The air held the light like a misty winter evening. Were it up to only my eyes, I would think the scene was from my window back in Maryland as I glanced outside, ignoring my homework.
But the hazy smoke spoke to my nostrils also—a mixture of chalk and…something acidic, something along the lines of bug spray.
There’d be no running this evening. Pounding pavement was unpleasant enough with the heat squeezing out extra liters of perspiration, but the smoke choked out what little breath I had after a spell of a quickened pace. And who knew what life-shortening carbons and industrial residues we were wheezing through already, without the labored breathing adding an extra ration.
Our new quarters were a few clicks off the beaten path. While most whined, I actually looked forward to the time apart from the drone of bitching soldiers, walking alone in the evening. It was officially hush-hush, of course—we were never to be without battle buddies and all that business. But no one wanted to walk, and preferred to spend 40 minutes waiting for the shuttle rotation instead of the 15 actually getting home. Besides, by the time I was off of work, there were naught but one or two cats left at brigade. So, I went anyway. Crazy foolish? I suppose, but soldiering is not without its risks, eh?
Most of the post is dark, for tactical reasons, but some lights blaze on. A microwave tower off post is near our barracks, its throbbing red lights undulating through the haze. That was my beacon as I cut through unfamiliar motor pools and company areas.
Our living areas were long rooms, portioned off by some metal framing and particle board. I had settled in and set up white Christmas lights—a favorite of mine, to add a warm, homey glow to the space. It didn’t take much. Something like my lights made a huge difference since most of us had given away all but our essentials.
Getting back to the room, I changed and headed back out into the night, toward the gym—another solo jaunt, with the potential partners culled further at the mention of exercise. For as physical as the war business is, Americans have grown very averse to conditioning, preferring rather to snack on ice cream and treats—not much different from stateside life, I suppose.
The late crowd at the gym was always subdued, more of the dedicated workout types verses the tourists, although we had seen an influx of new cats trying to make up for a year of snacking in the closing weeks of the deployment.
There was that same rubber sweat smell, the same “work it” posters along the walls. Damn, I have been here a long time—twice as long as I was at Fort Hood, even.
Part of me is glad to be almost done, but part of me will miss Taji. How many people can say they were in Iraq? How many can point to a page of history and say “That’s me right there?”
Things will get a little busy in the next few days. Don’t worry, all, I’ll keep on plugging away. Next time I’ll try to actually have something to say, rather than just a little narration. I was just flexing the ol’ descriptive muscles and writing from the office is a little tricky with all the yakers and visitors the personnel office gets.
Sorry that I can’t see your comments. My boy Seth is forwarding them to me, so thanks for the encouragement to keep writing. I’ll have more freedom of the Internet as I leave Taji and head toward the states.