October 1, 2003
November 6, 2003
There’s been a recent surge in attention the blog is getting and I feel a little overwhelmed. I’m one month into an eighteen month deployment. We haven’t even done anything yet. Soldiering is boring work with scarce and brief moments of intensity. I’m in for the long haul. There isn’t going to be a tidy coda after two hours of Josh Hartnett mugging for the camera. Credits won’t ever roll and house lights don’t go up for a long long time. On top of it, I’m in the National Guard. The guard isn’t cool, it’s a place for unrepentant masochists with a lot of karma to work off. We’re gluttons for punishment that jones for a monthly grunt fix. If I were cool, I’d join the friggin’ Ranger Battallion and start talking shit about how I’m gonna try out for Delta or SEAL team six. In real life I’m a geek. I’ve never read Black Hawk Down. I miss the city and I just want to get back and finish school. This “war on terror” crap has totally ruined my semester. Okay, at least this time I have an enemy. Now who was it again? I did a month guarding the West 4th station from 8pm – 1am (terrorist hours?) which was cool for about two days. Anways, I love everyone for all the wonderful things they’ve shared with me, but we haven’t even started to roll yet. Oh yeah, my company motto it “Let’s Roll.” Todd Beamer’s last words are now ubiquitous and tiresome. I’m certain he cringes everytime he hears it.
November 29, 2003
I’m driving back to Fort Drum right now in a rental car with Willy and Kyle, another team leader from his platoon. We had a few days off for Thanksgiving that I spent in the city and in New Paltz. Trying to decide how to spend this time off can be a very difficult decision. Your friends and family are eager to see you in situations like this and determining who you want to spend it with can be hard. I have family in Westhampton Beach, but I opted to skip the family thing for Thanksgiving and just visited my sister and a few friends simply so I could have most the time to myself. I did the turkey dinner thing with Ian and Theresa in New Paltz. Having friends that are incredible chefs is right up there with having mechanic, doctor and lawyer friends. Ian and T, I can never thank you enough. As selfish as it might sound to forgo seeing loved ones, I really wanted to use this time to unwind a little and not spend all of it riding trains and buses and sleeping in guest beds which, frankly, can make taking time off more stressful than whatever it is you’re supposedly taking time off from. Mom, you’ll probably not want to read this next part. Skip to the next paragraph. To be perfectly honest, I truly needed a large block of time where I could masturbate freely. When you’re a single guy, autoeroticism is an enormous and regimented part of your life. Living in a tiny room with three other dudes can really put a kink in your self-love life. And God bless free internet porn. Add a broadband internet connection and you have a true Information Age malady: attention deficit disorder porn addiction.
Even though I’ve only been gone for about two months, it still felt kind of strange to go back to New Paltz and see that life goes on whether I’m there are not. Walking from the bus station, I saw a large crowd of students milling around outside a bar and I couldn’t help but indulge in a degree of self-pity thinking that right now they have no idea that a few days ago I was freezing my ass off riding shotgun in a Humvee gunship going through ambush drills. My leadership issues have absolutely no impact on them, they couldn’t care less if I’m not getting the respect I need from my team or that I have moments of self-doubt about imminently seeing combat. I thought about the other guys that go home to their wives and girlfriends and how unlike them I’m part of this demographic of soldiers that seem to be permanant bachelors. Dwelling on thoughts like this can cause one to easily slip into an introspective coma of sorts. Then the questions kick in. Why am I in the Army? Why am I in the infantry? Why am I alone? What’s the meaning of it all, blah blah blah. I always tell people that if there is only one thing that they remember about me, remember this phrase: Only slaves are happy. My tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Wood, told me this, paraphrasing Tolstoy or Doestoevesky, I forget which. I know that this is an obviously cynical and depressing thing to tell people, but it’s an idea that I think I’ve pondered more than just about anything else in my life. This corporeal dispensation we call mortality is all about choice, about volition. This is how we define freedom, the ability to have choice. But oddly, choice is what causes us so much pain. How often have you heard someone say, “I had no choice?” expressing an apparent release from accountability? Only once circumstance dictates how we must choose, do we seem to be happy. We seem to spend so much time passively making decisions, usually just wandering down the path of least resistance, until we no longer have any meaningful choice other than survival. I’ve literally gotten to the point where I have had no food before I’ve put my mind to earning money. Who hasn’t “chosen” to waste time with friends rather than work on a term paper until there’s one day left and you have eighteen pages to write. Ask any student, it’s amazing what can be done with a deadline, five hours till sunrise and No-Doze. When it gets to this point, you do what you have to because you have no choice, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Granted there are people that may “choose” to blow the paper off altogether, fail the class, get kicked out of school and then ultimately find that they have “chosen” to spend all the money they earn working at the local diner on beer and weed.
