This place gets to you, man. I mean it can get under your skin. It can do something to you.
Every once in a while someone pops.
“You hear about Sgt. H?” someone asked me yesterday.
“From S6?” I asked back.
“Yeah, he’s gone.”
“Gone?! I just saw him the other day.”
“Yup, went nuts. He’s headed back to the states.”
Or the girl that had been manning our staff desk.
“Where’s your battle?” I asked one of our normal front-deskers, “battle” meaning short for battle buddy for the non-mils.
“Oh her? She’s headed home, bulimic and all sorts of other stuff.”
Or one of the DFAC girls. Turns out she threatened to kill a couple of people, so they took her weapon away and tucked her away in a corner somewhere.
There has been a few of those, actually. The ones that the combat stress center can patch together stay, the rest go home.
I can feel it too, though. The unending procession of days. The never ending load of crap to do, things to stock, repair, pictures to take, stories to write, meetings, briefings, sit reps, weapon cleaning, laundry, heat, heat, the relentless heat, setting fire to the madness, burning each second into hours.
Stay alert. Maintain a high state of readiness. Don’t get complacent. The enemy is watching. He’s everywhere. The enemy will get you. Vary your patterns. Never let up. Go, go, go from dawn to dawn.
And then the small talk, passing others at work or on the way home. “Well, another day done.”
“Just X more to go.”
Some amount of days left. Some weeks. Some months. With the extra year, home just got a whole lot farther away.
It gets to you, man. It’s crazy.
I was riding on the bus. Bright day. I squint to lessen the light, shapes of buildings passing, some trees. I close my eyes and remember.
Days first light through the trees, the smell of wood, wet leaves. Autumn. Maryland breeze. Running. Curving with the road into the dark of a thicker grove of trees. Dawn at Fort Meade. In training. Running in formation.
We quicken the pace, our drill sergeant pushing us up the hill. It’s a mind game, the quickening. Can’t keep up, our bodies cry out. Some fall back. Pain in the legs, the feet, crawling up, working into my hips, slowing me down.
Sweat-soaked shirts. The cool of the air, wet and thick. Even breathing requires work. The pat-pat-pat of feet on pavement. Passing street lights, one, two, three. The morning brightens.
I’m back in Iraq. That’s it? I dream of training? That’s what I miss? Oh Lord, save me from myself! That is far too hooah for the common man.
It was sweet meeting with some kindred spirits while here. Those cats have been here on Taji for years, so I felt like a rank amateur, but I mouthed off enough to endear myself as the nutty newbie. Uber.
We’ll get together here and there to touch base and keep the spirit of Taji properly blogged. Woe to those who come after us! For now that the charter members have been formed, admission into our sacred circle of literary blah-blah-blah will have to prove themselves a thousand times more worthy than we ever were.
In other news back at the unit, we’ve begun the process of beginning to think about what we should start doing to prepare to get things packed to leave Taji. Whew! Things are in typical SNAFU order and if leaving is half of a nightmare as getting here, it should make for a bummer last few months. Packing containers, unpacking containers, repacking containers another way, inspections, 14 sets of standards, indecisive leadership…it’s enough to make a man gay…well, not quite, but close enough to cause worry!
Later peeps, I’m off to work. Hopefully the Internet holds tonight so I can keep writing.
It’s getting to be that time. People are starting to get irritable. Some have numbers on their desk, counting down the days before we leave.
We’re still months out, don’t get me wrong, but we’re in the last four or so, the last quarter. We’re getting that short-timer’s syndrome, where people start going hog wild in anticipation with being finished with this damn quasi war.
And I’m excited too, we have been here a while. I’ve started to get used to things and have found the rhythm of life on Taji.
The big news friends is that I’m being extended for another year. The incoming unit has need for a PAO guy since everyone they’ve been sent so far has become non-deployable. That leaves me, dependable and already-here. That’s the Army’s mantra: work those who work to death and keep those who don’t to bulk up the numbers.
I don’t have too much of a problem with staying. Upon returning to Fort Hood, I was going to be assigned to a unit on its way out the door anyway. This way I know I’ll be on a base that I like and hopefully I’ll be able to keep my room.
The year here will allow me to continue working on my MBA, not to mention having the chance to save mucho more cash. I can’t hold a candle to some of our civilian friends here (ran into a guy last week who runs forklifts and was complaining that he only gets $12,000 a month where his coworker gets $15,000 for some damn reason…yikes, I make a little over twice that for a year!) but I’m saving what I can.
