Army Tales: Left or Right?

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2021 summer; this one time, at military camp. It is a late night or early morning, depending on how you look at it. Countless pairs of feet are moving towards the lake in the cover of darkness. Several recon squads arrive at the same time at an intersection that feels pretty insignificant because both roads go around the lake and end up in the same spot that leads toward the next waypoint.

Our land navigator, one of two squad members who aren’t dead tired yet, asks quietly:

"Which path should we take?"

I have ended up as a squad leader, meaning that I actually have to do some thinking, which makes me answer in a bit irritated manner:

"What the hell does it matter, they both lead to the same place."

He looks at his map for a while and answers:

"Yes... yes, they do... So, shall we take the left one?"

I look at the reflection of the moon on the surface of the dead-calm lake.

"Let’s take the right one, another group has already gone to the left."

The squad quietly accepts my decision and gets up to continue the march with somewhat heavy feet. The visibility is pretty poor, and the only source of light in this hunt, where we are being hunted, has until now been the moon. Now, it is complemented by the blinking light of an antenna mast on the other side of the lake. I can still see the edges of the path well enough so that I dare to gaze at the sky for a little while.

The stars are barely visible since the morning sun is starting to cast its first rays on the horizon, and the moon peeks behind a veil of clouds. The sight is beautiful, but I barely notice it since I concentrate mostly on wondering how many kilometers there are until the next waypoint. Damn these long military distances.

I quickly look behind me to make sure that all squad members are still with me. At the same time, I notice that several groups behind us are taking the left path.

Fifteen minutes later, as we move together with another squad along the path that follows the lake shore, we suddenly hear something on the other side of the lake—a shout. And another one. Suddenly, the night is alive with the sound of rapid gunfire. You can see the muzzle blasts reflect on the surface of the lake, and hear the shots echo all around. Perkele, I guess we did pick the right path after all.

After the initial shock, our squad members continue the journey talking quietly about possible mistakes that led to the firefight. Without finding the common ground we settle for making fun of the squads on the other side. As suddenly as the fight began, it also ended. Everything is quiet and dark again just before we leave the lake shore behind us.

I take another look behind me and see the light on the antenna mast flicker on the surface of the lake before I turn back to the road. It just takes some doing to get this done.

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