The Memorial Service Part Three

Ultimate Sacrifice. They said it. I didn't mind.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference.

The Tao of Willie Nelson.

Lessons you learn in this place.

It all seems to come together and for one brief moment now and then, it puts your head halfway where it needs to be.

The speakers did a great job, I had no anger, none of that. The first volley of shots made us all jump. Just like always. Roll call was a kick to the gut. The final salute was excrutiating.

I knelt at my buddy's boot, looked at his dogtag, said, "I love you man. We'll see you when we get there."

Drive on.

The CO, the First Sergeant, platoon members and NCOs, the Sergeant Major. Handshake, hug, encouraging words. The Seargeant Major told me to keep my head up and in the game.

I told him we've got this.

It's just time, and a crazy situation, fucked up war, fucked up country, fucked up time, but that's how it is. No sense in trying to fight it. Just do your job, watch your corner, pull security, drink water, drive on.

We got this.


The Wake-Up Call

It's taken me a while to write about this. Never had the time, never had the will to do so. I spent Thanksgiving in a guard tower, doing a lot of thinking.

"Suspect, what are you thankful for?"

I drew a blank. Let me back up.

We lost three guys. I'm sparing the specifics and the backgrounds and the things that make you go, "Oh man...that's so fucked...that's terrible man."

This place, this new area of operations was almost like a vacation for us. Only a few wounds now and then, nothing too major for the most part. Then the fates backhanded us, hard.

That's all I've got to say about that for now, maybe forever.

I sat in that tower, staring at the lifeless dirt and shitty brick buildings of our area of operations and let my mind run loose. There was no controlling it at this point anyway.

I thought about my friend, who was one of the three we lost. I thought about him a lot. A lot of these thoughts made me laugh. That's the kind of guy he was. I thought about how unreal it all is. I thought about how little sense it makes.

I thought about all the huge and tiny factors involved in this conflict and how illogical and base and Typical of Mankind it all is. I thought about a lot of things. Hours of nothing but time to kill, dusty space to stare at.

I wrote about a previous memorial service. I fumed, angrily, ignorantly, with reckless abandon. I wrote shit that I didn't necessarily believe, in that confused and mixed up way people get when these things happen. I thought about that phrase "Ultimate sacrifice" and how we're going to hear it again.

Well so be it. I guess I can wrap my head around what people mean when they say it. Sure, no one is raising their hand and saying, "Sir, I'm not doing anything Wednesday, I'll take the hit. Beats having to eat this chow!" [Laugh track].

But it is an 'ultimate sacrifice', even if we don't realize it.

This was a heavy hit for all of us. Some guys are seriously fucked up about it. But I guess the mentality I'm clinging to is that these things happen and it's too late to change it, and there isn't a lot we can do. Just do our jobs. It sounds almost submissive, but whatever. Drive on, it's all you really can do.


The Porcelain Jaws of Thievery

Not everything that happens here is in any way related to political events, right and wrong, courage and bravery, boredom and depravity, bootleg DVDs and mp3 players. There's also those occasional bizarre experiences that you promise yourself you'll never tell another soul.

If THIS doesn't knock me off of the pedestal some put me on, then I guess I give up.

A while ago, I woke up as normal, and somewhere in the course of the morning ritual, I noticed that my dogtags were not on the chain around my neck. I figured it snapped as I rolled over in the night, something that happens way too often and results in constantly shrinking chains.

I found one tag and tossed it back on the chain and called it good. I doubt they even USE the things anymore. We went about our action packed Blockbuster movie ultra violent glory filled day where we took Hamburger Hill and whipped Jerry's ass in Normandy, and then we completed the Human Genome Project.

As I was getting ready for bed, I stopped in the latrine and visited my sacred Go-To stall. I'm a creature of habit (not OCD in the least, but I fall into idiosyncratic routines) and I tend to use the same John. I closed the door to the stall and turned around, catching a glimpse of something silver in the bottom of the toilet, almost completely out of view.

I leaned over a bit to get a better look and realized that it was a dogtag. This caused me to laugh, imagining some poor schmuck's misfortune of having their ID tag splash into the shitter with a tiny PLIP. I mean, that's GOTTA suck, right?

Curiosity kicks my ass and I have to try to find out whose it is, so that I can laugh at them and tell them how bad they suck at life.

I make out a few familiar numbers of the social security number.

[Wow, what a strange coincidence...] I think. I lean a little more, crouching down.


[Isn't that what MY dogtags say? That's really weird...]

Denial is saving my sanity at this point, but my bastard brain HAS to know. I'm torn in two directions. I want to know, and I KNOW I don't want to know. This is like fighting the irresistible urge to scratch a huge mosquito bite after staring at it for ten minutes and enduring it. Or worse.

I see letters that start to spell my name.

"Oh dude, no, no fucking way...NO...WAY."

I had forgotten about the broken chain until this horrible, despicable, merciless epiphany. It dawned on me like nuclear fallout.

"GOD, NO!!! WHY?!!"

I clutch the one tag still hanging around my neck, like I was seeking comfort or something. Some kind of assurance that I was wrong, and I had all my ducks in a row.

[No way, guy. Your dogtag is in the shitter. You suck, a LOT.]

"GOD!! How the hell?!"

[How many people do you think SHIT on your dogtag?]

I want my evil side of my conscience to shut the hell up. I want to let the dogtag go and forget all about it, to write it off as a loss. I nearly finalize this decision when the Asshole In Me speaks up again.

[What, you just gonna leave it there? With your SOCIAL stamped on it?]


I inspect the bowl. Do I risk identity theft, or do I reach into a fucking TOILET?

The toilet, for once, is immaculately clean. No shit streaks or anything, and this is one of those low-fill toilets. It's like God Himself gave me that one bit of leeway, just to get me to reach in there.

[Hahahaha, people take some NASTY dookers in there. Got a shoulder-length rubber glove?]

The mental tetherball is way too much for me, and like Ewan MacGregor diving for opium suppositories in the movie "Trainspotting", I say fuck it and go for it. I snatch my dogtag up, immediately filled with shame, self loathing, and bafflement as to how in the hell something like this could happen to such a good person like me.

And then I think about some of the unspeakable things I've done with complete disregard for others. I laugh about it.

Then I remember that I just had my hand in a toilet. I turn around and crash through the stall to the sink and begin scrubbing myself like a rape victim. I practically incinerate my dog tag in hot water and scrub it again. Then I wash myself yet again. I curse my recruiter, I curse everyone responsible for the Iraq war, I curse myself, I curse the cheap design of the chain we use, I curse that goddamn toilet, I curse God for not coming up with a more creative response to the human need to excrete waste.

And then I throw my dogtag into a storage box and forget completely about it. I'm ashamed of myself for reliving this story. I hope you laugh long and hard, damn you.


The Voice Of God

A fierce and angry, soul snatching claw wraps around my ankle and jerks at my sleeping bag. I look over my shoulder with perma-sealed sleep eyes and my headphones fall halfway off of my head.

"Wake up, CO needs one vehicle crew to be ready to roll in 20 minutes."

I look at the clock on my computer. The math doesn't add up, because wakeup was supposed to be 0630, but it was clearly two in the morning. No, something about this doesn't add up at all.

I put my uniform on in a stupor, wondering what the hell the deal was. Today's mission was supposed to be another routine borefest, but not in the small hours of the morning. Bullshit.

Out at the trucks, we sucked down tiny cans of RipIt, the Army's outsourced energy fuel since RedBull is made by liberal Nazis or something. We waited to leave, rubbing the hibernation sickness out of our eyes.

Standing out of the air guard hatch, flying down the road in the middle of the night with my NODs (the nightvision shit, remember?) on, the whole world has this bizarre surreal feeling to it. The street lights in the distance along with all the other ambient light create strange glows, and the scenery is all hues of green passing by at 40 miles an hour.

We reach our destination and the ramp drops. I pile out and throw the sling over my shoulder, then I start scanning for that boogeyman that isn't even there. We begin our walk to our target. Nightvision in one eye, dim street lights and shadows in the other. Speakers on top of buildings crackle and begin to play.

It's a man alone singing in Arabic. The singing comes in starts and stops, in bursts. The pause...then the next line or verse. It's that haunting Middle Eastern style, the blatantly religious one man choir. Call to Prayer? Or Call to Arms?

My shadow follows me along the walls of courtyards, from the corner of my eye I can see my reflection, all that gear, the rifle, the helmet, and the nightvision optic jutting out. I'm carrying a loadout worth more than my entire enlistment bonus.

The voice starts and stops and we go about our friendly American-style wakeup procedures. Five Star Hotel in nature.

They have some interesting music that creates an odd mood. But then again, so do we.

It was mid afternoon and I was slouching in the back of one of our trucks. We had rigged up speakers and a subwoofer, and I brought my laptop to plug in so we could have some music on another long and boring day. Until a surprise command of "Dismount" slaps me out of my stupor.

"The Mark Has Been Made" by Nine Inch Nails (the most commonly repeated song in the film "Man On Fire") is playing as the ramp lowers. Just as the song gets cold and ugly and the drums kick in to deliver that ragged badass moment, we step off of the truck. An old man with the headdress and all is sitting twenty feet away from us, staring. Kids were running around in the field, and now all their eyes were fixed on us. Wonder what kind of moment they had.


The Rollover

Once again, I found myself behind the wheel of one of the big green monsters, larger mission, plenty of US flags running around. I wasn't even remotely tired the night before, so I didn't bother to go to sleep. Figured I'd get plenty of sleep in during the mission. How's that for American work ethic?

We puttered along for two solid hours before we finally stopped. I reclined and slept as was planned, except for when I had to move the truck or drop the ramp or cure cancer. Before long (quite a few more hours), it was time for us to leave. Feeling rested, I put the truck in gear and prepared to follow our convoy out of the area.

The thing is, to EXIT this particular area, we had to drive over a narrow strip of land with a deep ditch on both sides of it. No problem, right? Handled it just fine coming in. Truck after truck crossed it without incident. Then comes my turn, the last vehicle to cross. We get about halfway across when the ground on the right side starts giving out. The truck leans to the right. Thing is, you get used to Strykers leaning this way and that, so for that first second or so, it seemed normal. You know, until it kept on leaning. This is my thought process versus what came out of my mouth.

Thought: We are clearly about to roll over, and this is going to be bad. My vehicle commander is probably going to be ejected from his hatch and crushed to death and it will be all my fault for being an idiot and a shitty driver. This is really bad.

Spoken: FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!!!! FU---Oompf!........fuck...fuck. Ow, god......fuck.

The Stryker was on its right side, wedged in the canal, so that it didn't roll completely over. Instead it was suspended in this bizarre angle. But enough about that, let's talk about ME.

All my weight was on my right side (see also: Arm) pinned against the wall, which was at that point more or less the new floor. My head was stuffed up against the roof of the hatch, also trying out a new floor position. I couldn't reach the lever to recline my seat to climb out through the back (see also: really old post about the underwater rollover training we did. Then read: OBSOLETE). I couldn't get my hatch open for the life of me. I triple checked to make sure it wasn't locked.



"Are you hurt?"

"Nah, I think I'm fine. FUCK!!!"

"Can you get out?"


Well, my vehicle commander seems to be doing just fine.

All right, douchebag, calm down. Breathe. Good thing you aren't claustrophobic huh? HAHAHAHA. Dumbass. Now get yourself out and meet your shame like a good little idiot.

I clawed around, tried to shift weight, tried to place my feet somewhere besides IN THE AIR. No such luck. I didn't think to press the button to lower the seat platform (technically RAISE it at this point), and it probably wouldn't have worked anyway since pretty much every system we had went down. Through my periscopes, I could see people coming down into the ditch to gawk and/or help. No luck getting the hatch open.

And now people are yelling random things to me. Fuck them, I need to focus on getting out. What a shitty day.

I finally managed to recline the seat a slight amount. The funny thing about trying to get out was that I still had my body armor on, and you wouldn't believe me if I told you, but it's actually a BITCH to move around in an enclosed space with all that shit on. But take my word for it.

I immediately gave up trying to climb out in the state I was in. So I ripped my helmet off (it was rotated sideways over my face anyway) and threw it to the mangled wreckage that was the back of the truck. From that one glance backwards that I took, it became apparent to me that Shiva the Destroyer stopped by the completely fuck this vehicle's world up. Nothing was in place. It had a very doomed feeling about it.

As a result, I elected to tear my body armor off and throw it, too.

I crawled through the obscenely narrow space and fell on my ass against one wall, tangling up in cords and hoses and gear and fuck-knows-what. Grabbed my M4, tossed it out the vehicle commander's hatch to whoever the hell was out there. My shotgun received the same treatment. Neither were loaded. Next came the body armor. I strapped the helmet back on, tossed out my knee pads and any other gear of mine (or anyone else's) that I could find, and then I half climbed/half fell out of the hatch, dusted myself off, and put my gear back on. Slapped a magazine into the battered, run over M4 (that's right, I still got it) and climbed up the ditch where I learned to say, "Yeah, I'm fine" as a new "hello, good to see you too."

I pulled security while we tried to decide on the best approach to get the truck out of the ditch. [God, we should be halfway to the FOB by now...]

One Stryker hooks up it's winch and pulls for dear life. Nothing. The sun starts to set. I pull out my night vision and set it up, very pissed off at myself and more or less feeling like the most incapable, bumbling idiot ever passed along by Uncle Sam's nonchalant number-crunching ass.

Eventually, it took a wrecker and two Strykers to pull the monster out. And one of the Strykers that was pulling was damaged in the process. Messed up a differential or something.

[We would have been already fueled up, and done with....EVERYTHING...by now. Great.]

We gathered up all the spilled debris and all other manner of assorted bullshit and eventually made it the hell out of there.

I spent the next two days in the motor pool repairing that fucking truck.

Other than that, I'm doing pretty good.