Before me stood a massive six story office building that acted as the headquarters for the former mayor of the city, and we had no idea if anyone was inside defending it. Up to this point we had yet to meet resistance of any sort, and I hoped that it would remain that way.
“Quit your God damn gawking, & get the hell inside,” shouted one of the leading marines, “and make sure you check for booby-traps as you go.” We did not hesitate.
Storming into the building, we methodically cleared room after room. During the room clearing the stress dissipated as an adrenaline rush replaced it. There could be any number of individuals lurking behind anyone of the hundreds of doors within this massive building. My actions were guided by endless hours of training spent on perfecting maneuvers very similar to this; this task had become second nature to me. Within minutes the building was ours and not a single shot had been fired. I had been worked up for nothing—the building was abandoned.
A higher ranking marine outside of my squad told me to hold my position in the long corridor. I followed his command as did others all along its length. I became separated from the men I had been living with day in and day out for the past year and a half; their absence inflicted a deep wound on my confidence.
Even though no present threat existed at the time, I could not prevent myself from thinking about how terrible it would be to die without them next to me. No longer was I the indestructible marine that I had been prior to this engagement; for the first time since touching down in Iraq, I felt a strong sense of vulnerability. Recovering from this thought I began to take a closer look at our new environment, and it was quite clear to me that we had settled in an abhorrent dump.
The building had been raped of anything of value. All along the corridor papers had been scattered about the weathered green and white tiles of the floor. The smell of human feces lingered in the air from the piles of it throughout the building.