I’ll be looking for ways to expand TalkingSalmons — maybe get some video blogging going with a camera I’m spec-ing out. I’ll definitely keep this sucker going. I can understand if people get a little tired of things. Sticking with a soldier through one deployment is arduous enough, but two is a little long. I’ll try to come up with ways to keep things so fresh and so clean-clean.
Word, so that was the big development. I wanted to let the folks know and such before they read it on the blog. Just seemed proper.
Here’s to 2007! May it come swift and sure. God save the Queen and please allow me the retention of my limbs!
When I was at journalism school (Defense Information School for those who get tickled at military-ese) we had some quirky drill sergeants. The journalist stuff wasn’t so bad, but the Army filled our lives with BS. The more level-headed drill sergeant we had saw me down in the dumps one day and had a talk with me. “Cheer up soldier, the real Army isn’t like this.”
Heading to Fort Knox for my first duty assignment, I ran in to some of the same stuff. My coworkers were great, but our unit made life difficult. My section sergeant, a master sergeant, took me aside and told me, “Don’t worry Salmons, a FORSCOM unit (i.e. one that deploys) isn’t like this. The real Army is different.”
Then I headed to Fort Hood to a deploying unit, and there’s more of the same. People talk about it constantly, at meals, at the trailers, at the showers; but one thing is said, though: “I’m glad the real Army isn’t like this.”
We’ve been escorting the command group for our replacement unit around for the last few days and the rumors already are starting. “I hear they’re assed up.” “You should see how they run such-n-such.” On and on.
I want to ask if they aren’t like the “real Army” either and chuckle to myself.
What is this “real Army” anyway, cause it’d be nice to run in to a few actual soldiers and get their take on everything. Anybody from the “real Army” out there?
There’s a big development going on in the life, friends, but I’m holding off until I can notify all the proper channels by phone, at least. More to follow.
Ok, we need a goal here — a tangible goal that we can work toward, something we can set our minds to.
You tell us we need to accomplish X amount of Y and you’ll let us come home.
Percent of government formed, percent of military equipped, number of Pepsi machines on the street corners…something!
No, no, I mean it. How much do we have left to do before all’s great and we can go help secure the Texan border? A lot of us would be game for a deployment or two in the states!
Cause…all we’re really doing here is just hanging out. Sure we run supplies, but it’s just to get us through tomorrow. And then tomorrow we’ll run supplies to get us through the next day. We get the pattern. Wait and see.
And we wouldn’t mind going home.
You know? Home? Grass. Shopping malls. $50 for a tank of gas. Stuff. Maybe even a weekend or something, if that’s cool.
Okay, but we’re getting a little tired. Just wanted to ask.
Have fun with C.S.I. and Olive Garden. We’ll just…well, chill for a bit, I guess.
For me, it still is a bit funny to get reactions of people in my unit when they see me gearing up for a mission.
Some hours before leaving, we attend all sorts of intelligence briefs, route briefs — all sorts. I keep my armor, ammo and all that rot at the office, partly because I don’t have crap for space in the room, but also since I get grabbed on occasion and I need it handy.
I’ll usually let out a sigh a few minutes around the time I should be heading out, walk around to my little storage bin in front of my desk and begin the process. Ammo? Check. Gas mask? Check. Med pack? Gotcha. Shoulder pads, inserts, side pads? Oh yeah.
I’ll get about halfway strapped into my battle raiment when someone will ask the question. The one that requires the same aptitude as the one someone asks when they see you with your spare tire and jack next to a flat.
“You going out?”
“Yuppers,” I’ll say. or “Yes, sir” if the interviewer is an officer.
“Like going outside the wire?”
I still wake up at night screaming, trying to discern why it’s such an odd thing that a soldier at war goes out to meet the war. My roommate usually just stops snoring for a second, shifts over to a side, and starts sawing again.
“Yes, out west,” or east, or whatever general direction we’re traveling. Operational security says not to give out too much specific info, and who knows how many of these uniformed jokers are actually genetically-altered, clean-cut, American-accented, uniformed insurgents; waiting to see where the journalist is off to. Be on guard, sons and daughters of liberty. Evil prowls around every corner!!!
It is at this point, when they’ve figured out you’re not bullshitting them — that you’re actually going out on a convoy, that you’ll get your responses.
