6.30.2007

Aim High

Sometimes it's a little too boring around here for my tastes. And I really don't get in enough trouble to be honest. What the hell, right? Life is short and someday I might be an old fart and people might think that there's actually a minute chance that I'll act like a respectable adult. So with the help of an outside "arms dealer" or sorts, I took matters into my own hands.

With a knife I tore the boxes open and rifled through all the goodies, found the letter and read it, set it aside to respond to in the future. Pulled out the magazines and happily added them to the pile to read when I have nothing to do. Then out came the good stuff. Four water balloon slingshots and an ungodly amount of "ammunition".

Rallying a group of friends, we picked a position and then grabbed one of our forward observers. He set up behind concealment with his binoculars while we filled balloons up. Once ready, we made the final preparations.

"Ok, you, move up two steps. Hold it higher. Yeah, right there. Ok, gimme one."

"Pull back further, like one more step, now down. That's good."

FWAP!!!!

We watch it arc out of view.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Left a little!"

"Roger. Gimme another."

FWAP!!!!

......

......

.....

"Suspect, your 'gun' is ON! The other one needs to adjust right and a little higher."

"We're using three, dude."

Once we were laid in, I had to pick the pace up. I was the only actual mortarman out there, and these guys apparently didn't know a damn thing about fire for effect.

FWAP!!!

FWAP!!!

FWAP!!!

Fifty balloons later...

"Rounds complete!"

"Let's go get more."

Wonderful, I know. And since you'd probably like to know what we were shooting at, I guess I can give you a hint. The Air Force's living area. Yes, I am aware that I am a little bastard. You may applaud my excellency now.

6.27.2007

Eye of the Shitstorm

If I had to pick one song that describes this place, I think I'd choose the 'reanimated' version of "Forgotten" by Linkin Park. Say what you want, it hit the nail on the head.

"We're stuck in a place so dark, you can hardly see
A manner of matter that splits, with the words I breathe
And as the rain drips, acidic questions around me
I block out the sight of the powers that be
And duck away into the darkness, times up
I wind up in a rusted world with eyes shut
So tight that it blurrs into the world of pretend
And the eyes ease open and it's dark again

Listen to the sound, dizzy from the ups and downs
And nauseated by the polluted rot that's all around
Watching the wheels of cars that pass I look past
To the last of the light and the long shadows it casts
A window grows and captures the eye
And cries out, a yellow light as it passes me by
And a young shadowy figure sits in front of a box
Inside, a building of rock with antennas on top
Now, nothing can stop in this land of the pain
The sane lose, not knowing they were part of the game
And while the insides changed, the box stays the same
And the figure inside could bear anybody's name
The memories I keep are from a time like then
I put them on paper so I could come back to them
Someday I'm hoping to close my eyes and pretend
That this crumpled up paper can be perfect again

I'm here at this podium talking, the ceremonial offerings
Dedicated to urban disfunctional offsprings
City governments are eternally napping
And trapped in greedy covenants, causing urban collapsing
And bullets that scar souls, with dark holes, get more than your car stole
Some hearts are blacker than charcoal
This society's deprivation depends
Not on our differences, but the separation within
No reparation is made, limited aide and minimum wage
Living in a tenement cage where innocence pays
Tragedy within a parade
The darkness overspreads like permanent plague"




Each of these days are starting to slide and meld together into blurry mush and its hard to seperate what happened when, and even the events of today are a minor struggle to pull together.

Some of these houses are REALLY nice, you'd be surprised. I'm still not sure exactly how to articulate the way these people live their lives, so I guess I'll leave that one for another day. The people in the neighborhood were really awesome, and I saw some of the cutest little kids. I entertained them, and by them I mean me, by making duck noises at them. I didn't even make ONE kid cry today! Not saying that none of us made any kids cry, just that it wasn't me...

Now you know the drill, I have to spare plenty of details. So here's the big blur, and hopefully it makes a little sense.

"Hey, how long has that guy been there?"

"Uh...just a little after we got here I think."

"Lemme see the binos."

"Got anything?"

"I dunno. Here, keep watching him with these, tell me if he pulls out a cell phone."

"Keep doing what you're doing man. If it looks like he's scouting us, fire a warning shot."

"Roger."

Lots and lots and lots of waiting and watching.

"Hey Suspect, you wanna go sit down and I'll cover for you for a bit?"

"Nah, I'm still waiting for this asshole to pull something stupid. And I called dibs."

"Hahahaha, you make me proud."

After a millenia and some really sore back and shoulder muscles, it turned out to be a false alarm, or atleast didn't present any positive threat.

"Ok, you can switch out with me now."



I went downstairs to chill out and make noises at the little kids and bullshit with my friends. An Iraqi Policeman that was with us was really talkative. Its like they get really giddy when they get to work with us. He spoke a fair amount of English, and rattled off a list of names of Hollywood action heroes that he loved, as well as some American actresses. They seem to have a skewed perception of America, thanks to our overblown entertainment industry.

He was cool enough, but at the same time, I didn't trust him completely. There was a cigarette lighter that was an exact replica of a Beretta 9mm in the living room. We were checking it out and the IP pointed it at my friend's head.

"Hey, dick!" I yelled at him and pushed his hand away. Gave him my best "Don't fuck with me" glare. Fake gun, joking, yeah yeah yeah, I know. But I want it made clear that you don't even JOKE about shooting at me or my guys. He followed me around for five minutes apologizing, and I kept trying to explain to him that it was cool, but I don't think he was convinced.

One of my friends was also shot in the leg today. That's all I knew about it until we got back inside the wire. So we spent about two or three hours with no information or further details. Turns out that the bullet missed the bone, missed the artery, and went straight through. The optimists would say that he was very fortunate.

"No way. He was SHOT. How is that good?" says the pessimist.

I don't know. That's just how it is. And here's the deal:

We aren't the bad guys here. We aren't the saviors either. That's because we're fighting with one hand tied behind our backs and blindfolded. Good people are too afraid to come to us with important information. Most people lie to us and play dumb. The majority of the time, this invisible enemy doesn't attack us, they avoid us. Supposedly they fear us. They fight amongst each other.

I've been told its not just Sunni/Shia and all of that. What else do you think is propagating all of the corruption and all the crime here?

Money.

