Sleep did not come easy in the freezing cold weather. Even though I was born in the heart of the Soviet Union, and I knew what cold was like, we had coal most of the time to keep our fire burning. There was no coal for the soldiers—or anybody for that matter. The coal rations were strict, and at my house back in Perm I burned wood or anything I could get my hands on.
As I turn around on the floor trying to sleep, I hear shots start to fire out. I sit up in a flash, and I am out of the tent and suited up like the KGB is telling me to come outside. As I run out of the tent, I look around for everybody else. I slow to a halt as I see that only a few other people are outside. I check to see if there is anybody of higher rank, and after seeing none, I order all of those outside to attention. I wait for a few more minutes with everybody at attention and wait for somebody else to come outside.
I realize that nobody is coming, so I head down to Colonel Vadim’s tent to ask what is happening. Vadim is the kind of man that does not really care about military etiquette and rank, so I do not think he will mind if I walk into his tent. I walk into his tent and notice he is still sleeping. I don’t know how he is sleeping, considering there has been constant shooting for the past few minutes. I tap him on the shoulder and he flinches and snaps awake. I look down and see there is a pistol inches from my stomach.
“Whoa, you scared me, Kuznetsov. What are you doing awake at this hour?” I hear Vadim say.
“Sir! There is a lot of shooting happening outside and I was checking to see if you coming outside to tell us to defend out stations or something like that.”
“Why would you think that?” Vadim replies. “Oh! Is this your first night on the battlefield? This is a common occurrence. Just go back to bed; we have an actual fight in the morning. Dismissed.”
I head out of the tent and start thinking to myself. How did he just sleep through those gunshots like they were normal? Would I start to sleep through the guns and explosions? If I did, what would happen if there was an actual emergency? Would I just sleep through it like it’s a normal night and get shot in my sleep? All of these are important questions to which I will not know the answer for some time.
I walk towards the soldiers waiting for me to come back and give them orders. I tell them that we are to do nothing and that they should go back to sleep and that they may be seeing some action tomorrow. I walk back to my tent. I take off my boots and get on the ground. I feel sleep coming on me as soon as I close my eyes.
I wake up to the sound of Colonel Vadim’s voice outside the tent. “Rise and shine and get some grub; we got a full day ahead of us.” I rub the sleep from my eyes. I begin to put my boots on when I hear Stefan Fedorov say in a snarky attitude “What were you doing last night? You were scared of the bullets. Didn’t know what to do.”
I could not think of any good comeback in time, so I just say, “Watch your mouth or your platoon will be looking at latrine duty tonight.” I didn’t even know if I could give him latrine duty, but he seemed to shut up. I finish lacing up my boots, open up the flap, and get blasted with cold wind.
It felt like it was thirty-five degrees below. I was not expecting that, so I went inside to see if I could find anything warmer. Stefan looks at me and begins to open his mouth, but he seems to stop at the last moment. I grab the coat I was using as a mattress last night and put it on. It was still freezing, but a little cold would not stop a Russian. I head towards the huge tent they had set up as a makeshift mess hall. I entered the tent and get in line for food. I was more hardy than last night, presumably because this may be the only meal of the day. There were peas, potatoes, a large dollop of sour cream, what looks like a beef of some sort, and one shot of vodka for the officers. I look for a place to sit and realize there are no tables. Someone says “eat in your tents.”
I head back to my tent and look forward to a hot meal. Stefan walks out of the tent and sees my food. He starts walking towards me. I just keep walking towards him and he purposely swerves just as he is about to pass me, smashes into me and flings his elbow up into my tray and sends it flying. I grab for it, but it hits the ground and splatters everywhere.
I turn around and head back to the mess hall. As I enter the mess hall, the man behind the counter sees me and tells me no seconds. I do not feel like arguing, so I walk up to Stefan grab his tray and I start eating his food. Before he can do anything, I am out the door headed back towards my tent. I think to myself, “I’m going to need to get this guy transferred to a different company. I wonder what I did to anger him as much as I did. Maybe because he has more experience but I have a higher rank. He probably is disrespectful to everybody and that is why he is still a lieutenant. I can only guess. For now I will just have to learn to get used to him.”
Just as I finish my breakfast, Colonel Vadim walks in and says, “At my headquarters in five. Your company is going on a raid.”