Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Non-Issue of Armor, Garry Trudeau

Some of you may have seen Garry Trudeau’s comic strip a couple of weeks ago. Its focus was on our supposed lack of armored vehicles. I’m a little late in commenting on this, but unlike Mr. Trudeau, I’m actually over here in Iraq working. That’s what always amazes me about people like Trudeau. They’re so vigorous in their attempt to criticize everything about this war, yet they have no idea what they’re talking about because they’re not actually here. Mr. Trudeau can accept my apologies if he has in fact been over here, but I’m going to assume he hasn’t, and if he has, then I doubt he stayed much longer than a week. The comic shows a soldier or Marine typing away on a laptop. Presumably this person is writing on his blog, not unlike what I’m doing right now. He’s in uniform, drinking from a bottle of water, and looks to be in an internet café. 5/7 is written on the cartoon as well, so if you want to look it up under May 7, be my guest. Here it is verbatim. (Words in parenthesis are mine)

First box:
"May 7, 2005. 1125. Hey, Yall. Some of you seemed surprised(Yeah, that you can print something so inaccurate and make money from it in the process) we’re still using hillbilly armor on our vehicles"

Second box:
"Trust me on this. (Yeah, trust a man with a cartoon that’s 7000 miles away from the place he speaks so confidently of) The new uparmored humvees still haven’t made it to us(We had new ones arrive months ago, and we already had enough before that). It’s strictly scrounge time here(what part of Iraq is he in?), pure road warrior."(He has no idea)

Third box:
"A few weeks ago, some pencilhead drove out here in a pickup to count how many(enough) battle-worthy wagons we had. Big mistake."(Yeah, on my part, for actually spending one minute of my existence reading the crap that is your cartoon)

Forth box:
"Within an hour, I pimped my ride with Bronco parts."(I’m so clever, I was able to refer to a popular saying and be humorous at the same time. God, I’m a genius)

I don’t know how many people read his comic strip, nor do I know their economic or social status, but I’m sure the number of people is fairly high. He is, after all, syndicated in most newspapers back home. His comic, Doonesbury, even appears in the one paper we receive over here, the Stars and Stripes. So lets assume his number of readers is quite high. Let’s also assume that these people are impressionable, and therefore believe pretty much everything they read. A lot of his readers would probably describe themselves as "intellectuals", those who profess to thinking creatively and having an open mind. They pride themselves on their ability to be open minded about any subject, when in reality they are anything but. They more than likely take his words at face value, believing his opinion on issues regarding the military, Iraq, and the current administration as fact. They would no doubt read a strip like this regarding our supposed lack of armor as the general feelings of every soldier over here, which in turn fuels more criticism for the DOD and the administration.

Joe or Sally know it all, sitting back in the States, sipping on a four dollar latte from Starbucks, would wrongfully interpret this as a major problem confronting every soldier or Marine over here. These same people profess their undying love and support for the men and women in uniform, but are quick to point out their hatred for the war. I say love both. Not necessarily the inherent violent, chaotic, and destructive side of war, but the war we are now waging to win the peace and nurture a democratic Iraq. I say support not only us, but what we are doing over here as well. After all, if you don’t support the good things we’re doing, criticizing everything we do in turn, then in my humble, doesn’t matter opinion, you aren’t supporting us either. Oh, the pseudo intellectual elite, they’re so blinded by their supposed intellect and open mindedness, they fail to realize how clouded their judgement actually is.

As someone who is actually over here living in Iraq, let me give you my view on this issue. I’ll tell you what I know based on my experience within my Brigade, and what I witness on a daily basis. I’m in the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Ft. Benning, Ga. We’re under the command of the 42nd Infantry Division, which is based in New York. Not one vehicle in our Brigade left Kuwait without some type of armor. If there was a vehicle without armor, it was transported on top of an armored truck, with no personnel inside. We sometimes use unarmored humvees inside the FOB, but never are these humvees allowed to be taken outside the gates. When going outside the gates, we use armored vehicles. I have yet to see an unarmored vehicle when out on a mission. We cover a large area and pass many convoys, some of which are units not affiliated with 3rd or 42nd ID, and I have still not seen any vehicles without armor.

