Wednesday, April 23, 2008

To the Principles! Office

There are moments in this war – albeit more sporadic than the movies of the future will show and almost always spontaneous – when we’re conducting the combat operations I envisioned us executing prior to our arrival to Iraq. Running through side streets in the midnight black to storm known insurgent safe-houses. Digging up caches of homemade RPG launchers and warheads while the local leaders stammer that they have no idea how those things got in the ground in the first place. Penetrating deep into the unknown through a hail of flying bullets, effectively ending a firefight simply because we’re the biggest dog on the block - if said big dog had a long-barreled 50-caliber machine gun mounted on top of it. Still being over here doesn't negate the ability to already recognize that these are the times that will stick to my psyche like quicksand for the succeeding ever after. I’m no adrenaline junkie, but these lethal operations make getting up in the morning worth it. Warring during war with warriors just makes fucking sense, be it philosophically, grammatically, or serendipitously.

And then there are the other times.

Headquarters NCO: “Hey Sir, you busy?”

LT G: “Umm. Just perusing Facebook, seeing what drugs people I went to high school with are addicted to now, and who from my college class has sold out in the name of financial stability. So that would be a big, fat negative. What’s up?”

Headquarters NCO: “The two Sheiks from East Bumfuq Village are downstairs, screaming at each other again. And CPT Whiteback is back at the FOB. You’re the only LT around right now.”

LT G: “Fuck.”

Headquarters NCO: “I know. Sorry about that, Sir. Biggie is already downstairs waiting for you.”

LT G: “You set me up!”

Headquarters NCO: “Would you have gone otherwise?”

LT G: “Nope. I would have hid in my room until they killed each other or left. Those bastards are worse than two teenage gypsies cat-fighting over the same man.”

Headquarters NCO: “Thanks, Sir.”

LT G: “Grumble, grumble, grumble. And grumble.”

(Five minutes later, after multiple shots of coffee and a rather tasty Honey Bun snack, I saunter downstairs, seeing the two Sheiks still yelling at one another with all the traditional Arabic melodrama and pomp, complete with finger-wagging. One is pathetically fat, the other comically thin, and both are dressed in traditional Arabic wear, complete with white dishdashas [better known to U.S. soldiers as man-dresses] and red-and-white checkered headdresses. Biggie is sitting down in a chair across from them, still dressed in his old man silk pajamas, smoking a cigarette, smiling openly while he watches them fight.)

Biggie: “LT! Good morning!”

LT G: “What up, Biggie Smalls. What’s the deal with these two? Have they gone crazy?”

Biggie: “Crazy! Yes!”

LT G: “Alright, Sheiks. Follow me to the meeting room.”

(They follow me to the meeting room. Only after I give them the international hand-and-arm signal for “Shut the Fuck Up” do they stop speaking. Instead, they sit and opposite ends of the conference table, arms crossed, and glare at one another. At the beginning of the deployment, I found it odd to lecture men twice my age and supposed leaders of men about matters concerning their own people. I was overly concerned with phrases like “cultural awareness,” and other academic argot. [Argot is academic for bullshit.] I certainly feel no such internal pangs any longer.)

LT G: “I feel like a principal who has to settle a hide-and-go-seek dispute between two third-graders.”

Biggie: “Eh?”

LT G: “Nevermind. Okay, tell me what happened.” I raise both hands to the ceiling, evoking some higher deity to bless us with sanity, before the conversation devolves into rapid-fire tongue chaos again. “One at a time. You first, then you.”

Fat Sheik (through Biggie, as are all of their statements): “Our area must have one leader! Just one! This man is a terrorist! He work with al-Qaeda!”

Skinny Sheik: “You are the terrorist! I drive away all of the al-Qaedas from our village! You want to bring them back!”

LT G: “We had lunch in your village just two days ago. With both of you. Everything was peaceful then, and you both told me that you enjoyed working together. What happened?”

Fat Sheik: “We are two villages. Two tribes, two villages.”

Skinny Sheik: “My people are separate from his people.”

LT G: “Alright, alright. We’ve told you this before: your villages are the same, as far as Sawha contracts are concerned. I realize you are the heads of two different tribes, and that you think that a dried-up creek bed separates your villages. I’m telling you that if you both still want to get paid, and have your men get paid, then it doesn’t matter. You run East Bumfuq. Together.”

Skinny Sheik: “Yes. I understand that. He does not.”

Fat Sheik: “Yes I do! You are the scum who does not!”

(Cue tongue chaos, finger wagging, and uproarious behavior on both sides of the table. Biggie laughs and whips out another cigarette.)

