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.

20 comments:

dice d said...

The ancient conundrum of war: people killing people no different than they in order to further the goals of city states or nation states, which goals usually morph before the war is over. There are as many rationalizations for such puzzling behavior as there are for adultery. That is to say, a large number.

young grasshopper said...

You're a great writer Lt. G..
So many blogs and stories we hear are so one sided. You have a way of writing that shows us the humanity in everyone you write about. You allow us to see little pieces of ourselves, or someone we know, in them. It's raw, honest & it takes skill.

Thank you for sharing with us.

jim s said...

Lt. G., I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the Journal. You have a gift for sharing experiences and thoughts that I look forward to reading. Thanks for the seemingly thankless job you do and for being the man you are. We need more like you, and the Gravediggers. Bring yourself and them back home safe and keep trying to put as much humanity as you can into a dirty job. Don't dwell on the ugly, keep your head down and eyes and ears open. I keep you and the guys in my prayers.

Mac said...

Brilliant once again!

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I heard about this new show in PBS called "Carrier" and it looks realy good! Camera crews follow navy members during their six-month deployment aboard the USS Nimitz. You can check it out at www.pbs.org/carrier and see the first 6 minutes of the first episode on PBS's YouTube Channel...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBombtcMJSg

Macy said...

I don't know which are more powerful: the posts that are mostly analysis, or the posts that are mostly just snapshots.

Thank you for writing both.

Grandpa said...

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

Amen

unfortunately you can never go back to the home of your childhood.

elmo's mom said...

I started out reading your blog to see how you and the Gravediggers were doing. Your brilliant writing has created a daily ritual almost as important as my morning coffee. With a pavlovian response to the opening notes of The Killers, my brain begins to salivate anticipating the word imagery of the horror, humor and frustration in a soldier’s day at war. You rarely disappoint me.

When you are finished writing the book about the iWar and you can stand outside your soldier self, remember the hatred in the children’s eyes wasn’t for you, it was for your uniform.

iWar must be an Apple registered trademark. Surely Apple anticipating the hostile takeover of Microsoft would have trademarked it. Picture Steve Jobs, nightly sitting in his living room contemplating the takeover - a la Pinky and the Brain.

Take care of yourself and your men and bring them home. Please keep writing.

Hardtack said...

Interesting post, and I can see where the humor would come in.

PFC Boomhauer is from Arkansas? Good to see an Arkansawer in the Gravediggers.

the walking man said...

Thanks LT for the look at a micro-universe. It was good to hear (read) especially liked the For Iraq shrugs.

I have friend who was a marine during the 'Nam years stationed in the middle east. He just got his ribbons this month for some covert shit during those years. He is dying now from something that he caught over there, yet we talk and laugh and spit the shit at each other. He is my brother more so than any sibling.

I hope you find many brothers like this man and the bubbly is opened soon for your troops.

peace

TWM

samIam said...

Absolutely brilliant writing. I seriously recommend and hope you're keeping some of the "other stuff" off the blog, both because of operational security reasons, and because your book will need some extra juice to separate it from the open blog. I think you're probably doing that, probably not by choice though, haha

Bag Blog said...

I love all the nicknames of the characters in Anu al-Verona. I feel like I know them all through your great stories.

Anonymous said...

Ditto the above comment. Another terrific report, Lt.

insane diego said...

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

...and wherever you go, there you are.

Thanks for the post LT. Insightful and entertaining.

Keep the faith, take care of your men and mission.

dw

Grandpa said...

Hopefully Good News:

With the Iraqi government applying pressure to the Sadrist movement and Muqtada al Sadr to disband the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s senior Shia cleric has weighed in on the issue. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, backed the government’s position that the Mahdi Army should surrender its weapons and said he never consulted with Sadr on disbanding the Mahdi Army. Instead, the decision to disband the Mahdi Army is Sadr’s to make.

Sistani spoke through Jalal el Din al Saghier, a senior leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a rival political party to the Sadrist movement. Saghier was clear that Sistani did not sanction the Mahdi Army and called for it to disarm.

Anonymous said...

You're right...home's home. And I am so glad and proud that I call America home. Thank you and your men for all you do to protect us, keep us safe, and make the US such a blessed place to live.

You all are always in my thoughts and prayers, and you forever have my utmost gratitude.

A Military Wife

Nichole said...

Lt G.

Yet another peek at your daily grind. How are the Gravediggers doing? Anymore Dear John letters?

Keep writing. I wish that you could post daily.

Like others, I find myself checking your blog daily. 1st thing in the morning before the Detroit news. If you haven't posted I continue to look throughout the day.

You are great. Stay safe and thanks for being you

Nichole

lela said...

Like some of the other posters, reading the Kaboom Blog has become one of my morning rituals. Thanks Lt G for introducing us to the wonderful Gravediggers, Biggie Smalls, and the local Iraqi notables (and not-so-notables). My family and my office mates are starting to look forward to my "Kaboom Quotes."

Anonymous said...

Hello Everyone,

I heard about this new show on PBS called Carrier which looks really good. For the first time ever, a camera crew has captured every moment of navy members during their six-month deployment aboard the USS Nimitz.
www.pbs.org/carrier

Check out the first 6 minutes of episode one of CARRIER on the PBS YouTube channel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBombtcMJSg

I.:.S.:. said...

This Kaboom blog is great. Thoughtful and funny. Far and away the best milblog since Colby Buzzell went offline four-odd years ago.