Excerpt: 'Sisters in Arms' by John Witmer

As Rachel took her stand on the roof, time began to expand, seconds passing like minutes, altered by the adrenaline that now pumped into her bloodstream. In that heightened state of awareness, in a moment of clarity, Rachel accepted the fact that it might end here, that this might be her last stand, her last day on Earth. As she prepared herself, she was suddenly calm. Peace came over her as she reflected on the people she cared about, bringing their faces to mind, one-by-one, as the pounding of her heart subsided.

Her sisters came to mind first. Michelle served with her in the 32nd MPs. Michelle's platoon was pulling the same kind of duty in a different part of Baghdad. Then Charity: she was a medic with the Company B 118th Medical Battalion, stationed at BIAP, Baghdad International Airport, on the other side of town. She brought her brothers' faces to mind, little brother Tim, just two years younger, and baby brother Mark, now a senior in high school. Then she thought about Mom and Dad and aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins. She wondered what it would be like for them if it all came to an end, here, on this rooftop in Baghdad.

This was not the first time Rachel had experienced this: time standing still, recalling the faces of those she loved, making peace with death, bracing herself. There had been a mortar attack on her barracks, in the middle of the night, that had shaken her awake. As she lay on the floor calculating how long it would take the insurgents to dial in the next strike, which would likely be dead-on target, this same sensation came over her. Fear left her; she was resolute, ready to accept her fate. Then the choppers came in and she heard the report of a big gun and she knew the insurgents would not fire another round. The threat had been neutralized. The chopper hovered, standing watch over the barracks, and the sound of helicopter blades sang Rachel to sleep that night.

A new noise pulled her back into real time: the unmistakable thudding of helicopter blades. The Blackhawk hovered above the crowd, and all forward motion stopped as its guns were trained on the throng below. The mob continued to shout and wave their weapons, but now tanks were rolling up the side streets, blocking the way to the police station. The standoff continued as the sun inched toward the horizon. But slowly and steadily the crowd thinned, melting into the twilight.

The recruiter hit the jackpot, a two-for-one special. Rachel and Charity sat at his desk looking at pamphlets. He explained that, yes, Charity could sign-up when she turned seventeen, as long as she had her parents' permission and a high school diploma. The sign-on on bonus? $8000, half after basic-training and half after finishing three years of the six-year contract. "And don't forget the GI Bill," he reminded. All they had to do was pick one of the bonus-eligible MOSs (Military Occupational Specialty) and military police or medical specialist both qualified.

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