Sunday, June 1, 2008

Call Me So I Can Make It Juicy For Ya

Her real name means Spring in Vietnamese, but I like her nickname better, which means Mountain, because I think it sounds prettier. She told me that she wasn't a heavy drinker, but she could've fooled me 'cause she'd downed two Millers, a Corona, and a few Jaeger Bombs already.

She was grinding on me on the dance floor. Some club downtown with no sign so I don't remember the name.

As we were dancing, a guy in a checkered button-up shirt appeared at the edge of the dance floor and stared at us, arms crossed. He was maybe five-foot-ten or so, spikey hair like every Asian from five years ago. He stared at us; mostly at me.

I walked up next to him and stared in the general direction that he was looking and folded my arms too, emulating his posture. I humored him, "What we lookin' at, man?"

He looked at me, unamused, "That's my cousin." He pointed at Spring.

"No shit?" I paused for a second. Then, I leaned in, as if to whisper a secret, "You got any others?"

It was an asshole-ish thing to say, and I know it. And I said it for no reason more than for the sake of being an asshole.

He punched me.

And I have the black eye to show for it. And a funny story, too.

When my boys crowded around him, I held them back with violent laughter. "Naw, c'mon guys," I urged them back, "C'mon, guys, I'm too old to be doin' this shit." I patted Don on the chest as I pushed some distance between him and the girl's cousin, "Look'it me, man, I'm rich. I'm makin' paper, dawg, I don't needa fight niggas like these."

I'd been spending too much time buttoning up my collar, trying to look professional and proper. Being stupid made me feel somewhat human again.

I got socked in the face and did nothing in retaliation, but I felt better about it than I had about anything else in a long time.

We walked away, me and the boys, the cousin standing there looking angry and confused, like his feelings had been hurt. With Spring under my shoulder.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Smell of Wine and Cheap Perfume

I reclined on a couch in the corner lounge of the bar, a girl with a short mesh dress leaned into me under my right arm. Wall, who had returned State-side on vacation from Mumbai, sat in a single to my left, his eyes on our waitress, a sweet looking girl who flashed a nametag, "Amber."

My girl was a Filipina with jet black, shoulder-length hair, the ends tapered off so she looked like an airbrushed photo. Her skin was pale and glowed in contrast to her dark hair. She had this whole Kate Beckinsale a la Underworld look to her.

Amber delivered our drinks -- a Heineken for Wall, a vodka gimlet for myself, and a girly mixed cocktail of butterscotch and Bailey's on ice for my girl. Wall initiated conversation as the waitress set down our drinks.

Wall, at a glance, would never strike anybody as the kind of guy that could initiate conversation with a cocktail waitress. And in fact, at any ordinary bar or nightclub, he would never have been able to gather himself to approach any girl, much less one in Amber's league.

But this was not just any ordinary bar.

One of my office directors had introduced me to this place after one of the company get-togethers. It was a "classy" bar that catered to the corporate upper class -- older men of established positions and the women who want their cheddar.

Twenty-four years old and fresh out of school, I am nowhere close to being a man of established position. But I'd gotten in good with the Suits at The Company due to (or despite?) my vocal opinions and fuck-you attitude. They brought me in, and I picked up their mannerisms. Here, I could throw on a tie or a blazer and walk through the door, instantly a somebody. A twenty-four year-old somebody.

And I turned around and showed Wall in. Here, we were badasses among badasses. The girls wanted to meet us for all the wrong reasons. And we wanted to meet them for all the equally wrong reasons, too. But then again, don't we all? At least we weren't fucking kidding ourselves about it.

My girl and I made idle chatter. We rambled aimlessly, discussing random subjects from restless leg syndrome to planning our fantasy trip to Vancouver. She cuddled in closer, and I smelled her perfume.

"I'm going to smell like you when I get to bed tonight," I joked.

"You are!" she laughed, "I hope you don't have a jealous girlfriend at home!"

It would have been the most peculiar comment were we in any other bar: the thought of a girl snuggling on a couch with a guy she figured probably had a girlfriend at home.

But one thing I've learned from my exposure to the corporate upper echelon was that they simply didn't give a fuck. They were above morals and social taboos. They were powerful men that placed righteousness second to convenience. And if it were more convenient to sleep with a girl at a bar while your wife slept at home, you fucked her brains out.

I had begun to recognize this separation within myself as well. While most other people talked about paying off their loans or saving up for their next car or house or whatever big purchase, I dwelled on my next investment venture, my next strategic move to become more financially empowered. The American dream was simply too petty.

There was a good chance that more than half the men in the bar had wives and kids at home. Their wives were probably of the smoking hot variety -- the kind you set up on a pedestal. And the men were probably the kind that had devoted their entire lives to chasing paper, never learning how to connect to the women they loved, opting instead to unleash their desires on bar-room bitches. It wasn't an exception; it was the norm. While the facility catered to the "classy," it was probably sleazier than any strip joint on the Vegas Strip.

As far as I knew, my girl may be married to some white man fifteen years her senior. Hell, she might even have a kid or three.

I looked down at her, my eyes squinting to gauge what she'd meant by the comment. But I waived aside any second thought. "I don't," I said, "But I was hoping I could still smell like you in the morning."

She snuggled in closer, approvingly.

Sometimes, it feels like I'd sold my soul. But then, who's to say I'd have done much good with it anyway?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fake It If You Don't Belong

She pushed the "Try Me!" button on the box, and the heads of Ernie and Cookie Monster started bobbing and vibrating violently. She looked at me and giggled.

I rolled my eyes, playfully, "Do you really have to push all the buttons?"

Cardigan ran her hand down the shelf and tapped all the "Try Me!" buttons. An army of Ernie and Cookie Monster heads started bobbing and singing.

She did a slight in-place hop and bob motion and laughed, hand-over-mouth.

Cardigan was accompanying me to a local Toys'R'Us. I was getting some early Christmas gift shopping for my nieces and nephews out of the way.

