Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A boy walked into my life for a brief moment this past Easter Sunday, and I am better because of it. Thomas and I were pulling guard on top of a tank that stands at the entrance to our FOB. We were tired, bored, and busy complaining about the endless hours we spend guarding something. Didn’t we come over here to fight bad guys? It’s as if we came over here for the sole reason to guard ourselves. Why can’t we go on more wild rides on the Iraqi highways, letting adrenaline and chaos fuel our souls? At least the time would go by quicker.

We were sitting there on top of the tank, watching the Iraqi world pass us by and feeling sorry for ourselves. Since it was Easter, there weren’t many convoys coming in or out of the gate, making the four hours seem endless. I tried hard not to glance at my watch again, knowing that I would be disappointed with what it had to tell me. Thomas and I had run out of things to talk about and were both in a daze of exhaustion.

I was behind the 240, and he was behind the .50 cal. Both of us were secretly wishing for a reason to make these guns talk. The guns sat lifeless, inanimate tools of death, begging to be brought to life. Do I really want someone to ride by and shoot at us? In the back of my mind I was grateful not to have bullets whizzing past my head. I know what that’s like, and as soon as you’re in that situation, you begin to imagine a million other places you would rather be. I was beginning to think that a firefight would be a welcome intrusion into my otherwise peaceful, boring day.

I must have been busy with these thoughts because seemingly out of nowhere, like angels sent from heaven, two young boys appeared at the gates, beckoning us with their voices. Where the hell had they come from? Thomas looked up and wondered the same thing. What did they want? One of them waived a piece of paper in his hand as if he was a messenger, anxious to deliver his message. “I’ll go see what they want,” Thomas said. “Hopefully they won’t blow me up.” As I held up my hand to signal for them to wait there, I realized that his comment didn’t hold the sarcasm that it might have a couple of weeks ago before a boy their age blew himself up outside our FOB, killing four Iraqi soldiers in the process. Thomas got off the tank and began walking toward the boys, holding up his hand at one point when they began to duck under the gate. They got the message and stood there waiting, leaning against the long arm stretching from one side of the gate to the other.

As Thomas got close to the gate, the boy with the message held out the paper for him to take. The boys both smiled and looked at each other with relief, as if their mission had finally been accomplished in handing this young American soldier this piece of paper. I could see Thomas shake his head a little as he read the piece of paper. With the boys still smiling, Thomas walked back to the tank with a bleak look on his face.

“What does it say,” I asked? While he read it to me, I couldn’t help but look back at the boy with sadness. He looked right back at me with a smile still on his face, oblivious to the message he had carried with him. It was a note from a doctor at another FOB in the area asking if someone would evaluate the boy and give him any treatment they could. He was a 14-year old boy, named Ahmed, with signs of possible liver failure/cirrhosis in his lower extremities. Dammit. Why couldn’t it be someone other than this boy? Why couldn’t it be an old man who had lived a full life?

“What do you want to do,” he asked? “Let me see the paper.” He handed it up to me and I read it for myself. He’s not even supposed to be at this FOB. It’s for a doctor at the med station of another FOB close by. They better take a look at him anyway, or I’m going to walk him down there myself. I picked up the radio, called battalion, and let them know the situation. Thankfully the guy on the other end had a heart. He told us to search him and call an escort to escort him to the aid station. I called back and asked if it was okay if he brought his friend along too. He said it was fine, and we waved the two boys to the tank. While they are walking up, Thomas and I decide that if what this paper says is true, this boy may not live past his youth. “He doesn’t even know, does he,” he asked? “No, I doubt he does.” “Man this sucks.” “Yeah, but hopefully they can do something for him.” I said this knowing full well that Iraq probably doesn’t have some kind of donor program, and that this kid will never receive a donor or transplant in this country.

As the boys got closer, I noticed the one that was holding the paper walked with a pronounced limp. They got up to the tank and looked up at it with awe. Both of them said hello and waved to me again. I could tell they didn’t understand English and confirmed it by asking them. I could tell Thomas didn’t want to subject them to a search but did anyway, joking around with them as he waved the magic metal detecting wand over them. They didn’t mind the search, even seemed to think that it was neat. I called an escort over the radio and told him to come to our location to pick up two boys that needed to go to the aid station. I knew it would be a few minutes before he arrived, so I got down off the tank to talk to them.

Ahmed’s friend’s name was Mohamed. They were both wearing long-sleeve t-shirts with sweat pants that were dirty from the knee down. Ahmed and Mohamed, good ole pals, were having the time of their life just getting to walk into the American’s camp and talk with some soldiers. “Look at his foot,” Thomas said. “It looks pretty bad.” His right foot was twice the size of his left, so that it wouldn’t fit into his sandal. Ahmed saw me look at his foot, and I tried to hide the surprised look on my face. With the hand signals that became our way of communicating, he asked me if I wanted to see it. “Yeah, let me take a look at it.” He slid his pant’s leg up and pulled his sock down, revealing a hugely swollen foot with a bandage around it that had been stained by blood and pus. At least they can clean it up and put on a new bandage, I thought, as I tried to hide the disgusted look on my face at the sight of his wound. “What happened to your foot,” I asked? Mohamed somehow understood and began moving his arms in an upward motion around his body. “Was it fire, did he get burned?” Mohamed understood the word fire and said yes, it was fire. Ahmed, still smiling, showed me another burn scar on his hand. This poor kid got burned and now it won’t heal.

Letting my fingers do the walking, I asked them if they had walked all the way over here from the other FOB. They didn’t understand until I asked them if they had ridden in a sierra(sp) over here. Sierra is Arabic for car, and with that word they understood. They had taken a taxi over here. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ahmed had limped all the way over here with his bad foot. Where were Ahmed’s parents? Why hadn’t they come with him? They only answer that I could come up with was that they too knew nothing of the severity of his wound.

I wanted to give this kid something, anything that would maybe make him happy. I wish I could’ve given him a ride in the tank. I wish I had the power to get him a ride on a helicopter. I wish I could’ve put him on a plane to the U.S. with the best doctor in the world waiting to greet him as he arrived. I wish they could’ve saved the liver of one of the Iraqi soldiers that had been killed by another boy Ahmed’s age and given it to him.

All I had with me was what I’d brought with me to my guard shift. I jumped up on the tank and got a few pieces of bubble gum, two packs of Trident, a Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and a small bag of Life Savers. Unfortunately it would take a lot more than candy to save this boy’s life. Their eyes lit up with joy at the sight of these treats. They put the drinks in their pocket for later and started piling gum into their mouth. They looked at each other and laughed as they struggled to chew the big wad of gum. I tried to tell them that the bubble gum and peppermint Trident mixture might not be that good, but they didn’t understand and didn’t seem to care.

We showed them our guns and tried to explain all the trinkets that were attached to our vests. I wanted to give them all of it and let them play American Soldier for a while. As they continued to point at different things with curiosity, the escort showed up to lead them away. This escort was some young punk, who made a show of slapping a magazine into his weapon as he approached. I wanted to take him around the other side of the tank and punch him in the mouth. “Have you already searched them,” he asked? “Yeah Rambo, we already searched them, but be careful, these kids may try to take over the FOB,” Thomas replied as he rolled his eyes. I wanted a damn General to drive up in his armored Suburban and personally give them a ride. I wanted him to be treated like a King.

The boys gathered up their gum and candy and started to follow behind Rambo. Both of them looked excited about the prospect of entering this world of wonder. As Ahmed began limping away, smile still stretched across his face, he looked back at me right in the eyes, gave me a thumbs up and said thank you. I waved back and said thank you to him, wishing I could do more. He turned, caught up with his friend, and walked out of my life. His message had been delivered. Ahmed reminded me that I should be eternally grateful for all that has been given to me. At this point guard didn’t seem like that bad a deal.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

Easter in Iraq, can't beat it. My Easter consists of sitting on guard for hours and hours. I pray that Jesus will forgive me for my attitude on the day we celebrate his resurrection.

I am beyond frustrated at how inconsiderate one of my roommate's can be. I get two and a half hours of sleep last night, come in for my four hours off, and can't get any sleep because he insists on watching his DVD player at a ridiculous volume.

God, give me the patience to get through this year. I could feel the rage building within me as I sat there trying to go to sleep. I finally had to leave before I said or did anything I might regret later. Jesus, I am sorry, forgive me, and give me the grace that you displayed when you died on the cross.

God, please allow my roommate's to soon come to the realization that there exists in this world a thing called earphones. I pray that the rage in me will subside, so I can go back on guard without the intense desire to kill a passing motorist that insists on beeping his damn horn for all to hear.

If there are any terrorists out and about today, I pray that you will bring them my way, so that I can rain down lead on their head. God forgive me.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


I am, among many other things, a seat filler. A few nights ago my platoon went off patrol cycle and picked up force protection. Very rarely does one get a day off around here, and even on your supposed “days off,” you are still subject to being called upon to perform any number of mind numbing tasks. I was fortunate enough to not be on the first night of guard, giving me what I presumed would be a night off. Sleep, peaceful sleep, the kind of sleep that can only be attained by actually sleeping an entire uninterrupted night. It isn’t often that you find yourself able to sleep the entire time the sun is hiding on the other side of the globe. Most of us have forgotten what it is like to get an entire night of sleep. We survive by sleeping whenever we can, wherever we can, a nap here or a nap there, but never is it on a regular schedule.

So I’m grinning inside with pure joy at the thought of being able to pull down at least seven hours of wakeless slumber, the kind of slumber that your body is eternally grateful for. It in turn rewards your soul with a renewed vivaciousness and energy, the kind of re energized feeling that is sought after with more passion than a heroine addict seeks his next score. I feel good already, content in the fact that I will not be bothered until at least the next morning. I went to my room with this thought on my mind, sat down on my bed and began to take my boots off when I heard the most horrific sound I could possibly hear at that time. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! Why do people feel as though they have to knock so loud? In all my days I will never understand this phenomenon. It’s as if the gates of Heaven have been opened and someone has come to announce the second coming of Christ. But this was no knock signaling the beginning of an eternity of peace in the presence of God. This was a knock signaling something much more sinister and chaotic in the here and now on this celestial ball we call earth. “WHAT!”, I yell in like volume, making my annoyance at this intrusion known to whoever beckoned from outside my box. My door is pulled open with a yank and Sgt. H, the goofiest NCO I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, comes walking through my door without the perpetual grin that is normally plastered all over his freckled face. Not in the mood to be nice and sorry at the same time for taking my displeasure at being bothered out on him, I continue to unlace my boots, ignoring his presence. “Sgt. W. wants to talk to you about something.” Already tired of the secrecy in which I am obviously not yet privy to, I ask him what it is that my platoon Sgt. wants to talk to me about. “He didn’t say,” was his terse reply. Yeah right, I thought as I began to lace my boots back up and followed him to the door. Surely this could not be good. I knew as I was walking toward my inevitable fate that I would not be getting the peaceful slumber that I so desperately craved.

