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The young skinny guy had a tan MP strap around his arm. He was sitting on the wooden planks that separated the two rows of pre-fab rooms. On a dirty prayer rug he had small pieces of metal spread out and was going at them with what looked like a large toothbrush, like he was cleaning a carburetor. It looked like a puzzle to me. He started to snap the pieces back together, and it began to take the shape of a machine gun. I asked what it was.
"A 2-5-9," he said. He cleaned it after every patrol, whether he fired it or not. Maybe that's because it jammed on him once, the one time he was in a firefight.
"I bet a complicated rifle like that jams a lot," I said, after a while.
"No, it's reliable," he said, his head down, brushing out the metal tube. It had jammed on a rainy day. The dust and the rain turned to mud and got on the rifle. They came under fire, and he got off just three shots before the 259 jammed. Then they turned around the corner.
"The guy in the track behind me put three shots right through a Haji. You could see the tracers go right through the body."
He had managed to save $21,000 in the service. He was going to buy a Ford Mustang for himself and furniture for the apartment he shared with his wife in Arkansas. He already had one Ford and wasn't sure what he was going to do with it.
I sat there slumped in a portable nylon chair and watched in the quiet twilight. Soon the only woman in the unit, J.B., came by. The skinny guy started up again about how his gun jammed in the one firefight he had been in.
"The guy in the track behind me put three shots right through a Haji. You could see the tracers go right through the body," he said again, word for word.
Then he told her about the Mustang he was going to buy, and the other car he wasn't sure what to do with. It was the exact same story, twice. It wasn't the gun that was jammed; it was the shooter. A shooter who missed his chance, and had no story to tell about a kill. It was getting darker now, and I couldn't see J.B.'s face, but she soon moved on.
I sat there slumped in somebody else's portable nylon chair and watched the pieces come together. We sat there in silence. There was no one around now to hear his story. He snapped in the last piece and threw the strap of the big gun over his thin shoulder. I tried to think of something to say.
"Good to go, " I said.
"Good to go," he said, "ready to kill." Then he disappeared behind his door.
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Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.