I’m no better than anyone else. I chose to enlist. I chose to re-enlist. Hell, I volunteered to go to Iraq. Why would I do such a thing? I have a few answers of varying honesty. Mostly I want to expand my human experience and this is an easy way to experience some of the most extreme limits of mortality. I want to contribute to something bigger and more meaningful than myself. I want to give back to my country. I want to physically contribute something positive to solving a problem rather than acting like I can solve all the world’s problems from my couch. I love the guys I work with and I love the comraderie. I want money for school. I want to kill someone just so people will shut up and stop asking me if I have. Regardless of the reasons, I’m here and overall I have been very happy with the time that I’ve served. I’m to the point now that I can’t imagine my life without being a soldier. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the military in general, it’s completely counter to my personality. I don’t know a damned thing about military history, I don’t own any military regalia aside from a book bag with Airborne wings embroidered on it, I have zero military t-shirts. I’d be lying if I said that the Army isn’t a big part of who I am, but I’d like to think that it’s really not. It’s not who I am, it’s not truly a part of my identity, it’s just something I do. Then this begs the question of “who am I”, or what really is the basis of identity? Like anyone, I guess I’m just trying to find myself.
See what I mean? Give an infantryman too much time off and he starts to ask, “What am I doing here?” and then he posts poorly thought out quasi-philosophical blog entries. I was much more content freezing my balls off riding in that Humvee, a happy slave.
December 3, 2003
Juan and the Runaway M240 (or Boring Machine Gun Shop-Talk)
I was in charge of the M240 machine gun range for a couple days, making sure guys ran through the qualification process efficiently and with a minimal amount of bitching. The qualification process involves hitting at least seven out of eleven targets ranging from 400 to 800 meters during the day and seven out of eleven targets again at night ranging from 100 to 400 meters. The shooters were guys that had other weapons as their primary weapons, so this was to qualify them with the 240 as their secondary weapon. I’ve never actually qualified on the 240, so this range was a bit of a learning experience for me too. I learned that I can’t see targets that far out worth a damn, and even with binoculars I couldn’t see the 800 meter target at all. It’s funny because guys would still hit them, even if they couldn’t see them. The guy on the gun will always have an assistant gunner that will spot the targets with the binos as they pop up and give verbal adjustments such as “left three! up two!” meaning to adjust your fire to the left approximately three body widths or up two body widths. I’m convinced that a huge part of being in the infantry is learning how to use the force to accomplish a lot of tasks, this being an excellent example, hitting targets so far away they aren’t visible. Also, having an AG that is on top of things is vital. You could be essentially firing blind, but as long as you have a good spotter, you’ll get acurate fire downrange.
You may remember Juan, a SAW gunner in my squad that had a bad run of luck one day, well, he had a little more bad luck on this 240 range. The take-down pin that holds the pistol grip and trigger assembley in place was having a problem with its detent spring. During the night-fire, this pin on Juan’s gun actually fell completely out causing the entire pistol grip to come off in his hand while he was shooting it. The most important thing that we learned from this is that the mechanism that stops the gun from firing once you release the trigger is located in this part. So once it became separated from the rest of the gun, the gun didn’t stop firing. I imagine that this must have been terribly disconcerting for Juan, to say the least. How to stop a runaway gun is something we’re all taught how to handle (you twist the belt of rounds, breaking it off and stopping the feed), but normally you’d be holding the gun by the pistol grip the entire time, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction. With no familiar way to control the weapon, I think I’d be momentarily at a loss, holding the trigger in my hand while the gun was blazing uncontrollably into the night sky. Instead of the familiar sound of controlled bursts of rounds, the continual roar of a gun firing non-stop garners a lot of attention. Now that Juan had put the weapon down while it was still on it’s bipod to try and handle the malfunction, all eyes were on the bright orange rainbow of tracer rounds arching high into the air. Frightening but beautiful. It seems the one random dick that sometimes falls out of the sky happen to fall on Juan again.
Ray, Melissa, and Socky
To spice up this boring post, I’ll throw in some flavor, or what Ray likes to call “Sazón.”
