Date Published: Aug. 9th (print/POD)
Publisher: Anaiah Romance
Sawyer and Raven finally see a future away from the war—if they can only get through this last deployment. But when the military separates them, Raven finds it impossible to protect her, and he worries her post traumatic stress disorder will return. Soon, Raven finds out PTSD is the least of his troubles.
Sawyer is assigned to a bomb removal unit being sent into the most dangerous area in Afghanistan where she’s taken and held captive for weeks. Expecting the worst, Sawyer is ready to die for her country. But when death doesn’t come, Sawyer turns her back on her faith. believing God has left her to deal with the aftermath of her capture alone.
Devastated at the news of Sawyer’s disappearance, Raven’s commitment to her never falters, even when her injuries threaten to take her from him. To make matters worse, he’s being kept from his wife by an angry mother-in-law. Raven is determined to bring Sawyer back to him—But is it be too late? Unfaltering in his faith, Raven knows with God’s help, he will prove his love to Sawyer.
© 2016 Connie Ann Michael
Sawyer wiped a hand across her forehead, interrupting the drips of sweat heading toward her chin. She settled into a shady spot on the side of the metal structure of the hospital she was currently assigned to in Qatar, Afghanistan. Sawyer balanced her laptop on her knees. Glancing down at her watch, she opened the case and logged on. Raven was supposed to be back from his patrol tonight, and they were going to attempt to video chat. Camp Grady was one of the best set ups in Afghanistan and provided consistent climate control within the tents but lacked the privacy she wanted to talk to her husband. She laughed to herself. She still couldn’t believe Raven was her husband.
“Hey babe,” Raven’s voice broke through the quiet of her hiding spot.
Sawyer pushed a few buttons to get the screen to show the face of the man she loved. His big smile came through at the same time she assumed her face appeared on Raven’s screen.
“Hey babe,” he said again with a sigh.
Sawyer reached out and ran her fingers down the screen, caressing his cheek.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yeah. I can.” Sawyer swallowed down the lump in her throat. “Don’t call me babe. I’m Navy.” Sawyer and Raven had gone round and round on her status as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines. Now it was a topic of levity.
“Not when it’s you and me, babe. You’re not Navy, you’re my wife.” Raven gave her a sad smile.
“You look tired.” Raven’s eyes were shadowed with fatigue, and the lines around his mouth seemed deeper.
Raven nodded. “You look beautiful.”
“I appreciate your ability to lie.”
Raven rubbed at his eyes then gave her a small smile.
“Just got back?” she asked.
Raven closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the screen. “I miss you so much.”
Sawyer wiped a tear that escaped and cleared her throat. “I miss you, too.”
Raven glanced to the side then sat back up and resumed a comfortable slouch in the chair he was sitting in. The torso of another soldier passed behind him on the screen.
“Where are you?” Sawyer shifted on the sand, getting more comfortable. If he was in the Coms center it would explain his quick change of posture. After the past few weeks of silence, being able to truly share their feelings would be difficult.
Raven glanced over his shoulder. “Coms. The internet doesn’t work anywhere else. I can’t guarantee I’ll be with you for long. Things have been worse than normal lately.”
Raven had been redeployed to Camp Dietz, the base where they’d originally met. Raven kicking her out of his unit and the inconvenience of marrying her commanding officer made it impossible to be redeployed together. But at least they were both in Afghanistan, even if they were hundreds of miles apart with bad internet.
“So, what have you been up to?” Raven glanced backward again. Suddenly a bottle of water appeared over his shoulder. “Thanks,” he told the disembodied hand before Raven’s right hand man, Thommy pushed into view.
“Hey, Doogie. Good to see you.” Thommy smiled into the screen.
“Hey.” Thommy had been with them in Dietz and after the mess they went through during their last deployment, the three of them had become close friends.
“Chief telling you about the mess we got ourselves into?” Thommy continued.
Raven punched him in the arm, and after a mumbled conversation, Thommy disappeared.
“You got into trouble?” Raven’s unit was supposed to find trouble. That was their job. They were sent in to find the worst of the worst and eliminate them.
“How are you?” Raven’s expression cleared as he put on his game face and leaned forward, plainly ignoring her inquiry.
Sawyer sighed. He’d been her commanding officer, and she knew that until he was ready, there was no getting information out of him. She pulled the computer closer. “I miss you.”
Raven rubbed the short hair over his ears. He had only recently arrived at Dietz and was almost immediately sent out on a mission. Sawyer had been deployed two months before him. Three weeks after their wedding.
“You doing okay? Staying on base? Not heading out with any teams?” Raven had made her promise to do her best to stay on the base and out of combat, but she was a corpsman and changing her job title to nurse wasn’t going well. Sawyer had suffered a tough bit of PTSD after her last deployment. The guard assigned to her while on her last mission had become a close friend and when he stepped on an IED and blew up in front of her, things got rough. Raven had helped but more so the pastor they had been seeing had allowed her to move forward and ultimately redeploy. Something Raven was not happy about.
