Favorite Sentences From My Deployment to Afghanistan
By Will Schick
I’ll never forget the way certain things could make me feel on deployment. The way a rocket blast could jolt me awake, and rattle its way through my bones. The way a helicopter could make me feel utterly helpless as it would come in close for a landing, and shower everything in a flood of rotor-wash. The way a sentence delivered at the right moment could almost knock me on my ass. Yes, the way a perfectly timed sentence could hit me right in the gut, that’s a sensation I’ll never forget.
In 2017, I was part of a small team of Marine advisors that deployed to Helmand Province on a mission to train, advise, and assist the local Afghan police force. Being the first group of Marines to be sent back to Helmand since the 2014 withdrawal, our team frequently drew the attention of senior-ranking NATO officials, who liked to visit us on short day-trips from Kabul via Blackhawks and subject us to impromptu speeches about hope and democracy.
On one of these visits, we were gathered around our guest in a football huddle-like formation. When he was halfway through his remarks, I sneezed. Then our Navy Corpsman, who we called “Doc,” whispered this beautiful sentence into my ear:
“I guess we’re both allergic to bullshit.”
And like that, in a flash, I was cracked by Doc’s wit. If it weren’t for my military training, I would have lost complete self-control.
There’s not much to deconstruct here. This sentence relies on hyperbole, humor, and context to pack a mean punch. The sentence is a simple play on words, spinning a new meaning onto the word “allergic” to critique our guest’s remarks.
We had many moments like this on my team. One time, someone lobbed a rocket at us. With my binos, I remember looking out beyond our perimeter, towards the direction of the attack. I saw what looked like a group of farmers milling about in the fields, and not much else.
“How do we know if they’re friendly?” I blurted out loud without much thought.
My question was met sharply with the typical dry humor of a US Marine:
“They’re not our friends if they’re shooting at us.”
This time, I let my laughter out, and so did the Marine who shared this observation with me.
Much like the earlier example, this sentence relies on context to land its delivery. And this is all it takes, in my opinion, to make a sentence memorable.
Simplicity in form and relevance to the situation can turn an otherwise basic sentence into something utterly beautiful. Perfect sentences don’t always come from books, they can come from experiences we lived. These sentences resonate deeper with me than those I’ve simply read.
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin T. Updegraff
Will Schick is a guest contributor to Café MFA and a first-year candidate of American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.