Well, it’s sort of like that
Tonight after work I stepped from the lighted hallway down the step into the patch of gravel toward the gate. The light to dark jump made me lose sight of everything.
There was someone in the smoking area in the black fleece we’re allowed to wear in the winter time. I saw the cigarette ember flash and heard a chipper, “Howdy, the Salmons.”
It was a friend of mine from the S6 — one of the computer guys. Although we hung out a bit back in the states, our jobs here kept us occupied in different efforts.
“Hey, man, what’s shakin?” And so went the conversation for a minute or to. Work? Yeah. Sucks? Yeah. The normal drill.
Somehow we got on the topic of how the country was doing.
“You know, it seems like things have gotten a lot more quiet around here,” he said.
That was true, Taji was pretty chill as of late. Not too many booms going off around camp, and even my visits to Seitz, BIAP and some others had been pretty quiet.
“Yeah, seems like it. The camps have settled down a bit,” I answered.
“I think in 20 years or so this place will be a haven for everybody — a good place to visit.”
“There’s been fighting here for thousands of years, I don’t think it’s going to let up,” I countered.
That, and the fact that Iraq’s idea of infrastructure involved getting a truck to dump the garbage or chemicals down the street out of sight. Things were pretty nasty in this place.
“Yeah, but we’re making a difference. I mean they’re leaving us alone. They don’t want to mess with us. I mean, places like Seitz used to be…whew, you know — bombed every hour. Now it’s like only every six hours.”
I had come to realize something about this friend of mine. He was a voracious liar. I guess he forgot I go down and live in those camps for days at a time, and that I attended briefings that listed where each and every hit in our area took place. Every hour, now every six? What?
“Yeah?” I said, now switching into ‘This guy just needs someone to listen to him’ mode.
“Yeah,” he continued. “And Anaconda, that place used to get his all the time. Now — nothing.”
As he went through his bit, I came to a realization. Was it what he said that mattered? Or that he believed it?
There were lots of guys like this here — constructing their own version of the war in their heads, oblivious to everything else.
They were the guys who asked for copies of my pictures and then told others they had taken them (no one reads our newsletter, so no one sees the credit).
But again, did it matter? Does it matter to “set the record straight”?
A friend of mine back in the states wrote me an encouraging email that said, “I just saw ‘Black Hawk Down’ and was thinking of all the stuff you’re going through. God bless you!!” Did he think I was living through that? Did he know what it was like here? Wasn’t it enough that he was praying for me? Was it right for me to let him think I was a “hero” like the exaggerated characters in the Hollywood film?
Did it matter?
People will construct their own version of things once we all get back. Stories will be told and told, embellished and changed. My pictures will become theirs and their lines will become mine, until it’s all whisked together into a hazy, somewhat true recollection of events that paints each of us in a slightly better light.
Were you in danger? Yeah, everyday. Were you scared? No, I had the blood of heroes in my veins. Was there blood? Acres of it, millions of enemy soldiers dead, and me and a knife. Heck, I shouldv’e gotten a medal!