For some it’s a lover, others a protector, still for others it’s a killer, a slayer of men, a taker of souls and waster of lives. What is it to me? I don’t know.
Recruit Clapsaddle, my rackmate, and one of my only good friends here, sleeps in the bunk above mine, and my other friends Recruits Clouser, Cooper and Shin are passed out to my right and left.
Creeping out of my bunk I slink towards the rifle rack as the firewatch roves past. He doesn’t care that I’m up and skulking about. We know no fear amongst one another, for good or ill, because we have become a platoon - brothers. We dislike one another, distrust each others natures even more, but at the same time we trust one another with our lives.
I let my fingers curl around my weapon’s pistol grip as I reach the rifle rack and Drill Instructor Sgt. Vega’s words come back to me.
“For some of you, this will be your best friend, for others…” he paused and looked at each of us in turn. “Others of you.” He stopped and my eyes locked with his as he continued “Others will hate it, but you will not fear this.” His strong hardened palm slammed into the hand guard as his beady orbs bored into mine. “You don’t have to like it, you can despise what it does, but never fear it. Control it. Master it.”
Stalking away from us and back into the Drill Instructor duty hut, he looked back at us. Back at me.
I nodded slightly, a dangerous move, presumptuous and unacceptable, but it went ignored, but not unnoticed. Nothing ever is, not by them.
Now, weeks since that day and nearly two months since I failed to secure my rifle, I have begun to harness this tool. Master it? No. But, do I fear it? Not anymore. However there is still fear, but not of the weapon.
Running my hand along the rifle, I look at my reflection in the flawlessly cleaned window. Hours are spent each day shining every pane of glass, every sliver of steel in the squadbay, dusting, wiping and cleaning every inch of our home.
My eyes lock with my doppelganger, my face scowling at the figure in the window – the unfamiliar face. The straight jaw line, emaciated features, hallow eyes.
Hallow, but alive. They are angry, calculating eyes.
The mirror-me and I look down at the thing of steel, plastic and moving parts in our hands.
The front sight post, the compensator, the barrel, and hand guards down to the magazine well and pistol grip. I know it all. The selector switch, the iron sights and the butt-stock.
And the trigger.
I don’t touch it, I caress it.
I pull down on it and meet resistance, the trigger is stopped by the safety; the final obstacle you have to cross before you place a round in your enemy.
Enemy. What does that mean, who is he? Will I ever see his face and if I do will I still fire? I should, that's what the past several months of pain, sweat and self doubt have taught me, but who is he? A young man gripping his AK 47 out of desperation and fear, or is he really going to be the crazed zealot we talk about at length; the terrorist, the jihadist, the Haji – which ironically, is a term of respect given to one who has made the journey to Mecca.
I shake my head and banish the thought, that much I've learned. If you don't have the answer and it can't be found in your chain of command ignore it and move on.
I switch it on fire and slowly steadily squeeze.
Pulling the charging handle back and setting my M16 A2 Service Rifle on safe, I place my rifle back in its rightful place and move to my rack.
It will be returned tomorrow and I will graduate a week later, leaving the parade deck as a Marine.
Lying down, I think back on that sound, on the feeling creeping through me as I pulled the trigger and heard the click.
The fear isn’t from the weapon.
Lover, life saver, protector, killer.
To me it is a tool. But, with it what am I? What do I become?
When we turn in weapons the next day, others bid goodbye to girls, to friends, to companions. I return a tool to its shed, and walk away empty handed, but not unburdened.