There's something about being in a toy store or the toy section of a store with a girl. They can be some weird strong, confident, West Coast, grad school law student variety, and yet at the sight of some toys and "Try Me!" buttons, they still get giddy and childish, wide-eyed and giggling at every cute, singing doll.

As the shelf full of Sesame Street heads bobbed and sang, I couldn't help but smile, watching Cardigan cheer childishly.


About two months ago, Titty got a hefty promotion for his performance at his company. He'd been there a year and a half, and after considering his contributions to the organization, they offered a huge chunk of money to make sure he never leaves.

About a month ago, Wall took a job in India. He felt that the experience and money was worth leaving home, and besides, he had no baggage holding him down. The salary difference was jaw-dropping, and the company would be taking care of all his living expenses. He flew out Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, I sat in on a meeting with the Client and their architects. As a front-end developer, I sit in these meetings only to know what to expect of the back-end model; I never care or contribute to the design. In this particular meeting, though, the Client had wrapped themselves into a problem they couldn't get their heads around. One of the analysts turned to me and asked if I had any opinions on the design. I took it upon myself to step up to the whiteboard and propose an alternative model.

Apparently impressed, The Company has since hired a new grad to take the front-end legwork from me. A principle had been sent out to oversee the business processes, and I was given responsibility in the design phase.


Last week, I was having a drink with Plucker, and he seemed reluctant to go out on the town. Titty, Wall, Plucker, and I had all gone to school together and taken classes together. We graduated from the same field and from the same school, taking a lot of the same professors.

When we graduated, it was Plucker who did not have the grades to represent his brilliance.

And as the rest of us took positions in big-named international corporations, Plucker took a position at a local office, working with backward technology. And while it's apparent that the rest of us are getting valuable experience and progressing quickly with our respective organizations, it seemed Plucker was being staff-auged in a dead end.

Plucker had decided that it was his time to stop moseying around and get his head straight. He'd decided he'd cut back on the weekends at the bottom of a bottle.


And so it came to be, this weekend, I had none of my usual drinking partners to accompany me to the usual bars. Instead, Cardigan and I attended a football game of my alma mater -- and her current school.

We won 35-28.

She also, then, agreed to make a Toys'R'Us run with me for some early Christmas shopping.

And I followed up by taking her to dinner at a family-oriented Italian restaurant, topping the night off at a mom-and-pop beignet coffee shop that my Third Brother used to take me to when we were younger.


I never realized how dehumanized I had become until I watched Cardigan childishly play with all the toys on the shelves. She would clasp her hands together in amazement as little fuzzy things did the silliest things.

For years, the people I hang out with were in bars, the girls I meet were in bars. The last time I took a girl out and neither of us ended the night shitfaced, it was 2003.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Good God, You're Dragging It Out

Ms. X called me out of the blue midday Saturday. She asked me what I'd be doing for the Halloween weekend. I told her of a club I'd be for a costume party and Seelo's birthday. She told me she'd try to get some friends to go and that we might see each other there.

I finished the conversation with an unenthusiastic, "Awesome. Hope to see you there."

I never actually expected to see her there.


I picked Cardigan up early in the evening and stopped at Don's apartment for some pre-drinking. Cardigan was dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood. I took shots of Goose in quick succession, and Don, Plucker, Wall, Cardigan, and I headed out to the party.

Ms. X called me on the ride out, "I don't think my friends are gonna make it, but I really wanna go. Do you think you can scoop me up?"

I had Cardigan in the passenger seat, and Ms. X was my high school girl. She's that one girl that guys always bring up when they talk about their history. The only smart and logical thing to do was to not pick her up.

"Yea," I replied, "Sure, no problem."

I don't know if it was the vodka talking, or if I really wanted to see her that bad.


As soon as I saw Ms. X, I wish I hadn't. She was wearing a strapless black dress, short on her thighs. Her hair had been done up all fancy the way I used to love when we were still in high school. Absolutely gorgeous.

And I honestly found myself wishing that Cardigan was not in the car.

Needless to say, the car ride was silent and awkward. I hadn't even bothered to introduce the two girls to each other. And to make matters worse, I actually missed an exit, which consequently made the ride about twenty minutes longer than it needed to be.


Then, I ditched her.

I didn't know what else to do, but the ride had just been too awkward. As soon as we set foot in the club, I took Cardigan and bolted into the crowd, leaving Ms. X by herself.

I found Seelo's party, and Cardigan and I spent the rest of the night around my old boys from the Wood. We never saw Ms. X for the remainder of the night. She called, assumingly to find me, but I never answered.

Ultimately, she bumped into her friends -- or so she told me -- and insisted that it would be more convenient if they take her home instead.


I called Ms. X the next morning to apologize. I'd been an asshole.

"I just..." she said in a soft, whiney voice on the phone, "I dunno, I just never saw you at all the whole night..."

"I know, I know," I said apologetically, "It's just that it got really hectic. You know how it is." I was lying. I did it on purpose, and I had left her stranded at the club. "Maybe next time. Next time, I'll be more ... accomodating."

"Maybe," she said.

I truly don't want things to be awkward when I'm with her. I tell myself that it was bad timing -- that I was with a girl, that I was partying with all the old boys we knew back in high school, the same guys that know what we were and what we had done. But I don't know if things can ever not be awkward.

And I find myself wondering to myself, if things had been different -- if it weren't for Cardigan in the passenger seat, if it weren't for the boys from the Wood, if it were any other night, under any other circumstances, would it have been different? Would I have manned up? Would I have been more ... accomodating?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stabbs's Battle Update Brief

yo whats up, (if this text is fucked up, i blame the drugs)

yah i'm in germany atm. dis shit sucks, 2 months in and i'm already back here. the care here is a little too much, everyday i get 10-20 random people come in and say hi, and ask me if i need anything or blah blah. i did get to meet General Casey, and General Wallace. anyways the blast....