“I’ve stayed on base,” she started.
“You’re going out, aren’t you?” His voice was tight. Whereas he had mastered the ability to hide his emotions, Sawyer was an open book when it came to him.
“You do. You just got back.” It was a weak argument but a valid one. It was also the only argument she’d come up with when she’d prepared for this conversation in her head.
“That really isn’t the point. I didn’t pull a gun on my neighbor after I got stateside. You need to take it slow.”
“Raven,” was all she got out before he nailed her with one of his famous cold-as-ice stares.
Sawyer took a breath and tried to approach the conversation calmly. She knew he worried and although bringing up her past wasn’t exactly fair, she knew her actions after her last trip home were hard to forget. “I’m doing fine. But this is my job, and until I fulfill my time, I have to do it. I’ll be careful. I always am, just like I need you to be.”
“I know, baby. I know. But it makes me feel better if I at least ask you to try and be careful.”
Sawyer looked at the new lines appearing around Raven’s eyes. He was always so concerned for his men’s safety. Adding her to that worry was taking a toll on him.
“I’ve been able to stay close for the last couple of weeks.” She reached out and touched the screen again. Raven placed his fingers against hers.
The screen flickered, and Sawyer knew she was going to lose him soon. “I love you, Moses.”
“I love you, too, Emme.” Raven kissed his fingers and touched the screen again. Sawyer did the same.
Raven and Sawyer sat silently, staring at a grainy picture on a dusty computer screen. Their time together had been so short. Their marriage one of long distance conversations behind barracks and sweating in poorly air conditioned tech centers.
“Have you talked to your mom?” Raven’s voice was quiet.
Sawyer closed her eyes and shook her head. “No.”
Sawyer looked into the deep brown eyes that veiled so many emotions and knew Raven was hurt by her not telling her mom she had gotten married.
“Are you ashamed? Embarrassed?” he started.
“Why would I be either of those?”
“Regretful?” he added.
“Are you?” she snapped back.
“Me?” Raven snorted a laugh. “You’re my heart. You’re my life, Emme. I want to shout from the roof tops how much I love you. And I did. I told my family. The difference is they don’t care, yours will. Why won’t you tell your mom?”
“I.” She paused. “I have always had a strained relationship with her. I want to be able to tell her with you there. I don’t want to do it on my own.”
“You need back up.”
Sawyer smiled, and he winked. “Yeah. I guess I do. It’s harder to tell me I made a mistake if the infamous Sergeant Ravenscar is standing beside me.”
“I’m a mistake?”
“No. Never. She just thinks anything I do that wasn’t her idea is a mistake. I want you with me so she can see how you could never be a mistake.”
“Then I shall stand by you, Mrs. Sergeant Ravenscar.”
“It’s still Sawyer,” she corrected him.
“Not for long. The paperwork should be through soon. The Navy just likes to do things slow. Now if you were a Marine…”
“So now I’m not a Marine?” she teased back.
Raven’s jovial mood subsided, and he looked to the side, something or someone was talking to him just to the right of the screen.
When he looked back, the expression on his face made it clear he was getting a directive to get off the computer. “I got assigned to an EOD Convoy.” Sawyer couldn’t let him go without knowing as many details of her mission as she could give him. They had promised to tell as much as they could so they could pray for each other’s safety, and she needed as much help as she could get to keep her head out in the field.
The curtain of a non-emotional Marine dropped over Raven’s face as he kept his emotions in check. “An Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team? Why do they need a corpsman? Don’t they sit in the trucks and play with robots?”
Sawyer laughed. The men on the EOD teams spent a lot of time playing with little robotic machines whose job was to disarm IED’s. Improvised Explosive Devises were the number one killers in this war with over fifteen thousand people having been killed in the last year. The team’s job was to go out and clean routes so the Army or Marines could move forward without fear of blowing up. The problem was the insurgents could replace bombs faster than the team could find them, so often times they ended up running over bombs in areas they thought they had just cleaned.
“Sergeant Holloway, he’s the commanding officer, asked me to come.” She shrugged. “Told me I was coming.”
“Do you know where?” Raven wiped at something on his side of the screen.
Sawyer knew Raven was doing his best not to explode at the prospect of her being out with a bomb patrol. Which was another reason she was thankful she couldn’t tell him where exactly she was going.
“You can’t tell me where you’re going?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you where I’m going if you tell me,” he teased, his commanding officer façade slipping a little.
“All I was told is we are headed to Gor Tepa on a route referred to only as Route Z.”
“That sounds safe.”
“I’ll be fine,” was all she got out before the computer fizzled, and Raven disappeared into the blackness of the screen.
Sawyer needed to see Raven’s face and looked forward to the video chat sessions, but more often than not the internet connection failed, and they were cut off without closure, leaving her feeling uncomfortable walking away. Conversations always left hanging. Words left unspoken.