Shoot at Americans, get paid. The politics don't mean shit. Its a paycheck. Attack this clan, get paid. Cash rules the world around you. Dollar dollar bill y'all.

The only thing we really are right now, is the glue that's holding this country in place. Not together, hahaha GOD no. In PLACE. This place would be a MESS if we left. But who knows, maybe it would resolve itself. But in the process, GOOD people would be killed. There is SO MUCH ignorance here, so much hate. Its ridiculous. It defies logic. It proves how stupid, sheeplike, and violent humans can be. Ha, and yet there are things that I probably shouldn't say right now that would help explain a few things.

There is no trust between the Iraqi people. A lot of them know that we're here to do good, but let's face it, our hands are tied, with Mr Nice Guy rules and we're blind because no one wants to tip us off. They can't even trust their own IPs. These people are ruled by FEAR.

WE are not the ones who are going to fix this place. We can only do so much. Its the people HERE who have the power. To tell us where the bad guys are, who's dirty, who's corrupt, to finally PACIFY this place. Once that happens, imagine all the jobs that'll open up. But that IF is larger than life. This security crackdown isn't going to do shit without help from these people.

6.26.2007

Hearts and Minds?

Wake up, throw your boots on, the same old deja vu hamster wheel that you've become accustomed to. You and your fellow statistics jump into your newfangled vehicle and ride off to save the day or some other bullshit romantic notion like that.

Same sun, same streets, same scenery, same color on every building, same flat rooftops, same palm trees, same three legged mutt dogs, same mountains of trash, same sweat stinging your eyes, same equipment killing your back, same shit different toilet.

I found a few things today, all of pretty much NO consequence. Uh oh, a couple AK magazines (clips for you smart people who didn't enlist), big deal there. And oh me oh my, there is a HANDGUN in this house with a few extra bullets. This'll turn the tide of this cute little conflict slash clusterfuck.

The Sunnis claim that the Shiites attack them, and the Sunnis just fight back. Guess what the Shia say? The same goddamn thing, and no one really knows what the hell is really going on, but dammit let's jump onto that bandwagon and kill somebody and then drink chai to celebrate in our shitty house with no running water or electricity, because we're too fucking stupid to get it through our dipshit heads that if we just mellow out, we can have ALL OF THOSE WONDERFUL AMERICAN COMFORTS!!!

But nah, let's not do that. Let's ensure that this place remains one huge, festering open sore. This place is the rectum of the world, perpetually shitting and excreting waste of the worst kind, and the worst part about it is the POTENTIAL all around here. But who am I to judge?

The people tell us a million different stories about the neighborhood. The IPs are good! The IPs are BAD! The neighborhood is good! Sunnis! Shia! Blah blah lies lies bullshit go away America, we know you won't kill us for no reason, so piss off. I stop trying to follow the horseshit and I give my watch to some little boy standing next to his father. He digs it all right.

Later on, I go to give another little kid a high five. He punks me, similar to that last time. This kid is MAYBE three feet tall, and his teeth are black. In this case, I am not so offended. I go into the house where some investigative bullshit is going on. Some dude is bandaged up, wounded from the firefight from a week ago (the one that had me itching to burn off rounds). More details withheld, this cat was dirty.

When the other team had first come in, the older woman who answered the door said that it was just her and her daughters in the house. When asked for the household weapon, she went and got it, and one of our guys spotted this dude and a pal o' his chilling in the bedroom. No dice, Chuck, come on out.

Her worry steadily increases as the whole American Intervention or whatever process unfolds. I take a moment to rest and drink water, and it hadn't been very long at all when I look up to hear, "Whoa, hey, hey! I think she's having a stroke!!!"

Her daughters are freaking out and they lay her down on the couch and get her a blanket, and her eyes look kind of glazed and not all there, and the left side of her face is completely slack. Her mouth is jerked out and downward in this weird half frown, and her daughters are becoming more and more hysterical.

They want the Americans to help.

The woman is terrified for her son, who's a grown man, bandaged up and in deep shit. The daughters are told repeatedly to call an ambulance or drive her to a hospital.

EVERY fucking time a situation like this happens, its like a minor trainwreck, with all kinds of confusion and tears and worry. And you've got some sort of guilt and this sick feeling in your stomach and that burning desire inside you to know what the hell is going on and why you're here, even though you know why. And that's when you brush that selfish part of yourself away for just a moment and return your eyes to a woman lying on the couch, suffering permanent irreparable damage, her kin sobbing around her and trying to tend to her. They rub her legs and her face, hard, like they're trying to make the blood flow.

Something about her arm? Is she going to have a heart attack? Is this woman going to die in front of us?

I look at the son, and think, "HE did this."

And then I look at us and finish the thought. "We did this."

6.24.2007

The Creed of the Specialist

No one gets away with more than I. I am a non Non-Commissioned Officer, a beast of burden. As a junior enlisted soldier I realize that I am a member of an under appreciated and much chastised group of soldiers known as the ribcage, or perhaps pancreas, of the Army.

I am proud of myself and my fellow Specialists who continue to bitch, whine, and sham until the absolute last second regardless of the mission at hand. I will use my grade and position to avoid responsibility, accountability, and any sense of presence of mind.

Ignorance is my watchword. My two best excuses will always be on the tip of my tongue : “I didn’t know!” And “It wasn’t me!” I will strive to maintain invisible and unavailable for details. Never ever volunteer for anything is my rallying cry. I am aware of my role as a SPC or SPC(P) and if you need me for anything, I’ll be on appointment. I know the other soldiers, and I will always refer to them by their first name or in some cases a derogatory nickname. On weekends or days off I will consistently drink myself into oblivion and I will never answer my phone. I understand for a person in hierarchical position rewards are going to be few and far between, and punishment will always be swift and severe.

Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties because I will be accomplishing them for them. I will kiss up to their faces and badmouth them behind their backs just like everyone else. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve. Provided that there is something in it for me. I am the last bastion of common sense that stand as a wall between me and the Army philosophy of “Work harder, not smarter!” My voice is a tool and my complaints are a weapon that I wield with unmatched skill and finesse. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget, Specialist is the greatest rank in the Army. And rank has it’s privileges.

