Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Field Trip

The only time CPT Whiteback can get all of his lieutenants together in one room is late at night, sometime before the cock crows, sometime after Arab MTV airs three hours worth of Laguna Beach re-runs. During one of these sleep-deprived, coffee-fueled, wild-eyed-do-not-question-me-at-this-hour sessions, our CO announced that one of the line platoons would have “the pleasure to escort some Green Zone moneybags around Anu al-Verona tomorrow.” Apparently, they wanted to see what the real Iraq was like, and as per the military industrial complex tradition, would be bringing all kinds of pogue-alicious brass with them. He scanned the room and smiled viciously at me.

“The Gravediggers will hate this mission the most,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got the golden ticket, G.”

I stuck my hands in the pockets of my fleece and glared at my laughing comrades. No respect for the senior platoon leader. “The real Iraq, huh?” I said. “To see real life Iraqis in real Iraqi homes with real Iraqi poverty?” CPT Whiteback nodded, familiar with my brand of rambling, overindulgent sarcasm. “Can’t they just read my blog instead to educate themselves?”

He arched an eyebrow at me, elevating his wild-eyed look to crazy-commander levels. “Don’t flatter yourself. There aren’t enough stories about me for your blog to be the sole authority on the ‘real Iraq.’ Be Redcon 1 by 0900. I have to go, too, so don’t think you’re the only one drinking from the Suck hose. Now, LT B, you and the War Pigs …”

Sure enough, five hours later, under orders to trudge through a shitty-but-not-too-shitty portion of Anu al-Verona, the Gravediggers found ourselves serving as shepherds to said Green Zone moneybags’ clueless sheep. My platoon was doing exactly what it was supposed to – executing a combined mounted and dismounted patrol, with SSG Bulldog’s Stryker in the lead – with textbook spacing in between the vehicles and interspersed dismounts. The same could not be said however, for our attachments, who clustered together in the center of our formation like a gaggle of moshers at their first punk concert. Some of them hadn’t even bothered to put a magazine into their weapon, let alone charge the damn thing. I had spent the first ten minutes of the patrol attempting to inject some tactical sense into the Green Zoners, as tactfully as a young lieutenant can while making recommendations to a group of superior officers. Only one of the Majors had even bothered to acknowledge my existence. Fine, I thought, telling my men to back away from the parade of clowns. If they wanted to die, they weren’t going to take any of us with them.

I reminded myself of what SSG Bulldog always tells me when I get frustrated with attached elements. “It ain’t their fault, LT – they just don’t know no bettah.” It didn’t help. My internal scowl must’ve spread to my face, because as we pulled into a short halt to talk to some local shopkeepers, the aforementioned Major walked over to my position. The Gravediggers had automatically posted 360-degree local security, and I joined them on the perimeter, kneeling against the end of a building, rifle peeking around an alleyway. He took a knee next to me.


“Lieutenant, I just wanted to thank you for taking us out today,” he said. “I know it must be like herding cats.”

I did my best to keep my voice steady. “No worries, Sir. That’s what we’re here for.”

We talked for a few minutes. He was doing what good field grade officers do – asking about the ground situation, asking about the soldiers’ welfare, actually giving a shit about the executors of his plans and not pretending to be above it all. He listened instead of lectured. Once the mission continued, one of his peers proved to be the Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll.

“We’re ready to move,” he yelled to no one in particular. “Why isn’t this vehicle?” He was referring to the Stryker.

I had the hand mic in my grip, and was radioing up to the lead Stryker to begin movement. ‘Just give it a few seconds, Sir,” I said. “We’ll be moving shortly.”

He looked over at me, eyeing me up and down with all the pomposity of a French dignitary. “Just make it happen, Lieutenant,” he said.

