that night, drinking beer and star gazing, it was only then that I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Aaron McMullin served as an engineer diver and carpenter for the U.S. Army for nearly eight years. After separation, he earned his AA at Santa Monica College and is now at UC San Diego, where he is majoring in communication studies. He is an avid outdoorsman and a dog lover.