[identifying information removed]that shit was crazy. one minute we're all sitting in the stryker half asleep, i remember looking up at the DVE and taking note that we were moving really slow. a few weeks ago an IED blew up and put a 5 foot crater in the middle of the street. we were the lead vehicle so the driver rolled onto the sidewalk to bypass the hole, the remember feeling the small bump going over the curb, then BOOM shit kinda goes hazy, i know i was out for like a minute or two, something hit my face and knocked me out, my life WAS NOT flashing before my eyes or none of that shit, i honestly can't remember what i was thinking about, i opened my eyes and my head is spinning, my hearing's shot, everything is blurry as shit, and i have no fucking clue whats going on.

my senses start coming back to me and everyone's screaming, im in total agony for a few seconds till i calm down and realize i'm still alive. i look around me and the door is open(not the hatch but the door) i see a SFC telling me to get out, and i try and stand but i fall on my face, i crawl out. they took all of us to a house a few meters away, and i start laughing, and i couldn't stop. i was laughing and saying mother fuckers blew us up, they blew us up those fucking haji mother fuckers. a few hours later i was on a plan heading to germany.

i have a broken ankle, two other guys have broken ankles but not as bad as mine, one other guy has a broken femar and now he's slipped into a coma or someshit, his body is healing but something fucked up with his head. the other 2 guys have already gotten surgery but im still waiting. my ankle is so fucking swollen the docs won't even touch me. i gotta wait until monday for the doc to look at my ankle. i dunno how long it's gonna take to heal but i know ill be back in Baghdad b4 you guys leave.

let me know how you're doing. seriously, i'm gonna be fine, so let me know what you guys are up to.

btw the IED was command wire, they ran a wire about 1/2 a kilometer through a dirt field and into a house where they waited for us.

You're Only Making This Harder on Yourself

The Mob of Entitled Children


War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for... is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
-J.S. Mill


I get frustrated that this country is so broke sometimes, and I'm not talking about only the things we've broken--the rubble and crumbling infrastructure--I'm talking about the broken Iraqi people. We're here to help them... but a lot of days, I'm just like, "Fuck. Iraqis." I could live the rest of my life without ever dealing with another Iraqi.

They're unprofessional, suffer an epic sense of entitlement, and they're complete cowards.

For example, we've hired a local contractor to fix the plumbing of a school. He agreed on a generous payment, took the initial payment, and then never did any fucking work on it. He said that he did only the work agreed to, that the rest of it doesn't concern him. And he demands the rest of the money. Another guy we tried to hire, he said that he'd e-mail us the scope of labor in 24 hours, but 72 hours later, we're calling him again for the e-mail. Another guy, Abu Ali, the one who runs the little convenience shop on the COP, he'll promise to order us 7 t-shirts of very specific colors that we wrote down in Arabic for him, and a week later, he'll give us 7 black t-shirts. It's like the idea of honoring agreements is completely mystical and foreign to them.

Part of that problem might be their sense of entitlement. They expect hand-outs from us, and if we give them nothing, we are evil and selfish and greedy for it. Seems like every time I patrol the streets, Iraqi children would swarm me and demand money, chocolate, and pens from me. I tell them I don't have anything, and they harass and crowd me. They'll even try to jack my pen when I take it out to write down notes, like, say the name of shopkeeper we're talking to. It makes me nervous because it takes an incredible amount of self-control to keep myself from smacking some street rat with the butt of my rifle.

Even detainees make unreasonable demands: few weeks ago, some detainees in our holding area rejected the food we gave them. They said they wanted better food. It was the same fucking food that we eat (no pork that day), but it wasn't good enough for them. Few days ago, a detainee refused medical treatment for his diabetes unless we gave him a cigarette. YOU'RE A FUCKING DETAINEE--YOU HAVE NO BARGAINING POWER WITH ME, ASSHOLE.

I'd heard that the Abu Ghraib scandal destroyed our credibility and moral high ground, but I think if anything, it's only given this nation of career victims an excuse to beg for more handouts and make more demands from us. It's only given them an excuse to pawn the work of rebuilding this country on us.

The worst thing of all that they're fucking cowards. There are no brave Iraqis willing to fight for themselves; there are only opportunistic bullies who are ready to rob others of their possessions, opportunities, and lives. In the dark of night, they kill each other for their houses, for blood, for U.S. contracts. They are a nation of bystanders willing to watch their homeland burn instead of sacrificing to improve their own lives.

And.... that's just how the people are. I didn't come here to fix the people. I came here to fix our mistakes, not Allah's.


I know I don't really mean all the things I just wrote, at least, not all of the time. Sometimes, I almost believe that they deserve our sacrifices. But God damn, man, fucking help me help you. Stop blowing up my friends and maybe your country will get somewhere....

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Have you heard about what happened to [Stabbs]? The vehicle he was in got hit by a VBIED. All the bones in one of his feet were broken. They already have him back in Germany. It is believed that he may lose his foot. Not sure exactly, but this is coming from [Regiment]. Do you know how to get in contact with him on the civilian side?

-Cowboy, Friends, 22:35 24 Oct 2007


Stabbs is a cocky son of a bitch. Got his nickname when he came to the unit last Christmas. Drunk on German brew, he got into a bar fight at the bahnhof with some grunts from another squadron. By the time he walked away, some chump was bleeding on the pavement. The other guy claimed he was stabbed, and despite beating down both the bloody schmuck and the criminal charge, Stabbs was branded with a new name.

He would've been in my unit, but my team leader at the time, SGT Daredevil, didn't want to deal with Stabb's attitude, so he traded him away for someone easier to lead.

I've known the guy pretty much my entire Army career, and while a lotta people hate his blunt arrogance, he cracks me up. People who don't know dismiss him as an immature narcissist, but he only seems that way because he's more concerned about being right than he is about being liked. Consequences-be-damned, he calls out bullshit even on those who've got rank on him, and that makes him unpopular.

