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.


Anonymous said...

That's great, the NCO setting you up to go down there and deal with the Sheiks. At least the problem was resolved (if only for a little while).

Keep writing, and take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Posts like this make me feel badly that you don't have any real liquor.

Actually, I feel that way anytime I read a post about how miserable and stressful it is over there.

Not a good habit, I know, but effective. Booze and women...neither of which are available. Isn't that always the way of it?

the walking man said...

"Warring during war with warriors just makes fucking sense, be it philosophically, grammatically, or serendipitously."

And then to throw this diplomatic bullshit on top of it...fuck it LT. my ho is the right man is in the right place.



the walking man said...

ho=humble opinion hahhahahahaha

Anonymous said...

Great post, G.


Skybag said...

[Argot is academic for bullshit.]

Thanks for the new word! Argot that is. I already knew the other one ;) And thanks for posting such detailed accounts - very enlightening.

admiyo said...

Dud, you rock. You write really well, and you tell the story that needs to be told.

lela said...

Lt G, there are multiple ways of kicking ass & taking names. "Warring during war with warriors" (especially when you're the big dog with the 50-cal) is one way; but sometimes just as effective is acting as the Principal and setting two squabbling middle-age juveniles straight. Good on ya, Lt! You & your Gravediggers do us all proud.

Anonymous said...

Dear Son:

Your posting today reminds me of the advice your Aunt Lyn gave me when your little brother was born and I confessed to being terrified and overwhelmed by motherhood.

"They will," she said, be unreasonable, throw tantrums, and behave badly, because they are children. Your job is to always remember that you are the only grownup in the room."

And she also said, "Read all the books, try every theory of discipline, and when nothing else works, bribe them with food!" (or in your case, money! Tee Hee!)

I love you.


Anonymous said...

Near-beer lol soounds like a couple of boilermakers are more in order having to deall with such assine BS.

Laggin said...

Well now, that does bring a whole new perspective to the phrase "adrenaline junkie".

And I notice a negotiating similarity between Arab shieks and my two teenager daughters. Oddly similar.

Laggin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks lt, more insight on Arab-US relations. Do you think this holds true all the way up the chain of command for the US and Iraq? That there is some room in the Green Zone where the US ambassador and-or Gen Petreus is sitting people down and setting them straight?
What makes these guys have authority anyway, to be a sheik are they elected or appointed? Do you ever deal with people who are elected at all? Mayor of East Bumfuq? What is the local gov? How is authority exercised when not from the barrel of a M-4 or the US pocketbook? By the way who pays these guys anyway? Thanks for your words of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Well shit Lt G---I wish I could buy you all the drinks you could handle----when you get home - come to S Fla and I will,GLADLY!!!!! Roll on and keep safe..... PAPA JOE----------Boca Raton Fl

Katy said...

Awesome post Lt.G. are wise beyond your years.
Keep safe.

Macy said...

"... smiling openly while he watches them fight."


Anonymous said...

Dear Lt G: I hope you don't mind, but I thought this an appropriate forum to pass on the word to your readers that they might show actual support of the 1.6 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afganistan so far by urging their Senators and Congressmen and women and Presidential candidates to vote in favor of the GI Bill 2008. More information is available at GI Bill 2008 on line. Thanks for all you're doing and for your excellent reporting.

SFC SKI said...

Once you have dealt with the Iraqis anfd their sheikhs, and tasted success in doing so, no other success will taste as sweet, but no other task you may face in life will seem as difficult,Mabruk Alik, ya Talib, Aash, Aash!

SFC SKI said...

OH yeah, that NCO wasn't setting him up, he was allowing the LT an opportunity to exercise leadership and built confidence, strange and wise are the ways of the Sergeants.

Eric said...

That was dead hard and stompy, LT. Amazing.

Kat said...

Well, you probably get this kind of message all of the time, but I read your blog constantly, though I don't post comments.

I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your last four posts. while they do not consist of any explosions or "warring", these vignettes of the people and places are extremely interesting. In many respects, they tell your story and those of your platoon, their long, hard work, better than some of the "kinetic" posts. However, taken together, they are an excellent view of counter-insurgency efforts.

Including those things that are the least enjoyable. You are right, though, they will be the stories you tell the most because they are the stories that you can tell to the most people that can relate, civilian or military, even if they have not been there. these are common human experiences that many have even outside a war zone (though not with two sheihks arguing over checkpoints).

Still, I wanted to say that these last few posts have been some of the best. You have probably also been asked whether you will turn it into a book. I hope that the answer is "yes".

I look forward to continuing to read your posts. I hope (and pray, if you don't mind) that you and your men will be well and return home safely.

Kat in Missouri

Mary*Ann said...

Been lurking for a while...thank you for giving us the real picture of what you live everyday. Your writing is powerful. Stay safe...and keep writing.

2sbct/2scr mom said...

Sounds like you did a great job in your mediation role. Not wanting to work together is one thing, but the mention of AQI makes me nervous.

Stay safe and alert.

Anonymous said...

1. nice play on words
2. heard about earthquakes in Reno and thought of your family. Weird how small the world gets.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to like your theme song. What do your troopers listen to? Does anybody listen to AFR?

DG said...

That was damn funny. Thanks for a hearty giggle!

mutt said...

As long as the US is paying these guys and innumerable guys like them off, we'll have "allies".
But we paid our "allies" in VN, too.
Keep cold & wakey-wake, Lt. One day we wont be able to meet payroll.
But you know that.
In your debt, as ever.....

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/25/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Anonymous said...

What a great illumination that must have been. Assholes age into old assholes. Remaining an asshole every day of their lives.

WOW! If you walk away from all this knowing assholes form everybody else, nomatter who or where, you gat a leg up on the world.

Thanks, again, for your service.

Bag Blog said...

Children, animals and sheiks make such good blog fodder.

Matthew H said...

You got the gift.....Stay safe. If you're ever in LA, drinks are on me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Son,
A friend of mine is fond of saying that we all live the same life with some minor detail differences. So with that in mind, when I reflected upon the Principals Office I thought of somewhat similar incidients in a different setting played by different people. Could there have been times when:
The role of the Skinny Shiek was played by a very young Lt G (long before he was Lt G);
The role of Fat Shiek was played by Luke G (yes he wasn't fat but he was a chubby baby;
The role of Biggie Smalls was played by Poppa G (as I could translate young boy speak); and
The role of Lt G was played by Momma G (the source of your wisdom and dispute resolution skills).
So maybe we all do live the same life aftre all. Maybe. Just maybe.

So to you, the Gravediggers, and all of your military brothrs and sisters, stay alert and stay safe, my love and respect.

Papa G (a/k/a Poppa G)

Andy said...

It makes you wonder about their priorities. Peace and prosperity, or ego.