Walking down the alleyway between our boxes, I notice Sgt. W and the LT. standing outside theirs. Sgt. W, the coolest platoon Sgt. any soldier could ever hope to have, was standing there with a wry, your going to just love this shit look on his face. The LT., also known to always have a smile on his face, stood there with an apologetic look in place of his smile. Before any words were even spoken, I knew my worst fears would be realized. I would not be dreaming peaceful dreams tonight, full of visions of my wife and home. Without uttering a word, I stood before them resigned to my fate. “3rd platoon is going on that ambush mission and they need two people to fill some seats in the humvees,” Sgt. W said in a somber tone. “I tried to volunteer Sgt. D. and Sgt. H., but they said they wanted soldiers.” Aren’t they soldiers as well, I thought, as I stood there staring them down in silence. I was also thinking about the fact that neither of these two NCO’s ever had to pull guard and were therefore off whenever we had force protection. “I know you were supposed to have the night off and that it’s fucked up, but you and Ray need to be up at the C.P. at 2000hrs. for a mission briefing.” My eyes went from Sgt. W. to the LT., who meekly added, “Their platoon leader said that they just need you to sit in the back and go along for the ride.” With the realization that I am now nothing more than dead weight in the mind of 3rd platoon’s LT., I turned around without saying a word and walked back to my trailer.

Part of me wanted to go on the mission. I live for the missions, especially ones like this where there was a chance to take down some bad guys. Another part of me just wanted to relax and have one night off, knowing that it might be a long time before I get another one. Dammit, why couldn’t our platoon do the mission and the other platoon stay here in pull force protection? I didn’t want to go out on a mission with a bunch of guys that I didn’t know and didn’t trust. Nothing against them, but when you don’t know a group of people, it’s hard to put your trust in them when the shit hits the fan. I’d trained and lived with the guys in my platoon for the past year and a half. Some of them, the ones I’m closest to, had been with me the last time we were over here during the invasion. They were like my brothers. I trusted them with my life and they trusted me with theirs. It’s a good feeling to go outside the gates with people you trust and care about.

Our infantry platoon had been attached to a tank company when we first arrived in theater. We were then split up into two platoons, mixing infantry and tankers. The third platoon was pure tankers. This is who I would be going out on a mission with. At least Ray would be there with me, providing little consolation to my anger. I got dressed and headed for the mission brief at 2000. When I got up there, Ray was already sitting in a chair waiting for the briefing to begin. Sgt. W and the LT. were there too, having just gotten out of a meeting themselves. When I saw Sgt. W. I decided to break my silence and let my opinion’s on the matter be known. “Hey Sgt., why the hell are they going on this mission anyway?” “They don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” “This is our show, we were the ones that got the guy that gave up the goods.” “Why don’t they sit their happy asses on guard and let our platoon go out and do the ambush?” Sgt. W. just looked at me with a helpless smile, shrugged his shoulder’s and said, “I don’t know, but I brought up the same thing in the meeting.” “Well I guess it didn’t go over to well, did it?” “Nope, they’re still going, and you and Ray are going with them.” I looked over at Ray and we both laughed at the stupidity of the whole thing. Neither of us cared at this point because we knew that we weren’t going to ambush shit anyway. The only thing we were going to accomplish was losing an entire night worth of sleep. I looked around the room at all the strangers I would be riding along with and laughed some more. “Hey Ray, we better be on the same damn humvee.” “Why, are you scared they might shoot you in the back.” “ I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said as we both laughed some more. Sgt. W. was listening to us, so I thought I would ask him. “Hey Sgt., do you think it would be too much to ask for us to be on the same humvee?” “ I don’t think that would be a problem,” he replied.

It was almost 2000 and time for the briefing. I didn’t want to go to the stupid briefing. I already knew what we were going to do because our platoon had already been out on a recon of the ambush site. I saw the CO, 3rd platoon’s LT., and the commanders of each vehicle file into the meeting room. Ray and I looked at each other like, “Do they want us in there too, or did we just come up here for our health?” Our silent question was answered when the last person in the room slammed the door shut. Screw them, I didn’t want to go to their damn meeting anyway.
Since I’m already up at the C.P., I might as well check my email. As I was walking into the computer room, I passed Sgt. W. again. “Why aren’t you in the briefing,” he asked? “Oh I don’t know Sgt., maybe because they slammed the door before we had a chance to get in there.” He just shook his head, thinking the same thing I was thinking. Before I could walk away, Sgt. W. had some parting advice for me. “Hey Michael, don’t try to be a hero out there.” “Don’t worry Sgt., I’m just a damn seat filler, not a hero.”

As I was sitting at a computer checking my email, I overheard 3rd platoon’s LT. come in. Ray and I still didn’t know what time we were leaving. I asked him what time we were leaving, and if Ray and I were riding on the same humvee. He told me that we were leaving at 0200 but to be up there at 0030 for a ROE briefing. ROE briefing? What the hell do we need a ROE briefing for? If someone is shooting at you, you shoot back. He also nonchalantly told me that we wouldn’t be riding on the same humvee. Great, I sure do appreciate that sir.

I finished up with my email and went back to my box to try to get a few hours sleep before we had to be back up there at 0030. I set my alarm for midnight and dozed off, dreaming about being with my wife. After what seemed like a few seconds of sleep, Ray barged in the door and woke me up. “Man, you gotta get up, you were supposed to be up there twenty minutes ago.” Oops, I guess that alarm didn’t quite wake me up. Oh well, I didn’t need a ROE briefing anyway. I know what the damn ROE is, and besides, we aren’t going to have any contact anyway, not with this platoon running the show. I threw all my gear on, grabbed my weapon and headed for the C.P., not caring if anyone said anything to me about being late. When I got up to the C.P. everyone was sitting around or smoking, waiting for whatever it is we wait for before going out on a mission. Hey, I’m just a seat filler, the only thing I have to get ready is me. I had an hour to spare before we left, and thankfully nobody said anything to me about missing the ROE briefing. As I was sitting there waiting to leave someone handed me and Ray an infrared chem light. “Put this somewhere on your body in case you have to dismount the vehicle.” The IR chem lights are invisible to the naked eye but glow white when looking through our night vision goggles. Their purpose is to mark us as friendly so we wouldn’t get shot by our guys. With these guys I might want to run down to the local Wal-Mart and buy a strand of Christmas lights.

I just wanted to hurry up and leave so we could get it over with. I wasn’t excited about the mission at all. To top it off we had tourists going with us. Tourists are what I call higher ranking soldiers in our battalion who, having heard about a mission that has a higher likelihood of leading to some sort of contact, decide to go along for the ride. There have been times in the past when we have had to leave some of our guys behind so that the tourists can have a seat on one of the vehicles. They either don’t realize or don’t care that they’re taking away combat strength when they do this. You take three guys out of a squad that has trained with each other and know certain SOP’s and replace them with three people that are essentially clueless as to how we operate and you basically lose combat power. I’m not a big fan of tourists, and we had two going along with us. Of course at this point it didn’t matter to me since I didn’t know any of these guys anyway or how they operated.

It’s finally time to load up and leave. I find the vehicle I’m supposed to ride on and walk on over. As I’m about to jump in the back seat, I see one of the tourists about to climb in my seat. This tourist is one of the most high ranking soldiers in our battalion. I’m thinking that maybe I have the wrong vehicle, so I ask the commander of the vehicle, an E-6, if I am indeed on this truck. He says yeah, but when I tell him that there is someone in my seat, he looks perplexed. He walks around the other side of the vehicle and tells the tourist in a very respectful tone that he is supposed to be riding on another vehicle. Finally I have my seat that I have been made to fill.

As we are riding out of the gate the E-6 starts to go over roll over drills and other safety precautions. I already don’t like him and his tone, not to mention the fact that everyone should have these safety precautions permanently etched in their brain. No sooner were we out the gate when the E-6 starts barking orders to his driver, cussing with each command. If he hadn’t been riding in the front seat, he would have easily won the award for worst backseat driver in automotive history. I’m feeling lonely already, and I don’t like the guy in command of the vehicle I’m riding in. To my right, in the backseat with me, is our XO, a nice enough guy and someone that I’ve actually talked to on a couple of occasions. I found some solace in the fact that I at least somewhat knew one guy in my vehicle. The driver and the gunner were both strangers that I didn’t know and didn’t really trust. Oh well, hopefully they know their job. I looked up at the gunner who was sitting on the strap that’s linked from one side of the turret to the other. All that could be seen of his body was from his chest down. I was envious of his position in the vehicle. I should’ve been the one sitting where he was. I wondered if he was alert and looking out the space underneath the gun shield for any potential threats.

We weren’t a mile outside of the gate before another humvee up ahead radioed back to say that his steering was jacked up. When he got to higher speeds, he didn’t have any control over the steering. The CO, riding in the second vehicle, told the convoy to turn around and head back to the FOB. We were escorting this vehicle back to the FOB where we would leave it and it’s occupants. Guess which vehicle my buddy Ray was on? Yep, the one going back to the FOB. That lucky bastard was getting out of going on the mission. A deeper level of loneliness crept over me as I realized I was now the only infantrymen going out on this mission. Why couldn’t they just grab one of the guys from that vehicle and replace him with me? I guess that would have taken too much time, even though we had already wasted 30 minutes escorting the humvee back to the FOB. I was now going out on this mission for no reason at all.