LT G: “Hey! Hey! Calm the fuck down and listen. You are Sawha leaders and Sheiks, not warlords. If you ever want to see another payment from us, shut the fuck up and start listening!”(Aforementioned tongue chaos, finger wagging, and uproarious behavior comes to a screeching halt as soon as Biggie completes his translation. Money talks. Even through a terp.)

LT G: “Let me make this very clear: CPT Whiteback will gladly fire both of you if you can’t learn to work together. He will find someone who can control his emotions and remember that the security of the people is the most important part of being a Sawha leader. Not pride or ego.”

Skinny Sheik: “I wish to work together. He does not. He wants there to only be one of us.”

Fat Sheik: “I wish for him to run his checkpoints, and me to run mine.”

LT G: “Fine. Good. That’s the way it was and the way it will stay. You don’t have to like one another to work together.”

Fat Sheik: “Okay.”

Skinny Sheik: “Fine.”

LT G: “And I know you’re both smart enough to know that anyone who works with AQI, or allows them into East Bumfuq, will be caught by us. We know all. We see all. Especially in East Bumfuq.”

(I see both Sheiks eyeing one another suspiciously. Biggie seems to believe another round of tongue chaos is about to occur, and he begins to chide them in Arabic. I let him ramble. He knows the American talking points as well as anyone, and unlike us, is genuinely angry – rather than annoyed and/or disgusted - with the Sheiks for their childish behavior.)

LT G: “Have we reached an understanding? Agree to disagree, then?”

(Both the Fat Sheik and the Skinny Sheik nod their heads, but they do not laugh. Apparently, quotes from the movie “Anchorman” are not yet all the rage in East Bumfuq, Iraq.)

Fat Sheik: “Thank you, LT Talib. You are wise beyond your years. We must be thinking leaders, not leaders of the heart.”

Skinny Sheik, not to be outdone: “Yes, LT. This Sheik is often wrong, but he is right that you are wise for one so young. Thank you. And when is pay day?”

Fat Sheik: “Yes, when is pay day?”

Biggie: “Hah hah, money bring them back together. These men are crazy, yes!”

I nod in agreement and walk back upstairs. I need a near-beer.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Brothel

“We got nothing, LT.” SSG Boondock’s voice ricocheted around the thin walls of the Iraqi hut we had raided in the dead of the night. “No males, military-age or otherwise. Our guys must’ve bounced, already. Nothing here but the mom, the teenage daughter, a younger kid and a baby, and a crazy-ass grandma who won’t stop giving me the evil eye. Easy, lady! Put down the broom and come outside.”

I was standing in the main room of the house with Sonic – a young terp with a propensity to spike his hair - explaining to the mother why we were there. Yes, of course you can pick up the crying baby. No, we are not here to talk about your eldest daughter being so sick that she’s in the hospital, although that is awful. Yes, I want everyone in the house outside. Now. No, you cannot talk to each other. I want to talk to each of you separately. Yeah, including you grandma.

The previous hour had passed in a blur any Zoloft addict could appreciate. There I was, chillaxing in Sheik Stack-On-Me’s living room, drinking chai and watching Suzanne Somers’ workout videos, on his very expensive and very golden Arabic couches. My soldiers pulling inner security – SGT Chico and PFC Boomhauer – were slightly confused at the sight, but I had keyed in on the Sheik’s dirty old man status months ago. Finding him in his pajamas at night learning about the wonders of the Thighmaster only confirmed my suspicions. To his credit though, he hadn’t appeared the least bit embarrassed when he found us on his front porch, checking up on him due to a recent assassination threat put out by an insurgent cell. He simply invited us in, and lectured me about the benefits of “a woman with experience who … still exercise. Heh heh heh.”

Sheik Stack-On-Me was in the process of bestowing upon me a brand new chai set when my dismount radio buzzed with want. “Gravedigger 1, this is Gravedigger 4.” It was SFC Big Country, and he had the unmistakable “I am relaying a Frago from higher, would a plan every now and then seriously kill these fuckers?” crispness to his voice.

“This is 1.”


“But I’m getting my chai set! Can’t it wait?”

“Yeah … about that … we’re gonna have to ask you to come in to work tonight. There’s a raid the Gravediggers need to execute.”

“Raid? Fine. At least it’s not another market assessment. I’ll be there in two mikes.”

Two minutes and a chai set bequeathal later, I got the full run-down from Bounty Hunter X-Ray. Fadl, a local thug for a Mahdi Army splinter group and known spreader of mayhem, had been spotted at a local female shopowner’s house in the northern portion of town, with another unknown man. Our source said that Fadl routinely came to this house at night to pay the mother money to – cue locals’ broken Aranglish - freaky-freaky with her teenage daughter. A family without a man of the house being unable to financially sustain themselves is not a rarity in Anu al-Verona. Unfortunately, neither is the solution utilized by this particular family. After a quick radio rehearsal and confirmation of the house’s location, our Ghost Tanks raced off into the darkness, grateful for this unscheduled variation in the nightly patrol grind.