Ray has a sock filled with sand that acts as a tool to help him steady his hand while he shoots. This is such an integral sniper tool, Ray saw fit to name the sock “Socky” and give him his own beret. Ray takes Socky completely seriously. Socky stands in formation with Ray, beret and all. I’m not kidding. Oh, and one other thing. Some of my feminist friends find it offensive that women are not allowed in the infantry. This is untrue. They are. Meet Melissa.
Ray, Socky and Melissa
Ray and Melissa, a lovers’ embrace
It’s getting wicked cold and perhaps not coincidentally morale is at an all-time low in my platoon. Fights are starting to blossom up here and there, but have been kept on the down-low so far. The specialists are talking about all going to sick-call on the same day in protest of… whatever it is they’re upset about. In a way, I feel kinda left out. I’m pretty happy if you want to know the truth. I’m where I belong, I’m where I want to be. I feel like I’m at that point now where every day is Groundhog Day. It’s like we’re in infantry purgatory, damned to live the same day over and over again for eternity. But as far as I’m concerned that’s fine by me, I’m kind of enjoying myself. Or maybe it’s just my generally contrarian personality. The more these poor bastards complain and get pessimistic, the more optimistic I seem to feel. I could maybe argue that it’s because I’m a good person with sunshine in my soul or whatever, but in reality I think I have a streak of sadism, watching the other soldiers unsuccessfully trying to cling to certain ideas of what happiness and comfort is while the more it sucks, the more I seem able let go of my attachments and learn to love the moment. Okay, so I’ve reported less than thirty-six thousand dollars the last three years combined on my income taxes, my credit sucks, I can’t keep a girlfriend to save my life, the most expensive thing I own is my bed in New Paltz, I have no car, no cell phone– and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more content in my life. I have a lot of very close friends whose love I cherish, I have a bizarrely excellent Flanders-esque relationship with my family (notwithstanding the strained relationship I have with my father in Salt Lake), and I am grateful for every day I get to experience. I know this probably sounds nauseatingly cheesy, but it’s how I feel.
I could go on, but I don’t want to embarass myself too much. To quote William H. Macy’s character, Donnie Smith, in Magnolia, “I really do have love to give; I just don’t know where to put it.”
December 10, 2003
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The first night we were in the field, Dan got a concussion. Our company NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) guy is this… hmm. Ya know, I don’t want to talk bad about the kid, so let me just say that he probably won’t be going to the soldier-of-the-month board anytime soon. Anyways, NBC super trooper had his rifle slung over his back and caught Dan right above the eye with his barrel when he swung around for some reason. Dan blacked out, puked, and did all those concussed things. After getting sent to the rear and examined, he was confined to quarters for three days and will be on profile for the rest of the week, precluding him from participating in any training. This sucks because in addition to Dan being down for the count, my SAW gunner, Peter is a friggin’ sick-call Ranger and always seems to be getting blood work done or having his tonsils looked at or having his snoring looked into or having his excema examined. The day Dan got clobbered, I lectured my guys on “The Aura”, the dark force that causes soldiers to get injured. My squad is having aura problems these days. Oh yeah, one more thing. The new guy in our squad, Cola, is going through the classic situation where his live-in joint-checking-account-having girlfriend decided to change all the locks on their apartment and drain his bank accounts. Cola won’t be part of this exercise either so he can try to sort out the mess this financial succubus has made for him.
In three hours it will be 3am and I’ll be waking up to start this operation. Rather than try to be witty about the monotony that is Army life, let’s get to the part where I bore you with personal photos.
Me at Bastogne, er, I mean at Fort Drum
Shameless close-up to make the mom happy– the pain in my toes apparent on my face
Frigid but beautiful
All hail BOB! (big orange ball, a.k.a. The Sun)
Firing machine guns from atop Humvees
This is how you warm your feet when they get frost nip– the medics make you put them on some innocent bystander’s bare belly. (This is Akintade.)
