Archive | February 2006

Heading out

My section sergeant is scheduled to go on her first convoy in a few days. Since she has four kids and a husband, I have tried to keep her on the FOB as much as possible, but it’s time for her to get out there and see things, so she says.

Curious, though, is the response she’s received. In asking the upcoming convoy’s commander she got, “Why would you want to go?”

“It’s part of my job, I have to get to Anaconda for a story,” she replied.

“Hrmm. Okay, whatever,” the sergeant shrugged.

Ears perked up at the mention of “convoy” in the fobbit-laden headquarters. “Are you going in – you know, for work or just because?” another sergeant asked.

“It’s not a joy ride,” she said. Some guys hitch a ride on one and come back bragging for weeks that they’re super hardcore. Since they’re seniors, it pretty much guarantees them a bronze star. In interviews, units that go out regularly say they hate babysitting the “tourists” as they call them.

This back and forth thing with “Why are you going?” and “Because it’s my job” went on for a few minutes; onlookers and office visitors enthralled that an E7 was going out of the wire.

“Hell, I don’t do convoys,” our equal opportunity rep said. “They want me on those, they’ll have to order me,” he cackled.

His was a sentiment that I heard a lot – absolute aversion by most seniors to participating in the war.

I guess I just thought it strange that someone going out and performing their duty was a hot-button topic. Were they concerned because she was married? Was it her rank that drew attention? Maybe the fact that she catches glances from a few guys? It’s not like they were offering to take her place.

And what was the big deal, regardless? It was one convoy. It’s not like she was going to set up a lemonade stand out there.

So anyway, it was just something I couldn’t figure out. I wish her luck as she heads out. And I won’t forgive myself if this is the time we catch static.



I’ve taken to counting Sundays. Well, I guess I don’t count them, but do notice them when they pass.

Sundays are seafood days at the dining facility – a good a marker as any. Every Sunday, when I walk in to get my fried shrimp and scallops to go, I say to myself, “Wow, Sunday again? Another week gone. Nice.”

The ritual is completed when I get to the office.

The captain in the office (who, incidentally, bears the same mental lapses as a veteran glue huffer) will ask me, “They have seafood today.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“What else they have?”

“Shrimp, scallops, crab legs, and t-bone steak.” (The Sunday menu never changes.)

“I don’t like seafood.”


“My mom always…”

And she’ll go through her story, like she does every week, without fail. Florida. Mom liked it. Dad didn’t. Forced to eat…. All very dramatic stuff.

All that to mark the passing of another calendar cycle. Like the ratcheting of a lever on a great, spinning gear. We watch it climb from the groove and slide along the gear tooth for six days, before falling with the great “clunk” that is Sunday. There! Another notch achieved. Can’t reverse it. It’s locked in. One week closer to going home.

Every day here is the same – save for seafood day. The tired joke is that deployment is Groundhog Day – “You know? Like that movie with Bill Murray!”

“Yeah, yeah. Bill Murray. I remember that one. Funny.”

“He’d wake up and every day was the same. It’s like here.”

“Yeah, got it. ‘Groundhog Day.’ Funny.”

So when you have established something like a seafood ritual, it’s easy to look back and see nothing but seafood rituals. In fact, I can recollect about eight or nice rituals – the days the scallops were over done, the days they had crab bites instead.

Eight or nine? Hell, that’s two months. Boom! Ha ha! Gone. Over and done with. That many closer to home – well, Fort Hood, Texas – as much as that’s home.

Surprisingly, not having weekends or breaks in work helps. Normal work weeks are like heart palpitations – you go for five days, have some sort of hiccup where you break into another rhythm, then are jolted back to the patter-patter of the march.

I’m going to need a complete re-education as to what a weekend is, and what I’m supposed to do. It’ll take some getting used to, but I think I’ll get it eventually.


quick story

I’m back from Baghdad. Lovely town, to be sure.

Here’s a quick literary exercise I went through today. There was nothing else to go on about, so I tried out some narrative muscles.

* * *

“What ‘cha doin’, Jack?”

No response. The undulating gray light on wall and sofa signaled the television was on. Now that John listened, he could hear the sound trickle in.

“Hey Jack? Jack? Did you think about what you’re gonna do next, huh?’

A clink and slurp. Noticing the open cupboard, drawer and box, the crunch undoubtedly was Count Chocula. John liked the cartoony sugary stuff – he was a kid at heart. But that hadn’t helped him break through to the kid who showed up at his door three days ago.

“Hey man, I’ve got a meeting, I’ll see you later okay?”

The bathroom door latched. Jack would stay in there for hours. John went in to the living room, picked up the half-eaten bowl of cereal and turned the television off.

