Saturday, July 30, 2005

First Night In Ramadi

We arrived after dark this evening after traveling for two days from Warhorse. We were up the past two nights, moving under the cover of darkness, riding in our Bradley which rode atop a HETT. By this time the Bradley is a radiating oven, drenching my clothes with sweat which now cling to my skin and attract every dust and dirt particle in the air. We got off the Brad and were welcomed by the guys that have been here for a couple of days. They made the trip in Blackhawks, and reuniting with them after just a few days felt good for some reason, like we were home because all of us were together again. Immediately the horror stories begin, the tales growing taller now that we’ve actually arrived. They were the same ones we’ve heard before, only now they take on a reality that our prior location didn’t allow.

Dark, unable to see the outpost clearly, I could only make out the shapes of dark buildings. Outside the outpost there are two and three story houses with lights glowing mockingly from within, welcome home. Gunfire can be heard in the distance, another nameless faceless fight between us and them. When the gunfire ceased, another sound, more haunting than the staccato sound of the guns, filled my ears. It was the eerie wailing of prayer songs emanating from the numerous mosques in the area. It almost sounded like a taunt, the mournful, unintelligible muttering of thousands of forsaken souls forever held captive in hell, calling out to us for help and seeking our presence with them. It’s an awful sound, made worse by the quiet stillness of night.

We parked our Bradley’s in front of the building that we’ll be living in temporarily. All bags and equipment were unloaded, taken silently inside the concertina wire and sat in the stone courtyard. A few of the guys came up and greeted us as if we had been separated for more than the few days it took to make the trip, most of them offering a sarcastic comment about our wonderful new home.

Stories abound, about the Marines in our area, the terrorist cells, their tactics, the casualties, how we’re at the end of the line, the last point, the bridge in Apocalypse Now. I can see people losing their mind in this place. Death and carnage were on grand display just a few feet from our building in the form of a burned out, half its original size, hull of a Bradley. The turret has collapsed in upon itself, only the barrel distinguishable in the dark. It was used by the unit we’ve come here to replace and had been burned and destroyed by an IED. The crew escaped, but some of the dismounts were cut down by a machine gun while trying to escape the inferno.

IEDs, VBIEDs, more foot patrols, anti-personnel mines, incoming mortar rounds, actually hearing them fired from close by but having time to find cover. There was even one rumor that some enterprising assholes use ice to set off the mortars, the melting ice giving them time to get away unnoticed. Marines apparently receiving more contact than army, and the army receives contact on a regular basis. All of these rumors and stories spread quickly from the unit we’re replacing to us, infecting us whether they’re true or not. I noticed some people are already a little on edge.

I entered one of the rooms of the temporary building that may become our permanent home, and the first thing I noticed is the hundreds of pages of magazines covering the wall. The pictures are all of women in varying states of undress but no nudity. Same in another room in which I’m staying but not as many. I found a little space for a cot in the room I’m sharing with fourteen or fifteen other guys, at least until the other unit leaves and we can spread out. I’m unfortunate enough to be sleeping inches from one of the most disagreeable guys in all the army. He talks incessantly about nothing of interest to anyone while rubbing his fingers in between his dirty toes. I can smell his feet, as well as the MRE he’s eating with fingers that were just recently between his toes.

Earlier, while I was standing in our little courtyard and looking toward the back of the building, I noticed the familiar white tubes sticking up out of the ground. In the dark they look like mortar tubes, but then I’m reminded of the piss tubes we used in the Kuwaiti desert before the start of the war. Who knows how much of the tube is buried or how deep they descend into the earth below, a conduit of filth leading to a river of urine flowing through hell. While standing over them and relieving yourself, you can actually hear a faint echo from below. The wailing music may as well be coming from these tubes.

From this position I can look to my left and see the plywood outhouse that houses three stalls in which we dispose of our other waste. Trap doors behind the stalls can be opened to remove the receptacles of our last meal. One of these receptacles now sits alone in an area behind the outhouse, the flames providing a bright glowing light that enables me to see the tube over which I now stand. Diesel, and the sickly sweet smell of burning shit, took me back more than two years ago when I stood over one just like it in Kuwait, stirring the witches brew with a forever tainted shovel. That smell, mixed with diesel, will always be etched in my olfactory memory. There is no other smell quite like it, nor should there be.