Obviously, I see a bit of myself in him. He's a bit rougher around the edges--different, but still the same--in other words, a brother in arms.

I can not will not accept that he might be crippled only two months into the deployment. That this is it for him, that he might be discharged from the Army, that when I got back to Europe, I would have one less travel mate to blow paychecks with. Who the fuck am I supposed to celebrate surviving deployment with? I'm grateful that he got out of that Stryker alive, but God damn, I am angry and frustrated because there's no immediate way to reach him. I shot him an e-mail but who knows when he'll respond...

This is fucking bullshit. This is bullshit.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Gods Must be Crazy


Word was that the target house possibly had 20 armed JAM fighters and maybe 5 Iranians. The target himself was a mid-level terrorist, and maybe his capture would help us cuff the HVT (high value target) running JAM operations in our sector.

It must've been only 0145 hours when the platoon rolled onto the target street. Our PL, Pile-Driver, would paint the target house's gate with a green laser. My Stryker, the platoon sergeant's truck, would then breach the gate, and the dismounted squad on the ground would swarm into the courtyard, shotgun breach the door, and clear the house. That was the plan.

So as we pulled onto the street, the PL's truck drove past the target house and stopped at the next intersection to seal the cordon. 1LT Pile-Driver's truck faced away from the target house. He couldn't see the target house, so he had to lean out of the hatch, and half-hanging off of the Stryker, he flashed the lazer at the target fence. He was in full body armor and tethered to the truck by only his right arm and the radio cord, so he couldn't keep a steady beam on the fence. The green dot danced back and forth, a few feet to the left of the actual gate.

"Warhog 7, I'm lazing the breach site. Do you see it?"

"Warhog 6, copy that. Breach in 3!" the platoon sergeant said over the comms. He ducked down into the truck. "Everyone hold on, we're breaching!"

Warhog 7 braced himself against the opening of the hatch. The Stryker lurched forward, crashed through the brick wall, and backed out over the debris. My ass had 2 seconds of hang time before I slammed violently back onto the bench. Almost lost control of my weapon, too. Warhog 7 ducked back down into the vehicle and told us, "OK, we're doing it again!"

Again, the Stryker shot forward, but this time, it crashed through the iron gate. Moments later, shotgun blasts rang through the air.

We got the wrong house. We scared the shit out of the FPS guards sleeping in the courtyard and raided what turned out to be an office for the Dawa Party. FPS (Facility Protection Service) guards operate under the Ministry of Interior, and the Dawa Party is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's party.

When we asked the FPS guards if they knew our target, they said, "Mister, he lives down the street. I show you."

They walked us a few houses down the street and pointed at another house. The lights inside were out. Again, we breached the gate with my Stryker. This time, one of the corner pieces of the slat armor fell off. We dropped ramp and retrieved it. The gnarled steel still had single bricks wedged into it.

We didn't know that the SCO was watching us through the Eye in the Sky when my Stryker crashed through the first house's brick wall. Reportedly, he'd radioed our company commander and yelled, "I thought this was supposed to be a soft knock! What the fuck was that!?!" Our rationale: with potentially 25 enemies, we needed to strike quickly to avoid a costly fire fight. But of course the "20 armed JAM fighters" were nowhere to be found. In the second house, we found the target and 4 generations of his family, sleeping the dreams of villians and madmen.

It came down over the net that we were to detain every male in the house and also the three FPS guards who'd helped us out. Among the 10 men we detained, one of them was missing a foot and two others also had to be brought into the detention facility on stretchers. The interrogators didn't even talk to them because they were so old, the interrogators were afraid they'd die under questioning. My platoon left a squad to guard the detainees and then popped smoke. They returned to Taji for refit while we sat around with the Al-Janabi tribe.

But it doesn't matter because we got the target.

On his wedding night, too.

He cried and cried and cried. Through his tears, he begged me to let him go. He pointed at my feet and made a kissing motion. I'd have felt bad for the guy if he wasn't a known weapons smuggler.

At one point, I went up to the bars, and said to him in English, "I know you don't understand me. You're probably thinking about your new bride. Don't worry, your buddy Ali will take care of her. He says you don't deserve her anyways."


Friday, October 5, 2007



The price for my head is $10,0000 USD. I'm just an enlisted soldier. The price for an officer is $20,000. And the price for an interpreter is $30,000.

The 'terps at my COP always roll on mission with sunglasses and bandanas on. Some wear black ski masks in the 120° heat. Those things won't protect them from getting shot by a sniper, but it will protect their families. Without their masks, someone might recognize the 'terp on the street and then the 'terp's family disappears. It's such a paranoid world they work in, they don't even use their own names. They use codenames like Star, Roma, Fly, and Fox. Who knows when a dirty 'terp will blow a good 'terp's cover?

Today, one of the lieutenants, a West Pointer, blew Fox's cover. The West Point LT brought in NPs to our COP unanounced. The NP are National Police, which are like regular police, except they wear blue digital camouflage. (I'm sure they're different in other ways, but I don't see any.) The NP might as well all be JAM members with badges and AKs.

Because the West Point LT brought the NPs unanounced, Fox was walking around with his face exposed. He saw them and did an about-face for his room. He hid in there until they left. He thought about his wife and daughter. They live across Baghdad from here, and there are 7 million people living in Baghdad. But the NP saw his face and this is the second time the West Point LT has blown Fox's cover. And now he wants to quit.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Parent Trap

Today I didn't even have to use my AK,
I gotta say it was a good day

-Ice Cube, Today was a Good Day


My first mission outside the wire, we drove around our AO and did snap TCPs (traffic control points). The idea is that you stop a handful of random cars in traffic, pull them out, search their vehicles, search their bodies, check their ID cards, and maybe you'll end up catching a white Open shit-packed with AK-47's. It's a fucking random and haphazard way of trying to nab the bad guys, but our commanders wanted to show presence in the area.

