Today marks one week since I landed on Sand Island, a lone speck in the middle of a stunningly blue ocean. And yet, my head is still too confused, too full of thoughts to even begin putting them down on paper. That is the result of all that I've seen this past week; the events as well as the unique and courageous individuals I've encountered here.
Sand Island is a very small island, nesting on a coral reef. Between the low-lying trees that line the coast, one can see many beautiful, colorful birds resting their wings. This quiet island, no more than a two-hour trip to circumvent on foot, seems far removed from any unpleasant notion such as war. However, on this very island lies an airbase owned and operated by the Osean Air Defense Force. The base, located at the edge of Osea's western border, is home to the 108th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the Air Force, a unit whose defense perimeter covers the entire Ceres Ocean. Now, after a sudden and unexpected chain of events, I've become a front-line war correspondent here.
News of Yuktobania's declaration of war spread throughout the island instantly. Soldiers gathered at the mess hall and clamored for a view in front of the big screen TV. Then I noticed one soldier standing apart from the noise, casting a thoughtful gaze at the screen from across the room. He is the mechanic on this base.
"This is how it always goes when a war breaks out," he said in a voice as calm and steady as his gaze. "It just starts up randomly, in some remote place that none of us have ever heard of. But we're the ones who have to fight to end it. All we can do is do our jobs the best we can, and get this pointless war over with as soon as possible."
What did the soldiers think of this sudden war? I asked one of them, the only female pilot in the squadron.
"I guess for now, each one of us must continue to think about the best course of action we can take...," she said.
And with that, she hurried back to the crew quarters. It was indeed her actions, along with those of her comrades, that saved Port St. Hewlett from total destruction after a surprise attack from the enemy. All around me, I hear people saying that if the four fighters from Sand Island never came to provide support, Port St. Hewlett would have been annihilated for sure.
The sheer brilliance displayed in the air by this four-ship formation is, unfortunately, beyond anything I can convey in words. Any attempt on my part to capture their maneuvers on film has resulted in my gaze numbly following their contrails, feeling as though I was being lifted up into the blue sky right along with them.
The four pilots who saved the naval port from disaster, herself included, are all just young adults. Watching them joke around with each other, one would see a typical group of youngsters, no different from anyone their age. But once airborne with a mission ahead of them, their eyes gleam with the sharpness of veteran fighter pilots.
Another pilot, a Second Lieutenant, graciously answered my questions, choosing his words carefully. He is my host, the occupant of the room I'm staying in during my visit to Sand Island.
"I don't care how tough training is, it's always better than the real thing," he said. "Am I scared? Of course I'm scared. But right now, I'm more scared of doing nothing."
Fighters are taking off from here on recon missions quite frequently now. The tension inside the base has risen to an almost palpable level.
Admittedly, there are many limits placed on the facts I can present from this place. I am bound by an agreement with the Osean Department of Defense to not report on any operations that could endanger the lives of its soldiers.
However, I believe my mission, and my fate, is to watch the tides of war unfold from here, together with these soldiers. What I have seen, and what I will see in the days to come, may only be a small, insignificant part in the entire war. And yet, I can't help but wonder where these four wings of Sand Island will be, and what truths will be revealed, once this war is over.