After situating my cot and sitting down to write, the lights were turned off, the glow of laptop screens and portable DVD players illuminating only the faces of those captivated by their contents, creating the illusion of bodyless faces staring into the dark void. We’ve been here just a few days and already there are tv’s set up with Playstations attached. What would today’s soldiers do in their off time without laptops, tv’s, DVD players, and video games? A couple of screens are turned so that I can see them from my cot. Each movie is recognizable, both by the actors and their pathetic performance, and by the ridiculous content of the movies themselves. GI Jane and Natural Born Killers, two wholesome, well made movies if you think Demi Moore doing one armed pushups is attractive, or you’re a psycho who enjoys watching the “creative genius” of Oliver Stone and the poor acting of Woody Harrelson. Extreme violence and pseudo military action are apparently the order of the day. I wonder which of the two main characters would triumph if engaged in a duel, Demi, the SEAL wannabe, or Woody, the maniacal murdering psycho. Then I remembered they were married in another movie, leaving me hoping for a draw in which both participants die.

My cot is situated in one of the back corners of the room. I deliberately sought out this space so that I would only have to sleep inches away from one person and not two. The tiled wall my cot is pressed against offers me more company in the form of pictures cut out of magazines. One is of Pamela Anderson in underwear and boots. The other three are of a girl scrubbing the floor in her underwear, a guy flying through the air on his snowboard, and another girl holding her breasts. The glowing light from the laptops and DVD players brightens and darkens as the images move across the screen, alternately lighting and darkening different areas of the images on the wall beside me, having the same effect of the flames I saw earlier dancing on top of a bucket of shit.

On the wall at the other end of the room, opposite of where I now sit, there are six names written on the wall with RIP above them.


Anonymous Gemini II said...

what does one say to something like this. the names on the wall...this makes my heart ache

7:27 PM  
Blogger bob said...


Thanks for posting and giving us a good idea of what you and others are sacrificing each and every day. Earlier today I went to Walmart's and sent stuff to some foot soldier in Iraq listed at Any Soldier. Your post reminds me of why I will continue to do this.
If you are as competent a soldier as you are a writer, the terrorists in Ramadi are in big trouble.

Btw, Oliver Stone and Woody suck nickels. Actually so does Demi but at least she is easy on the eyes.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Thank you for this post...and thank you most especially for all you do. We are very greatful for you, and keep you close in our hearts and prayers always.

9:45 PM  
Blogger ~K said...

I agree with gemini, when I got to the names on the wall I cried.
I should remember to have a box of tissue next to me when I read some of you guys.
Michael, stay safe. Your in my prayers.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...

Names on the Wall

Long ago and far away
I sat on a hill top
in the middle of the night
watching hundreds of little points of light which were small campfires.
They thought that they were safe, safe enough, but they were wrong.

I could hear their coming
deaths being transmitted in the background as the grid numbers were being sent.

Little did they know that
with the morning sunrise, it would be their last on this earth.

As I sat there I thought to myself, I don't even know their names, someone should get their names.

After the Buffs came in the next morning,there was not enough left to sift through to find any names.

That has always bothered me.

Papa Ray
West Texas

2:02 AM  
Blogger MarsalinaR said...

Thank you for sharing your day and thoughts. I am new to blogging. I just wanted to write something but not sure what. Take care of youself out there.

5:45 AM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Good luck in your new "home." Thanks for the informative post.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Oscars-girl said...

Just wanted to say THANK YOU and stay safe.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous A Mom in America said...

Michael, what I worried about most from you last post was your writing. This is an incredible piece you have here,now. I see a beautiful mind and the development of a great gift. Please,keep working it! Don't give up, no matter what.

God bless and I look forward to your next post! A Mom in America

3:43 PM  
Anonymous OIFVet said...


Yet again I have gotten goose bumbs from reading your post. Y ou have an incredibale gift to take me to things long buried. That is not a bad thing. I can feel the sand and sweat, smell the burning cans and the tubes!!!! What a smell! Hear the call to prayer.

Take care and know that everyday I ask for GOD to keep you and yours.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Sumting Wong said...

Oh.My.God. You are an AWESOME writer. The end of your post where the light from the laptop screens flickers on the girlie pics on the wall - it reminds me of something a world and a lifetime away - of a child falling asleep in his bed in his parent's room, safe with dad who is watching TV in the dark, the lit screen creating flickers on the wall.

I'm angry that you have to be there because of some stupid religion that tells it's adherents they need to blow up unbelievers and make the rest of the world a medieval backwater.

But I'm so grateful that you are there - because if you were not, then they would be here, making MY life hell on earth.

Thank you. You are in my prayers, for what that is worth to you - it's worth a lot to me and it's the best I can do for you.