You’ve heard the term "Hillbilly Armor". I personally think the term sucks. Why make fun of the hillbilly’s. Why not "provisional armor," or "modified armor," or "converted armor." Or how about "appendaged armor," based on the fact that a few vehicles have had armor appended to them. "Hey, go get that "appendaged armor" humvee ready so we can protect our appendages." How about improvised? That word seems to be used quite a bit around here. "Hey Michael, we’re taking the "improvised armor" humvee out today." "Good thinking Sergeant, it will protect us from the improvised explosive devices and the vehicle borne improvised explosive devices." We could just call it IA, but that acronym is already taken by the Iraqi Army and might confuse some people. "Michael, run over to that IA vehicle and grab some water and MRE’s." "Sergeant, we both know the IA won’t have any bottled water, and the only thing they’ll have to eat is some pita bread and eggs." "No, not the Iraqi Army vehicle, the Improvised Armor vehicle." "Roger Sergeant, I got confused. Why do we have to designate them Improvised Armor vehicles when they do the same thing as any other armored vehicle?" "Well Michael, we wouldn’t want the media back home, who have wrongly determined those vehicles as not worthy of that title, to run a story saying that we were trying to give you any false security." "Roger Sergeant, God forbid if that ever happened." This would be better. "Hey Michael, go get that IA vehicle ready to roll, we’re taking it out on a mission today." "Hell yeah Sergeant, we get to go out in a pick up truck today, that’ll be fun." "Sorry to ruin your fun Michael, but you know they won’t allow us to go out in anything that isn’t armored." "Yeah Sergeant, but it sure would be fun to ride around in just a plain, old pick up truck." Pick up truck, dune buggy, motorcycle, bicycle, whatever, I think a lot of us wouldn’t mind going out in any of those sometime.

Armor is armor, who gives a damn what it looks like. Maybe it would make people feel better back home if this "Hillbilly Armor" was painted up to look really nice and pretty, but making it pretty isn’t going to make it any stronger. Anyway, the vehicles with "Improvised Armor" are few and far between, and they mostly just sit inside the FOB.

So I know for a fact that our Brigade is covered when it comes to armored vehicles. I’m probably correct in assuming that the other three Brigades in our Division have plenty of armored vehicles as well. I also know that every vehicle I’ve seen carrying soldiers from the 42nd were armored as well. So lets just assume that those two Divisions aren’t lacking in armored vehicles. I’ve also seen units outside of the umbrella of either the 3rd or 42nd ID riding around in armored vehicles. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the vast majority of people who actually go outside the FOB are riding in armored vehicles. Of course you wouldn’t think that from reading Trudeau. That’s the travesty of this comic strip. Some schmuck sitting at his breakfast table, eating a bowl full of soggy bran flakes, will read Trudeau’s words and think how shameful it is. "Honey, can you believe all those poor kids over in Iraq don’t even have the proper armor to protect them from those roadside bombs." "Oh Howard, that’s just awful, hey, can you take the kids to school, I have to get my nails done." Poor Howard, he’s been hoodwinked by a cartoonist.

Having said all that, I’m sure there are some soldiers or Marines that have been out on the streets without armor. I’m not discounting that, especially any that have been wounded or killed by an IED, but it’s irresponsible for Trudeau to spread falsehoods about armored vehicles to further his own political agenda.

The whole nonissue of armor has grown old, and I only bring it up because Trudeau insists on doing so. People also email me about it as well, inquiring as to whether or not we have enough armor. I also think there is a greater issue involved that isn’t tangible. It’s called attitude. To me armor is nothing more than a big heavy security blanket that helps some people feel more comfortable about being in Iraq. All of you remember that National Guardsmen who questioned Mr. Rumsfeld at a camp in Kuwait. He was an attention seeking, pretentious, prick, who showed no respect in the way in which he questioned Mr. Rumsfeld.