No Bullets, No Explosions, Nothing To Do

"I've got a little black book with my poems in
I've got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb
When I'm a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone
I got elastic bands keeping my shoes on
Got those swollen hand blues.
Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from
I've got electric light
And I've got second sight
I've got amazing powers of observation
And that is how I know
When I try to get through
On the telephone to you
There'll be nobody home
I've got the obligatory Hendrix perm
And I've got the inevitable pinhole burns
All down the front of my favourite satin shirt
I've got nicotine stains on my fingers
I've got a silver spoon on a chain
I've got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains
I've got wild staring eyes
I've got a strong urge to fly
But I've got nowhere to fly to
Ooooh Babe when I pick up the phone
There's still nobody home
I've got a pair of Gohills boots
And I've got fading roots."

Off days are great and all, don't get me wrong. Its when you realize that you have nothing to do that you take a look around and think, "Fuck," because you know you're just going to waste a day, wishing you had something to do.

The internet, fickle bastard that it is out here, times itself perfectly, cutting off just before you click SEND on a long email or something similar. The wind rocks the tent and makes the metal beams creak, like nails on the chalkboard of your skull.

This is the likely assessment of what I'm going to do with the rest of this day:

Shower, check.

Eat one of those peanut bar things.

Watch more episodes of 24.

Consider bringing laundry in to be washed.

Forget to bring laundry in.

Systematically glance at both yahoo and msn messengers, to find that no one is on.

Stand outside and smoke, iPod optional.

Pass up lunch, sticking to the one meal a day routine, with the likelihood of snacking here or there.

Consider walking to the PX.

Decide ahead of time that the PX will be a disappointment like it always is.

Consider walking to use the phones after somehow acquiring phone card minutes.

Remember that I despise the phone. Automated answering services, push-this-button-to-have-an-aneurysm. Repeated tones of ringing, a busy signal if we're lucky.

Decide that the rest of the world has shit going on too.

Consider going to the gym.

Don't go anyway.

Consider reconfiguring gear on body armor.

Don't do it though.

Possibly make bed and straighten up cramped living quarters.

Perhaps smoke again.

Walk over to my "adopted platoon" (the one I work with now that I'm on the ground) and see what they're doing.

50/50 chance of sitting down and watching a movie with the boys. This is the one candidate for High Point of the Day.

Consider walking to the chow hall to eat.

Mental coin toss.

Wonder offhand what day or month it is.

Fantasize about leaving this place for good.

Become distracted with boredom.

Achieve nothing.

Go to bed way later than I should.

6.22.2007

Another Day In The Life

Up before the sun even scratches its balls, out and about long before I should ever awake, knocking smiling waving murdering the Arabic language with my greetings. Kicking bending breaking smashing yanking. Searching glancing observing watching. Circle a few of these, maybe even all, and you'll have a typical day, plus or minus a few events.

I do my best to pantomime and speak slowly in a pitiful mish-mash of English and the half dozen Arabic words I know, apologizing to someone for the damages we caused to an ABANDONED house, and that we'll compensate the owner. Does this guy's tribe or whatever hate us? Ha, probably. And here I am trying to level with him. He smiles and more or less lets me know that its no big deal, but I know it's probably a different story in truth. The guy watched us wreak havoc, and then he followed us to make sure we weren't looting. I don't blame him. There's a lot of things I'd love to loot from abandoned houses.

But looting and the taking of war trophies is against our policy. Amidst all of this fucked up mess, they're worried about us taking things from ABANDONED homes. People who are either dead or LOOOOOOONG GOOOOONE, but hey, they might come back when this is all said and done, kick out any squatters, and wonder where some little fucking trinket that they left behind is, while they were busy turning tail and running rather than DEFENDING THEIR HOMES. In effect, they just make it easier for the bad guys to win. But no, you can't take some piece of dust-collecting what-have-you to send home to your family. And who's to say what officers and NCOs abide by that, and which ones are going to have cool shit in their living room. No way of knowing. The wrong type of leadership could easily fry your ass for something as trivial as that though. Just one more tiny "Fuck you, Joe" that comes with some REAL reason that we lowly turds really don't care about.

It was supposed to be a short day, but those never happen. Not to us. As we ride in the stryker, talking shit in ways barbershops can't compare to, we're suddenly told, "Prepare to dismount! Get a flashbang ready! And be ready to detain someone!"

This makes me go into Fuck Yeah mode. Flashbang grenades? Sweeeet! This is apparently a big deal, and we're probably going to see some action.

We get very limited information and the ramp drops. I'm the first one out and I run around the vehicle, the other dudes following close behind, rifles ready, and someone says something about a mud-hut, so I run towards it, scanning all the openings and whatnot as I pass by, looking for a door. I find it, and I turn the flashlight on my M4 on, rip the door open, and charge in, looking desperately for that Ali Baba motherfucker we're always after. It's pitch dark inside the mud hud and it smells like festered ass just like the rest of this country, and I'm still shuffling and scanning and panting and sweating, finger on the trigger, thumb on the safety. It went down like this:

"MOOOO!"

"OHFUCKSHITFUCK!!!!" as I come INSANELY close to shooting a goddamn COW in the face. That spotted bitch scared the living dogshit out of me.

"BAAAA!!"

"OH GODDAMMIT!"

We come back out and I see a couple guys on the street.

"Tal! TAL!!!" I started yelling at him. It means 'come here' or 'would you like herpes' or something. I turn my head back at the rest of the squad. "What was the description of the guy?"

Half a second goes by. "Fuck it, TAL!!!"

I'm aiming at this guy and he points to himself like "Who, me?" Iraqis do that shit. "You can't POSSIBLY be firing warning shots at ME. Heavens no, and that curfew doesn't apply to me. Whaaaat? No way, you aren't telling ME to come here, or open my door, no way."

"YES, YOU! TAL!!! TAAAAL, MOTHERFUCKER!!! COME HERE!!!"

One of the team leaders asks, "What, man?"

"[shouted description of the guy's shirt, matching the one we were told to look for just moments ago.]"

"Oh. Good eye," he says.

The guy is still standing there. I'm walking towards him, weapon up, yelling at him like I have balls of steel or something, despite the fact that it sure as hell doesn't SOUND like I do.

The other team ends up searching him, possibly to ensure that I didn't eat the guy or something, who knows. We end up not finding a damn thing, and it turns out we weren't in the right place, or the planets weren't aligned right, or some shit, and as a result, we had to move elsewhere, full knowing that whatever boogeyman we were supposed to look for was long gone.