Sawyer snapped the laptop closed, collected her things and headed back to the bunk she shared with a nurse. They were on opposite shifts most of the time so they rarely slept in the room at the same time. Storing her laptop in a box sworn to keep the sand out but lacking the actual ability to do so, Sawyer sat on the edge of her bed and waited for the sense of unfinished words to subside.
A courtesy knock came just before the door swung open and Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar stuck his head in. “We’re meeting in the mess hall for a briefing in five.”
Sawyer barely saw the man’s face before Omar closed the door behind him. With a sigh, she got out the ammo box where she kept her personal possessions. Inside were the paper cranes Raven made her with messages of love as well as candy and the tiny heart given to her by Tahk, her guard who had been killed during her last tour. Sawyer tucked them into her pockets as reminders that they were always with her and headed to the mess hall.
The men from EOD Platoon 432 had settled in long green lines at the tables that set parallel to each other. Sawyer had avoided making any close friends on the teams. She hadn’t been assigned a guard this time around and was frustrated about the barrier it caused between the men and her. Tahk allowed an access point to the team that was difficult to find without a senior team member on her side. Sawyer tried to tell herself it was easier if she kept her feelings in check and developing relationships made the inevitability of war that much more difficult. But keeping to herself was hard, and life with this team was lonely. Sawyer hung in the back and leaned against a wall to listen to the plan—alone.
SSG Halloway stepped up to the front of the room, waving a hand until the men quieted. “Our orders came in. We will be taking three Buffalos out with full teams.”
The Buffalos were six wheeled, mine resistant, ambush protected, armored vehicles. All the wheels and the centerline were mine resistant. The bottom of the truck was fitted with a ‘V’ shaped chassis that was supposed to keep the force of a blast away from the occupants. Each truck was fitted with a large, articulated arm used for ordinance disposal. Plainly speaking, it got rid of bombs.
“The Afghanistan National Army is going to be riding in the sweeper truck.” He pointed to a few of the men. “You won’t be taking WALL-E with you. We’ll pack them in the lead and second truck.”
WALL-E was the name the men gave the Cobham tEODor, the Navy’s technical term for a robot they used for bomb clearing. Each truck carried at least one when they went out on sweeper missions.
There were some groans from the team having to ride with the ANA. None of the men really enjoyed being paired with a group that was supposed to be taking the lead on this war but most of the time were a bunch of clowns with guns.
Halloway waited for the group to quiet down before continuing. “The Army is going to attempt to take over a town known for heavy Taliban activity, and they need the route cleared. Route Z is the heaviest bombed road in Afghanistan. There is a good chance as soon as we get the bombs off the road and past them there will be guys going in and replacing them. It’s going to be a tight mission. All eyes need to be watching and ready. We don’t want to get blown up, and we don’t want the Army coming in on hot soil after we’ve cleared it.”
Sawyer fidgeted with the zipper on her digis. When she avoided telling Raven where they were going, she hadn’t been trying to be elusive. The people of this culture didn’t name things. The military had spent the majority of their time in the country making maps trying to give the teams some direction as to where they had been and where they were going. However, Route Z seemed as scary as the name implied.
“Doogie.” Halloway nodded toward where Sawyer stood. The men turned to look in her direction, and she lifted her hand in a half salute. Sawyer had been given the nickname Doogie during her last deployment. It was an honor to be given a nickname by the Marines, but the majority of the time the nickname wasn’t meant to be nice. Hers’ was in reference to the young age when she had joined up. “She’s our corpsman. She’ll be watching out for us and the Army if needed.”
The men nodded back at her then shifted around to listen to the rest of the briefing. Sawyer had been impressed with Raven’s unit. There were some incredibly brave individuals serving under him. But this new group of men took service to a new level. The EOD’s were the ultimate bomb squad. They were trained to disarm not only explosive devices but to neutralize chemical threats and even nuclear weapons. The Navy Explosive Techs were trained to perform some of the most harrowing, dangerous work in order to keep others safe. And Sawyer was going out with them. If injuries occurred, they would be severe and most likely deadly. The pressure of her task sat heavy on her shoulders.
“We’re pulling out at zero eight hundred. Dismissed.” They had approximately thirty minutes to pull themselves together and meet on the Buffalos.
Sawyer only needed fifteen. She had learned through her first deployment to always be ready. Taking long enough to gather her ruck, a gun, and email Raven to tell him she loved him, Sawyer was the first to arrive at the large armored truck that would be her ride down the deadliest road in Afghanistan.
About the Author
Connie Michael began her writing career after her two boys grew up and didn’t want to hang out with their mom anymore. A graduate of Washington State University Connie has been a teacher for twenty-five years. Specializing in Bilingual Education she recently left her home state of Washington to begin an adventure with her best friend and husband in Montana. Currently a fifth grade teacher on the Crow Reservation, Connie can be found biking, hiking, kayaking, or just hanging out with her two dogs.