Me and Willy performing synchronized bowel movements– we’d get up but we’re both frozen to the toilet seats
The biggest sleep-over ever– This is the moment where everyone is stripping down and getting into their sleeping bags and it becomes painfully apparent that no one has bathed in a week due to the symphony of body odors that crescendos as each soldier hops in his sack
Ray’s family– Melissa is now a sandy blonde and Socky is sporting his knit wool cap
Willy celebrates every moment, even the ones filled with freezing pain
December 13, 2003
The Infantry Gods must have realized that things had only sucked in ways of coldness on our recent six-day field exercise, so for the exercise we just finished they decided to have it suck in multiple ways. Even though we were only out for two days, I’d have to say that it really sucked. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Yesterday: rained all day. Today: was freezing ass-cold all day. To use the parlance of my urban brothers, it was brick, yo. I shouldn’t have to explain why it sucks when you get soaked then the temperature dips below freezing. We moved out Thursday at 3am. I got three hours of sleep. We spent much time dismounted from the Humvees getting rained on. Last night we were in an overwatch position for a traffic control point. The four men in the truck should have slept in shifts, one guy in the turret, one on the radio. We all fell asleep at one point. The OPFOR (opposing force) actually did a drive-by shooting on the vehicles at the check point. We slept through the entire thing. Um, this is really really bad, but really really funny in retrospect. I was so profoundly unmotivated at this point that I didn’t care when someone banged on the window and said, “What, are you all asleep? We just got in a fire fight! Did you see any of it???” I should have gotten destroyed by my leadership for this fubared move, but most the guys in the other two trucks were asleep too. Crap weather, lack of motivation and massive sleep deprivation really test discipline during training.
Today wasn’t much better. We assaulted a small town training area, something we’re getting pretty comfortable with on the whole. My lack of motivation bit me in the ass again. We made contact as soon as we got to the buildings and I had the worst weapon malfunction of my career. My rifle was stuck like chuck (duh!) from all the rainwater that had frozen in it. Note to self: better pre-combat inspections. I fired one round, had a misfire, charged it, then had a wicked double-feed. I couldn’t get the magazine to drop, I couldn’t get either round to extract, I couldn’t even get the charging handle to move anymore. I was completely flabbergasted. Matt was dead at this point (i.e. his MILES laser tag crap was beeping, signifying that he was killed), so I took his SAW and gave him my M16 doorstop. The rest of the mission was completely uneventful. Cleared a building, made no contact, then continued on to the second phase of the mission. For this phase we sat in a hasty ambush position for two hours. We froze. And the enemy never came through our ambush point. This is probably good. Anthony has a chronic cough and Juan’s snoring made us the loudest ambush point ever. This field exercise didn’t exactly see our best soldiering abilities, I’m a little embarrassed to say. No sleep, very little time for food and utter crap weather will really test your mettle. Commanders: give your men time off from their training schedules every once in a while, otherwise motivation goes straight to hell. This is no excuse on the part of the soldier, but come one, you don’t want us to be basket cases before we even get to the desert, do you?
Tonight I’ll probably get six hours of sleep (I’ve had about four in the last two days combined), we’ll spend tomorrow prepping for the field, then it’s another 3am wake-up on Sunday to go to the field for a four-day operation. I could tell you more about how Willy had an instrumental role in this operation and basically did the job of a lieutenant or how it’s funny how one can easily be transfixed on thoughts of sex during states of great physical discomfort (similar to thinking of food when you’re hungry, perhaps?), but I really want to get to bed right now.
Whiskey and Peter patrol the woods. In the rain.
Peter keeps an overwatch on some “Iraqis” protesting in the distance. In the rain.
Peter and I agree that you’re not actually miserably wet until your crotch is wet. Peter stopped me at one point and said, “Sergeant, you know what? I’m miserable. You know why? My dick is wet.”
Our Humvee. In the rain.
Fall fashion, infantry style.
December 24, 2003
You know that Army commercial that shows soldiers doing a bunch of badass stuff like jumping out of helicopters into the water while a macho rock song blares behind the voice-over? It goes, “If they made a movie of your life, would it be as badass as this commercial?” or something to that effect. Well, a smartass kid in New Paltz asked me once in reference to that commercial if they make you listen to Godsmack all the time in the Army. (I suppose the song from the commercial is by Godsmack.) I gave the patronizing little neo-hippie a courtesy laugh and answered no. Flash forward to every morning since I met Kirk. Homeboy plays Godsmack and all manner of macho rock you can imagine, twenty-four-seven. So I guess I lied. We are made to listen to cock rock, or “hate music” as Matt calls Kirk’s musical tastes, all day, all the time. The only disc Kirk and I can agree on is Tool’s Aenima. Right now I’m listening to War All The Time, the new Thursday CD. Hmm.