More boring shit and an exploding Pepsi can later, we were back on the truck. Along our merry way, we came across a dead guy in the middle of the road. He'd been there for a while and no one does a damn thing about it. Dogs had chewed all the meat off of his arm. Whatever this guy had done in life, however his story started and developed, it ended with him face down on the pavement in Baghdad, bloated and blackened in parts from being in the sun, maggots crawling around, dogs snacking away. And no one does anything.

6.21.2007

Yet another faulous fun-filled adventurous day in the majestic land of Iraq, where all that glitters is gold.

We walked through more abandoned wastelands, ghost towns from street corner to street corner, with nothing but trash and discarded anythings. If its locked, break it open. We are denied no access. Broken glass and dried shit crunches under my boots. The stench of they city is inescapable, its just that most times you're used to it, until it strikes with more intensity and catches you off guard.

We found a litter of puppies, timid and paranoid, but not as animated as that little kid. I took a knee and pet a few of them, all huddled together, for a minute. After a minute, they seemed to realize that it was slightly enjoyable, and that I just maybe wasn't going to eat them.

I also found a few wooden mallets, like Looney Tunes type mallets, but more on that in just a bit.

We were inside a building with some IPs (Iraqi Police), bored and talking shit as best as the language border would allow us, when the familiar pop of gunfire broke out. In seconds, it turned into an all out John Woo firefight. Now, mind you, I'm young and very stupid, maybe a little reckless. Which is why I grabbed my rifle and stumbled up to my feet (the gear, mind you) and decided that I wanted to play.

"Let's go, IPs! Yallah!"

They all looked at me like they wanted to say, "Dude, not such a good idea. Let's just kick it in here," but I wasn't having any of it. Not that I'm some badass or something, please. Far from it.

Under the sun and I'm on a knee, scanning and looking and holding my hand out impatiently while I wait for my turn to play with the binoculars. Rifles, machine guns, a BOOM now and then, and my dear god I just want to see where its going down. Where the good guys are, and more importantly, where the bad guys are.

Fucking palm fronds are blocking what's left of the view, after all the other buildings. I'm scanning rooftops, adjusting my posture, the knee pads NEVER sit exactly right and for a second I wonder if I'm going to blow the seam in the groin of my pants again.

Let me just reiterate that there are lots of guns firing at each other. Loud noises, pop crack boom snapsnapsnap, and there I am, bargaining with the fates. "Come on, just give me ONE. One positive ID, one asshole with an AK trying to act stupid, that's all I ask. Just ONE FUCKING GUY." I've got all this ammo on me, and the magazine I have in my rifle is 30 rounds of straight tracers. I don't know who loaded the mag like that, but when I saw it in our tent, I had to snatch it up for myself. Tracers are awesome. I stop thinking about my tacers as I peer through binoculars and fidget restlessly. Rooftops. Rooftops. Sandbags? Damn, IPs. Ooh! PEOPLE ON A ROOFTOP!!! Shit, they're just watching. Fuck, I bet those motherfuckers have a perfect fucking view, too! They probably have a perfect line of sight to these bomb-laying squirts of Jaeger-shit, and here I am with my thumb up my ass.

The gunfire stops.

Now, though it may sound sick, its the truth. I was bummed. If you've seen Jarhead and remember how frustrated they became when they couldn't kill anyone, well it was similar to that. Its not that I just want to kill a human being just to do it, that's stupid. I don't want to kill any random person, god no. I sure DO want to kill the assholes who are screwing this country six ways to oblivion. Is that so wrong? Ultimately, probably. But I don't care. This place isn't going to calm down if I say please, and this place isn't going to calm down if I lay waste to a hundred assholes, but the latter is my job, and it sounds a hell of a lot more effective than the former.

I walk inside, visibly disappointed. The IPs see this and attempt to console me, or atleast convince me that we don't need to go out there and kick some ass, or some New Age mumbo jumbo like that. By this point, they had decided that I was fucking nuts. Which is ok in my book. I want those guys on their toes and watching their asses and staying in line, and especially not getting in our way or EVER underestimating us.

When we finally left and returned to the FOB, we climbed out of the stryker and started cleaning it out and restocking water. I decided that I wanted to play with my Mirth Mallet some more. And this is WHY it's called the Mirth Mallet:

I took an unopened can, some sort of energy drink in a baby-sized can, and set it down on the dirt in our motor pool. I then reared back and dropped my hammer of justice onto it, causing it to explode in a beautiful cascade of splattering golden energy goodness. The can was annihilated, and looked as if it exploded from within, which it might have.

Stupid to you, probably, but I found this to be absolutely hilarious. Maybe I was just in that laughing mood, but come on, that jerkoff Gallagher is pretty damn funny. Watching him is one thing, but doing it, well that takes it to a whole new level. Seriously, go get a hammer or something, preferably a mallet, and smash things. Things that splash work exceptionally well. If you don't think its fun, well then you're old.

The Iraqi kids love to watch us break things like doors. Well wait til they get a load of me.

6.19.2007

Fun With Little Kids

Another fun filled day of adventure resulting in a wicked heat rash on my back.

At one point, when I was on a knee on the sidewalk, all the kids that were hanging around mobbed me because I made the mistake of waving, smiling, and the big no-no: high fiving one of them. They swarmed me, wanting me to slap hands with them, like I was some sort of rock god or something.

"Mista! Mista!!!"

All these shrieking voices loud like waves crashing against rocks, flailing arms everywhere, bizarre patterns of moving colors that can only be T-shirts. And then the next part begins.

"Mista! You give!"

"Mista! Football!" (Iraqis love soccer).

"Money! Money!"

And there I am, laughing and furrowing my eyebrows, saying, "Fuck you man, I don't have a football, and I'm not giving you any goddamn money--"

Another one wants a high five. Kids are pushing and punching each other just to hit my glove. My sweat-stained glove, several shades darker than it was when I bought it.

The interpreter tells me that one of the kids wants to know if I bought my M4. These kids are nuts. We pick up and move elsewhere, and not much later, I'm passing more kids screaming, "Mista!" I don't even acknowledge half of them because they're just demanding shit from me, and because its hot as hell and I'm sweating and my back hurts and my knees and feet are screaming at me and I know our mission is going to entail more than its supposed to, just like always.

