The Life Expectancy of Chocolate by Steve Sparks

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SUMMARY: My attempt to write a story that is mostly true. Young men forced to grow up before their time by serving as soldiers don't often get their stories told. Although this is fiction it is based on a personal experience in Desert Storm. Critiques much appreci

The Life Expectancy of Chocolate

1

Painted in desert camouflage, the truck rolled into Camp Harache and came to a stop. Thick black smoke billowed out of the exhaust stack. The stench of diesel fuel and oil emanated from the vehicle. Private Steele peeked out from the space in the rear of the truck and surveyed his surroundings. Long, green canvas tents circled the camp proper. At the camp's center was a large, circular one. Steele guessed this was the mess tent, reinforced by the aroma of something cooking inside. The sun rose in the east, warning of its intent to bake the landscape and everything that stood atop it.

"What are you waiting for, Private." A man bearing a sergeant's insignia stood behind the truck glaring at Steele. "This is the only stop between no place and no where. Toss your gear down here and climb down."

Steele flung his duffle out the back. A canvas handle on the bag caught a tie-down on the truck's frame. It swung back and forth and came to rest on the side. Steele leapt out, landing hard. Solders gathered around to see the new arrival. They chuckled as he struggled to hoist the duffle off the tie-down.

"I'm Sergeant Schwartz," the man in front of him said. "I'll be your squad leader. You're assigned to second squad, first platoon."

"Yes, Sergeant," Steele squealed and cleared his throat. The bag on his shoulder bit into his flesh. He winced and repositioned it.

"Damn, private," Schwartz said. "What do you got in that bag? Bring it over here and dump it out. Let me take a look."

Steele let the bag slide off his shoulder in front of him. He popped open the clasp and turned it upside down. A pile of Army issue equipment landed in a pile at his feet. On top was a package of melted Hershey chocolate bars. Laughter erupted from the soldiers around the truck.

"Who the hell would bring chocolate to the desert," Schwartz bellowed. "For crying out loud, it's a hundred fourteen degrees in the shade."

Steele's new squad leader shook his head as he ran a sleeve along his forehead to soak up sweat on his brow. He sighed and pulled a canteen from the pouch at his side.

"Look, Private," Schwartz said. "There are two rules of the desert I can tell you. The rest of it you'll have to learn on your own." He unscrewed the canteen's lid and shoved it into Steele's gut.

"First rule of the desert," Schwartz began. "Water is your best friend, especially when you're not thirsty." Steele took the pause to mean that he had to do something. He wasn't sure what Schwartz expected of him. His Squad leader watched him expectantly. Suddenly it dawned on him. He was to drink.

Steele put the canteen to his lips. The water was warm and stale. Apparently satisfied, Schwartz continued. "Secondly, the life expectancy of a soldier in war is twenty eight seconds once the lead starts flying. Don't go changing the odds by doing something stupid. Your name might be Steele, but you sure ain't made of it."

"Yeah," someone chimed in. "What is the life expectancy of chocolate in the desert?"

Laughter erupted from the guys around the truck again.

"Who's the wise ass?" Schwartz shouted.

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