I felt the red rage rise up through the base of my skeleton and blaze across the wheat fields of my mind. Gotta dig that instantaneous Irish temper. I wanted to tell him to put a fucking magazine in his weapon before we left him alone in the wilderness, as helpless and oblivious as Tom Wolfe at a frat party. Only the presence of my men within earshot forced me to utilize the brain-to-mouth filter. “Roger, Sir,” I said, biting my lip, arching my eyebrows, and quietly thanking the smidgeon of Scottish practicality imbued into my spirit by my mother’s side of the family.

I don’t really remember the next few minutes; my world was now a post-Armageddon wasteland, complete with lava rivers, crashing meteors, and cackling demons. I’m more of a scrapper than a brawler, and I’ll never be confused for a big guy, but I have beaten the living shit out of another man before when the situation called for it. (A story from the Old World for another time.) Just like that moment - when nothing else mattered except for the the fight itself, blood-drunk, the object to gain supremacy on my adversary in order to channel an eternity’s worth of primal wrath and contemporary justice through my knuckles onto his face and onto his face and onto his face - I knew nothing but the vehicle of my own righteousness, and was only faintly aware that such was simultaneously driven and fueled by my own insecurities. Unlike then though, there was nothing I could do about it, except to keep walking, and check on the Gravediggers’ intervals.

We stopped at a house on a dirt corner. The Green Zoners began to talk to the residents, and without provocation, my platoon posted security around them, keeping them alive for no other reason than they knew they were supposed to. I took a deep breath and leaned against a wall. I spied SSG Boondock across the way. He was smiling wildly, and then began to cackle, hands and arms outstretched like a starman.

He’s laughing at me, I thought. He thinks it’s funny the LT is so pissed off. That bastard. We’ll see who’s laughing next time the guard roster comes out.

I whipped out my Camelbak hose, sucking down some hydration, closing my eyes in the process. When I opened them, CPT Whiteback was leaning against the wall next to me.

“How’s the water?” he asked.

“Stellar,” I said, forcing a smile. “Always stellar.”

“What a clusterfuck,” he said, pointing to the Green Zoners. They had trotted out a video camera and were filming audaciously. It was more than evident that this simple conversation with locals about their daily struggles in Anu al-Verona would end up as a public affairs commercial in due time.

“They’re going to talk about this 30-minute excursion for the rest of their lives,” I said. “At every dinner table conversation it can be brought up, their ‘experience’ with the tragedies of Iraq will be trotted out in an all-out dog and pony show, for everyone to ooh and ahh at. And think of the children! The poor, poor children!”

CPT Whiteback chuckled. “Whoa there, sipping on the Hater-Ade a little early today, aren’t we?”

I took another sip of water. “I spiked it myself.”

My CO patted me on my back with his giant gorilla hands, and nodded. “Yeah, well, you’re probably right,” he said. “This is probably the first and last time they’ll leave the Green Zone. But hey, at least they did. And they have a lot of money to dole out. If them coming here means we get more funding to help these people, don’t you think one morning of bullshit is worth it?”

I stared blankly back at him. He’s really good at making me feel like a jackass, when he wants to.

He winked at me and started walking back towards the live commercial. “Ease up on the pogues, brutha’,” he said. “They’re just trying to help. And think of it this way – at least we know there aren’t any snipers in this area right now. I can guarantee you that they would knocked somebody off by now, if there was. How’s that for a combat operation?”

I stroked my chin in contemplation. “Sir … this isn’t the war I thought it was going to be.”

He turned back around and looked at me quizzically. “They never are.”

A fair point, I thought. Ten minutes later, we mounted everyone back up in the Strykers, and returned to base, two hours earlier than planned. Whatever it was that our visitors needed to see or hear, they had seen and heard en masse. The Gravediggers rolled back into Anu al-Verona that night, platoon pure, finding it just as we had left it. There is comfort to be found in knowns.



25 comments:

Grandpa said...

“Can’t they just read my blog instead to educate themselves?”
At that point I had to stop reading for a few minutes, I was laughing so hard tear were running down cheeks. The Mrs. came up stairs to check on me, thought I might have finally gone off the deep end.

Sisu said...