Anyway, as I was pulling security on a crossroad, a lady in a burqa, one them all-black Arabian ninja costumes, walks right through our operation with her 2 little boys. I looked around at the other soldier across the intersection and there was no reaction.

"What the fuck!?!" I said.

My buddy 5 meters away asks, "What?"

"Dude, this bitch just walked through our AO with her two kids like we didn't exist. What the fuck kind of irresponsible-assed parents are these Iraqis? I know I wouldn't walk my kids through a military operation with Strykers and soldiers and guns. Out in Sadr City like this, we're fucking RPG magnets, man!"

"I guess that's how you know we're safe. When they'll walk right through our operation like that."

That day, again and again parents would walk their kids right through our operations while we pulled people outta their cars and frisked them for contraband. Even if they weren't lying to me, even if their neighborhood is the safest place in all of Iraq, I was stunned that they acted like we don't all have loaded weapons with at least 210 rounds of ammo each.

Today, our PL (platoon leader) briefed us that now that Ramadan was winding down, we have something new to think about: this year, Airsoft replicas of AK-47s and MP5s have been an extremely popular gift for young boys. Already, some unit was on patrol when some jackasses popped off some fireworks, and when the soldiers turned around, there was a 12-year-old boy pointing an AK-47 at the soldiers. Of course the kid got shot. He was pointing what looked like a real weapon at infantrymen. The unit medevac'ed the kid outta there to a hospital, and I think he'll be OK. Better than OK, he'll be smarter--he'll know not to point anything that looks like a weapon at U.S. soldiers. And... I guess we gotta be a little more hesitant to squeeze the trigger. Maybe, but probably not.

But what the fuck kind of irresponsible-assed parents are gonna give their kids realistic toy guns to point at American soldiers?

Iraqi parents, that's who.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fear and Loathing

Snipers can terrorize and shut down forces much larger and better armed than them. The only real way of dealing with a sniper is to kill the sniper, but in the city, it is almost impossible to catch or kill the sniper. We think there's a sniper or sniper team that's been rolling around in a van, following U.S. patrols and taking potshots at us. The guys want to torture the sniper when we find him, but I wonder if we ever will. It took the FBI a lot of coordination, a lot of time, and a lot of victims to catch the Beltway Sniper back in 2001.

We've just started with operations, and this sniper has completely changed the way we operate. Everything is speed, violence of action, and limiting exposure time. This is not how I want to roll for the next 14 months. This is not how we get the locals to like and trust us.

I don't know. I just don't know. We need to kill the snipers.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Telescope Eyes

Today my platoon suffered our first KIA this deployment. Sniper hit him through the side of the head as he was giving some Iraqi kid a soccer ball. Some of those children even cheered as the platoon loaded him into the PL's truck, his blood spilling everywhere. One his best friends, the RTO (radio-telecoms operator), had to hold parts of his brain in while he was escorted back to the COP to be stabilized and then airlifted to surgery. He died on that flight out of the COP, but everyone knew he was dead as soon as he got hit. You don't survive that kind of a shot.

The guys cleaned themselves of blood as much as possible, and then four hours later had to go on another patrol. The 21-year-old RTO had to sit in the back of the same bload-soaked Stryker that he had hours before just held his dying friend.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tales of a Scorched Earth

Stress is an ignorant state. it believes that everything is an emergency.

-Natalie Goldberg


An IED (improvised explosive device), possibly an EFP (explosively formed penetrator), tore through a Stryker in my platoon today on Route Tampa West, Baghdad. Some 100 pounds of explosives burned the fucker to the ground, but nobody got hurt.

Stryker soldiers will tell you that they'd rather ride in a Stryker than a humvee. Strykers are faster and have more armor. Outside of EFPs and deep-buried IEDs, nothing can touch Stryker passengers. But everyone else talks about how Strykers get torn up left and right, how Strykers piss off the locals because they're so huge that they demolish the streets and rip up the power lines and phone lines they roll through. Non-Stryker soldiers criticize that Strykers are nothing more than big rolling targets.

Yesterday an IED blew up a block away from one of my buddies on patrol, hitting another Stryker. No casualties--in fact, the Stryker just rolled through the kill zone. The 82nd Airbone cats I'm with right now, they laugh at my unit because when the 82nd gets hit with an IED, they dismount, cordon off the area, question bystanders on the streets, and dare the bad guys to come fuck with them some more. Maybe that kind of courage comes with experience, because I can only imagine 3rd platoon's green PL shitting his pants when an IED goes off and screaming at the driver to de-ass the kill zone.

We've been in sector for a minute, and we've already been blown up 4 times. And now I hear rumblings of a massive, squadron-wide 3-day-long mission that will almost certainly become a 2-week-long mission.

The cats from Arrowhead Brigade that trained us up in Taji weren't kidding. Once operations begin, things get heavy quick.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Welcome to the Jungle


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Mixon desperately screamed, "Stop! Stop!! STOP! STOP!! STOP!!!"

The PL (platoon leader) and the driver couldn't hear Mixon over the Stryker's internal comms (communications system), so our Stryker kept backing until we all felt metal slamming against the Stryker's birdcage slat armor. Mixon is a rear air guard--he stands in one of the rear hatches and he watches the backside of the Stryker with his 240 Bravo machine gun.

The PL ripped off his CVC (combat vehicle communications) helmet and furiously demanded, "WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T YOU SAY SOMETHING?"

"He did!" the senior sergeant said. "You just weren't paying attention."

The PL was already in a panic. He'd ordered the driver down a few wrong turns and had gotten all four vehicles of 3rd platoon lost. At 1124 hours, we'd hit a dead-end and were backing out of the street when our truck knocked over a light pole.

The PL just couldn't catch a break: an hour later, I heard him screaming over the comms, "Remount! Remount! I say again, you just stopped a funeral!"