The vehicle cordon called set. The dismount teams were stacked. I gave SSG Boondock the shaka’, and in they swooped, a silent, efficient testament to hours spent training under the rigid specificity of my NCOs. The raid itself lasted no more than two minutes, yielding no Fadl and no unknown man, either. JAMnation. Time to tactically question. One at a time on the patio with me, everyone else in the main room, where you can watch and verify that I am not committing horrible infidel acts to your family members. No talking, though. My men are going to search your house. Don’t worry, they won’t break anything. You don’t have any weapons? Not even an AK? No banana-clip magazines? Okay. You first, grandma.

I found two chairs in the main room and pulled them out to the patio. I took off my helmet, set my rifle to the side, and instructed the elderly woman to sit down next to me. “Hello Ma’am,” I said, completely certain that the manners so carefully ingrained into me by my Southern mother would be lost in translation, “my name is Lieutenant Talib and I need your help.” (Quick aside: I’ve settled on going by Talib, another Sheik’s designation for me, with the locals. Iraqi tongues never got the hang of my actual Irish surname, and previous nicknames no longer apply. I don’t look like the “Happy LT” anymore, and I definitely don’t feel like the “Young LT” anymore. So Talib it is.)

“I know nothing,” she responded to Sonic’s translation, automatically. “I am an old woman. I am tired. Let me go back to bed.”

“I will,” I promised. “Just help me first. We’re trying to find bad men we know are causing harm to your family.”

“I know nothing.”

“We’ll see. Maybe you know something important that you do not know is important.”

Five minutes and many rebuffs later, I was still as stonewalled as Don Juan at a nunnery. Fine. You win, you snaggle-toothed wench. Ma’am. Wench-Ma’am. Go back to bed. Bring me the little girl. Damn it, I said no talking in there! Translate that as soothingly as possible, Sonic. Huh? What’s soothingly?

Nevermind. They got the point.

A young girl walked up shyly to me, taking Sonic’s hand, who guided her to the seat next to mine. She had big black eyes, and wore her hair in pigtails. Her mouth hadn’t closed since she had first seen the American Giant, PFC Das Boot himself, some minutes earlier.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Talib. What’s yours?”

She gazed at Sonic for many seconds before answering. “Asma.”

“What’s her deal?” I asked my terp.

“She is surprised I speak Arabic,” he said. “Because I wear American uniform.”

“Ah. Okay, Asma. I was hoping you could help me out.”

“With what?” she whispered, avoiding any and all eye contact. Her eyes kept swinging back behind me, to the doorway where her mother and her older sister still were.

“Do any men live here?” I asked.

“Not since my father died.”

“When was that?”

“One year ago, I think.”

“Do any men come here now? Men who aren’t in your family?”

Her eyes betrayed her again. She tried glancing behind me again, and when I moved my body in between that vantage point, she suddenly became very interested in a piece of concrete below her.

“No,” she said. “The only men that ever come here come during the day to our shop.”

“Please don’t lie to me. I thought we were friends. Aren’t we friends?”

There was a slight pause before she answered. “No.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had been rejected by an eight-year old. “No? Why not?”

“Because you are American,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

Well, at least I’ll get one honest answer out of her, I thought. Sonic laughed, in spite of himself, and gave it a shot. “What about me?” he asked. “I am Iraqi. Can we be friends?”

She didn’t even bother to hesitate this time. “No. You are Iraqi, but you are American now. We cannot be friends. I’m sorry.”

I tried to ask her who had said we couldn’t be friends, but there are only so many questions you can ask an eight-year old before they go all oyster on you. Yeah, you know there are pearls of wisdom tucked away in there, but it’s for damn sure you aren’t unfurling them tonight. Go to bed, Asma, and bask in your friendless existence.

“Hey, Sir.” It was SSG Boondock, looming in the doorway. “House is clear. No weapons, no propaganda, not even an expensive TV. Nothing.”

“Any sign of a man being here recently? Clothes or something?”

He shook his head. “Nope. The only thing is … well … I think the story we got is right. There’s only one mattress in the entire house, and it’s in the older daughter’s room. Queen size. That don’t make any sense.”

“Okay.” I hadn’t been looking forward to this questioning. I’m awkward enough with girls, and that’s even when I’m not accusing them of being terrorist whores selling their body to Mahdi Army insurgents hellbent on my bloody destruction. “Might as well bring her out here, then.”