It’s Christmas Eve and I’m sitting on a JetBlue flight to SLC. CNN Headline News is on the little TV screen. I’ve had the biggest crush on Rudi Bahktiar ever since I became a news junkie after 9-11. I worked at John F. Kennedy airport for eight months watching passengers get violated at the security checkpoints and after work in the wee hours in my crumby hotel room I would watch Rudi intently as she told me about the day’s stories. She seemed more attractive every night I watched her. Those bewitching Persian eyes, that aristocratic Iranian nose, breasts too small to preclude her from the category of sophisticated beauty. Before this deployment I was able to watch the news during the day and I found I was becoming infatuated with Soledad O’Brien and her mesmerizing smile. But of course they have to broadcast from Atlanta. How will I ever be able to visit? Why can’t they broadcast from NYC? What the hell is in Atlanta anyways? While I was at the airport I emailed CNN a few times asking them if they could set up a service that would email fans of Rudi each day what she would be wearing the next day. I got no response. So I would stare at the TV waiting for that fleeting moment when the ticker at the bottom of the screen would drop just before or after a commercial break, revealing her body below her armpits. Willy was my roommate for those eight months and found my Rudi obsession amusing and slightly troubling.
In my last post I promised you an entry about our last field exercise. Now that it’s days in the past, that whole experience is a million miles away. Besides, what’s the point? Sometimes I bore the hell out of myself with my repetitiveness. It was cold. The training was miserable. As a compromise, I’ll gloss over some highlights and provide you with some images.
On the first day out, another dick managed to fall from the sky and hit Juan square on the head. Let me explain. Juan recently had a temporary cap put on a missing front tooth and he was really psyched to go home for Christmas and show his wife his new choppers. Ever since I’ve known Juan, he’s had this little mini front tooth. Apparently it was filed down to the size of a baby tooth in preparation for a permanent cap that never seemed to find its way into his mouth. This cap was attached to the mini-tooth. Well, while Juan was eating a frozen power bar on that freezing afternoon, his tooth snapped off. This is the kind of thing that I literally have nightmares about. Shaking his head in frustration, Juan looked utterly dejected, holding his tooth in his fingers for me to see. What remained of his mini-tooth was all but gone now, severed at the gum. I found Doc and had him check out Juan’s tooth. It wasn’t an immediate medical problem, so Juan stayed in the field for the rest of the exercise.
That night it snowed a foot and a half. We began to build shelters to stay outside, but once the leadership realized that too many of the guys had no idea at all how to handle this kind of weather, we retreated to a building and holed up there for the next few nights. A kid in Willy’s squad caught a pretty serious case of hypothermia which really gave impetus to the decision to skip this particular cold-weather training opportunity. Juan and I had a pretty nice little hooch set up and would have been fine, but Eric was really hurtin’ at one point too, like a lot of other soldiers.
To really boil it down, all we did was guard some stuff, ran some traffic check points, and the coital moment was a semi-permissive raid on a town that turned into an off-off-off-broadway production. This exercise was the last one we would perform at Fort Drum, the second-to-last exercise before going into combat and the first exercise being performed on a battalion level. About a hundred-and-fifty real Iraqis were shipped in to play the part of, um, Iraqis. Apparently they were all from Michigan or something and had been living in the US since ’91 when they left Iraq. Interacting with them added an additional level of realisticness, but a lot of the time they couldn’t wipe the grins off their faces trying unsuccessfully to better get into character. There were a lot of interesting situations that occurred as a part of this exercise, but my company didn’t get to participate in many of them since we had been the main effort for so many exercises in the past. When it actually came time to raid the town, my squad’s job was to intercept anyone that tried to flee the town through the woods we occupied. So we laid in the snow just outside the town watching and listening to the chaos that took place in the town as each actor put on the performance of his or her life. There were even Iraqi children atop buildings throwing snowballs at the Humvees that passed underneath.
There were so many things that made this exercise seem utterly disorganized on a battalion level. Communication between companies seemed to vary from bad to non-existent. Maybe I’m totally wrong, after all who am I to judge our performance on that level. But boy, did it seemed hosed from the perspective of the lowly grunt. All I can say is that combat is going to be very interesting with these guys.
An infantryman spends an enormous amount of his time laying on the ground in the prone position. This gives him the opportunity to analyze nature on a very intimate level. This is my view of some moss on a dead log. The snow had not yet begun to fall.
As we prepared to move out it started to snow.
And it continued to snow. The hooch Juan and I built.