There’s not much to do when you’re speeding along the highway at night. All you can do is look out your window with your NVG’s on and keep a look out. I had about an hour or so to reflect and think about things. I thought about how this ride wasn’t much different from driving along a deserted highway in some rural part of the U.S. There were sporadic lights glowing outside some of the homes that were dotting the landscape along the highway. As I looked through the front windshield, I could see the center lines of the highway shooting underneath us as we road directly over them. I could also see the familiar red glow of the tail lights belonging to the humvee in front of us. Mostly my eyes were looking at something entirely different than what is possible to see back home. On this dark stretch of highway, as I looked out the 4 inch thick glass of my door window, my eyes were automatically drawn upward toward the heavens. And heavenly was the sight that captured my attention. Stars, infinite in number, shining bright and defined, enraptured me with their refusal to be overcome by the intense darkness devouring the night sky. Their light, having traveled millions of light years, had ended its dark journey at this place and time for my eyes to witness. I was thankful for their effort. Witnessing this glorious site made me feel insignificant in their presence. Amidst the ugliness of the mortal affairs surrounding me on this terrestrial plane, I was able to look upon the heavens and steal a glimpse of God. God sees me, and I am no longer alone.

Having been reminded of the presence of God, this mission, trivial as it may be, becomes meaningful. It is a small part of the whole. The whole is important, and no matter how stupid I think this mission is or its outcome, it is an important part of a bigger vision. Armed with a better attitude, I continue staring out my window as we make our way north. As we got closer to the objective, we pulled over to the side of the road and went black. Our pace became slower as the drivers lowered their NVGs to their eyes. Ten minutes later I could see a small shack on the left side of the road. I’d seen this same shack a couple of days before in broad daylight. At that time there was a man sitting on its front door step with smoke rising from his mouth like a spirit. In his hand was a tube that was connected to a three foot tall bong sitting upright beside him. This bong, or pipe, looked to be made of glass, with bright colors and ornaments decorating every inch. The man with the pipe, appearing more lifeless with each cloud of smoke that escaped his lips, was content in living vicariously through others as they sped onward through life.

This shack was significant in the fact that it marked our turn off. We took a left onto the road with another humvee as the two lead vehicles continued up the highway. Once on the road, we turned around to face the highway. A ridge running parallel to the road kept us hidden from our targets and anyone that might be traveling along the highway during curfew hours. A couple of guys from one of the vehicles on the highway got out to set up an O.P. In the dark of night, in this relatively treeless flat area of land, the headlights of any approaching vehicles can be seen from miles away. It was time to sit and wait on our quarry. Besides getting out to relieve ourselves, the next couple of hours we sat in our vehicle’s trying to stay awake. The chilly night air and an empty stomach aided me in my struggle to stay awake. I was already dealing with an enormous sleep deficit and this night had only added to my fatigue.

The stillness and quiet was only broken by the occasional squawking of the radio. Random unimportant chatter interrupted the silence with scratchy voices. We sat and we sat some more, our trap empty of any prey. The eastern sky began to glow before the sun could make its appearance over the horizon. As if this glow announced the end of the curfew, trucks of all sizes appeared out of nowhere on the highway. The radio came to life with busy conversation as the lookouts were asked again and again for a description. My expectations were let down with every big diesel engine I could hear roaring in the distance. This familiar sound repeatedly revealed to me that these vehicles, whose headlights could be seen from a great distance, were nothing more than the semi-trucks that we were here to protect. As each one passed in front of us my disappointment began to grow. I knew that we would not catch our target on this day. My mind became anxious with the thought of leaving and returning to our FOB. I still had force protection later in the day, and I was already thinking of the food and sleep that would sustain me for the next sleepless night.

Once the sun had overcome the last remnants of any darkness, the concealment of our position was taken away. When it was obvious to all that our targets would not show up we finally began to head back. The ride back was torturous in that I struggled to stay awake. This was the first time I had sat down inside the humvee and the comfort of this seat compared to my usual one made it even harder to stay awake. At one point I noticed that the driver and I were the only ones awake. I strained to keep my head upright and became mad when I caught myself dozing a couple of times. When we got closer to the city, I could see people busily starting their new day. I was envious of their energy at this early hour. Their day had just begun and mine had started the previous night and wouldn’t end until the next day. I became overwhelmed with the thought of food as we finally reached the gates of our FOB.

We pulled in the gates and over to the clearing barrels where we all got out to clear our weapons. After clearing my weapon I walked to the humvee and told the driver to go ahead. Still feeling like a stranger, I was ready to distance myself from them. I walked back to my box alone where I dropped my gear and headed for the chow hall. The warmth of the building and the hot food in my stomach made me feel good, but I was still exhausted and couldn’t wait to stretch out on my bed. Stepping into my box, I took off all my gear, removed my boots, and stripped down to my boxers and t-shirt. I stretched out on my bed and began to fall asleep when I began to hear a noise in my dreams. Knock Knock Knock.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Lost Kid

I wish he was the only one, but I know there will be others. He was only a kid, lost not in the physical context, but in the confused, trying to find my place in the world context. He was seeking acceptance from his peers, from his god, and maybe even from himself. He’d been misled by deceitful cowards who saw an impressionable kid willing to buy into their evil belief’s. He was an expendable pawn in a battle that his side can never hope to win. He was a 14 year old kid who blew himself up outside of our FOB, killing four Iraqi soldiers and wounding many more.

Driving a car packed with explosives, he drove up to a checkpoint manned by the Iraqi’s. We will never know if they were his intended targets or not, but once faced with the prospect of being discovered with his killing machine, those soldiers became his target by default. He wore a ring around his finger. This ring wasn’t a symbol of his unity with another person or group. This was no ring to mark the shared interests or desires of others. It was a ring of death, representing everything that is evil in this world, everything that we and those Iraqi soldiers are fighting against. This ring is worn by few and fought against by many.

The ring in which his finger had grasped was on the end of a wire connected to a bomb. When his confused brain ordered the muscles in his arm to contract, he became nothing more than a cowardly murderer. The ring, once pulled, set off a sequence of events that may have lasted an instant, but they will reverberate throughout eternity. The wives and children of those soldiers killed will suffer the eternal agony of losing someone they love. The boy, and those that he served, will forever suffer the tortuous wrath of a hell with unmatched fury, a hell that holds no sanctuary for their desperate pleas of relief.

When the ring was pulled, the bomb and every muscle, sinew, and bone of the boy’s body was thrust outward in a thousand directions, carrying shrapnel within its vicious path. This shrapnel and every cell of this boy’s entity ripped through the soldier’s flesh, their unarmored bodies unable to repel the very evil emanating from the boy and his bomb. Guards stationed at their post said that they could see three of the soldiers being thrown over the concrete barricade dividing the road. Others said that they could see the bright flash and feel the concussion before hearing the blast. Limbs, blood, and other body parts were said to be in abundance on the street. Some of the body parts, possibly from the boy, came to rest inside our FOB.

I’ve said in the past that I have no desire to kill another human being, but I fear I would relish the opportunity to cut the hearts out of the cowardly fiends who persuaded this kid to do their evil bidding. The kid is not without blame either. He should be condemned as well for his part in such a cowardly act.

Some demented souls may say that his willingness to die was an act of bravery. Being willing to die for something isn’t an act of bravery. Bravery is having the will to live and fight for something you believe in, defying the naysayer who sits rotting on the sidelines of life. Those Iraqi soldiers were willing to live and fight for something we believe in. They were willing to live and fight for something good and died in the process. They should be honored for their bravery and sacrifice. I am proud to be fighting alongside them.

At the time of the blast I was in one of our shower trailers shaving. The sound of the blast was unmistakable and shook the trailer, despite the distance of its location 400 meters away. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if one of us were to meet that boy at an earlier time. I wish I had been able to meet him and talk to him and become his friend. I could have shown him a picture of my wife and her beautiful smile. She could have sent him gifts and shown him the goodness that all of us have in our hearts for these people. I wish he could have met my driver, who with a smile on his face and an easy-going demeanor, would have quickly won his friendship and trust. We might have gained his acceptance and he could have easily gained ours. We might have reached past his low self image and made him realize his importance in this world. Some of them may not realize it yet, but each and every one of these children are important. The best part of my job is helping them come to that realization.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

If My Alter Ego Was to Start Another Blog

Title of Blog:

This Is “My War,” This Is “Your War.” From Everywhere in Iraq to Everyone Outside Iraq. From writing about Iraq, to writing about everything else. This “War” Blog Was Made for You and Me


This blog was created to help me retain my sanity. It is designed to entertain me. In the off chance that it entertains you, then God help you. Insert redundant disclaimer here.

Post Title:
Blog Bliggity Blogoricious

Yep, here I am, another blogger from Iraq. As if the internet wasn’t crowded enough with all the others. So why not add one more I say. Everybody is doing it. From Joe Snuffy private, to some high and mighty Colonel, and everyone in between. Maybe I can get a bunch of hits on my counter, or maybe I can make some money, or maybe I can get a book deal, or maybe sign a movie deal. Big freakin’ deal, I’m still in Iraq for a year. Maybe I will get busted and told to quit. Like I care. What are they going to do, sue me?

Iraq as a whole sucks worse than getting kicked in the balls. The only good thing about it is the chance of sending a few terrorists on the express train to hell. I don’t give a shit that there wasn’t any WMDs. And as far as democracy in the Middle East goes, whatever. I’m not running for office, and until these people decide to get off their asses, they can kiss democracy goodbye.

There is one other good thing about being over here. My buddies. I like having their back, and I like them having mine. We help each other get through the mountains of bullshit that piles up faster than the number of blogs in the blogosphere.

I guess I’m now part of the blogorific blogosphere. Blogosphere, who the hell came up with that? Was it the Instapundit guy? By the way, what’s up with him an everything insta. He’s got an instawife, an instadaughter, and an insta everything else. I think he’s had too much instacoffee and needs to talk to an instashrink. Why not Blogiverse? Should we elect a Blogress and appoint a Blogident? Since the guy at Instapundit is our founding Blother, maybe he should be our first Blogident. That girl over at Wonkette could be our Vice-Blogident. We could write a Declaration of Blogapendence and a Blogitution and have John Blogcock sign it in big blogging letters.

Speaking of Wonkette, what the hell does that mean? It sounds like something soldiers around here do in the latrine while looking at pictures of naked women. “Hey Joe, can I borrow your magazine, I need to go Wonk it.” “Sure buddy, just don’t Wonk it too hard and hurt your blogis.”

Then you have all these journalists that have to start their own blog independent from whatever crappy news organization they work for. They claim that with blogs they have the freedom to write whatever they want without an editor breathing down their neck. Whatever, they’re just jumping on the bandwagon too.