Out came an Iraqi girl so homely it was striking. She was built like a rectangle, hadn’t washed her hair for seemingly weeks, and wore way too much bright red blush. She claimed she was 23, but I wouldn’t have placed her a day over 16. The dynamics in this questioning had changed considerably from the last one. Now, my interviewee kept trying to stare at me, while I avoided any and all eye contact. (I wanted to use the term role reversal somewhere in that last sentence, but thought it was a little inappropriate, given the subject matter at hand. Oops.)

“I was hoping you could help us out by answering a few questions.”

“Sure. I’d love to help out the Americans.”

“Right. We know you know a man named Fadl. Tell us where he is now.”

“Fadl? I do not know a Fadl.” I looked back up at her face, searching for signs of a wry grin, but found nothing but dreary eyes probing me like I was an alien freshly arrived from the rings of Saturn. Just like the slutty girls back in high school, I thought, an empty face with an empty gaze. She has seen too much of the primal desires of man already to have any sense of awe anymore. There’s no intrigue left in human relationships for her.

“There is no reason to lie to me. We know what is going on here. I don’t care about that. We need to talk with Fadl.”

“I do not know anyone by that name,” she said. I couldn’t decide if I had picked up a tinge of smugness in her voice, or if that had been my imagination. I asked her about her bed, and was told that the whole family slept on the mattress with her. That was about as far as I was willing to go with that subject matter. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

Having now been rejected by a two-dinar prostitute (or whatever the going rate is these days in the doldrums of Anu al-Verona) in addition to an eight-year old turning down my friendship request, I asked the mother to come out to the patio. I could hear the frustration seeping into my own voice. We’re Cav scouts, not beat cops; certainly there was something better, and more kinetic in nature, for us to be doing with our time. My men were pacing anxiously, waiting on me to finish up this boondoggle. I went with the expedited version of tactical questioning.

“Do you know a man named Fadl?”


“Do bad men come here at night?”


“Are you lying to me?”


The mother stared back at me, just as stonily as her teenage daughter had minutes before, and then smiled. I lived with a single mother long enough to know that this woman was feigning deference. Behind this masquerade of feminine submission was a tartness as sharp as razorblades and a will as stanch as steel. Boyish charm or no, this woman wanted me out of her house as soon as possible – and that meant perpetuating the lies of her family members. I decided that her thinking was that the known horrors of Fadl were still better than the unknown horrors that could occur if it was learned she helped the Americans.

I tilted my head and looked back at her. “I understand why you’re lying to me. You are scared. I would be scared, too.” I pulled out my notepad, tore out a piece of blank paper, and handed that and a pen to Sonic. “Write down the number to the combat outpost,” I told him, before continuing my talk with the mother. “Call us if you get scared again. We can help you.” I took the paper from Sonic, and pressed it in the mother’s hands. “We want to help you.”

She bit her lip and whispered back at me. “I will.” She looked around her, absorbing the tall, broad-shouldered, straight backed, clean-shaven, stoic profiles of SFC Big Country, SSG Boondock, SGT Chico, and PFC Das Boot. For the briefest of moments, I thought she was going to collapse into one of their arms and begin weeping. Instead, she simply bit her lip again and stared down at the ground. It was the final, and surest, sign for us to depart.

On our way out though, I waved the teenage girl out of the house and to the front walkway. She brushed past her still motionless mother, and strolled up to us. “Tell Fadl,” I said as soon as she came within earshot, “that we’re going to capture him or kill him. It’s only a matter of time.” I turned around and meandered to our Strykers then, not bothering to listen to a fresh set of protests of ignorance.

A few days later – after receiving intel that Fadl had left town – we were conducting a mounted patrol in the same neighborhood as the house in question and decided to pay a visit. The dismounts hadn’t even knocked on the front door yet though, when the gunners radioed us, saying that they had stopped a car with two military-aged males, who had tried to break the cordon and make an escape.

Neither of them were Fadl. They were just two nobody punks, drunk on something, and high on something else. They eventually admitted though, that they had been visiting with the dreary eyes on the Queen-size mattress. For a price, of course.

I guess Fadl fleeing Anu al-Verona hadn’t solved all of the family’s problems. Certainly not the financial ones. We called the IP’s, who detained the two for being under the influence, and then we mounted back up in our Strykers. Perhaps there was something kinetic in nature out there for us to deal with.

If there was, we were going to find it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Gravediggers' Cache of Quotes (1)

This is long overdue. Four months into the Suck, and some brilliant (or otherwise) quips have been uttered by me and my men – usually in the hazy, ambiguous hours after midnight and before dawn. Rip-It abuse can only carry a man so far. Here’s the initial collection of bodacious, quotalacious wisecracks; some of them were intended, but as is the case with something so repulsively serious as war, most of them were not.