We have people send us old magazines all the time. I usually pick up a couple to read whenever I get the chance. One of the ones I picked up was Time magazines last issue of 2004. In it is a little story about this Guardsmen and why he asked the question. The article starts off with a quote from him saying, "If this is my 15 minutes of fame, I hope it saves a life." That’s sweet, it sounds like he’s seeking martyrdom. I think it was Andy Warhol who said in the future everyone would have their fifteen minutes of fame. I personally think Andy was full of crap, since this guy thankfully only received about two before fading back into oblivion.

The article goes on to say that he decided on the question for Mr. Rumsfeld after his convoy arrived at a camp in Kuwait. Keep in mind that this guy is still in Kuwait. He hasn’t even crossed the border into Iraq. He says that the reporter who was urging him to come up with intelligent questions for Mr. Rumsfeld suggested a less brash way of asking the question. What was his response? "I told him no, that I wanted to make my point very clear." Rumsfeld responded that even a fully armored vehicle can be blown up. Martyr boy told the reporter, "Personally, I didn’t like that answer." You might not have liked it, but it’s fact. Truth hurts sometimes. And the truth is that any armored vehicle, including a tank, can be blown up if the explosive is large enough. All he had to do was pick up a newspaper or watch the news and he could’ve found proof.

To me it all goes back to attitude. This guy, still in the safe haven of Kuwait, already had a defeatist attitude. He was already defeated in his mind. He’d already been hit by an IED, and was so busy crying to the Sec. of Def. about it that he failed to realize the opportunity that lay in front of him, the opportunity to attack the bad guys. I never leave these gates without that thought on my mind. It’s what keeps me alert when I’ve only had four hours sleep in the past two days. He’s so worried about getting blown up or attacked that he becomes ineffective in fighting the bad guys. What kind of attitude is that to have before entering a combat zone. Newsflash martyr boy, there are people that would like to cut your head off and post the video on their website. You can either whine about it or go out and try to kill them first. If I had his attitude, with as much time as we spend outside these gates, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown and become so depressed I’d want to die.

I have plenty of armor. Our entire Brigade has plenty of armor. Every vehicle that left Kuwait was outfitted with some kind of armor. Not that it matters. And this is the crux of the issue. Rummy was right, there are bombs out there that can blow a turret of a tank 30 feet away from the hull. So what do you think a bomb like that is going to do to a vehicle that doesn’t have near the armor strength of a tank.

Rummy got into a lot of trouble with media for saying that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want to have. What’s wrong with that statement? It happens to be true. There are a lot of things I would like to have that I know I’m never going to have. I’d like a hovercraft that requires no maintenance. It floats above the earth at speeds unknown to man. It’s invisible, has an impenetrable force field around it, and its laser gun can destroy the enemy from great distances with pinpoint accuracy. The entire outer surface of the craft is transparent, giving you the ability to see out at every angle. At night, the surface of the craft would automatically become the color of the night sky, but everything on the outside would look as it would during the day. It would have an autopilot, a refrigerator full of cold water and sandwiches, and an XM satellite receiver so I could listen to the news back home.

In another article written by Mark Thompson entitled, "How Safe Are Our Troops?", the author says that it was Rumsfeld’s response that ignited a firestorm. He goes on to say that this reply conveyed "a seemingly blithe disregard for the welfare of troops." Does anyone actually believe that Rumsfeld doesn’t care about the welfare of the troops? I guess some do, and they’re probably the same people that believe everything Trudeau says as fact. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey had this to say as well, "You can talk like that to a congressional committee or a reporter, but not to a soldier who's extremely concerned about the safety of himself and his buddies." Why not if it’s the truth. I want my leaders to give it to me straight, not try to comfort me by blowing smoke up my ass.