Some will say the “be safe” lines and head back to their offices. Some will say they don’t want you to go and seem genuinely concerned, which is sweet, but the silence leaves us at a bit of an impasse. And some, my favorites, will use the occasion to go off about “You won’t get me out there, no sirree. I sure as hell ain’t going outside the wire. Wooohoo. I’m staying right here!”
You see for them, the privileged few, normally seniors, many of whom who have never deployed in their 20 years, who finally got tagged to head off to war like someone who had dodged jury duty for the better part of a lifetime but finally was snagged…they don’t realize that many of us whom have to head out to where things go boom would love a nice, quiet 0900-1600 job, collecting hazard pay all the while.
But they don’t think about it. They’ll still get their Bronze Star Medals just for being seniors. And good for them! God bless ’em! And God save the Queen!
It used to bother me, but you know? Everybody’s war is different. At least they came to the party. That’s more than most.
But it’s all good. I finish gearing up, sling my rifle, sling my camera bag, and go do my thing. Next stop wherever. It’s all road and IEDs kids. And the night leaves little for sights other than the few hundred yards to our forward as we scan feverishly to thwart explosive conduits to oblivion.
Had our first good sandstorm of the season today. Wow. Here are some pics of the event.
Run for your lives! The wall of doom approaches! Repent, repent, fellow heathens! The time of reckoning draws neigh.
At this point, I ran back to my office (building in foreground) in an attempt to escape the nastiness.
The initial wave blotted out the sun, casting us into an erie rust-red dusk. It was something straight out of the Bible. The shock of the storm knocked out our power. Creepy.
Hey Salmons, get inside! A couple of us breathed in the muck to grab a few shots. It was crazy how the crap filled every nook and cranny of everything, including our lungs. My throat closed up and I could barely breathe. Bleck!
After a few minutes, the sun began to shine through. By now even our offices had become a cloudy mess from the storm blowing through every miniscule crack and gap in the soundly lacking Iraqi architecture.
Power kicked back on after a while, although the day didn’t return to normal for a bit. Wish you were here!!
“Sgt. Salmons, I need you to go on a convoy with the 1st MTR in a few days,” my boss said a smidgen into the day.
“Is he certified?” someone else piped in. Our assigned office was always brimming with people, chattering away over the din of the television and collectively being a major distraction. Still, it kept us informed, as the PAO section was normally the last to know anything.
“Certified? For what?” I asked.
“You have to be certified to go on convoys now,” they continued. “There are a whole bunch of classes you have to take.”
“We’re eight months into the deployment!” I argued, like it mattered, and like this person could do anything about it anyway.
“It’s a new thing.”
A “new thing” for an old mission. Brilliant. Again, something to take up the time. I’m sure this new “training program” will make a good bullet on an evaluation for the person who published the new training FRAGO (fragmentary order, a sort of “oh by the way, do this too” that the military used to augment mission directives, there were hundreds of FRAGOS, so there were a lot of “oh by the ways”).
An aside: writing FRAGOs is a nightmare in itself, involving you (the author), an entire FRAGO approval section staffed by officers and senior NCOs, several drafts, several go’rounds, formatting preferences (two spaces after the heading, use the correct emblem, take out the colonel’s middle initial, triple spaced, that sort of crap), getting approval signatures…uuugh! But, I digress…
Most other things had remained relatively the same since I’d been away. A few more females had caught the pregnancy bug and were being reassigned to stateside duty, but the men were stepping up with few complications.
Actually, I’d half expected everyone to be carrying around strobe lights, wearing knee and elbow pads and sounding off with “Soldier en route” every 10 paces with all of the safety precautions afoot nowadays.
Statistically, the enemy was hardly as lethal to reducing combat power as was the threat of sports injuries or the occasional pedestrian / vehicle collision. Our safety officers had the numbers to prove it: Soldiers wounded in combat by enemy fire were three times more likely to return to duty than were the Joe’s with sprained ankles from basketball.
Ain’t that some sh*t, eh? But it was true. We had a cat that was shot through the ear while on guard duty (the ear! Two inches left and his brain would have been hamburger) who was back in the towers within 48 hours. Sewed back on the ear, slapped on a bandage, pinned the purple heart and threw him back into the maw. Meanwhile, there was a joker who tripped on some rocks while walking to the bathroom and sprained his wrist. He’s been back in the states since January.
Oh and we hit 107 with the heat index today. Thanks for the memories, jerks! Just a few months left! Woohoo!!!!!!