Our presence patrol was just two hours of doing snap TCPs (traffic control points): roll out in our Strykers, stop at random locations in our sector, dismount, pull random civilians out of their vehicles, and search them for guns, explosives or any other contraband. It's our commander's way of announcing the arrival of Strykers in Sadr City and showing the population that we're taking every possible step to keep the neighborhood safe for Ramadan, the holy month of Islam where Muslims worldwide abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. (Supposedly, it's also the month where holy warriors will go straight to heaven for dying in battle against the American infidels, so we've braced ourselves for a month-long festival of carnage and car-bombs.)

Rolling up a funeral convoy, of course, will not win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.


Sadr City is a 16-square-mile district in Northeastern Baghdad home to some 2 million Shi'a Iraqis. It is the safe haven of the JAM (Jaysh al Mahdi, or the Mahdi Army), a militia numbering in the thousands loyal to the warlord Muqtada al-Sadr. JAM has used Sadr City as a portal to distribute weapons--like the EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) that will rip through the toughest of tank armor--and money from Shi'a Iran. JAM operates with near-impunity in Sadr City, running its own laws, courts, and executions, since it enjoys popular support and because no one outside of SOCOM (Special Operations Command, e.g. Special Forces, Delta, SEALs) would dare run a mission into the heart of Sadr City. It is an inner dungeon of hell that would make Jesus's pussy tremble.

When I say that my Stryker unit goes into Sadr City, I mean, it stays within a few blocks of the district borders because my commanders are shit-scared of us starring in Black Hawk Down, Baghdad Edition.


After the presence patrol, the unit dropped me and the rest of the torch party off at the COP. The torch party is the group that goes in advance to set up for the unit's movement into an area. In our case, we're moving into our COP, which is right outside of Sadr City. A COP is a combat outpost. Unlike the sprawling FOBs and camps littered across Iraq, COPs are small stations embedded within the neighborhoods they overwatch. COPs can usually hold no more than a few companies--Camp Taji could and does support several brigades.p>This COP used to be an abandoned YMCA or something and has one working shower. There is no dedicated chow hall, only a microwave, a cooler of frozen pizzas, and stacks of MREs. The building itself is surrounded by an inner and outer ring of 12-foot-tall concrete blast barriers to protect from mortar attacks. Despite the blast barriers, several neighboring apartments and houses tower over the walls, providing easy access for snipers to cherry-pick American soldiers. Just yesterday, the COP came under mortar fire, and last week, an infantryman took a sniper round through the throat at a fuel point a few blocks away from the COP.

I expected as much, but I was still disappointed that life would be so rough for at least the next one-and-a-half months, when we'll return to Camp Taji for a refit of supplies and equipment. Who knows how many months of my 15 I'll be spending here....


Once situated at the COP, we didn't waste any time holding our dicks in our hands. At 2217 hours, I was hoisting myself over a seven-foot-high gate. First squad had just gone over, and no doubt, second squad had already climbed over the secondary gate to the target's house. I nearly dropped my weapon as I landed on the inside of the metal gate. I flipped my NODs (night optic device) off of my eyes back on my helmet, and rushed towards the newly-opened doorway that first squad had breached. These guys work fast--they'd already separated the males and females into different rooms and were now clearing the second floor. The PL was pounding the man of the house with questions about the whereabouts of his son, our target. Me, I was just there to observe and make sure that no one points a muzzle at the PL or his interpreter.

We are RIPing (relief in place) with these cats from the 82nd Airborne. We're their replacements, and they were showing us how they've been holding their sector down. Left seat, right seat, ride, baby.

By the end of the night, we'd hit 5 houses, but no target, only a neighborhood of spooked Iraqis and one fucking lucky bastard who got away for the time being.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Man is a Man...

About four in the morning, Cardigan and I were walking back to my car in an empty Midtown parking lot. I noticed a figure moving toward us from the far side of the lot -- a beggar.

I quickly let Cardigan into the passenger side, and rounded over to the driver side, but the old man had made the distance by the time I had my door open.

"Say, man," he said, "Say, can you spare a brotha' some change."

"Nah, man," I replied without even looking at the man.

"C'mon, man, help a poor man out. Can I just get a buck, man?"

"I ain't got shit for you, chief," I looked up at him. Old, black, balding, shaggy grey beard, tattered clothes -- exactly what you'd probably imagine a beggar to look like.

The beggar backed off, "Why you gotta say somethin' like that, man? Why you gotta curse at me, man, I'm human too."

"Well, 'cause I ain't got shit for you."

"Why you gotta curse at me! Treat me like I'm human, man, please!"

"Quit badgerin' me, chief," I stood behind my open car door, "This is how I talk. I talk like this to every human being out there. Truth of the fuckin' matter is, I still ain't got shit for you. Now, back the fuck on off my car, dog, I swear I'll fuckin hurt ya."

He held his palms up and backed agreeably aside. I got in the car and drove off.


On the drive home, after having dropped Cardigan off, I replayed the encounter over and over in my head.

It could've happened differently, I suppose. The words that spew from my mouth regularly are pretty offensive. I didn't want the beggar to bother me, but he's a beggar; that's what beggars do: they beg.

"Sorry, man, I can't help you." I could've said that, instead. Why swear at a stranger just because he's homeless? Why shun a man for being poor?

I'd convinced myself that I was in the wrong.

When I got home, there was a pot of barbequed chicken, a plate of spring rolls, egg rolls, some Vietnamese seafood salad plate. It was my nephew's birthday, and my brother had thrown a get-together earlier in the day. My parents brought home leftovers.

My brothers throw get-togethers all the time -- at least once or twice a month. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, visiting guests -- you name it, they dole out the food.

Everytime it happens, my parents bring the leftovers home. Nobody enjoys eating that shit days after the fact, but we choke it down because it's there.


Six in the morning, I found the old man asleep in the corner of the parking lot. He woke up from the sound of my approaching car.