Anthony amid the snowscape. The ground beneath the eighteen inches of snow was icy and slick. It was virtually impossible to walk anywhere without falling on your ass at least twice.
After a while I just stopped wiping my nose and it started to look not unlike the back of this Humvee.
This is the view I had of the town as I laid for hours in snow that would melt beneath me from my body heat then refreeze. For the life of me I couldn’t find a position to lay in that didn’t involve my penis pressing against or dangling onto a freezing layer of ice. For once I wished I were wearing briefs. (Can you find the four soldiers in this photo?)
The view from the back seat of a humvee. The turret gunner is the guy on the right. Brings new meaning to the phrase “to have one’s ass in a sling.”
December 25, 2003
Just like you don’t wear white after Labor Day, the new rule is you don’t wear woodland camouflage after Christmas when deploying to Iraq. Shortly before our holiday leave, we started wearing the desert camouflage uniforms. Modeling the new uniforms for us here is the company’s sniper team, Chris, Ray, and Socky. Socky should know better than to wear his cover indoors, but who’s gonna tell him to remove it? You? One look at Socky’s stone-faced expression should tell you to think otherwise. On the bus ride out of Fort Drum at the beginning of the Christmas leave, Ray said, “Socky can’t stop talkin’ about Puerto Rican Day Parade Barbie.” Apparently he’s not the only one eager to get some over the break.
January 7, 2004
We finally left Fort Drum. The weather wasn’t really all that bad the last few days we were there. It’s almost like Fort Drum was telling us, Hey guys, I gave you hell but you did a good job. Here’s a little nice weather for ya, think of it as a going away gift. No hard feelings, right? So we pack all our stuff and move out to the Rapid Deployment Center (which is really just a fancy name for “little airport”). Our ruck sacks are in a truck and have been weighed. Each of us, wearing all the gear we’ll take onto the plane, step onto a scale and the weight of the plane is tallied. Oops. Turns out we were 6000 pounds overweight. So eighteen guys (including me) get bumped from the flight and have to take the next one. Yes, 18 guys and their gear weigh three tons. And that’s not counting water or ammo. We go back to the barracks, shower, check email one last time, masturbate one last time, and take short naps then head back to the RPC. We get weighed, sit around, then get in line to board the plane. But wait! During our delay that old bastard Fort Drum had one last bit of spite in him. The temperature dropped something wicked. And as Matt, who used to be in the Air Force, says, the flight line is ALWAYS windy. So there we are, waiting to board this Champion Air jet (who the hell has heard of them anyways?), getting assailed mercilessly by the cold one last miserable time. Very few guys had any kind of cold weather gear on, so all we could do was stand there and just take it. And Fort Drum was laughing at us uncontrollably, nearly pissing himself he was in such sadistic hysterics: “Hey, remember that stuff I said about the good weather? I lied! I don’t like you, I hate you! Fuck you! Yeah, that’s right soldier, FUCK YOU!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” God, I hate Fort Drum.
Okay, I have to go to bed, so I’m going to make this a speed blog entry. Ready?
You think getting crammed in coach sucks? Try doing it while wearing body armor, a load-bearing vest full of pockets, canteens, bayonets and all manner of G.I. Joe garb while carrying an assault rifle and a carry-on.
Hearing the stewardess (yeah, that’s right, I said stewardess. If they were male, they’d be stewards, dammit!) say, “Please remove all bolts from your weapons. Please place all squad automatic weapons in the overheard compartments and place rifles on the floor or pointed barrel-down by your side please.” was priceless.
Public service announcement: just because your seat on the airplane can recline doesn’t mean it should recline. Leave that shit in the full upright position at all times because the person behind you (*me*) is six-foot-fucking-two and if you recline I’m gonna get really grumpy.
If you live at Fort Polk, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.
My squad is getting smaller and smaller: John, the guy that had a girlfriend that changed the locks to their apartment and cleaned out his bank account (which has since been rectified), is being made part of the second sniper team and will not be with us any longer.
More squad news: Juan is still trying to get his tooth fixed. It got infected after the last break. He feels crappy. Anthony has had a chronic cough since this deployment started and managed to upgrade his sickness to a full-blown hospital-rendering flu. He feels crappy. He’s been gone the last two days and has just now rejoined us. Dan is being made our platoon sniper and will be gone for several days doing advanced marksman training. Dan feels crappy that he wasn’t chosen to be on the second sniper team, but happy that his skills are being recognized on some level at least.