One kid holds his hand out for a high five. I decide to oblige the little nipper and lift my hand from my rifle to meet his. This little bastard drops his hand and looks away, struggling to contain the laughter at the fact that he just completely punked a soldier. I looked at him, thinking, "You little son of a bitch!"

What the hell is this? I'm an ICON! Who the hell is he to deny me my own decision to grace his hand with my presence? I am a comic book hero badass!

If I would have had a dollar, I would have thrown it at his feet just to catch a quick look at kids and maybe even grown men mobbing him, beating the piss out of him, while I stroll onward to our next objective. But no, I had to throw in for the damn cookout.

Now, I'll leave it to you to decide which of these little stories is more messed up, and by messed up, I mean hilarious. But before you cast your final condemning vote, hear this last one.

I knocked on a door of some house, because that's what I was told to do and that's all you need to know for now. This tiny little dude answers the door. He must have only been two or three years old. The door opens and this small eyes stare up at me and grow instantly huge, wide and full of fear.

There, standing before him, is six feet one inches of army combat uniform pattern, desert boots, body armor, ammo pouches, a rifle, a breach tool, a helmet, and dark sunglasses hiding the eyes.

The kid completely LOSES his shit.

He opens his mouth as wide as it will go and lets loose the most terrified scream I have ever heard. As he continued to scream, he backpedaled three or four steps until his back hit the wall, and it was right about then that the other guys I was with make their way to the doorway. Decked out in the same fashion, except these guys are 6'3" or so, and unlike me, have some body mass behind them. Big dudes.

The kid, back to the wall, raises his hands and shakes them, flailing them about in an extremely comical manner, as he continues to scream bloody murder. He's completely freaking out, and finally gets his head together just enough to bolt into the living room and hide behind his father's leg.

I took my sunglasses off, in an attempt to show that yes, I am a human. I approached the man, and by doing that, the little boy as well. Before I could so much as kneel, the kid lost it again.

It was hysterical.

6.18.2007

Chilling

We didn't do a damn thing today, and it was awesome. I didn't get my worthless ass out of bed til about 1PM. Wasted some time at the PX, wasted time here. Added some Nine Inch Nails to my music library, by far the biggest accomplishment of the day.

And we had ourselves a cookout.

No hassle, no bullshit, nothing to bitch about. Just a group of us hanging out by the tent in lawn chairs, the grill firing up burgers for us while we drank non-alcoholic Beck's pisswater. The iPod was plugged in, speakers hanging off the side of the tent. Zero problems. Pretty much no care in the world. It was awesome.

6.17.2007

And The Glow Wears Off

Most of us signed up for this. Trained for this. Planned on it fantasized about it wondered about it imagined it prepared for it. We were wearing this uniform so we could come to Iraq and kick some ass, make a difference, and be glorified by fucking bards and minstrels in taverns, get groupies AND their parents' approval. We were gonna do it all. We were going to be like gods or something. We were going to carve our place in history with bloody bayonets, raise a flag, pose for the camera, and be that amazing spectacle of American glory.

Now, we've been here for a while. We've been out quite a few times, and we've seen and done shit. The novelty, the wonder, the thrill of this place, its GONE. Doesn't even leave a faint trail as to where it went.

I come back to my tent and I just lay down and close my eyes. I don't change. I don't take off my boots. I don't even get under the blankets. I read a book some kind soul who never met me sent, responding to an online request at booksforsoldiers.com or some site like that that I had randomly come across. I read until my eyes can't focus anymore.

And now I'm ready. To get that sleep I need, that I've been waiting for, wanting and needing, furious every time I wake up, to be robbed of it, to have this place rubbed in my face before the sun even comes up.

I close my eyes and I doze, and the last thing I hear is that godawful crying. If you can even call it that. A baby, a year old maybe? We didn't know what was wrong with him.

We were walking along a street, with all the repetitive houses, doing the same repetitive things, and I turn around to face our rear. An old man is carrying this baby, and the baby isn't moving, laying completely limp in his arms.

Oh shit, I think. I'm looking for blood, looking for trauma, looking for that look of death that I'm afraid I'm going to see. Another man approaches, and he speaks a little English. I hear something about "cannot move his arm or his leg."

The kid doesn't seem to be able to hold his own head up. We go inside someone's house into the living room. The men light cigarettes as the old man looks with more than a little worry at the kid. I don't remember when the actual crying started. Had they even gotten into the house? No, maybe it was in the courtyard. I don't know.

It wasn't like normal crying, it was just....noise. A vocal volume swell, swiftly cut off, with chokes and gurgles and wails. We sit as there's nothing we can do. We call for our medic, and then we wait. We wait, and we listen. Its almost like one non-stop looping noise. Like when you say a word over and over in your head until it doesn't sound the same, til it feels weird. And it just keeps repeating. And where is the medic?

"...His airway is FUCKED, man," one of my friends says. I nod, trying to determine whether or not the child's head looks dented. No trauma that I can see, is it a birth defect? Is that just his hair? Am I fucking LOSING IT? And is this kid going to make it? He's in a bad, bad way.

I walk out of the living room and sit on the stairs that lead to the second floor. Two women are sitting on the bed in a bedroom and I don't even acknowledge them. I can feel them looking at me when I light a cigarette and try to tune the "crying" out. The noise of horrible sickness, the noise of something beging VERY wrong.

The medic arrives. The interpreter arrives. I can make out little pieces of the conversation that I'm not even listening to. They were saying the kid had this problem his whole life. Which problem? The breathing thing, the severity of it, that was a current thing. Its that same horrible noise, and what can doc do either?

"His oxidation level is way too low."

I don't understand a word.

"He needs to get to a hospital."

I understand perfectly.

The debate on how, if at all to go about this goes on forever. Radioing for permission, relaying details, a huge mess, and all I want to do is scream, "Fuck! Fuck getting permission from every fucking level, get a few vehicles and take the kid to the hospital!"

When I know full well how other things are going on, and all these factors play a part in this and that and blah blah blah, and all I can do is wonder why the hell we can't help anyone. I think in the end, someone took the kid to the hospital somewhere, I don't know where. We had to continue mission.