Blogrolls make my head spin. You know the ones. They have around 10,000 blogs listed on one side or the other of their blog. This would be all fine and dandy if I had a couple of eternity’s to read them all. Oh, and don’t think for a minute that they actually read them all as well. It’s like a big orgy, everybody getting in on the action. You put me on yours, I’ll put you on mine. I say pay me a thousand bucks and I’ll put your sorry blog on my blogroll. So I guess I won’t be having much of a blogroll. Some blogs take a day and a half just to load onto your browser because the browser can’t calculate the million and one links on the stupid blogroll.

Everybody and their brother is also starting a blog software company. That’s nice. Microsoft was late to the game again with their’s. I can’t even remember the name of it anymore it sucked so bad. Hey Bill, you should have bought Blogger when you had the chance.

What about advertisements on blogs. If I wanted to look at advertisements I would have turned on the t.v. I like how people will put little pictures of books or other products on their blog. Once you click on them you get sent to a website where you can buy said book or product. I hope they aren’t whoring themselves for nothing. I hope they get a nice cut of any sales they generate. You won’t be seeing any advertisements on my blog. I charge ten thousand bucks for a tiny little box.

How about donations? Do they actually think someone is going to donate money to them for writing the boring crap that they do. Most of the blogs with a little donation box should be donating money to me for reading their shit. I’m going to put a donation box on my blog. Maybe my paypal account will get so large I can buy Blogger from Google and restrict all other blogs from accepting donations. Or maybe I will get so rich I can buy Iraq, install a terrorist regime, have them all convene in one building, and then bomb the building with my brand new stealth jet I bought from Lockheed-Martin. I could then turn Iraq into the world’s Las Vegas and go home.

Maybe Bill Gates would donate a few billion dollars to my paypal account. I could get the Blogislature to sign a bill into law allowing Microsoft to bundle their blogging software into all their Window’s software.

And then you have the Drudge Report. I guess you could categorize his website as a blog. If so, he is the granddaddy of them all, with something like 10 trillion page views in the last month. I’m just glad he thinks I want to know how many visitors he’s had in the last day, month, and year. Why stop there Matt? Why not add another line for eternity. What I would do for a link on his website. If I was fortunate enough to get a link on there, I could get so many mindless readers to my blog that blogger would shut it down, defeating the purpose of me wanting to get on there in the first place. I like how he has a little place where you can send in anonymous news tips. Can you imagine the ridiculous stories he’s been sent. I would pay him a lot of money just to see a list of these “news tips”.

To: drudge@drudgereport.com

“Hey Drudge, my cat, who happens to be the largest cat in the known universe, had two human babies. One of them is a clone of Michael Jackson, and the other is a clone of that terrorist Zarqawi. The Michael Jackson clone keeps trying to hit on my son, and the Zarqawi clone is busy trying to cut my dog’s head off. The other day I was chasing them around the back yard when a massive earthquake, registering at least 9.0 on the richter scale, tore open the earth, revealing the gates of hell. At this point, Satan himself, wearing none other than Monica Lewinski’s stained dress, came bounding up from the pit of hell and landed right in front of me. He then asked me a bunch of questions. How are Brad and Jennifer? Is Martha Stewart out of prison yet? Which cable news show is leading in the latest Nielson ratings? Who was tops at the box office last weekend? And do you know the latest hurricane path? I told Satan that he could find out all of these things on your website, but he responded that his internet service provider was AOL and he has a hard time getting through. Something about not enough bandwith down there because of everyone searching for the latest Paris Hilton porn video. Anyway, I just thought you should know.”

p.s. The clone Zarqawi and I would really like to get married, and I was wondering which states in the U.S. recognize gay marriage? Thanks for your help. I’ll be sure and send you another news tip when I get captured, so you can put one of those big sirens at the top of your website. Got to go, Zarqawi has turned the torch lights down in my cave, and he’s ready for a little lovin’.

From: osama@aljazeera.net

I’m getting tired of blogging already. It’s late here in Iraq, and I have to get up early to go try and kill some blogging terrorists.


Drudge said...
I’m going to link to your blog for the sole purpose of getting it shut down.

Instapundit said...
I was wondering if you would like to be my instachief of staff.

Bill Gates said...
I make more money in one second than you do in a year.

Michael Jackson said...(in a font that indicates he has a girly voice)
My lawyers will be contacting you shortly.

Zarqawi said...
You stupid American infidel. Allah be willing, I will find out where you are in Iraq, Allah be willing. Allah be willing,I will cut your head off as well, Allah be willing.

Michael(that would be me) said...
Allah be willing you will quit saying Allah be willing.

Osama said...
Zarqawi, you are my little bitch. Who’s your daddy? Come back to the cave so I can mount you again, Allah be willing.

Michael Jackson said...
Are there any little boys in that cave?

Michael Jackson said...
This post has been removed by the author

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Taking a Shower

I haven’t taken a shower in a couple of days. My busy schedule has kept me from doing so. I’m tired, hungry and my back is aching from wearing the ridiculous amount of shit that is required of us. The weight and tightness of my body armor cause my upper torso to sweat, even when it’s chilly outside. My face, neck, and hands have a light coat of dirt and dust that cling to the perspiration and oil that seep through my pores. The oil that lubes my gun is on my hands, causing me to leave marks on whatever I touch. My feet, blanketed with wool socks, are damp with sweat and white from powder, creating an unmistakable odor. When I remove my boots, my nostrils are filled by this smell. It’s neither overwhelming in its stench, nor is it a welcome invasion of my nose. It’s just something that I must get rid of. This odor, joined by the sticky feeling that has enveloped the rest of my body, creates an intense desire in me to want to take a shower. I can’t stand it anymore.

While I undress, I wonder if the shower will miraculously be warm. I nod my head in doubt as I put on my black pt shorts and my grey pt shirt. Both the shirt and the shorts have ARMY printed on them in some kind of reflective print, put there in case I ever forget which branch of the military I serve in. Remembering that I am indeed in the Army, and that I signed up three years ago to this day, I sit down on my mattress that is covered in a floral design. What is it with this place and their mattresses? Are those flowers supposed to make me happy? Maybe they are an act of deception, designed to conceal the fact that hidden underneath their pretty petals lies a year or more worth of sweat, dirt, and filth. Why does my mattress feel as though it has to mock me? I’m well aware of the fact that it’s not clean, so quit bull shitting me with the flowers for Allah’s sake. Why can’t they put smiley faces on them? I could think of a hundred other designs that I would rather have on my mattress. How about little army men, or different models of airplanes. How about pictures of terrorists or maybe Michael Moore’s fat ass. I could role out of bed in the morning, look down, and become so thoroughly pissed off that I become wide awake with rage, bounding from my bed ready to attack the day ahead. What about scantily clad women, looking up at me with a suggestive smile. Forget the women. I have more fun dreaming of my wife. Pictures of my wife would be nice, but I wouldn’t want her beautiful face adorning something so ugly. Cars, boats, trains, buses. Kites, balloons, lollipops, or rainbows. On second thought, the rainbows might not work. People might think I’m gay, and then accuse me of violating the don’t ask, don’t tell policy that Clinton, no doubt while receiving a blowjob from that fat chick, started during his time in office. How about pictures of all the presidents or pictures of all the planets. Maybe guns, tanks, bombs, bullets, and grenades would be more appropriate. How about pages of a dictionary or a classical book. How about chapters out of the Bible printed on my mattress. That would be good, since I need to read my Bible more anyway. Dolphins would be good too. I like dolphins, they always seem to be smiling about something. Maybe their laughing at the fact that I have to sleep on a damn floral mattress. It’s like someone had diarrhea and went around shitting flowers everywhere. It would have been nice if they had made it to the disgusting port-a-johns we have to use and shit a few flowers in there. Thankfully I have a poncho liner to cover my mattress. It’s camouflage too, which will come in handy if I ever need to conceal myself from the flower shitting bandit.

I come back to my senses when I realize the significance of me signing up for the Army three years ago to this day. I signed up for three years. Today is my ETS date. I’m free to go home. They must have a jet fueling up right now, waiting to fly me back to my wife, home, and freedom. Maybe Michael Moore will be there to greet me at the airport with a video camera in my face. I could take him my mattress, with its shit covered floral design, and let him eat it, since I know he’s hungry. As soon as he’s taken a bite, I have kicked him in the balls and punched him in the teeth, shit flowers rising into the air, light as snowflakes, with every hard breath he takes. Settling down, they come to rest on him, forming a shit flower blob.
I’m once again brought back to reality and remember that my enlistment has been extended for the duration of this deployment, plus a few months after I get home. This doesn’t bother me since I would feel like a floral mattress with the weight of Michael Moore on me if I didn’t come back over here a second time. I slide my flip-flops(shower shoes in military speak) over to my bed, careful not to touch them with my hands. No amount of antibacterial hand sanitizer can kill the germs that are making their home in my shower shoes. The nylon strap that goes over my feet is hard and crusty from their last use. The bottom of each is dirty with mud from walking back through dirt the last time. Struggling to get my toes underneath this nylon is difficult without using my hands. I will my toes to burrow underneath and finally succeed, the part that goes in between my toes now in place. Heading for the door, I grab my towel, soap case, shampoo, and a clean pair of boxers.

Stepping outside, my shower shoes touch down on the rocks that seem to cover every square inch of our FOB. I assume they were brought in to keep the dust and mud down to a tolerable level. In exchange for not having wind blown dust covering everything we own, we now have to walk through mountains of loose rock. This isn’t gravel, these are big round rocks that move underneath your feet with every step you take. You have the sensation of spinning out whenever you try to walk, fighting for every inch. It’s like walking on a treadmill, with loose rock magically hanging onto the belt as it makes its revolutions. It’s hard enough when wearing boots, but put on some flip-flops and you have a real battle to fight.

Flexing my toes downward, I strain with all my might to keep my feet secured in the flip-flops. I’m also straining my ankles to remain upright, something I must do to keep from twisting them. I’m slowly gaining ground and can see the shower trailer up ahead. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Finally I arrive at the stone steps which offer me solid footing. My feet are cramped from the exertion. I open the door to the trailer and step in, inhaling the damp musty odor.

The linoleum floor is wet and muddy with puddles of dark water in low places. There are five shower stalls to my front, two sinks on both sides of the door I just entered, and a long wooden bench stretching from one end to the other. On both ends there are also two wooden shelves, holding the cleaning products that never seem to be used. Mirrors are hanging above three of the sinks, with one sink looking lonely without its mirror friend. It sits broken and lifeless, leaning against the wall underneath its lonely friend, exiled into an eternal hell where it will no longer return the image of someone’s vanity.

