We are the legendary 10th Mountain Division on a reconnaissance mission in the mountains of Afghanistan, when Riley the Texan pulled up in his Humvee. It was late one afternoon, and the dry air made our throats parched, but Riley looked at us sidelong as the dust settled on our faces. I rubbed my eyes, and couldn't believe what I saw! "Riley," I said. "Where in the **** did you find the mannequin?"
Most of the guys in my platoon are from places around New York City, and couldn't afford much patience for Riley and his new friend-riding shotgun. I'm from a cornfield town in Iowa, so I have what you call seasoned patience.
"Well Sarge. I was mindin my own business when these kids were on the roadside gettin ready to torch this poor fella. I guess, on the count of he looks like us. What ya think, I get my purple heart?"
The mannequin had an issued Army uniform decked in camouflage green, and one unauthorized pair of sunglasses. Despite the fact that it was missing one arm, it proudly held the other in a calm salute. You might say it had its own body language. Even the plastic flesh looked real enough. It made our imagination run wild! What a great decoy this would make, in what we called "The Red Zone."
We named him Red, and put a fake medallion on him in honor of his upcoming sacrifice.
We waited for Riley to fall asleep beneath a jumble of stars that reminded him of his home in the "Lone Star State."
We decked "Red" for battle, and he never once complained for even a canteen of water. We strapped on a helmet and a belt of Chinese fireworks. I also filled in as part-time chaplain, and led my fellow NY soldiers in a hushed prayer, careful not to wake Riley.
It was about three in the morning when my two Brooklyn guys, who happened to be braver than their own good senses, were all too happy to put good old Red out near a big rock where the enemy was sure to find him.
By four in the morning our plan worked! I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. We spied through our night vision waiting for just the right moment to start the shooting gallery.
The enemy fired away and lit up the sky! They didn't know which way to run. We picked them off one by one.
When Riley woke up, we had to hold him down! He tried to save his ole buddy.
I told him, his friend would be the one getting a purple heart.
One of my Brooklyn guys smiled at me; giddy as a child, but with a chin the size of Mt. Rushmore. "Gee Sarge, it's just like the fourth of July on Coney Island New York."
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