The Camp-Time Continuum
On the FOB there exists another world.
Apparently there are some sort of dimension-altering properties in the spools of wire and piles of bricks that make up our camp walls.
Outside, Iraq rages on with kidnappings, scores of gunmen ravaging the neighborhoods, citizens sweltering without electricity or purified water in the summer heat, and constant bombings.
But inside—well, inside things are different.
I watched a news clip that aired a few nights ago from one of the nightly networks back in the states. It painted a pretty grim picture of the situation out there. Iraq was on the verge of civil war. Sectarian violence was engulfing whole neighborhoods. Colleges were being bombed. People were being drug from their shops, cars, and homes; having holes drilled in them with power tools; and shot dead in the street.
And life “inside the wire”?
I was at the post exchange today, waiting in line for Burger King. There was a soldier in front of me.
“I just want three Cokes,” he said to the Indian cashier. The staff promptly handed him three chilled cans of Coke from behind the counter.
“And I’ll need some cups with ice,” he went on.
“Sorry sir, no ice here,” the man managed through a heavy accent.
“No ice! What the f*** is this?! You don’t have any f***** ice?! This is bullsh**!”
The cashier only could apologize further and wait for the American to storm off, back to his table in the outdoor promenade and hope his steaming didn’t bring him back.
I wanted to remind the guy he was in Iraq, eating Burger King, had an air conditioned trailer to sleep in, TV, and even the Internet just down the street.
Meanwhile, just a couple of countries away, Israel and Lebanon were having it out: rocket attacks, bombings, air strikes, blockades and threats of further escalation. It was the worst in years and was poised to place another region in the grips of destruction and death.
On Taji? Well, we started griping that they were starting to replace the roof to our dining facility. We’d have to stagger our eating times since only half of the seating area inside would be available for the next week or so. People would have to go a little earlier or later to spread out the traffic.
I was at the gym and I started talking to a scout—reconnaissance troops who fulfill a lot of “on the road” jobs nowadays. He looked worn out, I mean really beat down.
Turns out he goes out everyday. Every day. Not just here and there like me, and not as in…well, never, like most of my unit. This guy was out there, dealing with the gunfights and road-side bombs in the searing heat, whether he ever felt like it or not.
And the camp life? It continues. There’s something that changes people who stay on camp the whole deployment.
People ask how we can work through the reality of the war. Truth is I don’t think most soldiers see much of the reality. We spend so much of our time holed up in our little fortress—our little pocket of America, that we hardly know or care what we’re participating in.
That’s why every time someone gives a rallying speech about how we’re authoring history, spreading democracy or freedom, or how we all took part in “the war,” I just roll my eyes.