“You okay, Jack? You know what, bud? Don’t you worry about whatever. You’re cool here for as long as…”

Nothing. He had been like this since showing up, pushing by John’s door and standing in the middle of the kitchen, soaked from the rain – eyes wide like he had just been through a war.

Jack was John’s best friend’s little brother. He sort of knew the kid from all those years at Matt’s house growing up, but Jack was a lot younger and very shy. John probably had said ten words to the kid in ten years. Matt and Jack’s house wasn’t the best place to just hang around. They’d tear off in John’s car as soon as he showed up.

John waited a few more seconds before turning back toward the kitchen. Putting the bowl in the sink, he started to go through the departure routine…wallet, coat, keys. How had Jack found him? Matt had been dead for six months. John didn’t remember seeing Jack at the funeral. His place was hours away from Matt’s house. Did Jack walk the whole way here?

Tossing his scarf around his neck he noticed something in the corner of his eye. Turning back toward the living room, there was Jack in the doorway, wearing the same muddy black hoodie he had on when he showed up.

“Hey bud, whats – whoa!”

Jack ran forward and caught John off balance, throwing his arms around his legs. Looking up at John for a second, his eyes watered and he began to cry into Johns slacks.

“Wow, hey hey…easy man. It’s okay. It’s alright.”

John caught a glance at his watch as he patted Jack’s matted hair. Fifteen minutes – he’d be late for his meeting. His job was his whole life, but with this sobbing mess at his feet, he began to wonder just how much that might start to change.

“Hey Jack, how about some more cereal, huh?”


Had my fill

That'll make a big boom

That’ll make a big boom

There’s a certain thrill that comes with strapping yourself to the front of a 4,800 gallon fuel tank and taking off down the roads in Iraq.

“Those things armored?” I asked my driver.

“What, the trailer? Naw, but diesel doesn’t blow up, so we’re good,” he responded.

“You’d think a big thing like this would be a good target,” I went on, thinking about the 20 fuel tankers that had been taken out in an Iraqi civilian fuel convoy in December. Granted, they were carrying gasoline and did blow up. Still, I figured a fuel carrier was an inviting mark, regardless.

“Well, we’ve done okay so far. No accidents in 100 days. How about that, eh?”

I wasn’t superstitious; and neither was this guy, apparently.

I was with an Army Reserve unit out of California, about to go on a fuel-delivery mission. They made the run about every other day, alternating between different bases.

Being a logistical unit, we had nothing but these sorts of units under us, ready to deliver all the needed supplies to keep the war machine going.

Most, if not all, of what we do everyday is to maintain the status quo. There is no ground to be gained, no measurable aspect of the war to gauge ourselves off of. Just the “standard” of “projected usage” for things like fuel, water, and food. Meaning we had to run convoys everyday just to stay alive.

Running convoys to support the running of convoys elsewhere to support the running of convoys elsewhere.

Two hours south, through the web of main supply routes around Baghdad and we’d be there – FOB Falcon, nestled in a dark mud field south of the city. I had been there before during a mail run I went on sometime back – the one where I nearly became a killer. Not that I remembered much of Falcon aside from the darkened vehicle staging area.

“We’ll be going through Irish, watch your intervals,” the convoy commander reminded us during the mission briefing earlier. Irish was a tricky stretch of road, full of peaceful, happy people who would love to show you the way to Allah. My only beef was with their explosive convictions.

Going through the routine, I was on the road before long. Ammo? Check. Night-vision goggles? Check. Riding in the truck commander’s seat, I began to scan my sectors, going through the motions, finally an oiled machine of war.

‘Complacency is the enemy,’ we’re told constantly. Immense efforts are made to try to shake soldiers awake enough so they don’t ‘settle in’ to routines and ruts. ‘Growing complacent kills,’ they always say.

And I know what they’re talking about. I remember my first convoy – jittery, nervous, eyes peeled in vigilant observation, gasping at every pile of rocks and tossed-aside bottles that might contain the explosives that would be the end of us. I remember the sharpness to my senses, adrift in the sea of ‘outside,’ pushed on the winds of ‘what if…’ It was exciting.

Now, slowing down for a vehicle breakdown, the drivers blacked out their vehicle lights and I didn’t even notice. Putting the NVGs to my eyes, I entered the green, illuminated dark without so much as a quickening of breath.

The roads themselves were becoming familiar. There was the overpass with the blown out cross beams, the huge masque before MSR Pluto (or was it Vernon, I could never remember all the road names)…it was all still there.