A man who spoke fluent English told us how safe the neighborhood was, and how some of the people don't have education and are ignorant about how a lot of these things work. How they think we intentionally cut down their power lines with our vehicles. He says that we are still vastly seen as good people here to help.

I nod, and I no longer believe this.

I can hear a million people tell me that we're helping them (oh, but we don't ever see any bad people out here, this neighborhood is safe, and no, those aren't bulletholes all over my rooftop). And I'll still shake my head, because what have I helped so far?

We may have signed someone's death warrant. I can't even explain. Maybe by some miracle this person is ok. But I don't think so. And this person didn't think so. And if only I could tell the story. Like something out of a movie. But I can't.

"Atleast you make me smile one last time."

And then I fall asleep.

6.14.2007

Break Things

I wasn't able to fall asleep last night, so I've been up for two days straight now. Don't expect everything to make sense.

Out in the big somewhere, we walked through rubble and trash, doing something I'm sure. Gunfire not too far from us, but it didn't really seem like it was coming directly towards us, so that's good. We cleared a bombed out building and as we moved into the open, I heard a sound I hadn't quite heard in specific before.


ZZZZSHZSHEW!

I turned my head to a friend. "That was a bullet huh?"

"Yeah."

At the moment, the only reaction I could muster was to laugh and utter the Jackass mantra, "Holy shit, dude!" I decided to stick a little more closer to the opposite side of the concrete pillars after that.

And then there was running, and clearing and panting and sweating, and fogging of the eyewear. And shifting of the shoulders with the weight of the body armor etc on it. And the looking for stuff, and the not finding stuff.

And then more of all that. New house, they all seem the same. Usually the doors are unlocked. When they aren't, you get to kick them in, and the frail wooden ones are lots of fun.

Abandoned houses and broken glass and shit all over the place, some houses really nice, some completely empty except for broken things.

The Iraqi Police that we worked with today were slow to do anything, showed no motivation, and got in my way more than anything. I'm not really a commanding type person, but even I was bitching at these guys to hurry the fuck up and do their job. It was pitiful, and they kept sneaking away when we weren't looking. Fuck them.

They did seem to think it was cool when I'd kick a door open and rush into a room like there was actually going to be someone to shoot or something. All that did though was wear me out quick. I've come to love and worship any tiny little breaks we get, sitting down and trying to cool off. I've found that if you pull forward on the neck of your body armor, you can feel all this heat ventilating out away from your body. It pretty much just rises up into your face, but hopefully it helps cool you down. The armor traps heat with a vengeance.

Good god, how much of this deployment is still left? As run into the ground as I feel after each day lately, I'm starting to think this is going to REALLY suck, and not just suck more than anything else in the world, but REALLY suck. This is a long time period we're staring at here, folks. But that's out of my control. Fuck it.

The point that I'm almost trying to make is that if you get to thinking about things too much out here, it'll trip you up. I'm exhausted, and thus less able to shrug things off. To put it in layman's terms:

OH MY FUCKING GOD, I AM IN IRAQ! WHAT THE SHIT WAS I THINKING? WHY AM I NOT CYCLING THROUGH SORRORITY GIRLS RIGHT NOW?!?! DUUUUUUUDE I AM DUMMMMMMB!!!!!

Stuff like that. Good night.

6.09.2007

Something Not Right?

Houses, the worst shitholes you can ever imagine. Decadence beyond description. No one here is rich, come on. And yet they've got, by their standards, nice TVs, sattelites, PlayStation one. Sure, its a decade old now, but where? How? Air conditioning? Am I just losing it? Reading too far into things and seeing things that aren't there? Looking for my boogeyman and white whale a little too hard?

So NO ONE speaks any English but they know when to say "No"? No one's seen or heard or knows ANYTHING about any shady shit going on in the area? So why are there a half dozen military aged males hanging out in one house, another half dozen in another? Why is some guy asking so nicely if he can go run errands? Why are these guys so curious to watch us and look over our shoulders so to speak when we're checking things out? What days are classes held in the universities? Why does it seem like these guys are scowling when I see them out of the corner of my eye? Got a problem with eye contact? Why does it feel like they're lying out of their asses? And why does it feel like things aren't adding up?

And why am I not finding things I need to be finding? They're not stupid of course. And maybe they weren't hiding anything. Maybe I'm getting high strung.

Then why is it still so easy for me to be polite to all of them? To use what little Arabic I know to break the ice? To smile and wave to the kids? Hell, I'd hand out candy if I ever remembered to bring it.

A friend and I DID find something, but who knows if its of any consequence or not. Still, I reported it up and we all had a field day checking it out. Does it mean dick, or is it all old, archaic, and no longer applicable to anything? Am I just stabbing in the dark and chasing shadows?

I'm still the same old me, I know that much. The guys around here know that much. We just sat through a couple movies, cracking jokes and giggling like little girls.

It gets hot out there. With all that gear, it doesn't take long for my scrawny ass to get tired. Am I still sweating? Yeah, good. Better suck down another bottle of water anyway. Headache? Nah, good. Slight nausea? I think so. Maybe if we ate more than one real meal a day it would be different. The heat traps in pockets inside the body armor. When you sit down and lean back, you can feel it rising up along your neck and venting outward. Get tired too quick. But all you can do is wipe the fog off of your sunglasses and keep on trucking.

Now how to get them to talk? To tell us where to look, who to watch out for, who to bust. So we can mellow this fucking place out and go home to cold beers and shitty sitcoms.

We aren't just killing time out here are we? Just holding on until this whole thing ends one way or another? Complete or partial withdrawal, or maybe just the end of our tour?

I've found a couple things so far that hopefully might help us. I hope. This shit is easy to miss and overlook. How bout that big break?

Or maybe I'm just high strung.

6.07.2007

The Memorial Service

We had the memorial service for both of our guys today. I hate army funerals, for a few reasons aside from the obvious. You get higher ups who show up, and not that its my place to try to discredit anyone or anything like that, but to me, it feels like they're just going through the motions, even though I'm sure its not like that to all of them.

The big one, the one that I hate, is one little phrase. Let me just say this: I don't care if I'm 21 or if I'm 100, NEVER use the phrase "Ultimate Sacrifice". Ever. I hope a huge sweaty fist strikes the speaker directly in the face in the event that those bullshit words are used.