This article also contains one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever read. While the author is listing off the number of armored vehicle and unarmored vehicles in Iraq at the time, he said, "These ‘naked’ humvees are supposedly confined to U.S. bases, but they remain vulnerable to mortar attacks." Are you kidding me? Does he think we sit around in a humvee all day while we’re in the FOB? Maybe he thinks we live in them. Yeah, we’ve installed port-a-johns in them as well. When we have to eat, we pull up to the drive through window at the chow hall. The seats double as beds, and we have little curtains on the widows. "Remain vulnerable to mortar attacks," really, I guess we should stop doing p.t. around the FOB, since at any given time of the day there are people out in shorts and t-shirts running around, not to mention that we have to walk out in the open to actually get places.

As for Rumsfeld’s comment that you can have all the armor in the world in a tank and still be blown up, Delaware Senator Joseph "Toupee" Biden thought that remark was insensitive and responded by saying, "By that logic, we should send out troops into battle on bicycles." It’s nice to know that Biden is worried about my sensitivities. Senator, most of us can handle the truth, so you need not worry about our feelings being hurt. While I find Senator Biden’s sarcastic comment indicative of his arrogance, I actually think it would be a good idea. Please let me go ride around on a bike. I guarantee you I could find a group of guys that would love to go out on a patrol riding a bike. I’d like a Schwinn, complete with streamers on the handle bars, a horn, and a big basket on the front to carry ammo and goodies for the children. Or maybe we could upgrade to a Harley and mount a machine gun on the front. Until those bicycles start arriving, I guess I’ll just have to settle for this.

Here I am riding into battle on my "hillbilly" bicycle.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Power of a Piece of Candy

Hopefully these pictures will tell a little story. This boy and his family were from a Sunni village we visited the other day. This was the first time we’d been to this village, and we’d heard most of the people were hardcore Sunnis, in favor during Sadaam’s rule. Our primary mission wasn’t to pass out gifts, but as you can see in these pictures, small gifts can work wonders. Anytime you go to a town like this, where you know there’s a higher likelihood the people may not receive you well, you tend to become more alert and focused than usual. In a town like this, where tensions may run high, there always seems to be a moment when you realize that everything isn’t as bad as previously thought. This was that moment for me.

It’s unfortunate that the media seem to only portray our relationship with the Sunni population in a negative light. I don’t pretend to think that we are liked by all of them, but based on my experiences, we are liked by many. These are but a few of the many, and these images are indicative of what I see on a regular basis. Maybe one day the media will open their eyes to it as well.

He looks to be somewhat intimidated by us
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Enter Sgt. W. , American, 3rd ID soldier, platoon sergeant, husband, dad, and all around good guy when he’s not mad as hell
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A gift is offered
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Looks to his family for approval
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Gets it
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A tentative friendship emerges
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All smiles
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Imagine if a soccer ball could take the place of that piece of candy. We could move mountains, and the media would have to eventually take notice. There are soldiers all over Iraq doing the same thing and achieving the same result that Sgt. W did.

We’re fortunate to have a platoon sergeant like Sgt. W. He can be mean as hell when he wants to, but he’s fiercely loyal, and would do anything for any soldier in his platoon. Sgt. W, Thomas, and I have been together for almost a year and a half now. We’re like a little family inside the bigger family that is our platoon. We’ve probably spent more time together than we have with our real families. There was a time, in late January of 2004, when I had spent more nights with Sgt. W and Thomas than I had my wife. We’d been married in December, but our unit spent the month of January in the deserts of California. For more than two consecutive weeks, Sgt W., Thomas, and I slept inside the same Bradley.

