Bravo Marines are now milling around, trying to help. They hold up ponchos over the two wounded boys, shielding them from the sun. But there's not much else to do. Bryan determines that the younger boy has hours to live unless he can be medevacked. But Lt. Col. Steve Ferrando, the battalion commander, has sent a Marine bearing news that the request has been denied. Just then, an unmanned spy plane flies low overhead. "We can afford to fly fucking Predators," Bryan says, "but we can't take care of this kid?"
Just then, Colbert comes up the hill. He sees the mother, the kid, the brother with the bloody leg, the family, the Marines holding up the ponchos.
"This is what Trombley did," Bryan says. A Marine at the front of the convoy says he passed the same shepherds and it was obvious to him that they were not hostile. "Twenty Marines drove past those kids and didn't shoot," he says.
"Don't say that," Colbert says. "Don't put this on Trombley. I'm responsible for this. It was my orders."
Colbert kneels down over the kid and starts crying. He doesn't lose control or anything dramatic. His eyes just water, and he says, "What can I do here?"
"Apparently fucking nothing," Bryan says.
Within a couple of minutes, the Recon Marines have come up with a plan. They load the boy onto a stretcher to carry him into the camp. With Colbert and Bryan carrying the front of the stretcher, they lead the entire entourage of Marines and Bedouin tribespeople underneath the camouflage nets of the battalion head-quarters. "What the hell is going on here?" Sgt. Maj. John Sixta, First Recon's highest-ranking enlisted man, walks up, veins pulsing on his head as he confronts what seems to be a mutinous breakdown of military order.
"We brought him here to die," Bryan says defiantly.
"Get him the fuck out of here," the sergeant major bellows.
Ten minutes after they carry the Bedouin boy off, Ferrando has a change of heart. He orders his men to bring the Bedouins to the shock-trauma unit, twenty kilometers south. Some Marines believe Ferrando reversed himself to heal the growing rift between the officers and enlisted men in the battalion. As Bryan climbs onto the back of an open truck with the wounded boys and most of their clan, a Marine walks up to him and says, "Hey, Doc. Get some."
Colbert walks off, privately inconsolable. "I'm going to have to bring this home with me and live with it," he says. "Pilots don't see what they do when they drop bombs. We do." He goes back to the Humvee, sits Trombley down and tells him he is not responsible for what happened: "You were following my orders." Already there are rumors spreading of a possible judicial inquiry into the shooting. "Is this going to be OK, I mean with the investigation?" Trombley asks Colbert.
"You'll be fine, Trombley."
"No. I mean for you, Sergeant." Trombley grins. "I don't care what happens, really. I'm out in a couple of years. I mean for you. This is your career."
"I'll be fine." Colbert stares at him. "No worries."
(After an inquiry, Trombley and Bravo Company are cleared of any wrongdoing.)
Something's been bothering me about Trombley for a day or two, and I can't help thinking about it now. I was never quite sure if I should believe his claim that he cut up those two Iraqis in Gharraf. But he hit those two shepherds, one of whom was extremely small, at more than 200 meters, from a Humvee bouncing down a rough road at forty miles per hour. However horrible the results, his work was textbook machine-gun shooting, and the fact is, from now on, every time I ride with Colbert's team, I feel a lot better when Trombley is by my side with the SAW.
This story is from the June 26th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.
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