I turn to face one of the remaining mirrors. Mirrors are rare here, and you sometimes go days without seeing your image. As my image magically looks back at me, I am surprised at what I see. I look older. My eyes are blue but look tired, their color more emphasized by the dirt and sun that have darkened my face. It’s also made more dark by the day’s worth of stubble that has cast a shadow of its own. My lips are chapped and starting to crack, and I remember the unopened tubes of chapstick sitting in my room. My nose has dirt coating its nostrils. The scar on my chin stands out in contrast to the darkness of my face, the result of playing football in college. My hair is thinning on top and my forehead is growing as my hairline continues its retreat. My head has begun to win the war it has been raging with my hair. My sideburns are too long by military standards, but the fact that I’m in a foreign country, fighting a war, keeps me from caring. I don’t just look older, I look uglier. I no longer look youthful in my appearance, the last few years exacting its toll on my face. I can remember the last time I was over here, seeing the faces of boys growing old overnight as the threat of battle loomed. I guess I wasn’t immune to this rapid aging. It’s okay though, I’m not here to look pretty.

I turn from the mirror and face the showers. The trailer is empty except for me, giving me a choice among the five. All of them are dirty, with cloudy water standing in the bottom. Discarded soap, body hair, and mold occupy each one. I choose my shower based on the serviceability of the shower head. Some have leaks at the same level of my crotch, which based on experience, would cause a cold spray to stun me in my private’s. I settle on one that looks to be in good order, turning on the water to test my judgement. It has good pressure and no leaks, proving my initial judgement was correct

I began the process of undressing, which is not an easy feat with the dirty water on the floor. Taking off my shirt is done quickly and easily, it’s my shorts and the boxers underneath that will take me some time. I chastise myself for not taking my boxers off back in my room where the floor is dry. My feet must not touch the wet floor. The army has taught me to fear the microscopic organisms swimming in the water. I slowly take my right foot out of its flip-flop, balancing on the left while I remove my shorts and boxers, careful not to let them get wet from the floor. Shifting my weight to the right, I take my left foot out of its flip-flop and remove the shorts and boxers from that side as well, almost losing my balance in the process. Standing now fully nude except for my flip-flops, I place the shorts and dirty boxers on the bench next to my clean boxers. I throw the towel over the curtain rail and squeeze into the small stall, desperately trying not to brush up against the damp curtain.

I’m in. Turning around, I close the small curtain, which leaves a few inches on both sides open for all the world to see. I place my soap case and my shampoo on a little ridge that stands above the bottom of the shower. I turn the shower head to the side as I turn on the water, knowing that the initial stream will be ice cold. The water is coming down in a steady stream, and I wait for the warmth I’m so desperately seeking. It finally begins to get warm enough to endure, and I quickly step into its stream, mindful of its changing personality. A constant temperature is impossible to achieve in these showers, with it changing from warm to scalding hot to ice cold in rapid succession, tormenting me with its indecisiveness.

While it’s still warm, I quickly try to wet my entire body, taking the shower head off the hook to more quickly reach my legs and feet. I’m almost entirely wet before the temperature becomes scalding hot, stinging one of my feet. As it cycles through its differing emotions, I busy myself with getting lathered up. I cover my body from head to toe with soap suds, balancing on one foot while I lather my feet. I rub some shampoo into my hair, still waiting on the water to get back to a bearable temperature. It is now cold with emotion, imploring me even more to stay away. I try adjusting the levers with no success as my eyes begin to burn from the soap on my face. Finally it’s back to being a bearable warmth, and I quickly get underneath to rinse off. I start at my head and work my way down, knowing that I only have seconds to spare. Yanking the head off of its hook, I focus on my waist and continue my descent. The floor of the shower is now a greyish cloud of water that has enveloped my feet. So much for wearing the shower shoes. I tell myself that it is okay, that the murky water below is the remnants of my shower, not someone else’s. I finish rinsing my feet and have time to stick my head underneath the wonderful warm stream once again. Cherishing this luxury of letting warm water run over my body, I begin to feel the temperature rising. Knowing that I am about to be burned, I turn the water off, completing my shower.

I grab my towel and begin drying off as fast as I can, not wanting the cool temperature outside to intrude on my warmth. I dry off every part of my body with the exception of my feet. I have just cleaned them, but in my mind they are still dirty, tainted by the microbes swimming in the water below. I refuse to let them infect my clean towel. Even if I did dry them, my wet flip-flop’s would only make them wet again. They and my flip-flop’s will remain wet, making my trek home all the more difficult.

The thought of having to put on my shorts and clean boxers while my feet are still wet is almost too much to bear. I once again have to do the one-legged dance, trying desperately not to let my wet feet come in contact with my clothing. The most difficult part of this is trying to get my feet out of the firm grasp of my flip-flop’s without using my hands. Lord God Almighty, why do I do this to myself. Why do I care? Why should I go through such a painstaking process to avoid a few germs? I go all day with hands dirty from everything I touch, and yet it doesn’t keep me from eating with them. Why can’t I not care now? I could sit down on the bench to make the job easier, but I’m still naked and I fear what is hidden within the wood. At this point I wish I could walk back to my box in the nude. Under the cover of darkness and with no artificial light to give me away, I might go unnoticed.

Thinking that it would also be nice to shed the excessive amount of body armor we wear and go out on patrol in the nude as well, I begin the task of getting un-nude. My boxers are first. Taking my foot out of my flip-flop, rolling up my boxer’s to create a bigger hole, I slip one foot through without touching the garment. I’m reminded of playing the game Operation as a child, trying to grasp the tiny bones with my forceps’, careful to not let them hit the small openings. I’m forever fearful of the shockingly loud buzz noise that is created when my hands were too shaky. I repeat this process three more times, one more for the boxers and twice for my p.t. shorts. I put on my p.t. shirt, grab my soap case and shampoo, and I’m out the door.

Walking on the rocks is made more difficult by the wet flip-flops. The wetness has made them slippery, causing me to flex my toes downward even harder to prevent them from coming off. I’m also careful to avoid any patches of dirt that may accumulate on my wet feet. Finally, I am back at my box, and my mind is at ease. Sitting on my bed, I douse my feet with powder as if it is some magical cleanser, forever ridding my feet of any foulness. Rubbing my feet together until they are fully covered, I am reassured in their whiteness. I finally feel as though my entire body is clean. After reading a short story by Jack London, I look at a picture of my wife and me taken at another time far from here. Thinking good thoughts, I turn my light off and lie down to sleep. My roommate’s have the heater going too high, so I decide not to get in my sleeping bag. As I’m in the midst of saying my prayer’s, I feel as though something isn’t right. Wanting to confirm my fears, I turn on my light and sit up on my elbow’s. Gazing down toward my powder covered feet with horror, I can see that the end of my poncho liner has released its hold. My feet are now resting on my mattress, covered in shit flowers.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Runner

We are finally back on patrol cycle. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve been out on a combat patrol. I’m so damn sick of guard. I didn’t come half way around the planet to pull guard for a bunch of lazy ass soldiers that never leave the gate. Somebody at 3rd ID needs to get off their ass and change a few things about guard. Either they need to do it, or 42nd I.D. needs to do it. They’re the National Guard outfit that was given command over our brigade for this deployment. What kind of shit is that. A National Guard unit over a regular Army unit that was the leading force in the initial invasion. They’re from New York, and because we operate in the province they’re in control of, we fall under they’re command. Their slogan is “Never Forget”, referring to the attacks of 9-11. That’s all sweet and everything, but they don’t have a monopoly on the rage that was felt by all of us after 9-11. I guarantee you it affected me just as much or more than somebody living in New York. New York wasn’t being attacked, my country was being attacked. I’m certainly not going to forget. Maybe I should make a personal flag and plant it outside the box I live in. In giant letters it would proclaim to the masses, “I haven't forgot".

So I’m over here pulling an ungodly amount of guard, when I was trained and prepared to go out and kill the pricks that want to destroy this country. If I knew I was going to be pulling guard for half the freakin’ year, I would’ve gone AWOL, sought out some financial backers, and started my own private terrorist cell, designed for the sole purpose to terrorize terrorists. You remember the movie “Unforgiven” don’t you? Remember in the end when Clint has finished off the bottle of whiskey, and killed everyone in the saloon except for the whores and the writer. He did this because they had beaten and killed his friend Ned, played by Morgan Freeman. When Clint found this out, his demeanor changed in the time it took for him to finish off that bottle of whiskey. He was once again the dirty murdering outlaw that he’d been before he got married. Because of his wife, he had changed his ways and become a decent, hard working family man. Well, after ole Clint finishes killing off everyone in the saloon, he walks outside into the poring rain, climbs on his horse, and glances over at the body of his friend Ned, who had been placed upright in a wooden coffin, leaning on the saloon’s front door. They shouldn’t have decorated their saloon with Ned’s body. As he turns to ride away, he yells out for all to hear, so that even the thunderstorm can’t drown out his words. He tells them that they had better bury Ned right, and that if anyone takes a shot at him he will come back and kill every one of them sons of bitches, their families, and burn their house down. They know that he will do this and they fear him. My anti-terrorist terrorist cell would have this quote as it’s slogan and plant flags all over Allah country proclaiming it.

I’m getting off point here. The point is that 42nd I..D. needs to send some of their soldiers down here and have them pull some of this guard. When I went to Anaconda all I saw was a bunch of 42nd I.D. soldiers, with their shiny rainbow patches, looking like they were all on vacation. So why not bring them here to do force protection, so we can go out and hunt the bad guys.
We just came off a few days of force protection, and all of us were tired and worn down from the crazy hours, and the sheer boredom of either sitting on top of a tank or in one of the many guard towers we have around the FOB. Some guys didn’t get through with their guard shift until 1900, and we had a mission at 0100 the next morning. Of course we have to be up at the C.P. at 2330 to do our pci’s. I’ve yet to figure out why we have to be up there an hour and a half early when it only takes me and my driver about 30 minutes to get our shit tight.

I was fortunate enough to have finished my guard shift early and get in a couple of hours of sleep in the early afternoon. They told us to get some sleep before the mission, but by then I was already awake and unable to sleep. I knew I would later regret not getting any sleep that evening. I tried lying down but was consumed with a hundred thoughts that kept me from falling asleep.