Ray, Thomas, and I have been with each other for the past three years. Not only are they some of the best friends I’ll ever have, but they’re like brothers as well. We were over here together during the invasion and the months that followed. We fought together, got shot at together, shot back together, lived together, slept together, ate together, and laughed together. It’s a good feeling to go outside these gates knowing those same guys are right there with you. They’re the reason I wanted to come back over here, why I didn’t mind being extended for the duration of this deployment. I’d have felt like I was letting them down if I wasn’t over here. They and the rest of my platoon are my family now, irreplaceable, the only people that matter. I couldn’t imagine not being with them. We keep each other sane amid the insanity. Hopefully we’ll all go home together.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Michael Yon

I've been reading Michael Yon's blog for a few months now. I encourage you to do the same, as it is much better than mine.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Pics From a Town in the Center of Nowhere

We visited a small town the other day that hadn't been visited by any U.S. soldiers in quite a long time. There was nothing around this town for miles except open flat desert. We were farther north than we'd ever been before, so far north that we could begin to see the beginnings of a mountain range. The people of this town received us well. We came bearing toys, clothes, stuffed animals, and lots of school supplies. As you'll notice in these pictures, all of Iraq is not on fire. It's unfortunate that you don't often see towns like these while watching t.v. in your living room back home.

I think they like us
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Looking towards their future
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I think they were hoping for their picture to show up on one of those fliers
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Outside the school
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These two are a small part of the most precious segment of the Iraqi population
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A girl with her gift from an American soldier
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I must have looked like a giant in her eyes
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Iraqi children literally floating in their haste to see the American soldiers
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Road block on our way tho the town
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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

I wanted to wish all the Mothers reading this a very happy Mother’s Day. Whether you know it or not, you are greatly appreciated and loved by all. As for my precious wife, I can only say thank you for the gift of our little boy. I know he already loves you more than anyone in the world, just as his dad does. I’d like to thank my mom for all her love and support in everything I do. I’m sorry I don’t tell you more often how much I love you and how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I’d also like to thank my grandmother and mother-in-law. Both of you are the sweetest ladies in the world. I’m a better person for having the opportunity to be a part of all of your live’s.

I doubt that Iraq celebrates Mother’s Day, but I would still like to thank all the mothers here in Iraq. You may be relegated to the shadows of this society, but you don’t go unnoticed to me. I see you toil in the fields, weighted down with heavy burdens, riding in the back of trucks, cars, buses, and donkeys. I see you bringing home the sustenance that will nourish your children. I see the love you have for your children and the love they have for you in return. While most of you may not directly acknowledge our presence, I see your smiling eyes as your children wave to us with glee, looking to you for acceptance, then turning back to us less inhibited after gaining your smiling approval. Thank you for that. While you may not wave yourself, I thank you for teaching your children, even if it’s behind closed doors, that the American soldiers are good and decent and that it’s okay for them to acknowledge that. Your children are the future of this country, and their joyous smiles are the best reward we could ever hope to have.

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A proud Iraqi mother showing off her twins

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Children From a Shia Village

As you can see, they're no different than the Sunni children. We're fighting for all of them.

Who are these strange looking men who come bearing gifts?

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Company Pictures

Off time. Rarely happens. I was sitting in my box reading Kerouac, wishing I could’ve seen New York City as he saw it, fresh out of high school. The wide-eyed wonder of it all. Wishing I could be there to walk the streets again, watching the people, just taking it all in. I’ve been to the Fat Apple twice, the virgin venture more satisfying than the second. How I loved it the first time. By myself, just walking, the diners, the delis, the restaurants, the subway stations, the buildings, Grand Central Station, Washington Square, Times Square. I can remember seeing the tops of the twin towers standing as sentinels as I walked the streets of Manhattan. Little did I know at the time how much my life would change when those two giants fell. Watching lovers, thieves, businessmen, bums, hookers, socialites, performers, and the working men, who keep the city pulsing in the background.

You walk into Times Square and you feel like you’ve walked onto the world’s grandest stage, where anyone with any sort of talent has an audience of thousands. A group of kids, on the sidewalk, actually posting the time to their next show, gathering the masses to watch their routine. I have to see it, I can’t pass it by, the crowd gathering, them waiting till just the right moment, attracting as many as possible without waiting too long, not long enough for any to become impatient and leave. And then they start. Damn, if they weren’t some of the finest entertainers I’ve ever seen in person or on the cathode tube. They were good and they knew it, and so did the crowd. They danced, all four of them, three boys and one girl, and they had an audience at least in the hundreds. They made some cash too, and not a small amount. I gladly forked my admission fee, content in my little investment.