Because it won't be a sacrifice. I sacrificed plenty coming here, but I'm not offering my life, fuck you. At any point in my life, if I die, it'll be because I zigged instead of zagged. Didn't take care of blood sugar, ate too much fat, pissed off the wrong girl, whichever. You won't ever catch me saying, "Fuck it, I'll take one for the team." I won't willingly die, that's stupid. If I put myself in a position of imminent danger, that's different. That's my job. But you're crazy if you think my intention will be to die. Hell no, my intention will be to kick, claw, and scream, to spit and scratch eyes and throw dirt and kick nuts and shoot shoot shoot and stab cut rip tear headbutt and run motherfucker run. Not making the ultimate sacrifice. Blame world leaders on my epitaph. Even if it IS cholesterol. Someone's getting rich stuffing our food full of it, so give em a swift kick to the sack for me.

That being said, I sat in my seat in silence. Two huge photographs of two incredibly awesome guys. Boots, rifles, dogtags, kevlar helmets. Flags and unit signs and this and that and etcetera and soforth. Seas of guys in ACUs. I've never seen so many cry so quietly.

The battalion commander read a speech, so did the company commander, their platoon leader, and two guys from the squad. The worst part of a military funeral is the final roll call.

The First Sergeant reads off the names of the squad members. Each man shouts, "Here, First Sergeant!" and then he gets to the name or names of the diseased. He calls rank and last name. Silence. Your throat becomes tight, painfully tight. It literally hurts.

He calls the rank, first name, and last name. You're wondering why the fuck this is necessary. Its excruciating, seriously is.

Rank, first name, middle initial, last name.

The platoon sergeant sounds off, reporting that the individual(s) have been killed in action on whatever date.

BANG!!!

Everyone jumps. BANG!!!

BANG!!!

Taps plays. This is the part where my vision blurs. Then Amazing Grace, the same bagpipe version, every time. Everyone walks up to the display and salutes. I didn't make a sound or a face. Didn't wipe my eyes. Let em run. Because this isn't coming without a price. Immense grief, yes, but that's not it. I felt something new along with it.

Hate.

Not the way you hate commercials, or hate it when the toilet paper runs out, or when you have to wait in traffic. The true definition of hate. The desire to watch things burn, to fill your enemies with lead. To pump round after round into them. To let them know a little too late that they fucked with the wrong bull. To completely and messily obliterate everything that stands against us. If you aren't with us, fine, get the fuck out of our way. If you're against us, sucks to be you.

There are still plenty of innocent people out there. My beef isn't with them. But the moment I have positive identification of someone DUMB ENOUGH to be a threat, then its going to be a motherfucking bullet-fiesta.

I only hope that our leadership lets go of the leash. That's all we need. The rest is on us, and we'll give them hell. Just let go of the leash. Let us out of our cages. Point us in the right direction, and then crack a bottle of champagne and watch the fireworks. This trigger finger itches so bad it burns. Rubber bags are waiting for those cocksuckers. Just let us fill them.

This isn't all I know or all I feel. Its just something new. And I'm giving it its own special place do deal with it accordingly. And if the opportunity presents itself, I'll be coming back to the FOB with a lot less ammo. And I'll be whistling.

Rest in peace, boys. We'll take it from here.

6.05.2007

Recall. Regurgitate.

Worry not, I'm still here. Let me just try to recall things in some kind of order. I guess you'll have to settle for the unfiltered dump though.

I was driving. Another mission, yet another mission. Just me, my seat, and my headseat. My crew's voices and the radio, and the same bleak pictures in my periscopes. Sweating in the seat, the AC not doing much against the engine heat, not to mention the outside temperature. Water oozing out of my pores, fighting to cool me down. The salt burning my eyes as I try to nap. Nothing else to do. I flick the radio on so I have something to listen to. Sucking down water and pissing in the empty bottles. Its no easy feat. With all of that gear on, your motor skills are essentially reduced to that of a heavily intoxicated toddler, only much less cute. The urine matches the empty bottle of orange gatorade. If it weren't for the piss-froth, you could almost fool someone. That, of course, is a sign that you need to drink more water. Water that seeps out of your skin. Water that you see in the form of a dark V on your seat when you get up. That's right, that's from your legs, cowboy. Hot enough for you?

Don't get me wrong, being a vehicle driver is a pretty good gig. The boys on the ground move to another house and you tear a muffin out of the wrapper and spill crumbs off your oily chin. Life's rough.

"Contact!"

You aren't even bothered by it. Why would you be? You're surrounded by armor, somewhat comfortable with a little bit of AC, and dammit, you're young and dumb. Nothing can ever go wrong, no way, not to you. Sparing the details, one thing leads to another, and next you're hearing all sorts of fireworks and rounds going off and explosions. The Seventh Seal has been opened while you blissfully spectate and chew down a chocolate chip cookie.

And you all end up being out there way longer than you planned. Complaints of fuel levels fill radio traffic. Low fuel means turning the engine off. Turning the engine of means no AC. No AC means sitting in a big green sauna.

Soon enough, as your guys are all working to get out of there and go get some hot chow, with nothing going quite right, go figure. And you're about to leave, just getting all ready and comfy again. Then there's that damn radio, that damn voice, that bearer of shitty news. No, its not an additional mission this time, not necessarily. Its just saying that you can't leave yet, waiting on some damn minor detail like the wellbeing of someone or some mission or something.

And everyone comes home from work, and the streets are full, and now there's way more random faces to keep an eye on. And then after a while, the streets are suddenly empty, and not slowly either, no, its that blink of an eye you miss. They didn't run off, so how did you miss this covert exodus.

"Where the hell did everyone go?" I ask no one in particular.

TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT!!!!

"Ohhhh. Ok."

Radio beeps. "Contact!" Random clock direction, random cardinal direction, random gibberish numbers and letters. Snapping and popping and cracking, rhythmic mayhem. And my ass in seat. Full on firefights. Powerlines in front of me catching stray rounds and sparking and snapping and falling to the ground. A brilliant fireworks show, electric blue and yellow, miniature explosions, bright and unpredictable. The lines begin to fall, and one lands on a fruit stand I knocked over earlier, starting a fire. Half the sidewalk is ablaze with tall, ravenous flames. Mayhem.

It was pretty surreal to be honest. I just sort of went with all of it, because I didn't have a whole lot of sense of danger. I never said I was the smartest one.