I gave him a paper plate with a drumstick, a wing, and a handful of spring rolls. He doesn't have a microwave so the food will taste like shit, but for tonight, at least he'll have a meal.

And tomorrow, he'll probably have nothing. And it'll have never mattered.

But tonight I'll sleep with a clean conscience.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Keepin' it real in the Gelato


Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
-Dante Aligheri


Camp Taji, Iraq is a huge, dusty, fortified slum. Currently, we live out of a warehouse shit-full of cots, bunk-beds, and soldiers--about two companies worth. We have huge AC ducts that blow gloriously cold air all over my cot, so when I sleep at night, I have to wrap up in my sleeping bag. The warehouse is surrounded by 12-foot-tall concrete blast barriers to protect us from the mortars that the bad guys love to fire but never learned how to aim. A direct hit on the warehouse in the middle of the night would punch through the tin roof and probably wipe out 100 soldiers, easily.



We have an early-warning siren that lets us know when a mortar will land in our sector. The third morning in Taji, someone woke me up and told me to get kitted up in my armor real fast, quick, and in a hurry because the siren was wailing. I didn't hear shit, so I scratched myself and went to the port-a-potty outside.

What I do hear, through the day and night, is outgoing artillery. At first, we thought it was incoming, but our MI (military intelligence) guys assured us that in the first 3 days, there's been only 1 mortar to land remotely close to Taji, and it landed outside the wire on Route Tampa. The outgoing artillery makes the walls shudder and my cot rattle even though the nearest artillery range is something like 5 klicks away. Whole grid-squares of Iraq must be getting pulverized every day.



Every building on post is fortified with sandbags in the window-frames and surrounded by yard-thick HESCO barriers or concrete blast-barriers. Everything is a dead, sandy color. Random sections of walls show mortar damage: Taji looks like a bombed-out version of Tuscon with sandbags. Some of the Army vehicles rolling around look straight out of Mad Max.



On the second morning in Taji, my section went on a 3-mile run on the hard-ball road next to the warehouse. About a half mile out, we encountered the Boneyard--both sides of the road lined with the skeletons of dead tanks for a half-mile stretch. If not for the random graphitti tagged up all over the tanks, it'd be creepy.



Taji has a large PX that houses an ADIDAS and an Oakley store inside. The PX has a large stock of pink iPod arm holsters and three-month old issues of Maxim and Stuff Magazine. The food court next to the PX has Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. The main chow hall can seat an entire battalion at once and offers midnight chow for the night shift. The food selection is so deep, they serve kimchi, freshly-cut fruit, and lobster tail.

We have shuttle buses that run every 5-10 minutes. We have a pool and a coffee shop next door to it. We have one-day-turnaround laundry service. We have an MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) center that provides us with AT&T phones and free 28.8K internet for half-an-hour at a time. The wait is only an hour long, and only once a week do we have a communications blackout because someone from the camp dies.

We have everything we need to live in a war zone but still pretend that we're just slumming it in the States.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In the Aeroplane over the Sea


Ill winds mark its fearsome flight,
and autumn branches creak with fright.
The landscape turns to ashen crumbs,
When something wicked this way comes.
-Lexus, 1997


By the time we mustered for movement into Iraq yesterday morning, word had raced through the squadron that our regiment had already been hit: the supply convoy for FIRES squadron got ripped by an IED (improvised explosive device) and 4 of their connexes (shipping containers) burned to the ground right outside the gates of Camp Taji, their new home in Iraq. Taji is maybe 10 miles north of Baghdad proper and also happens to be our new home in Iraq, too.


At 0034 hours local time this morning, we were lifting off out of BIAP (Baghdad International AirPort) in a Chinook. The bird's gunner scanned the ground with his NODs (night optic devices) from a chair bolted to the back ramp, which was open--you could walk off the damn thing and fall 300 meters to the ground like it was a fucking plank. His machine gun swiveled menacingly at the empty streets of Baghdad.

The WHUP-WHUP of the Chinook's twin rotar blades vibrated through my body. I was shaking--we were all vibrating--from the bird's path through Baghdad's night sky. There was a fucking loud electric screech, like constant feedback from a microphone next to an amp, that lasted the entire flight, but no one cared. We were all soaking in our sweat and amazed we had survived getting onto the bird. A Chinook looks something like a blimp held aloft by twin spinning rotar blades. Entry is through the back ramp, but that's also directly in the path of the bird's turbine wash--the stream of hot air blowing from the Chinook's dual turbines.

My chalk of 12 had lined up at the edge of the helipad, each of us in full battle rattle (weapons, body armor, magazines, helmet) and carrying a full duffel bag and assault pack. When the Chinook touched down and dropped it's ramp, we dashed for the red glow of the bird's open belly. The rotar blades blasted hot, summer air in our faces, and our bags slowed us to a hopping run. One of the flight crew stopped us 10 meters short of the ramp and motioned for us to wait. The roar of the rotar blades deafened us, and the turbine wash roasted us.

I dropped my bags and brought my arms up to shield my face and any exposed flesh from what felt like an invisible stream of fire gushing from the open ramp. Jesus. Fucking. Christ. I wasn't wearing gloves, and pretty soon my hands hurt, like I'd been holding them over a bonfire. I backed off to the end of the chalk to put as much space between me and firestream as possible. I'd spent the past two weeks acclimatizing to the Arabian sun, so I was fine with the 100°F night air. But the turbine wash easily hit 150°F. I turned away from the Chinook and tried to fixate on the rhythmic thump of the rotar blades slicing through the hot, thick air. When I realized that'd been angrily yelling, "FUCK!" I tried to think of the turbine wash as just a breeze. A withering breeze that gave my flesh the smell of bacon! I've never wanted to quit so badly in my life as I did right then and there. I was ready to throw my weapon, abandon my bags, and run away, man, I don't know why I didn't. Probably because someone might call me pussy.