Frustrated at my inability to sleep, I got up and tried to write a letter to my wife. Before I knew it, it was time to head up to the C.P. I got on all my gear and headed up to the trucks with thoughts of home on my mind and an empty stomach. I like to eat. I could eat all day and sometimes do. I can’t help it, I have a high metabolism, causing me to be hungry an hour after I’ve already eaten. I’m constantly being ridiculed by my friends for always snacking on something. My plan was to get up there, get my shit ready, and still have time to run over to the chow hall and grab a bite to eat from midnight chow. Midnight chow consists of leftovers from dinner. It’s a luxury that I don’t take for granted.

Working in the dark with my little headlamp, I get my gear loaded up, my commo up, and my gun lubed. I grabbed my heavy duty Stanley coffee mug and jog over to the chow hall. The coffee around here is thick as oil and strong as hell, giving you a caffeine buzz that beats the hell out of an espresso from Starbucks. I hurried in and headed for the coffee pump, filling my mug with super unleaded. After throwing in a couple of creamers and way too much sugar, I screwed the top back on and headed for the serving line. Everything available is coated in grease and full of cholesterol. Knowing that my arteries might object, I grab a couple of slices of pizza and head for the door. With the crazy shit that can happen outside these gates, why should I be worrying about my cholesterol intake.

Back at the Humvee, I get up in the gunner’s hatch and wait for the others to be ready. My coffee mug and to go plate of pizza is up there with me, keeping my gun company. All of them working together to help me get through the mission. Everyone loads up and we head to the gate to meet up with the Bradley that will be a part of our convoy. We also pick up the interpreter and wait on the IA. The IA never show up, which at this point is fine by me. I’m just ready to go and don’t want to wait on anyone else. I inquire of my Lt. if the IA platoon, that was supposed to accompany us, will be reprimanded in any way for their failure to show up. He tells me that he doesn’t know, and goes on to tell me that a civilian contractor acts as a liaison between our army and theirs. What? For Allah’s sake, what in the hell do we need a civilian liaison for. Can someone in our chain of command not call up someone in their’s and tell them to get their asses over here. Then I remember that it isn’t something that concerns me, that I need to be focusing on the mission. We’re going out on a night mission, with some inherent danger involved, and I’m thinking of home, my finances, and my unborn child. Telling myself that I need not worry about my mutual funds or my family’s financial future, I focus instead on the task of eating. We are still waiting on the Bradley for some reason or another, giving me plenty of time to eat my pizza. Man I’m glad I don’t have to go in the Bradley. Those things are always breaking down. I trained as a Bradley crew member for the last year and a half, but I would love to never have to take one out. Give me a humvee and I’m happy. Bradley’s are IED magnets, and they aren’t near as quick and agile as a humvee.

Finally, under an overcast night sky, we leave the through the gates. I notice that there isn’t much illumination on this night, making it even harder to see through our shitty night vision goggles. This brings another thought to my mind. Why do I see so many support people, the same ones that never leave the FOB, walking around with better night vision goggles than me and my driver. How does the army justify their distribution of equipment. My driver and I have one of the older models of N.V.G.s and some guy in finance is walking around with the latest and greatest. Maybe he has to crunch numbers at night, I don’t know, but it still makes me mad. I feel really bad for my driver, good ole Thomas, who is about to have to speed down a highway with nothing to guide him but a pair of outdated cloudy N.V.G.s that are basically unserviceable. Whatever, I’m not going to cry about it. Let that guy in finance stay inside the FOB and rot for a year. You adapt and get through it, thinking about how those men at Normandy didn’t complain about their plight.

We speed away, passing a couple of IA checkpoints as I chug a can of Mountain Dew. The coffee was for later when I came down from my Mountain Dew high. IA checkpoints at night, man these guys will shoot at anything. Dogs seem to be a primary target, along with firing warning shots at any passing motorist who spook them. I like dogs, but I don’t think Iraqis care too much for them, which seems weird, since there are about a billion dogs roaming every square foot of Iraq.

The wind is heavy and the night is a cloak of darkness as we speed down the highway. At this point we are still using our headlights, waiting to get closer to our objective before turning them off. The only thing keeping us from top speed is the Bradley, whose loud tracks I can hear up ahead of us. The platoon Sgt., for whom I gun, always brings up the rear, so my gun and turret is pointed at our six. We’re cruising down the road about 65 mph, the sound of the tires humming on the pavement. Turning around, I can see the humvees in front of us and the lonely highway stretched out in desolation. This stretch of highway is bordered by tan earth that seems to drop off into a dark eternity as the beams from the headlights knife through the night. The comforting rhythm of the tires and the whine of the humvee’s engine puts me into a trance.
While my mind is busy with a thousand thoughts, I’m brought back to reality when my back slams against the edge of the turret. “Jackass!”, Sgt. W. yells as Thomas slams on the brakes. “I should’ve just run him over”, Thomas says, “What if he had two 155 rounds on his back and a wire running out his ass”, Sgt. W. replies as I laugh at the two of them, acting like father and son. It was indeed a jackass that we had almost plowed into. Another donkey walking aimlessly through the wild west that is Iraq. I recall how the terrorists have used donkeys in the past as carriers of IED’s. This was no terrorist donkey, he was just breaking curfew.

That’s what this mission is about, curfew breakers and armed bandits hijacking civilian trucks carrying our supplies. In the past few weeks there had been numerous hijackings and some killings on this highway that intersects a small town in our patrol sector. We were going to try to find them. With 15 minutes of driving time left before we reached the town, we pulled over and prepped our N.V.G.s. It was time to turn the lights out and drive under the cover of darkness. In this flat part of Iraq, our lights would be seen from miles away, warning any bad guys of our presence. I had my night vision on as well and immediately noticed how truly dark out it was. There was absolutely no illumination in the night sky, with heavy cloud cover as the culprit. Coupled with the fierce wind, I knew a storm must be approaching. Good for the farmers who need all the rain they can get, but bad for our night operations.

I knew Thomas was going to have a hard time seeing the road and as we continued on I realized that the drivers in front of us were having the same problem. The Bradley in the front slowed us down more than anything. We had to pull over once again when the Bradley’s driver’s night sight fell out of its mount, rendering him blind. Once back on the road it was still slow going with each driver struggling to stay in the middle. I stood up in the gunner’s hatch most of the way to guide Thomas, yelling down in to the humvee whenever he got close to the edge. My night vision wasn’t much better, and I could barely see the humvees in front of us. Our pace was down to a crawl and after another half hour we were finally at our stopping point.

The plan was to drop off two squads about 2 km south of the town, with all four vehicles spread out to overwatch their movement. They were going into the town on foot to see if anyone was out in the streets. Through my night vision I could see their infrared bug lights, faintly flickering like beacons, enabling us to track their progress. Once they got close to town these beacons were drowned out by the bright lights, which saturated our night vision with bright green light. Their approach and subsequent patrol through town lasted about an hour. I busied myself with scanning the surrounding farmland in which we sat, while sipping the now luke warm coffee I’d gotten earlier. Sgt. W., Thomas, and the medic in the back talked about everything from women to re-enlistment. The interpreter also sitting in the rear was content to remain silent, no doubt finding humor in the conversation around him. Sgt. W. was futilely trying to convince Thomas to re-enlist, focusing his sales pitch on the tax free bonus we could received for re-enlisting in Iraq. He knew that Thomas and I were both getting out when we got home, having already been extended for this deployment. Both of us wanted to be over here, but neither of us wanted to re-enlist. My time in the army has been rewarding, but I never intended to make it a career.

Finished with their patrol through town, the Lt. came over the radio and told us to take up our position back on the road. We were going to set up a TCP(traffic control point) on both sides of town. The Bradley and another humvee were going to the north of town to meet up with the Lt. and the two squads, while my humvee and the other one would remain on the south side of town. We were going to randomly search any vehicles that came through our point.

Barely ten minutes had passed when the Lt. came back on the radio again and told us to get up to his position ASAP. A truck passing through their TCP had told them he had been shot at just up the road from their position. The bullet holes in the side of his cab had erased any doubt they might have had in his story. Almost at the point of dozing from my lack of sleep, I immediately became wide awake. The familiar mixture of adrenaline and butterflies, the same feeling I had so often felt during the war, once again coursed through my veins and settled in my stomach, giving me a nervous euphoric feeling that made me alert with anticipation. Hell yeah, this could be fun. Forgetting about my wife, my unborn son, and our financial future, I became focused on the gunmen, their cowardly actions filling me with rage. As we are speeding up to their vehicles I throw a dip in my mouth, adding nicotine to the already toxic mixture coursing through my veins.

We get up to the Lt.’s position and the interpreter gets out to confirm the trucker’s story. By this time other trucks stopped behind him are waving anxiously back in the direction they had come. They had been shot at as well. The gunmen are only a few hundred meters up the road. Knowing that we must get up there quickly, everyone runs back to their vehicles and jump in. Sgt W., pissed off, cussing, and wanting to kill, gets back in the humvee and tells Thomas to haul ass. Leaving the Bradley behind, we speed in the direction of the gunmen, our vehicle now behind the Lt’s, which is leading the march. Without even thinking about it, I turn the turret so that my gun is facing over the right side.

My eyes are drawn towards a white pick up truck pulling out on the road to our left. It’s still curfew hours and the man driving shouldn’t be out driving. The Lt’s vehicle swerves over to cut him off, the Lt. and two other getting out with guns drawn and pointing at the man. My gun has already been moved to that direction but is pointing in the air so as not to flag my buddies. They have him get out of his truck and lie down on the ground. They’re busy searching his truck and his body when another big truck pulls up and starts yelling and pointing down the road. Oh shit, wrong guy, a hapless victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone jumps back in the humvees, leaving the man with his pick up. As we were speeding away, the wind slamming into my face, I look back at the man and yell “Afwan” as loud as I can. Feeling sorry for the man, and not wanting him to hate us, the Arabic word for sorry miraculously comes to my mind. It either means that or pardon, either way I hope my point got across.