1- “But Sergeant … I do not mean to brag, but my dick. It will not fit into the hole.” Then PV2 Das Boot, who, after receiving a verbal class on pissing in an empty bottle while on mission from SSG Boondock, still did not grasp the concept of utilizing the air pocket rather than sticking his entire member into the hole. Only after a whiteboard class complete with sketch drawings, and much verbal harassment regarding the size of his dick hole, did PV2 Das Boot successfully urinate in a bottle.

2- “It would appear that da dogs be doin' something in Boss Johnson’s car. Oh wait … yep, it’s a fact. Da dogs be eatin’ what’s left of Boss Johnson.” SSG Bulldog, making a very vile post-carbomb scene okay for us to laugh about as a coping mechanism.

3- “I ain’t a redneck, I’m just country. Rednecks aren’t smart enough to go armadillo huntin.’” PV2 Hot Wheels, talking with PFC Boomhauer, and speaking a foreign language in the back of my Stryker.

4- “God damn it! There will be no ‘Weeees!’ or even any ‘WOWS!’ on this vehicle! Weeees and WOWS are reserved for firefights and IED strikes only!” LT G, losing my cool with my young privates. Over the course of a long OP mission, they decided to start poking one another in the ass with an antenna pole, leading to a reaction that startled me and unleashed my LT wrath. It was funny. In retrospect.

5- “I finally got my regulation-size balls. They came in the mail.” CPL Spot, referring to a care package that included baseballs for him to throw around. Testicle jokes are not a rare thing in this man’s Army, and almost always appropriate.

6- “Three deployments. Wow. Just think SGT Cheech, you’ve spent a tenth of your life in Iraq.”
“Ah, thanks for pointing that out. Next time, do me an actual favor and shoot me in the foot, okay?” SPC Flashback and SGT Cheech, pontificating on deployment cycles.

7- “Gah! I got dip in my skeeter bite! It burns!” SGT Axel, proving that poker isn’t all fun and games.

8- “What the fuck? It’s not like these god damn mother fuckers are the fucking Vietcong and tunneled the fuck out of here. Where the fuck did they fucking go?” SSG Boondock, the night of the (in)famous IED-emplacement. And yes, that was a transmission on the Troop radio.

9- “Food tastes better out of the garbage.” SPC Doc, trying to justify his propensity to rummage for scraps.

10- “Admit it, you missed me.”
“Naw, I didn’t.”
“Oh alright, come here and give me a man-hug. How was leave?”
“Wild. A crazy chick asked me to choke her out. It was awesome.”
“That sounds awesome. Can we stop hugging now?” PFC Van Wilder and SPC Big Ern. No commentary necessary.

11- “Prime, what are you reading up there? Playboy?”
“No, Sergeant. Popular Mechanics.” SFC Big Country and SPC Prime, after SFC Big Country heard muffled excitement coming from the driver’s hole of his Stryker.

12- “Wha ... huh? Last thing I remember I was awake. I promise. I thought my eyes were still open." SPC Cold-Nuts, upon finding himself in the gunner's cupola, drooling on himself, when his relief for guard duty woke him up.

13- "I think I hate the FOB more than I hate Iraq."
"No, you just don't understand the FOB. You hate the fobbits."
"Fine, I hate fobbits more than I hate Iraq." PV2 Stove Top and SSG Chico.

14- "This place is crazy! It's worse than the Superdome during New Orleans!" LT G looks over at the soldier who said this, shocked, and unable to respond. The soldier continues. "It's okay Sir, I'm black, I can say that!" SPC Haitian Sensation, as culturally sensitive as they come, commenting on the chaotic scene of a local Sheik's rice distribution near the combat outpost.

15- "I went to war and a garrison broke out." An Army-wide phrase gaining popularity amongst combat units, regarding the recentralized (as opposed to the decentralized concept espoused in counterinsurgency theory) war environment currently found in Iraq . The Gravediggers are no different in this regard.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Five-O

Braving the streets of Anu al-Verona on a day-to-day basis is more than just an enterprise of the American soldier. We consistently work with rotating elements of both the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army, security forces whose self-sufficiency will ultimately determine their nation’s fate and future far more than we strange westerners who arrived some five years ago, with rifles in one hand and lollipops in the other. These men are just of much of a target for the insurgents as we are, and sometimes more so. I can’t speak for the greater Iraqi nation, but in our little grid square in the board game of this war, the Iraqi Security Forces’ autonomy shows gradual – albeit inconsistent – signs of growth.