No entertainment was needed to earn my compensation though. I’m a bum’s dream. Each one I pass. I don’t care if they’re professionals, making more money begging than if they had a 9-5. Why should I care. I cared about them for some reason. I’m a sucker. They’re naive little dream tourist, making myself feel better for giving. It really wasn’t so much as me wanting to make myself feel good. I was just paying my toll for passing through their lives. This was their land, their peace of the pavement, their little piece of existence, and my heart went out to them. What can I say? It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just something I couldn’t help but do. Some of them probably really needed help, so in that I was justified. Sometimes I would ask if they wanted to eat with me. They usually said no, which meant they probably just wanted the money for whatever it was they wanted money for. Whatever, spend it wisely.

Bums know me all over, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Vegas, San Fran, Charlotte, beach towns in Florida, and good ole New Yorky. I’m their poster boy for how to spot a sucker. Good, better than being the asshole that blows them off or worse yet, tried to give them some kind of speech as to why they should get a job and quit begging. They don’t know these people. Who the hell are they to tell them what to do. Do they know their situation? Do they know the problems they’ve had to face? No. And I didn’t either, but maybe some bum out there somewhere had a better day because he met me. That sounded arrogant. I don’t pretend to bring joy into the live’s of everybody I meet. But maybe they just felt better about mankind in general or the world after I passed them by.

One guy in D.C., I’ll never forget him. He was standing outside a Burger King, asking anyone entering or leaving if they could spare a few dollars. I could smell the sour whiskey wafting from his bearded face. Some people would reach into their wallet or handbag and place a couple of bucks in his hand without even looking at him, as if they were too disgusted, and just had to pay their debt to society for having such a blessed life. Screw that, look him in the eyes and see. I walked up to him, had my hand on the door of the burger paradise, looked him in his blood shot eyes, and asked him if he wanted something to eat. He seemed hesitant, like I was one of those guys, judgmental, not wanting him to spend my money on booze. I just thought the guy could use a decent meal. He said yeah. He wouldn’t come in with me though, oh well. What do you want? He didn’t care. Well, I’ll just get you what I’m getting. This seemed to suit him just fine. I ordered two double cheeseburger meals, one to eat in, and one to go. Walked to a table, sat my lunch down, and out the door I went to deliver my pity or whatever it was. He takes it without thanking. I didn’t care, I knew he appreciated it. I stood there a minute as he turned back to his duties, asking every passer by if they had some money to spare. He’s holding his lunch and Coke in one hand and realizes this sight might be bad for business. He then places the bag and the tall drink into the trash can sitting in front of him. I smile, noticing how gently he placed it in, not tossing it in, but placing it in. He sees a couple of well dressed women approaching. They look like they have money to burn. He scores a few bucks, waits for them to pass, and reaches back into the trash to reclaim his lunch, looking around surreptitiously to see if anyone has noticed. I noticed old man and it’s okay. He saunters off to find a place to eat his cholesterol filled lunch, and I walk back to mine, one in the same. Are we really that different? God doesn’t think so. I selfishly feel good about myself for providing this man a meal. Maybe ole Jacki Boy(Kerouac) was right. Maybe it was all for Vanity. I don’t know. But maybe that bearded bloodshot bum felt a little bit better that day too.