Knowing we are about to have contact, I turn my gun back over the right side, for some reason expecting the gunmen to be on this side. The red tail lights of the Lt’s humvee are bright in my eyes. They become even brighter as they slam on the breaks, the back of their humvee rising up violently as the their forward momentum suddenly came screeching to a halt. My eyes move from these red tail lights to the bright white headlights where a dark figure is now running away from the road. I see a weapon drop from his hands, and in the foreground, the guys are already out of the vehicle. While watching this, my gun was moving to the left, pointing at the running man. Sgt W. had jumped out as soon as we screeched to a halt, adding another man to the three already on the ground. Shots erupt from Sgt. H’s M4, kicking up dust in front of the mans feet, who in a Matrix like move, feet dancing in fear, goes down to the ground. I never even thought of shooting, the guys on the ground once again in my line of fire.

What the hell was that? Were they trying to kill the guy or make him dance a jig. Sgt. H. is now yelling at him to get the fuck down with his barrel in the man’s face. I’m thinking, how is this asshole not dead. The runner is lying on the ground when Sgt H. jumps on top of him. He gets his hands behind his back and binds them together with flexi-cuffs. He then grabs him by the collar and drags him up to a flat part of the ground. The Lt., thinking that everything is under control, starts yelling at the gunners to scan the area for more gunmen. No shit, what do you think I’m doing up here, looking for some prime real estate? Two guys guard the gunmen while another secures his AK. Trucks have begun to back up on both sides of the road. The drivers are smiling and pumping their fists in the air in celebration, another indication that we are indeed wanted and liked by the majority of the people here. At least we’ve made their life a little easier today.

Thomas is now out of the humvee and guarding the gunman with our medic. Sgt W., the Lt., and some other guys are searching the immediate area for any hidden gunmen or weapons. Thomas and the medic aren’t touching the man, but they are damn sure letting him know what a pathetic piece of shit he is. He speaks English, so he understands everything they say. They tell him what a coward he is for running and ask him why he didn’t stay and fight. I yell down from my perch and ask him why he ran, when he could’ve already been meeting all his whores in paradise. I’m sorry this man isn’t dead. He deserves to be for shooting at innocent civilians trying to do their job. My brain also is smart enough to realize that this guy is better to us alive than dead. We Americans, the only soldiers that abide by the Geneva Convention, had refrained from killing an unarmed man. It didn’t matter that he had been armed when we drove up, running from us like the cowardly shit that he is. Technically no one would have gotten in trouble for killing him, since he hadn’t actually surrendered. Sgt H. later told me that he was purposefully shooting at the ground in front of him to make him stop running. I’m wondering if he was saying this so no one would make fun of his poor marksmanship. Whatever, the guy should’ve been killed. I know he would have killed us if given the chance. Look, I don’t have an intense desire to kill another human being, but this piece of shit, and his terrorist brothers, need to die, plain and simple.

Thomas replaces me up on the gun so I can get down and have a little chat with the runner. Not yelling and in a calm voice I ask him why he ran. He is wearing a pair of fake New Balances, green pants and grey shirt. His face is covered except for his mouth. I tell them that his New Balance’s are appropriate for a runner like him. I ask him again why he didn’t stay and fight like a man. I can see his mouth curve into a smile. So he’s a smart ass too. He knows we won’t hurt him and he’s smiling at us. God, I wanted to hit him in his stained teeth. This guy’s laughing at us. In a calm voice, not letting him get me mad, I tell him that I hope he is released soon, that with the way things work, he probably will be released soon. I tell him I’ll be here for a year, plenty of time for him to get released. Come back here and do this again I say. Please, for Allah and all the virgins sake, let us find you out here shooting at truckers or us again. I promise I won’t let you down next time. Next time there will be nobody blocking my line of fire, no one will stand between you and my gun. I promise. Tell your brothers to come out and play too. I didn’t come over to this God forsaken place to see shitheads like you go to jail. His mouth is no longer displaying a smile. We then tell him that once in the hands of the Iraqi Army there is no guarantee that he won’t be beaten. After hearing this he looks visibly shaken, knowing that there are some truth to those words.

I’m finished with the runner and his smart ass smile. I’m back to being a nice guy again. With Thomas still on the gun, Sgt. W and I begin randomly searching some of the cars coming through. One car was packed with five men. I stopped them and made them get out. As they were getting out a little boy I hadn’t seen got out with them. His wide eyes looked up at me with fear. As I searched their car, I prayed that he wasn’t scared of me. As they were getting back into their car I handed him a pack of gum I had stashed away in my pocket. With a smile on my face, I looked into his eyes and tried wordlessly to convey to him that we were the good guys. Don’t fear me little boy, I’m on your side. You’re the reason I don’t mind being over here. The runner is the only person that should fear me. He took it from my hand, looked up at his dad for approval, and looked back at me with a grin on his face. I went from wanting to see a man dead to wanting nothing more than to see a kid smile. I got one wish today, which was all I needed to count the day a success.

We threw the runner in the back of the Bradley and headed back home. It was only 0830 in the morning when we finally returned. The day had already been a long one, and we weren’t close to calling it quits. We had two hours before leaving on another mission. Just enough time to eat breakfast, shave, and lie down for a few minutes. This mission wasn’t like the last one though. We were going to visit a school and the small town next to it to pass out school supplies and visit the people. The mission was a success with almost every child getting some kind of gift. I gave a couple of young boys a frisbee and a nerf football that had been sent to me in the mail. They didn’t know what to do with the frisbee, but they were happy nonetheless. Even the normally shy females could be seen waving to us as we passed.

Enduring the rain that had begun falling in the early afternoon and struggling to stay awake, we drove back home for the second time that day. I went to my room, ate some Ramen noodles, and collapsed on my bed. I slept like a dead man for more than three hours, missing dinner chow in the process. After finishing another bowl of Ramen, I stayed up for a couple of hours writing before going back to bed for the night, thoughts of family and mutual funds putting me to sleep.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

American Goodwill

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but I’m just now getting around to doing it. There are a lot of good people back home in the States, and some of them actually read this blog. Their heart’s are good and their desire to help soldiers, as well as the children of Iraq, is apparent in the emails that I receive. Being a soldier myself, I’m obviously interested in helping fellow soldiers in any way that I can. I also have a desire to help out the children of Iraq as much, if not more, than my fellow soldiers. You don’t have to be over here to understand that there is something inherently good about these children. When you see their faces, talk with them, and witness firsthand the conditions in which some of them live, you can’t help but be interested in their well being. The general kindness manifest in the people of America seems to go unnoticed in the world at large, but I can promise you that it doesn’t go unnoticed with the children of Iraq and the soldiers over here fighting for their future.

I must apologize for not addressing an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks. There are many of you that have expressed an interest in sending me toys, pens, and other things that I can pass on to the children. There is one person in particular, Angel, who has been a regular reader since I started this blog. I don’t know her personally, but her name seems to be synonymous with her character. On more than one occasion she and her family have offered to send me things so that my buddies and I can give them to the kids. Her son, who seems to have inherited the good-hearted attributes of his mother, has personally collected toys for the children as well. She has also offered to send me, and guys in my platoon, things that we may need for personal use. There are others of you as well, and my not mentioning you by name is in no way meant to convey that I am ungrateful.

This kindness offered by you all has me torn between wanting to accept your kindness and wanting to retain my privacy. For numerous reasons I’ve chosen to remain anonymous and therefore am hesitant to give out my personal address. I hope that you will forgive me. What you can do, and what I sincerely hope you will do, is send these items to programs like Adopt-A-Platoon. There are also programs out there designed to specifically help the children of Iraq. My hope is that you will take the time to contribute to one of these as well. I personally have more than enough things to get me through the year. I will probably run out of room to store the many boxes sent to me by family members and friends. But there are guys in my platoon and throughout the army who don’t receive much mail or boxes. Someone in our platoon is signing us up for Adopt-A-Platoon, so we can get some boxes to the guys not receiving any. Instead of sending me things, I encourage you to send them to this program.

Some of you have also suggested that I set up a wish list or tip jar on my blog. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s just not something I want to do. The freedom to write whatever I want is reward enough. There is an Amazon search box over to the right of the page. If you ever shop on Amazon, you can always stop through here on your way there. By entering Amazon through the search box, I receive a small commission from anything you purchase. This commission is in the form of a gift certificate that I can use to buy books, dvds, and maybe a new computer. If your going to buy something from them anyway, you might as well come through here first.

My conscience can live with that, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m now partially employed by Mr. Bezos. Oh well, he seems like a nice guy, and I’ve enjoyed shopping on there the past few years. Maybe I should try to get sponsored by them. I could adorn my equipment with the Amazon logo, providing them with priceless exposure all over Iraq. They could establish their presence here first, increasing their market share in the Middle East. Ebay and the others would be left behind. Now that I think about it, I like Ebay too. Sponsor me Meg, and I will display your logo prominently on my helmet. Iraqis are more internet savvy than you may think. Yahoo, I have a place on the back of my vest that has plenty of room for your logo. I’ve been using your email service for years and can’t imagine using another. What about Google? I’m using blogger right now. You boys might be gazillionaires thanks to your recent IPO, but what about your Middle Eastern market. All of you could help foster the growth of capitalism in this young democracy, and I could be your first billboard. With all those logos I might start to resemble a NASCAR driver. That might bother a few people at the DOD, not to mention some of the officers around here. Rest easy Mr. Rumsfeld, the only logos I want to wear are the 3rd I.D. patch and Old Glory.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Guarding the Bridge

I've just returned from a week at the Tigris River. Our company is responsible for guarding one of the few bridges that cross it. The bridge is important for logistical reasons and therefore must be guarded at all times. It's kind of nice to get away from the FOB for a week, but I still would rather be out doing patrols. Patrolling is obviously more exciting, if not more tiring, but at least you feel like you're doing something productive. Like any guard, the monotony of the long hours is only made bearable by the fact that it will come to an end. Anyone that has ever pulled guard is united by one universal desire, the longing for that fleeting moment when you're finally relieved. For this moment has soon passed before the overwhelming feeling of dread creeps into your psyche like an incurable virus. It's the dreadfulness of knowing that in just a few short hours, hours that seem to pass quicker than a few hours of sleep, you will once again be faced with another guard shift. Guard sucks. There's no better way to describe it. My brain screams out in agony as the hours of wasted productivity slowly creep by.

Of course in our line of work guard is something we must do. It is with this knowledge that I begrudgingly go about my duty. The fact that I'm guarding a bridge on the Tigris offers me no consolation. I guard this bridge the same way I would guard anything else the army tells me to, with my life. This bridge, for the time that I'm on guard, becomes the most important bridge in the world. It becomes the only bridge left in the world. Willing my mind to think of this bridge as the last on earth, I am somehow able to retain my sanity throughout another shift.