Ah, LT G, you have a fine command of the language. Nice to know pompous middle management exists everywhere...good job keeping your cool. Now you just need to take that rage, let it simmer and add it to the goulash of hurt you have in store for the haircut and fleece obsessed WO.

FbL said...

LOL! Probably one of your best posts in terms of use of the language, LT... IMHO. Made even funnier by the fact that I've been recently doing long-distance interaction with some Green Zone pogue-types.

Your reaction is certainly understandable, but try to remember they are different because they have a different kind of job. I'm sure you know that... just reminding you. ;)

Sounds like you have a good CO--I like him more everytime you write about him.

LT Nixon said...

Haha, pretty funny. Reminds me of the resentment by the junior sailors when they had to stop the normal performance of their duties and clean the ship just cause some mukkity muk was coming onboard. I see not much changes from branch to branch.

LT Nixon, now a Green Zone pogue type.

Bag Blog said...

Someone has to be the border collie; someone has to be the sheep. Great post, once again.

Anonymous said...

Lt G - Continued amazing shit you write. I'd swear the same guys you describe were around in Quang Nam 40 years ago when I was there and 64 years ago in the Ardennes when my dad was there. Staff REMFs are ageless and changeless.

LT Nixon said...

Alrighty,

I've tried to explain the mentality of these people on my blog. You're not the first to mention this type of egregious behavior and I think it warrants some discussion. Read here where I attempt to link Sinbad, Hillary Clinton, and staff pogues.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Randall said...

Sounds like the CF when I had to shepard some Congressional types around. Thought seriously about setting up an ambush on ourselves. Arrogance and ignorance in unmeasurable quantities.

Gonzalo said...

First at all, let me introduce my self. My name is Gonzalo Vega and I'm a journalist in “El Mercurio” newspaper (www.emol.com), one of the most important in South America. I am leaving this comment because I am writing an article about the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. It would be very important for us if you could participate in this article answering just three questions. Once the article be publish, I could send you a copy of it. These are the questions (you can answer to gvegas@mercurio.cl):
-As a soldier in Iraq, are you optimistic about the future of the war? Why?
-Do you see any difference between the situation in Iraq now, than the situations years ago? Which ones?
-Where are you serving in Iraq? (Could you tell me when did you arrived?)
As I told you, I hope you could participate in this article.
Thank you very much for your time and good luck.
My best regards,

Gonzalo Vega Sfrasani
Journalist
International informations
El Mercurio newspaper
Chile - South America
Ph: 56-2-3301967 / 56-9-92357992
Email: gvegas@mercurio.cl

Anonymous said...

Whao! And I was wondering if I was saying too much . . . Chile calling? Mind spilling your guts on international media? Does Al Jeezera blog you too?

Oh, yeah that protecting with your life while taking shit from assholes routine? Nice to know there are some things you can always depend on. How do they do it? I mean how can one human being possibly suck enough shit to get that far up the ladder and still be that much of a worthless bag of shit?

It defies the natural law I tell you. I served under both types, and I'll freely admit your type is better. We (our gang) eventually went up to the old man about our divisional. Well, some went up on charges, and the rest went up on request. . . long story.

Thank you, again, for you service.

Macy said...

Hater-Ade sounds very delicious.

Grandpa said...

Hey Carlos:
Quest. 1) Ask Capt. Whitbeck, he has possibly a larger perspective then Lt. G., and I am not sure where a military officer has to draw the line as to what is in his province, and what is in the purview of the civilian authorities that make the decisions as to where, when, and how the military get deployed. Maybe because I am old and cynical, I am misreading your intent, if so I apologize, if not stop trying to set up a jr. officer who obviously cares for his country enough to put himself at risk to defend it.

Quest. 2) This is Lt. G’s first tour in Iraq, so how can he comment credibly on what it was like years ago? Ask someone who has been there over the years, someone who’s opinion people like myself respect for his honesty in reporting over the years, someone who pointed out the warts, as well as the blush, someone like Michael Yon.