With an IP station located within close proximity of our combat outpost, it is natural for us to come in contact with the Iraqi Police, both on and off duty. The Big Army buzz word of the year is “joint operations” – after all, the quicker these guys can do their jobs without our supervision, the quicker we can unwrap that shiny Mission Accomplished banner again, and pop open da’ Bubbly on our flights back home. With these thoughts river-dancing through my mind, I sat down with three of the local IPs – affectionately nicknamed Bulldozer, Shady McShaderson, and The Unibrow by the Joes – at their station to get their take on the current situation in Anu al-Verona. Keep in mind that unlike their IA comrades, the IPs tend to come from the area they patrol. Also keep in mind that I couldn’t find a terp while I conducted the interview, instead relying on my rudimentary Arabic and one of the IP’s broken English. Standard language disconnect hilarity ensued.

LT G: “Can I ask you guys a few questions about Anu al-Verona?”

Shady McShaderson: “IPs are on patrol. No sleep. Patrol.”

Bulldozer: “Yes. No sleep. We promise. IPs are on patrol.”

LT G: “Yes, yes, I understand. IP’s zien! (Arabic for good.) IP’s zien!” (Accompanied by obnoxious American thumbs up.)

Shady McShaderson: “Zien!” (Accompanied by awkward Iraqi thumbs up.)

LT G: “The questions are not for a report. They are for my blog.”

The Unibrow: “Eh?”

Bulldozer: “Bog?”

LT G: “(mumbling to myself about Biggie’s questionable whereabouts.) It’s a computer thing. For back in America.”

Shady McShaderson: “Ah! Very good! Like television?”

LT G: “Kind of.”

Bulldozer: “LT will make us famous! On the television!”

LT G: “Umm … sure. Famous. Most of my countrymen don’t like reading anything more substantive than about some Hollywood starlet’s latest meltdown, but you got as good a chance as any at getting famous through my blog.”

The Unibrow: “Eh?”

PFC Boomhauer, who has remained silent up to now, speaks from the other end of the table: “Sir, this shit is hilarious.”

LT G: “Sigh. Nevermind. Tell me, how long have you all lived in Anu al-Verona?”

Bulldozer: “Whole life.”

Shady McShaderson: “Yes, whole life.”

The Unibrow: “Eh?” (At this point, Shady McShaderson rattles off an Arabic lashing The Unibrow’s way, who responds in kind.)

Shady McShaderson: “He say he move here from Baghdad when he was 15.”

LT G: “And how old is he now? How old are all of you?”

Bulldozer: “I am 25.”

Shady McShaderson: “No you are not. You are same age as me. I am 20.”

Bulldozer: “I am 20.”

LT G, after deciding that finding out The Unibrow’s age is not vital to the continued fluidity of the conversation: “How has Anu al-Verona changed since you were a child?”

Shady McShaderson and Bulldozer begin laughing, which causes The Unibrow to laugh along with them.

LT G: “Umm … that wasn’t a joke. How. How has it changed. Not has it changed.”

Bulldozer: “Oh.”

Shady McShaderson: “You want to know what Anu al-Verona was like before war? Back with Saddam?”

LT G: “Yes.”

Shady McShaderson: “It was … very different. More people, more shops. A lot more girls.”

Bulldozer, nodding his head in agreement: “A lot more girls.”

Shady McShaderson: “But it was also bad. Saddam’s commandolos (he meant commandos) would take people away in middle of night, for no reason.”

Bulldozer: “Yes, very bad.”

LT G: “Was it like it is now? With the Shi’as living on one side of town, and the Sunnis living on the other?”

The Unibrow spits and shakes his head at the mention of the Sunni/Shi’a divide.

Bulldozer: “Yes. It has always been like this.”

Shady McShaderson: “Eh, it was a little different before. Some Sunnis lived in Shi’a neighborhoods before. The poor ones. Now they all live over there, and Shi’as live over here.”

LT G: “How about the police force? Did you want to be a policeman growing up?”

Bulldozer: “We could not be police then. The police then were rich Sunnis who had big (important) fathers.”

LT G: “And now you are almost all Shi’a, correct?”

Shady McShaderson: “Yes.”

LT G: “If you didn’t want to join the police as children, what did you want to do?”

Shady McShaderson: “Play football for Iraq.”

Bulldozer: “Yes, play football for Iraq.”

The Unibrow: “Football!”

LT G: “Why are you police now?”

Shady McShaderson: “I do not understand.”

Bulldozer: “Eh?’

The Unibrow: “Eh?”

LT G: “Why do you do this (pointing at their police uniforms) job? For Iraq? For your family?”

Shady McShaderson: “It is job. That is why we do it.”