Anyway, I’m getting way off track here. I’m supposed to be talking about Iraq, not bums back home in America. Back to New York for a second. You just feel like the world is yours, if only for the brief time you’re there. I kept exploring, walking, wanting to see more. Oh, and the people. Man, the people were amazing. It’s probably the greatest place in the world to just watch people getting on with life. Most were nice too, even those plying the drug trade. One night, I’m walking alone down around NYU when a couple of guys approach me, hoping to sell a little narcotic. I don’t do the drug thing, never have, something about wanting to be able to tell my kids I never did. But it was cool just to talk to them. As they walk up, I ask them how they’re doing. They’re doing good, so good in fact they want to offer me some of what’s probably making them feel so good. “No thanks man, but thanks for the offer.” “No problem, you have a good night.” “Yeah, you too, see ya later.” And that was it, a nice little conversation with a couple of dealers on the street. ‘See ya later.’ They probably had a little laugh about that later. I always say that. My little niece used to say that to me whenever I left her house. I’d say, see ya later, and she would run jump in my arms and say it back. I guess I’m hoping I might. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again, seeing what they’re up to now. They probably noticed I wasn’t from around there. Maybe it was the accent, I don’t know. I’ve been told I don’t have an accent, even though I from the south. I definitely don’t have the whole native New York City accent though. Go walk around New York City at night by yourself. Look around, talk to strangers, breathe in the smells, ride the subway. You might enjoy it. I sure did. Glorious freedom, the exhilaration of exploring America, unsatisfied with the ordinary.

So I’m thinking of New York when someone comes a knockin’ on my door. “Hey, we have to be up at the company at 1700 for a company picture.” More insanity. Didn’t we come here to fight dammit. I want to fight. Give me a fight. I need it. Lord, once I’m in that fight, deliver me from it. A constant battle with myself. Wanting a fight, but wary of the chaos that usually ensues. Knock Knock. Come on in, I know you’re going to anyway. It’s Sgt. W. “Hey, you guys need to be up at the company at 1645 for a formation. We’re getting a company picture.” Really, I didn’t know. I could have sworn someone barged in here two minutes ago to tell us the same thing. Now it’s 15 minutes earlier. 15 more minutes of standing in the heat with all our gear on. 15 more minutes of mindless nothingness. 15 minutes that could be spent hunting terrorists. I joined the Army to fight, for my country, my family, freedom, for the people in those twin giants, the whole apple pie Norman Rockwell thing, not all this other crap. Waiting and waiting, when we could get there at 1700 and have plenty of time to wait around. It’s already 105 degrees outside in the shade. I have to prep a Bradley at 1900 for a mission at 2000, and now I have to stand around outside and wait for a company picture. Yee Haw.

I’m not complaining about the mission. Far from it. The missions are what drives me. Without them I’m trapped in my own personal episode of the Twilight Zone. Outside these gates’ lies my promised land. The land of opportunity, mystery, danger, exhilaration, sadness, happiness, joy, fun, misery, chaos, death, experience, life. You can be looking at the face of the devil, turn around, and witness God incarnate in some kid’s smile. You’re not truly living unless you’re outside these gates. Those gates may lead to hell, but they also lead to a little piece of heaven as well. They’re magical, forever changing, secretive, always hiding what lies on the other side. Inside the gates it’s cold, unfeeling, familiar, monotonous, boring, insane, ridiculous, tedious, demeaning, ordinary, formations, meetings, rules. Let me outside these walls and I’m back walking the streets of New York City, skiing in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, standing on the precipice of the Grand Canyon, driving down the Oregon coast watching the sun set over the Pacific, rafting down a river in northern California, riding a ferry through the waters of southeastern Alaska, looking out over the Snake River to the Grand Tetons, fishing off the Gulf coast, looking at a Monet in Chicago, seeing a ballgame at Fenway, playing football in front of 90,000 people, talking to a bum in D.C., walking down the aisle with my soon to be wife. You feel naked, but somehow secure at the same time. Sure it may be a little dangerous, but so is sitting idle, rotting into oblivion. Out there you can be somebody; soldier, friend, brother, photographer, humanitarian, lawman, writer, rock star, traffic cop, celebrity, guardian, prey, predator, savior. You can be some child’s hero, a terrorist’s executioner, or a legend. Outside the gates, anything is possible. Inside these gates, company pictures. Company pictures will kill me quicker than a RPG.