Over two minutes! One-hundred-twenty-seconds! we cowered and burned behind the Chinook. They made us pass our baggage forward onto pallets, and finally we were allowed to board. By red light, we crowded into the seats along the sides of the bird and strapped ourselves down. The crewman that had stopped us dragged an iron chair onto the middle of the ramp and locked it down onto the ramp. He went over to a panel, flipped a switch and ramp began to raise. The ramp stopped when it was parallel to the ground. Then the crewman brought out his machine gun and strapped himself to the bird. The Chinook lifted steadily into the air, and as we bobbed and floated across the night sky, I gazed down at Baghdad and wondered if I was staring at the same streets I would be patrolling.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wronger than two boys kissing in church

SPC Dallas and I were at the gym, loading plates onto the bar for the bench-press. "I haven't done this since last deployment!" he declared.

"Yeah, it's been awhile since I lifted anything," I admitted.

"Fuck, that looks like a lot of weight to start," he said. Then, as he began lifting, he grunted and said, "Tell my Mom if this kills me that I died in a firefight! And that I saved someone's life! Your life!"

"Haha, all right. And if I die... tell my Mom that I died because she didn't love me enough!"

He let the weights slam onto the bar, laughed, and asked, "What the fuck was that? Oh my God, you must hate your Mom, man!"

"Hahaha. Nah, I love Mom. I always joke with her like that. I'm just kidding, don't say that to her."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

They Don't Serve Beer in Hell, Tucker Max

We landed in Kuwait at 2236 hours local time on 13 August 2007. Though it was night, temperature on the ground was 105° F.

Here are some things you might not know about the heat in Kuwait:

  • The wind blows, but it's feels as good as having a full-body blow-dryer on you when you're already standing inside an oven.

  • The heat is dry, so that I just wither. Most of the time, I don't even feel like I'm sweating--the air just sucks the moisture right out of me. It's only when I step inside an air-conditioned area that I become covered in sweat.

  • I can't open my mouth or speak for more than a few sentences without coating the back of my throat with a layer of dust.

  • There is sand everywhere, and it is very hottt sand.

  • I sleep during the worst of the midday heat (120° F+!!) inside of a tent with A/C. I lie 5 feet from the vent and I'm still sleeping in my own sweat.

Other than the weather, things are fine here. We have the option of four meals a day here if we want (midnight chow!).

I got very depressed on the plane ride over here because I wanted a Vodka tonic very badly and it really hit me that I won't be able to drink for the next 15 months.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I am the Girl's Best Friend

Ice Cream is a sweet girl.

I met her early on in my high school days, back when I used to give a fuck about the people I met. Back when I was young enough to meet girls and care about what they said or thought or felt.

Tonight was Ice Cream's friend's birthday. She was also out, uninhibited, because she just recently got out of a serious relationship.

Dill, Seelo, and I arrived at the club after midnight; none of us had seen Ice Cream for several years. The greeting was joyous, though obviously severely impaired by booze. Ice Cream gave us our hugs and kisses and we chatted before going our separate ways on the dancefloor.

A few hours into the night, Dill, Seelo and I reconvened and we noticed a sight out of the corner of our eyes. Ice Cream was making out with a strange fellow in a dark corner. His hands were creeping up her dress, which was awfully long and far from something someone could accidentally reach under without effort.

"Who's the lucky fella?" I inquired.

"Never seen the fucker before," Dill retorted.

Later in the night, as the club was closing up, we found Ice Cream and asked her, "Who's the new guy?"

"I don't know... I think his name is ... Joe?" she answered, lost and confused. "Hey!" she suddenly changed subjects, "We're gonna go eat! Are you coming with us?"

We agreed.

On the drive over to the diner, the three of us guys were stopped at a red light, and a Corolla pulled up to my left.

"Where do I know that guy?" I asked, pointing over at the Corolla.

"Hey!" Seelo exclaimed, "That's that Joe guy that Ice Cream was making out with! Guess he's coming too!"

I shifted into 'park' and stepped out of the car. Stepped over and pulled on Joe's door lever -- it was unlocked. I sat down and smiled calmly at him.

He shuffled over to his side, as if to reach for something, but I jabbed him a quick one in the side of the head.

"Hands on the steering wheel," I commanded.

He quietly obeyed.

The light turned green, and he moved along with traffic. Seelo jumped over to the driver side in my car and tailed.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked him.

He shook his head silently.

"So, that girl that you were making out with in the club -- that's my baby sister," I exaggerated maybe a little. He looked over at me startled. I grinned. "Me -- I'm an overprotective brother. And you ..." I placed a hand on his shoulder, "You sir -- you are the one that made out with my baby sister in the club."

We slowly drove past the diner that Ice Cream and her friends were planning to eat at.

"Pull into the parking lot," I yelled at him, "I know where we're going, you stupid motherfuck!" He slowly backtracked and turned in. "So, you were feeling all up on her pretty good back there. Did you get her number? You know her name at least?"

He shook his head, keeping his eyes away from me.

"Gimme your phone," I commanded.

He reached into his pocket and handed a cell phone to me. I punched Ice Cream's number in, and the number on the display switched into her name, misspelled.

"Oh!" I groaned disappointedly, "You do have her number! And you misspelled her name." I turned to him with a dead stare, "And you lied to me."

He kept looking straight ahead, avoiding my glare.

I slapped him across the face with his own phone, "Don't fucking lie to me!" I slapped him to emphasize each syllable, "Liars make me angry!"

I stopped and deleted Ice Cream's number from his phonebook.

"Listen," I calmed down, "We're civilized men here. Here's what we'll do. If you walk into this diner, I'll kill you. If you ever call this number, I'll break your kneecaps." I placed the phone down on his seat, "And then, I'll fuckin' kill you. Got me?"

He nodded his head. I got out of the car.

I walked back to my car and got into the driver seat. Seelo jumped back into the passenger.

"You guys hungry?" I asked.

"Fuckin' starving," Dill answered.

We ate.