Bulldozer: “Family, yes. And protect neighborhood. And good money.”

Shady McShaderson: “Yes, money is good.”

LT G: “And Iraq?”

Shady McShaderson: “Eh, sure, why not?” (Begins to laugh nervously.)

Bulldozer: “Iraq good! America good!”

LT G: “Yes, yes, Iraq is good, and so is America. Tell me, Shady, I know that you specifically have detained people that you know from off the job that worked for Jaish al-Mahdi and AQI. What was that like?”

Shady McShaderson: “Eh. They are bad guys. I do good taking them to jail.”

LT G: “Was it weird?”

Shady McShaderson shrugs his shoulders, either not understanding the question or not liking the topic of discussion. His English has been known to come and go in that manner.

LT G: “Are your families happy that you are IPs?”

Bulldozer: “My father yes, my mother no. She want me to join IA instead.”

LT G: “How come?”

Bulldozer: “So I would leave home.”

Shady McShaderson: “Yes, my family is happy. They like my pistol.”

LT G: “What about him?” (points to The Unibrow. Shady McShaderson repeats my question in Arabic. The Unibrow responds.)

Shady McShaderson: “He say that his family does not know he is IP. He say that bad men would kill his family if they know he is IP. They think he goes to Baghdad to work in market.”

LT G: “Ah, okay. Fair enough. That’s all the questions I have. Is there anything you’d like to tell the people of America?”

Bulldozer: “I like the rap music. Especially that song black sergeant Bulldog (SSG Bulldog) play in gym.” (Repeats off-tune beat of T.I.’s “What You Know.”)

LT G: “Anything else?”

Shady McShaderson: “I want to go to America someday. I save my money now so I can leave Iraq forever. These two (pointing to the other IPs) will stay for their families. Not me. I want to leave. There is no war in America.”

(I shake all of their hands and give them the half-leaning man hug accompanied with the overtly-heterosexual male pat on the back, thank them for their time, and walk back over to the combat outpost with PFC Boomhauer.)

LT G: “Well, what do you think?”

PFC Boomhauer: “Well … I can’t say that I blame him. I love Arkansas, but if Arkansas was like this, I’d want to leave, too.”

LT G: “So you gonna move back home after all of this?”

PFC Boomhauer: “Yes, Sir. Being here has made me miss home more than ever.” He takes a pause to spit out the remnants of his dip. “What about you, Sir? You miss home?”

LT G: “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” I pause, trying to think of a way to convey my complicated love-to-hate and hate-to-love relationship with suburbia to my young soldier, and eventually deciding against it. “And the other two?
Bulldozer and Unibrow. Stuck here because of family … poor bastards.”

PFC Boomhauer: “Home’s home, I guess. No matter where you’re from.”

Smart kid. Preach on, young Gravedigger, preach on.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Rumble young man, rumble.

Make it more true than true is. As muddled as war appears on paper, it still has to make some sort of sense to survive the transformation into language. That is why I write. It makes more sense here than it does out there. If I ever make sense of it all, there won’t be a reason for these words anymore. I’ll finally fade into that proud sand castle defying the sea for the sake of defiance, then. Alone, under the red hot moon. Doomed to fail, blessed to try. That’s all I’ve really ever wanted out of life. To be left alone, to fight impossible on my own terms.

The act of creation. Jimmy Rabbit on a bus. Pogues in a Port-a-John. Emily Dickinson locked away in an attic. God at a pub, liquored up in a dark corner, doodling on a napkin. Like pulling fangs off of a rabid baboon with pliers, as explainable as the board game Wall Street Land to a people who do not comprehend the concept of excess. Diversify those bonds, mistah. We all have our methods. Mine has always been somehow sitting still long enough to retch up a pile of brain vomit, followed by meticulously rigid editing and reediting ingrained by journalistic tendencies by way of poking said brain vomit with a sanity stick. Don’t analyze that too deeply. There was nothing phallic about that statement.

WhoWhatWhenWhereWhyandWhyagainandWhyoverandover. Save the Chief Wahoo greeting for the mathematicians and meterosexual drag queens. Invert that pyramid. It takes time to organize random musings into something worth sharing and even more time to make it readable. I used to write at night, beer in hand, and edit in the morning, water in hand. Cue General Order No. 1. Now I write mad and edit sad, whenever I can.

iWar. Fitting, in that succinct, catchy pop culture kind of way. Perfect for this Era of Irony. No LOL-erskates for the whYkids, but they’ll get over it. iWar. It’s not my phrase, though I appreciate it and am happy to Oscar Wilde it. I got it from an article about blogging in the Iraq War that quoted me in it. Bask in the shameless self-promotion. To be fair, I don’t think it was the reporter’s phrase either. It begins with “i,” so Apple Computers probably has a patent on it. Just like iPod, iTunes, and iRack.