I close up Kerouac, trapping his words within the worn pages of a book that is damp from the sweat of my right leg, where it sits ready to be discovered again from the cargo pocket of my DCU’s, relieving me of the boredom during an especially drab part of some dreary day. Grabbing my gear, I heave it over my back, the weight pressing down on me, adding to the weight of stupidity that is already heaped upon our backs. I am a mule, a donkey, a jackass, whatever you want to call them. They’re everywhere in Iraq. Only the dogs outnumber them. I actually feel sorry for these silent animals. They sag in the middle from the sheer volume of crap placed upon their back. As if being loaded down like a cargo ship churning through the high seas isn’t enough, a passenger or two is usually added, making me wonder how their meatless legs hold up under the pressure. And they’re beaten, ‘Go faster you old donkey, go faster’. And they just take it, without expression, never complaining, resigned to their work and determined to get through another day, waiting for the eternal freedom that only death will bring them.

I join the others as we trudge up to the company, all of us laughing and making fun of the stupidity of it all. Guys interrupted from their naps, letter writing, reading, music, movies, sitting, freedom, all in the name of the dog and pony show that is a company picture. And what a dog and pony show it would have been had it actually happened. Our platoon gets up there first(imagine that, us worker bees) and proceed to move around like ants, preparing the backdrop to the eternal image. Getting humvees lined up in front of the company. Dress right dress. Parking them so close together that the poor drivers can’t even get out of the drivers side door. Grabbing some guns, putting them in the mounts. What’s an army picture with no guns? I guess an army picture with no guns. Anyway, there are some humvees that are painted desert tan, and some that are green. What to do? I don’t know, but apparently it takes someone with the intellect of Einstein to actually come up with a workable solution. Lets put two desert tans in the middle with the green ones on the outside. No, lets get rid of the green ones and borrow some more tan ones from another company. The green ones get the ax and are pulled away. Watch this, I know what’s going to happen. They’re going to change their mind. Yep, the green one is backed up again, retaining its original position. It’s now ten minutes past the hour. I’ve been here for 25 minutes. No picture, and it aint coming anytime soon. Finally the humvees are lined up in good order, a few inches separating each one. Time to wait some more though. Apparently not everyone is on hand for this momentous occasion. Can’t have that. Must wait on a couple of guys that should be arriving any moment now from R&R. Everyone takes off their gear, knowing this is going to last a while. My day is slowly slipping away. I had plans for these precious wasted minutes. Not to worry though, I’m getting a picture made.

We wait, trying not to complain but can’t resist. And then it happens. No, not the picture mister glass half full, not even close. Literally at 5:45, one hour on the dot from the time that we arrived, the platoon sergeant’s call everyone to gather round. With a knowing smirk on his face, Sgt. W tells us to go on to chow(as if that’s a reward), that the picture has been postponed for a while until everyone shows up. We trudge back to our boxes to unload the burdens on our back, walk over to the chow hall, and enter through its immaculate doors, feeling weak in the knees from the overpowering stench of grease. I grab a plate of food, sit down, decide I can’t bear to eat it, and get up to wait in the sandwich line. Not eating the food may have something to do with the fact that my plastic knife won’t cut the rock hard steak sitting on my plastic plate. There’s always sandwiches though, and salad. Eating healthy, something I’ve been trying to do lately. I have to, unless I want to run to the bathroom after every meal, which seemed to be the case whenever I ate the greasy stuff. I’m standing there waiting in line for my sandwich, wondering if maybe I should hurry, so as not to miss the glorious picture. Then I laugh at my anxiety, knowing there will be no picture today, it only makes sense. So I gobble up that turkey sandwich, savoring a little taste of home. There’s something divine in such a simplistic little sandwich. As I’m heading out the door I grab a Mountain Dew and stick in it my pocket, knowing I will need the caffeine later in the evening. Me and some other guy are walking back to our boxes to get our gear and notice a group of people walking back to their boxes with all their gear. I look at whoever it was and smile. “I bet you it’s been cancelled.” “Yeah, looks like it.” The picture had been cancelled. Who would’ve guessed it? Me and a lot of the other guys, that’s who. It only stands to reason that we would sit up at the company for an hour only to find out that the hour had been wasted like so many others. Don’t worry though, there’s always tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Say cheese.