Quest. 3) Well, if Lt. G wanted anyone to know where exactly he is stationed, he would not have taken a location from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to identify his location. Did you think that the fact he has this blog, could make him and his men targets of Al Qaeda? You wanted to know when he arrived in Iraq. Well you are a reporter, you figure it out. (Hint: Go to the blog archive, start at the beginning, and read.

Eric said...

I stroked my chin in contemplation. “Sir … this isn’t the war I thought it was going to be.”

He turned back around and looked at me quizzically. “They never are.”


Did you really say that LT? I like your captain. He's a wise man.

Stay safe.

LT G said...

First off- I didn't hire any of you to be my media agent. If I choose to respond to the media that contacts me, that's between me and the Public Affairs Office. I appreciate all my readers, and especially the diehard ones, but some of you are starting to cross the line. Only my parents can lecture me on the comments portion of my blog. Further, I will not tolerate egregious slurs like "Carlos" when directed at someone who happens to be of Hispanic descent.

And yes, Eric, I really did say that. That's why I wrote about it. This isn't a fictional blog, and I'm not James Frey. I'm just a LT in Iraq trying to make sense of things men have tried desperately to make sense of since the beginning of time.

As always, thank you to all for simply caring and being interested. As evidenced by a new poll/study I read about on MSNBC, you are clearly in the minority in regards to the American populace.

Anonymous said...

Stay Safe, LT G, and keep writing it like it is. Reading your blog is one of the high points of my day.
j

Sgt B said...

Hey there LT...

We're going to be over there before too long (my Guard Battalion)... And I expect that we will see our fair share of clueless types who want to tie up combat assets in the name of "fact-finding".

Infantrymen are men of action, and there are aspects of combat that just plain flummox us... The fact that there are folks who wear the same uniform as us, carry the same weapons, looks like soldiers, but you'd swear that they're from another planet. And then they throw their rank around when what they really should do is sit down, shut up, and let the proffesionals take care of them... (Been there, done that...)

I suppose you could call it a 'proffesional challenge'... At least it will transfer the whole clusterscrew out of the realm of the emotional, and into the cereberal...

Keep the faith, LT, you're becoming quite the daily read.

See you over there.

FbL said...

LT, my apologies if I have crossed that line you mention. Anything such as what I wrote above or elsewhere that sounds a bit bossy is merely a feeble attempt to show I care, knowing that what I can do from here is really so very little.

I truly enjoy your writing, and appreciate the time you take to share things in a way that helps the rest of us understand a little bit more. Stay safe, please; you're obviously a treasure to those who know and love you.

Grandpa said...

My use of “Carlos” was a “brain fart”. It is the name of my oldest son father-in-law. My apologies to any who took it as a racial slur.

Ky Woman said...

Oh Gosh, now I'm going to go search the comments to see if I've made any that stepped on your toes. If I have, I too am sincerly abjectly remorseful....

as I stumble slowly to the corner of shame.

Anonymous said...

........Lt Your post was great. I see nothing has changed in 39 years. God Bless you, Watch your 6, and thank you for your service.

Spider Pig

Grandpa said...

Take heart lt. G. The support for what you guys are doing in Iraq has more support, then you might think. Below is the results from a Pew Research Poll done last month:

American public support for the military effort in Iraq has reached a high point unseen since the summer of 2006, a development that promises to reshape the political landscape.

According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans — a slim majority — now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. That figure is up from 42 percent in September 2007.

The percentage of those who believe the war in Iraq is going “very well” or “fairly well” is also up, from 30 percent in February 2007 to 48 percent today.

Consul-At-Arms said...

L.T.,

Great piece of writing here. I laughed, and I made some mental notes for that future time when I'll be that visiting fireman from the Green Zone (whether it's in B-dad or some green-zone-to-be-named-later).

I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2008/03/re.html

Hang in there and stay in touch.

CAA
SSG, USAR (Ret)
OIF1

Anonymous said...

Lt G, your blog has become a daily read. Only you know what it is like in Iraq. All wars are the same, only vastly different. God bless.