It was supposed to be a routine resupply mission: a short drive across the Al Asad Air Base, 90 kilometers north of sweltering Baghdad, to fetch, among other things, a newly-arrived TV to entertain the troops. Jimmy Castellanos, a 20-year-old Marine just five months into his first tour in Iraq, was supposed to be riding on the convoy. But on the afternoon of March 18, 2004 Castellanos, who worked maintaining the weapon systems of the U.S. Army's Cobra attack helicopters, was told that he was needed for guard duty. His friend and bunkmate took his place.
Around 10 p.m. that night, chased by dust, as if tracing the weakening horizon line between desert and sky, Castellanos watched as the trucks carrying his platoon wended their way home. They were about a kilometer off, but cleanly visible in the desert. When the mortar explosion came, Castellanos wasn't quite sure what had been hit. A few hours later, news arrived during a casualty briefing: Castellanos's bunkmate was paralyzed, two other members of the squad had been severely injured, and Cpl. Brownfield, who had sat in Castellanos's seat, was killed instantly.
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