I War. Subject. Verb. Where’s the object? We’re still looking for it, five years later. How’s that for iRony?

I get it. My suffering and soul-searching is not as deep or as angst-worthy as your suffering and soul-searching was. Were you in Fallujah, LT? How about Somalia? Now that was some fucked up shit. My war was SO much more trying than your war. Spare me the juvenile sensitivities; internalizing anything makes you soft. We didn’t have time for that bullshit in Desert Storm. How tough can it be? You have internet access, for Mohammed’s sake. And a mattress.

Fair enough. Counterinsurgencies are not nearly as cool or memorable as the apocalyptic offensives that spawn their existence in the first place. Following that logic though, we all owe the survivors of Antietam our first-born sons and a free rub-and-tug at the local Asian massage parlor.

But wait! They had a pen and a pad to write letters home! Some of them even owned socks. They aren’t nearly as legit as Alexander the Great’s epical Macedonian Marauders. They literally did nothing but kill things 25/8, which clearly elevates them beyond mere soldier status. Their rules of engagement were simply two words. Rape. Pillage. The “and” came later, inadvertently fucking everything up, leading to the point where the world’s lone superpower can’t make juice boxes out of the fruit of their enemy’s skulls anymore. Not directly, at least. Now we just hire them to squeeze their own juice while we provide the fruit and the pre-shaped cardboard and the plastic straw.


Scouts Out.


Scouts Out.


Scouts Out.

As the keyboard Marines of the blogosphere reminded me during the rules of engagement saga, this is war!!! How e-tuff. Thanks for the advice, it’s kind of hard to forget that when you live it and sleep it and breathe it on a daily basis. I play real-world Frogger with IEDs every time we roll out of the wire, Mesopotamian sand rests at the bottom of my lungs like spare change in a swimming pool, the Gravediggers are awaiting CABs for actioning into combat and whistling bullets without hesitation, and I’m still removing bits of Boss Johnson flesh grunge from my memory with a spatula – and the computer screen dares to lecture about what war is? Typing to kill and repeating asinine banalities found on World War II-era posters are clearly more profound and well-intentioned than ten pages of literary greatness devoted to five seconds of black-bursting clairvoyance written by someone who was actually fucking there. No thanks for the exclamation mark abuse.


To hell with it though, as skewed and as wrong as those individuals may be, at least they are interested. That’s about as rare nowadays as finding a polar bear that thinks global warming is a communist conspiracy.

Give the cute baby seals a hammer and sickle, and put them to work. For the Motherland, of course.

Chew Tobacco

Chew Tobacco

Chew Tobacco


If You Ain’t Cav

You Ain’t Shit.

I know people care about the iWar. But not enough, given the circumstances. Not even close. Agree or disagree with the war, I don’t care - just give a fuck. Be able to find Basra on a map, know that the Tigris isn’t some sort of unholy crossbreed found at the San Diego Zoo, try to figure out the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’a even if it conplexes and perfuses your mind beyond repair. I wish I could issue some loud, righteous proclamation here about the repercussions of such continued resounding American apathy, but who are we kidding? The warrior caste is simply too small nowadays, and too proud. There will be no reckoning for all of this. We’ll fight the fights not because we necessarily want to, but because no one else will. We were bred to protect. Even if we’re protecting nothing more than an isolationistic yawn prefacing the continental slumber history demands occur after protracted warfare.

I used to dream of a life without consequences. Like that defiant sand castle though, it has been swallowed up by a crashing surf of memories, washed away, lost in the swirl of bleeding blue.

iWar. Mine, not yours. This war. My War. Our War. We War. I War.

You peace. Out.

Here’s a secret, though. I’ll let you in on it, if you promise not to tell the chickenhawks or Jody or the Spooks. Sand castles can be rebuilt. The surf can destroy the castles, but not the sand itself. No one and no thing can destroy the sand but myself. And that won’t happen anymore. I will rebuild my sand castle, someday, somewhere else, somewhere where I think the surf can’t find me. In a lagoon where peace is stillness and stillness is peace. Alone, under the red hot moon. Fighting to fight, finding a noble cause in an ignoble world. And tucked away in the deepest dungeon of the castle, where no one will be allowed to go, not even me, will be a piece of scrap paper with the address to this blog site written in smudged ink on it. My link to this iWar, where I finally stumbled into an adventure that I couldn’t sleep off. The last link to a life with consequences.

Rumble young man, rumble.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dead Guy Quote (10)

"Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." -- Dwight Eisenhower