This last bridge on earth is a military bridge able to withstand the weight of the biggest and heaviest vehicles the military has to offer. No more than fifty feet up river from this bridge is another less substantial pontoon bridge used by the Iraqi civilians. Because of poor engineering or poor maintenance, this bridge is no longer able to hold even the smallest Asian cars. It's in such bad shape that pedestrians have a hard time getting past one section that has submerged beneath the water. Some type of platform has been haphazardly placed in this gap affording the pedestrians a precarious wet link. It's common to see some people emerge from their trek across with wet shoes. Some show their frustration, but most deal with this inconvenience as they do the other harsh realities of their existence, with silent resignation. There are times, like now, when the bridge is so bad that they have no choice but to cross ours. Fortunately some Iraqi contractors are currently working to fix the problem. Until then our bridge will bear the weight of not only our military vehicles, but also that of the Iraqi civilians and their vehicles. Our job is to search those vehicles for anything that could be used to destroy our bridge. The Iraqi Army guys who work alongside us have the same job, and part of our job is to ensure that they are doing theirs. Like every other aspect of Iraq's security, it is the Iraqi's who will have to assume this responsibility in the future

The compound we stay in is a nondescript stone structure that resembles a box and has absolutely no aesthetic value at all. It looks as if it has been here for twenty or more years when in fact it was built only five months ago. The Army supposedly paid between forty and fifty thousand dollars for this building. Are they kidding? The interior walls are covered with mold and the paint has already begun to chip off. Sometimes the mold builds up so much on the ceiling that it literally falls down onto those of us sleeping peacefully on the top bunks. The floors are bare stone, with loose rocks and dust forever triumphant over our brooms. The humidity within the walls is similar to that of a greenhouse. The leaky window units providing our heating and air contribute to this indoor fog. While I may sound negative, the truth is I'm forever thankful for these window units, especially during the oppressive summer months. Compared to the last time I was here, I'm amazed we even have an air conditioner.

The bunk beds that we sleep on are shoddy and each top bunk is sagging in the middle from our weight. The thin foam mattresses barely prevent the supporting wires from leaving a permanent imprint on my back. Each mattress has its own unique floral design with patches of yellow foam seen in places where the fabric has torn. My bunk, which unfortunately is a top one, now has the curvature of a smiley face, like a steel hammock. The person sleeping underneath me is in constant peril of being crushed, the elastic like beams of my bunk constantly stretching every time I move.

The sound of the generator providing our power is constantly roaring, reminding us that we are only an empty diesel can away from being in the dark. This power also keeps the two freezers, tv, window units, radios, and all of our personal electronic entertainment running at all times. We have a DVD player and a satellite hooked up to the tv. Considering our location and conditions, I would say that these luxuries are really amazing. We got the satellite hookup the day we arrived here. Not able to hook it up ourselves, we hired a man and his son that lived nearby to do the work for us. Some of the people may live in a mud house with weeds growing on the roof, but it doesn't stop them from having a satellite dish on top of their roof as well. It's almost like Saddam required a satellite in every home so he could effectively spread his propaganda to the masses. The son acted as the interpreter for his dad and after a half hour of work we had 303 channels of useless television. I say useless because about 300 of the channels are in Arabic or some other foreign language. The few channels that are in English are CNN World, BBC, a sports channel, and one business news channel. I personally can't stand the pretentious manner in which CNN World portrays itself as such a worldly entity. Forgetting their redneck founder's root's in the southeastern U.S., they barely make mention of the U.S., and if they do, it is profoundly negative. It's pretty much on par with Al Jazeera, which is one of the Arabic language channels we have. The few times I have made myself watch Al Jazeera, the footage has all been scenes of death and destruction here in Iraq. One scene in particular was the aftermath of the recent suicide bomber that killed over 125 Iraqis. Bodies ripped apart and limbless could be seen being piled on the back of trucks like ragdolls. Of course BBC is nothing more than a British version of NPR. While watching BBC I got the impression that the reporters were bored with the events they were reporting and would've rather been sitting around sipping tea and discussing the negative effects that the arrogant American government has wrought on the world. There are also four or five soft porn channels showing women in various stages of undress imploring viewers to call a number that is liberally posted all over the screen. I'm assuming many men have called that number with the false assumption that they would actually be talking to the female that is currently holding a phone to her ear while sitting around naked on a couch. Sometimes there are two girls sitting together as they hold a phone up between them. Hell, why not call then and maybe double your fun. Thankfully the initial novelty of these channels soon grew old for the guys that seemed to always want to watch them. The most these channels ever offered me was a little comical relief. I couldn't help but wonder if the girls ever thought about how ridiculous they looked.

There is a smaller building adjacent to ours that houses three showers and two toilets. The showers actually work and have good pressure, but the water heater is broken, causing all of us to lose our breath each time we dare to step under its icy stream. The toilets don't work for some reason, which doesn't surprise me. I inquired as to why there would be two toilets put in this building if they didn't work and received no clear answer. So two port-a-johns capture our waste and retain it until we suck it out with our own personal shit sucking truck that we have on the premises. Once sucked, this truck and its tank full of shit are backed down to a yellow flexible tube that runs into the river. For the record, this tube and its purpose was put in place by Iraqi's, not us. A similar tube attached to the tank of the truck is then joined with the one leading to the already waste filled Tigris. Once attached, it's just a matter of pulling a lever. At this point the contents of the tank, fueled by gravity, speed through the tube and into the river. It's not exactly a place you might take your kids swimming.

This is hardly the worst of what the Tigris holds underneath its dark surface. If you were brave enough, you could probably ford the river by simply walking out onto its surface, the myriad of objects hidden underneath providing the stepping stones. To put it plainly, Iraqis don't understand the concept of collecting trash. At best they will throw it into a pile and burn it, but mostly is it is just strewn everywhere, the Tigris becoming an involuntary receptacle throughout the years. The banks are stained with oil, providing black streaks of sludge that mark the ever-changing level of this great historic river. I can only wonder how beautiful this river might have been during the times it is mentioned in the Bible. I can only hope and pray that the apathy for which these people have for collecting trash will change. That could be one of the first big programs for the new Iraqi Government, with garbage men becoming the new national heroes. At the least it would instill a sense of pride in the younger generation for their land.

Down the river from us and on the same side there are a couple of pump houses that pump water from the river all day. Inside these pump houses the air is dank and the only light is from the sunlight which seeps through the cracks. The motors used to pump the water resemble something that might have been manufactured in the fifty's. The ground within is covered in oil and fuel. The water is pumped into a couple of stone wells that have small canals running off from them, feeding the small farms and cattle nearby. Our bodily waste had now been recycled back into the food chain, becoming fertilizer for the crops growing nearby. Over the course of the year some of us will probably eat some of the vegetables growing on these farms. I've seen one man dip his hand into one of these wells and throw water on his face and into his mouth. The first couple of scoops were used to rinse his mouth and spit, but with the last scoop he threw his head back and swallowed it all in one big gulp. You can imagine what I was thinking when I saw this man drink some of this water. We had seen carcasses, heaps of trash, oil, vehicle parts, human waste, and everything else imaginable floating in the river. No doubt there has been corpses at one time or another thrown in as well. All those environmentalists back home would literally shit themselves if they saw this. I would just hope that their's wouldn't end up in the river as well.

The locals that live nearby are all friendly to us. The kids, from toddlers to teenagers, interact with us on a daily basis. Most of the kids have an impressive grasp of the English language. They teach us Arabic and we help them with words and phrases in the English language. They have acted as interpreters for us on more than a few occasions, earning our praises as well as gifts for their help. The look of frustration demonstrated by some of the Iraqi's inability to understand us soon melts away when one of these kids steps in to translate our words for them. Mister is a common label place on all of us by the Iraqi's. Hello, good morning, good, and thank you are also common words that every Iraqi seems to know and want to say with enthusiasm. I've learned some Arabic greetings and phrases as well, which elicits a smile from the Iraqi's. One kid gave us an English-Arabic dictionary to help us. Sometimes there will be a crowd of kids around me and other soldiers as we practice each others language with comedic results.

The local kids and some of the adults have taken advantage of their locale to make some cash. Some of these kids can make more money in one day selling stuff to us than they can in a week working the fields. This bridge has become a makeshift tourist trap, with the numerous convoys waiting to cross the bridge becoming unwilling tourists. They've given up trying to sell their wares to us, focusing instead on the traveling soldiers passing through. They are sometimes aware of a convoy coming before we are, running to get in position to show off their merchandise to the heavily armed and protected vehicles. They sell bayonets, knives, swords, Iraqi money, coins, lighters, pirated DVD's, and of course porn. There is apparently no place on earth where you can't buy porn. I'm personally not interested, but there are some in our group that are, and plenty more passing through that I've seen holding up their convoy's in order to get there hands on some. I guess that's why some of the guys weren't too disappointed when they found that the satellite dish didn't offer any. There's always some local that has what they need. I've even heard they have Viagra to sell. I can't imagine why any guy around here would want to buy Viagra. It's not as if there isn't already a healthy level of testosterone flowing through all of us. Besides the bad things, they are always willing to get you anything you may need. This was the case for me the other day when I wanted sugar for my coffee in the morning. Just hand over a couple of dollars and a half hour later you have a five pound bag of sugar. Bread and other snacks are also available. Most of the IA will offer us some of their food, hoping for an MRE in exchange. We give them water and MREs every day, but that doesn't stop them from wanting more. They are all very generous in their willingness to give us their food, especially their bread, which they know we like.

Most of the kids go to school. If they don't, it's usually because their family depends on them to work. Some siblings trade out, with one going to school this year while one works and then switching the next year. Hundreds of men, including some boys, cross over the bridge every day on their way to work, each one with long shovels thrown over their shoulder. They usually go to work when the sun comes up and return back across the river in the early afternoon. The women also work and usually return back home with huge bundles resting precariously on their head's. Teachers, businessmen, children, shepherds, merchants, farmers and others can all be seen crossing the bridge. Some walk, some drive, some pile in the back of trucks, some ride on bikes, some on motorcycles, and some even ride on their donkey, and for whatever their reason, they all depend on that bridge. It's their link to the other side, and to the freedom to do whatever they choose. I no longer just guard that bridge for us. I guard it for them. It's the last bridge they have on this earth.