“First Night Out” by Dereck Sutherland

Habib awoke to the loud rapid beats of helicopter blades. The other men in the room jumped up and started running in a desperate panic. His older brother motioned for him to follow out the door. Still dazed from his state of sleep, he went to grab his sandals but noticed that the others had left theirs, bolting from the compound with bare feet. As he reached the gate, he realized that everyone had run in different directions. He picked out the shape that looked most like his brother and chased after it as fast as he could. The rotor blades, seeming ever louder, reinforced the need to escape from the impending danger.

Catching up to the figure in front of him proved difficult. After crossing the second field he realized that his brother would not have been able to run this fast. He didn’t know what else to do, so he continued to follow what must have been one of the men his brother had brought him to meet that night. The man stopped at the line of trees at the end of the field and noticed Habib, who had caught up to him. Then, between labored breaths, the man shouted, “We have to run in different directions, you fool!” The man then continued along the row of trees and, disappeared into the night, leaving Habib alone in the darkness. The helicopters could still be heard in the distance.

Not knowing what else to do, Habib started for the next field. The irrigation trenches were deep, making it difficult to cross them. Finally he came upon a wooden pen filled with goats. Exhausted, he realized that he could not run forever. He noticed a wooden shack at the end of the pen that looked like it would be a suitable place to hide and catch his breath. As he was about to enter the shack, he was violently grabbed and knocked to the ground. The largest dog he had ever seen had its teeth firmly in his arm. He tried to push the dog away but couldn’t, because the wind had been knocked out of him. His body instinctually curled up into the fetal position, as the beast continued to thrash and pin him down.

Tears ran down Habib’s face and blood ran down his arm as he was forcibly marched back to the compound by the US soldiers and their horrible dog. This had been the first night that his brother had taken him along to plant explosives on the road. After digging holes and planting bombs, they had hopped back on the motorcycle and headed to the compound where Habib had been introduced to the local commander. He had felt excited finally to be a part of the fight. The other men he met that night told him wondrous war stories before they all decided to go to sleep. Now though, he felt alone, scared and embarrassed for having gotten caught. How could he become a great fighter if, on the first night he got to take part in the war, he had been apprehended by the infidels? As he was pushed into the compound he saw that, despite having split up, all the others had been captured as well.

Dereck Sutherland served four years as an Imagery Intelligence Analyst for the United Sates Air Force. He deployed to support Special Operations Forces for Operation Enduring Freedom during the summer fighting seasons of 2011 and 2012. He is a Southern California native and is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara.