Machine gun fire crackled in the distance as I sat down to type this. Fitting, in that “for real, dude?” kind of way. Yes, for real. Dude. Machine guns. And not the ones that fire blanks.
Here are a few additional, often unrelated, thoughts, after my first day spent in the combat zone of Iraq. (Apologies, some serious sleep deprivation is keeping me from organizing these into a more literary-pleasing form of thematic structure.)
-- I’m not sure what this means in the larger socio-political sense, so I’ll just state the facts: Baghdad International Airport, the place that served as the epical climax of Third Infantry Division’s Thunder Run in 2003, and the place where SFC Smith earned a Medal of Honor in that same year, now has Subway and Pizza Hut. Take that however you see fit.
-- Being able to fall asleep in bizarre places and in bizarre positions is an absolute must for an individual to succeed in the military. I can now check C-17s and Chinook helicopters off my list of “Military Transports to Fall Asleep In.” (Big ups to the Chinook pilot who turned on the seat warmers halfway through our flight – that was absolutely clutch. Huddling for warmth in between SSG Bulldog and SPC Haitian Sensation didn’t have quite the same effect.)
-- From the air, and under a blanket of midnight darkness masking the various destructions of war, the countryside of Iraq offered an odd sense of tranquility. With the scattered lights of various townships all dotting a high desert landscape, I couldn’t help but think of rural Nevada. The steady crooning of the chopper’s blades quickly snapped me back to reality, though. 80-pounds worth of Army equipment on my back ensured I stayed there.
-- According to The Army Times, the average soldier gains ten pounds when deployed to Iraq. After visiting the dining facility here, I can see why. Ever seen the movie Hook? Picture that dinner table scene with the Lost Boys, just without the “having to imagine the food into being” part.
-- Most of my NCOs who have been here before are confused, bordering on disgusted, with the amount of development on our FOB (Forward Operating Base.) I’m inclined to agree with their point – it’s difficult enough maintaining combat focus, without the distractions of Little America clouding our minds. Bastogne, this isn’t. On the other hand, I didn’t make the rules, and if the military industrial complex sees fit to grant me access to free internet, an Olympic-sized pool, and ever-flowing fountains of Pepsi Cola, who am I to shun it? I may be ready for misery, but I don’t feel compelled to force it upon myself. I’m certain it will arrive in due time.
-- Near-beer – it’s just not the same.
-- SFC Big Country and his fellow platoon sergeants have been dumpster-diving daily, collecting all kinds of treasures for our vehicles that previous units discarded in their haste to get back home. Words cannot describe the oddity of seeing large, grizzled NCOs emerge from a dumpster, giddy as a child on Christmas morning, proudly holding up an antenna base. Scavengers, the lot of ‘em.
-- New Man Law: While slightly homoerotic, huddling together with 50 other scouts for body warmth in the predawn hours like penguins in an Antarctic storm is not gay. It’s also fascinatingly Darwinian, as a constant struggle evolves for a position in the middle of the appropriately titled “Dodo Bubble.”
-- Good news, Momma G – the nearest bunker is literally ten feet away from me and SFC Big Country’s front door. That means when the mortar rounds come in the middle of the night, I can run to the bunker in my underwear, boots, and helmet, run back to my room in just a few seconds to grab my pants out of the hamper, and then scamper back to the bunker with my decency intact.
-- My platoon and I cannot get out to our combat outpost quickly enough. Even with the perks of the nigh-2008 Iraq War, the FOB is still bursting with Brass, 2-hour meetings that last 1-hour-and-45-minutes too long, mind-numbing regulations, and Fobbits. (See updated military terminology.) I’m not saying there’s not a place in the Army for those things, I’m just saying that that place isn’t where the Gravediggers want to be.