"Well that was lame. What else did we miss?"

There was another mission on which I was driving. It was boring as piss, just like they usually are, the way I typically like them. It started that way.

The bass drum rumble that means an explosion not too far away sounds. I spend a minute wondering if it was a controlled detonation. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Just one more facet of being out there. Sometimes they announce the controlled dets. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they aren't controlled.

Just the occasional boom and the radio. I generally don't care to hear much from the radio, but I'll take the typical blather over what I heard not too long ago ANY DAY.

I thought I heard something, hard to tell inside the hatch, with the headset on. I debated on whether I felt like moving. Me, the lazy, nearly indifferent bum that I am. Finally, I reach up and click the radio on, just in time to hear:

"--ne KIA--"

Oh, we got one of them right?

"One litter urgent. Over."

....Right?

The radio traffic isn't as calm as it normally is after that. No, no stupid Hollywood horseshit where everyone is screaming and making asses of themselves. But not even two minutes later, the radio beeps again.

"Two KIA."

I'm not going to tell the story, not the details, not the who what where when and how, for several reasons.

Denial. Anger. Guilt. Bargaining. Acceptance.

I went straight to anger before I even got anywhere near denial. In the few minutes it took to get a mental hold on what was going on, all of my compassion, all of the optimism, and all of the well wishing I had for this country and these people was GONE. Blinked away. I became intimate with true hate. Didn't matter who it was, some Iraqi wanting to walk up the street we were on to go somewhere, either home to eat, or to plot killing someone, or to get a newspaper, who knows. Didn't matter. He or she was automatically a subject of extreme hatred. Fuck them, fuck all of them. Like they didn't know what was going on?! FUCK THEM! We try to help them in THEIR FUCKING COUNTRY and this is what happens?! FUCK THEM! Fuck them and fuck world sympathy and puppy dogs and rainbows.

I found out who the two killed were while we were still out there. Not that anyone should be substituted or anything like that, but it fucks with my head: Why them, of all people, those two? Neither had done ANYTHING wrong. Neither of them had so much as successfully pissed me off in the slightest, ever. Both were such amazingly cool guys, I can't even begin to describe it.

One would come up to my room back at Lewis when workdays were getting stupid and hide out and we'd download ridiculous amounts of videos and swap them. Always a positive demeanor, funny as hell. I remember him recalling the process and aftermath of his vasectomy when we were in a cattle truck, on our way to be issued new gear. I was delightfully mortified. Always full of funny stories. I can go on forever.

The other, a really young kid. I liked him from the first day he came to our unit. Loved his MySpace. We'd give him shit about it. This cat, it didn't matter what kind of mood I was in or how shitty a day everyone was having, he'd always make it a point to atleast say hey. And no matter how pissed you were, it was never annoying when it was him bullshitting with you. No matter how bad you wanted to be left alone, he was immune from that radiating anger.

And then I was supposed to somehow fathom that they're both gone? I still can't quite wrap my head around it. Every time I go to the chow hall, it reminds me of the last time I ate with one of them. And yes, we were bullshitting and laughing it up. So yeah, if that horseshit about stages is true, I'm fairly certain this is still denial. Denial is the only stage that you can still operate effectively in out here.

Later on during that mission, I was driving down the street, coming to an intersection. This woman comes out of her house and flags down one of the guys on the ground and tells him that we must not go across that road, there's a bomb there. We later found out that there were three fucking anti-tank rounds somewhere in that intersection. Was the trigger-man home? Was that my number? Was I almost ten minutes past fucked?

In this GODFORSAKEN HORRIBLE NEIGHBORHOOD, with no sign of hope, did a woman just risk her neck to come out and warn us? You gotta be shitting me. Were our lives saved by a total stranger? Would we have just skated on by without getting hit, never knowing we drove over some big-ass bombs?

Funny thing is, this is probably the most time I've spent thinking about it. It fucks you up. Wouldn't it be easier just to put the hate on full-auto and distribute it without discretion? But some of these people, normal people, trying to live their lives.





They got me out of the driver's hole for a while. I get to run with the line platoons. Boots on the ground, rifle in hand, sweat in eyes, dopey grin on face.

Riding in the back of an infantry Stryker, on the uncomfortable bench with the piss-poor padding that numbs your ass, jammed in with a bunch of other guys, all wearing full battle rattle, it was something new. That ramp drops and you dismount with the rest of them, getting the hell out as fast as you can, not because you feel endangered, but just so you can stretch your legs, and maybe, just maybe, fuck some Ali Baba son of a bitch up.

The ground is covered in trash. The sides of the road. Abandoned houses, not so abandoned houses. People living in abandoned houses. Blown out, shot up cars, smashed windows, bars over EVERY window of EVERY house.

The very first house I ever cleared was what I was told to be, "The nicest house I ever seen out here," by a friend as we stared at their chandelier. Where the hell was THIS money coming from? COUGH-informant-COUGH. Who knows for sure though.

The abandoned houses are the funner ones. Much less furniture, way more shit to toss around without worrying about offending good and honest people. Also more chance of finding a cache or some radical dickwad who picked the wrong day to get out of bed and screw with the boys.

Sometimes when we're outside, we'll hear shots fired, and not be sure where the hell they're coming from, or whether its friendly or assholes. You want to just start shooting, just for the hell of it. To mess something up. To put a little violence in the air. Put the violence to a locked door with your boot. Some of them don't kick in so easily, so given my thin stature, I graciously step aside for someone else to bust it down.

The people are very hospitable, and treat their guests extremely well. I had chai tea today, it was pretty good. They're all about their sugar, which I can dig. The kids are usually really awesome too. There's more, so much more, but with this brain-shot mind-numb maelstrom of shit whirling in my tired little head, its only going to continue to come out as gibberish.

I opted to pay for the shitty wireless internet out here, so posting will be easier for me. Even if I AM waiting five minutes for a webpage to load.

I'll post more later. Iraqi Police, little kids, dogs. Smells, sounds, sights. Coming back from a mission and realizing, just before entering the chow hall, that the entire crotch of my pants has torn along the seams thanks to these fucking mandatory knee pads. Saying fuck it and going in and eating anyway. And also: my second love, after Natalie Portman:

The KA-BAR.

See you soon.