9:56 PM  
Blogger strykeraunt said...

That was an awesome post. I hope that if there is anything that we can send to make your's and your buddies life a little better you will give us the opportunity to help out.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Hey, Papa Ray's back! Glad to see you commenting again, papa ray... hadn't seen you around the blogosphere in a while, and have been worried about ya! :-)

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband actually arrived there in Ramadi about 2 weeks ago. He doesn't say a lot about the conditions, so I appreciate your insightful commentary. Take care and be safe.

2:01 AM  
Blogger devildog6771 said...

First let me say I too have been worried about what happened to Papa Ray. Glad to see you are ok.

Michael, I too would love it if you could let me know what to send to you to help you guys. Please post a list here for us when you can. And since I have never done this before, how do I get it to your unit?

I am so glad you are ok. I'm sorry you're in such a hell hole. But that just means you're going to have to keep writing and venting our way. We don't mind. It's a small thing if it helps you.

I have always tried to remember something someone told me one time during a crisis, God never gives us more than we can handle. It sure never seemed that way at the time. But, somewhere along the way it turned out to be true.

You take care and be safe.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous 3ID Army Mom said...

yep... that sounds like the place my son's at... been there a few weeks... says they are veryyy bussyyy... and the living conditions are the worst I've heard since our guys got their more than 2 years ago.

If people want to send things, send canned food and toiletries... they have no PX (nor access to one) and meals are trucked in just twice a day... and they're awful...

thanks for posting michael... keep up the good work... stay safe.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, You're a good guy. You speak the truth about what's going on in Iraq. Unlike all that media bullshit.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous MarineMom said...

"It was the eerie wailing of prayer songs emanating from the numerous mosques in the area. It almost sounded like a taunt, the mournful, unintelligible muttering of thousands of forsaken souls forever held captive in hell, calling out to us for help and seeking our presence with them."

Michael, this part really affected me. I really think you're on to something.

God bless you.

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Trevor said...

I hope you're putting a book together...don't tell anyone but your publisher if you are, but I can hope.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Gadfly said...

Love your writing. One thing to remember... Not now, but later on. When you're back in The World.

In the future, don't blame too much about your life on the war you're currently in. Some, yeah, but not too much.

Because you would have been a dark motherfucker even without going to war. And I say that with no small amount of respect and kinship.

I know it's probably meaningless when you're smelling the diesel-shit fire and looking at the list of dead soldiers' names, but I thank you for the job you are doing.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been an active duty Marine, I can appreciate the memories that those words bring back from deployment in a combat area. It really does make one think and get a hefty dose of reality to think about what would happen were those names of close friends/buddies in the military. I pray every day for my best friend, who is an active duty Marine stationed over in Iraq right now... he doesn't talk about it much, but the picture he paints with his words are much the same as yours, but not as eloquent or picturesque.

Thank you for your post; it helps some of us remember and the rest of us get a picture of what is going on over there.

Semper Fi,
Travis Mohler

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, I hate to do this but I'm taking you and all of the soldiers off my blog site. I had you guys up as "The kids" and I feel it may not be a safe thing to do. I will keep reading and posting. I just want you guys to be safe! God bless! A Mom in America

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, are you okay?

A Mom in America

9:04 PM  
Anonymous A Mom in America said...

Re-creating the list. You're on it. I apologize for bailing on you. It won't happen again.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Chevy Rose said...

I mailed 2 boxes yesterday and 3 boxes this morning to my 'anysoldiers' troops, and after reading your post I wish I could include as a soul-touching letter written as well you do. You do have a gift, besides being so dedicated to our country. God bless and press on.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfull story mike, i remember the smell well, fortunatly for me i was a medic and Sgt. never had to stir the shit (lmao). I wish we had tv's and dvd's in the gulf war. I had a gameboy, and lots of iraqi weapons to play with. stay safe and gods speed to you all. THANKYOU Will Diaz.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Colombian Mother said...

You write beautifully! My only son is in Iraq too. What can I tell you? Only what I tell my son: Do not be a hero, keep your spirits up and your head down when you hear bullets or explosions. Be safe, come back safe and sound. God bless you all. I DO SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, AND I WANT THEM HOME!

12:07 PM  
Blogger eatdrinknbmerry said...

Michael, just wanted to say thank you for your brave service to our country. You're an exceptional writer - flawless when it comes to creating horrid, yet vivid imagery of the turmoil in Iraq. I'll be reading this more often and will find the time to send you guys stuff. Once again, thank you for sharing this.

7:23 PM  
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