There and back, all safe. Is this complacency? I’d like to think it’s confidence, but I suppose there’s a fine line there. In fact, it may be that the only difference between the confident and the complacent is luck.

When you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and blunt your edge – Sun Tzu


Why we fight

There’s a time to be sensitive and a time to say “what the faaaaa?”

I’m sure that by now most have heard about the terribly atrocity committed by the European powers against the Muslim world. Namely, a cartoon ran in a newspaper of Mohammed with a turban shaped like a bomb.

A cartoon. Granted, in Islam it is forbidden to have graven images of the prophet, but let’s talk about it for a second.

A cartoon.

Grocery stores across the Middle East have removed Danish sundries in protest.

A leader of the Islamic militant Hamas group, which recently swept Palestinian parliamentary elections, told an Italian newspaper on Saturday that the cartoons were an “unforgivable insult” that should be punished by death.

“We should have killed them, we should have required just punishment for those who respect neither religion nor its holiest symbols,” Zahar was quoted as saying.

“We will redeem our prophet, Mohammed, with our blood,” demonstrators outside of the Danish embassy in Gaza City chanted.

Now, Syrian protesters have set the Danish embassy in Damascus ablaze.

Hundreds hurled stones and stormed the Danish site, before moving to the Norwegian embassy.

Protesters stormed the Danish site amid chants of “God is great”, then moved on to attack the Norwegian mission.

Iran says it should consider abandoning commercial and trade deals with countries where the cartoons have appeared.

And it will go on and on. God help the hostages being held across Iraq. If they – well, hell…God be with them.

A cartoon – an offense.

Offended? You wanna know something to be offended about? The fact that the big boom I heard the other day was an IED of five, wired 155mm artillery shells turning a 20-something-year-old Soldier into hamburger.


Four faces of Taji

And now, a tale of the seasons.

Autumn — oh how I love thee. After summer, giving us a respite from the oppressive heat, and yet not quite winter, where dry land becomes water. I wish we could have autumn all year long. Alas, it only lasts a week.

Then pours in winter. Cold, windy, bleak, with the smell of wet chalk which I guess is from the mud. Water comes and goes like the tides, washing into buildings, then receding as it’s pumped out, to be replaced with clumps of oily grime that’s churned and worked into a paste.

Then the spring. More importantly — dry weather. The climate is similar to autumn, but we have acres of water to slosh across. Mmmmm, lovely. You can tell something evil looms on the horizon, though. It comes in twangs of heat — in that outbreak of sweat from the walk to work. “Hey, what’s wrong with me? I don’t sweat that much from walking outside!” Like the poor schmuck that stays in the pot because he can’t feel the water heating up — you’re about to have an epiphany…

Summer is hot! And not just hot, but damned hot! And full of choking blackness that stings the eyes, puts grits in your teeth, and blots out the sun so that all you have to look up to when you’ve been beaten to your knees from the tearing, sand-filled winds is some blighted white disc screaming rage and malcontent from on high. The only thing that could give us another kick in the pants is some sort of insect infestation — and you’re in luck, because sand flies fly through mosquito netting and feast on exposed flesh in the dark of night. They are so small, you can’t hear them, nor feel them, until that red bump bubbles up some time later. And not one bump, but dozens. Itching, hard, oozing bumps.

Mmmmm, how I love Iraq!


Call it a comeback!

Thanks for all the comments on that last post!

Yes, I’ve been away for a few days, but not entirely by choice. Our local Internet went through an overhaul and I was left out in the cold for some days before having the chance to get it all fixed.

I’m hard at work finishing up the latest issue of “The Wrangler,” which should be kicked out Friday our time.

So how are things, my wonderful pals and friends? I admit, I’ve been a bit down in the dumps lately. There’s a lot of crazy stuff that’s not so nice around here, apart from even the war stuff. I’m just going through a period of disillusionment, but it’ll pass.

Time is what we decide it to be. I’ve gone through several phases in life – colleges, work, places lived – and I’ve noticed that the slant of what we remember is a conscious choice.

I can choose to remember the crappy parts of the Army, and when I spit out a story or two at the bar, I can paint a pretty dreary picture. Hold on to the times of growth, however, and the time spent won’t seem so wasted.

Hearing all the “for’s” and “against’s” surrounding the recent State of the Union Address sort of reminded me of all that.

Those for Bush said it was a wonderful example of the good work we’re doing.

Those against Bush said it was a wonderful example of the terrible work we’re doing.

Same words, different perspectives.

In the case of the war, there are the days where you see what’s left of a human head after a .50cal round pops through it, and there are the days when you can make a kid beam with pride after giving him a trinket.

Same war, different perspectives.

Talk to you cats soon!


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