Ray was on the advance party and got to Polk several days before I did. All I know is that he got kicked out of a strip club because he wouldn’t stop reading a book he had brought in the club with him. The girls tried their hardest, insomuch that they even put on some hot cunnil-sappho action, but he was unmoved. Only Steve McQueen could have ever been so desireless.
Kirk looks exactly like Stiffler from American Pie. Therefore, I have been dubbed “Finch”, since Kirk and I interact in a way not unlike Stiffler and Finch. Although I don’t think the comparison is all that accurate, I do enjoy being able to tell Kirk that if I’m Finch (something he finds hilarious), that means that I fucked his mom (something I find hilarious).
At the Rapid Deployment Center waiting for a flight
Boarding a charter jet that no one had heard of.
The view from my bunk at my new home at Fort Polk, LA.
I would insert the photo of the delinquent distended dong here, but I have to draw the line for good taste somewhere, right?
January 14, 2004
Salt Lake City once had a really big punk scene in the 80’s. My friend Brad in junior high school had older brothers, unlike me, that were into punk and I found them fascinating. The allure of the rebel figure and the power he wielded held me terrified and enamored. It made me giddy to vicariously enjoy seeing someone saying fuck you to the world. I wasn’t quite old enough to really enjoy the SLC punk scene in its heyday, but I feel I was cognizant enough to at least appreciate it as much as I could as an awkward and uncool seventh grader. I would record punk off late-night alternative radio onto shitty tapes overwriting them with Fear, Black Flag, SNFU, DRI, and The Dead Kennedys. And then I had my goth period, but this was before there was the word ‘goth.’ At the time, I really could think of no pursuit more intuitive than the exploration and exploitation of ones own angst and ennui. All this really amounted to was a lot of embarrassingly bad poetry and a penchant for young goth girls that I don’t think I’ll ever overcome. (see: suicidegirls.com) Lori Cannon of Boise, you changed your name and I don’t know where you are now. You started all this with your This Mortal Coil, Clan of Xymox and My Bloody Valentine. The Last Unicorn made you cry and you gave me the nick name ‘Luck Dragon’ because of the way I would curl my lip. It seems to me uncoincidental that I would dream about you, drive to Boise that same day, sleep in the parking lot of your apartment in my dad’s tiny silver car with my best friend Mark as my copilot, only to find the next morning when I knocked on your door that you had been wed the night before. I need closure, dammit! I still dress in all black, but now it’s because I live in New York City. Holy shit, did I just type all that?
During the 90’s, the most notorious of youth scenes in Salt Lake was the straight edge scene. Teen angst was channeled into ridiculously hypocritical and violent value systems where suburban pathos was tattooed and pierced into a nazi-like slipshod ethos. I was in college (the first time) during this period and fell in love with a college-radio art-rock band called Shudder to Think. I went to a live show they played at a shithole venue in Salt Lake where the straight edge band, Integrity, opened. What a strange mix that crowd was. The booking agent must have still had the needle in his arm when he planned that line-up. All I remember was a kid with a tattoo on his back of the H. R. Giger painting of the woman crucified on a pentagram to an upside cross. These kids didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, most were vegetarian and usually vegan and the most adherent were celibate. So it should come as no surprise that they would beat up just about everyone in sight for any number of vapid reasons rooted in a thinly-veiled but deep sense of self-loathing all in the name of spearheading some sort of social change. Yeah, whatever.
Since I just turned thirty, I have to admit that it’s possible that I have no idea what goes on in the realm of those younger and hipper than me, but last I checked the recent thing in Salt Lake (and everywhere else) was the emo thing. Yes, it’s short for “emotional” which I think is funny because I find your average Staind radio-play-overkill more emotional than most ’emo’ stuff and I also think it’s funny that Dashboard Confessional is considered too emo to be emo, or so they say. I’m sure these kids are completely beyond calling it ’emo’ anymore, but I don’t have time to be lectured on the difference between post-core and punk-core and emo-core and all that label-evading circumlocution, so I’m just gonna call it all emo. All you need to know is that you will never be cool enough to even begin to understand the complexities and subtle nuances of emo, so don’t try to front like you know emo, just put down that The Promise Ring CD and go buy the new Linkin Park like you wanted to you no-taste RIAA-blowing pop culture slut. I’ve always been bothered by how silly it is that social groups of the young, especially in suburbia, revolve so heavily around music genres. But that’s a discussion for another day. We have war to talk about. But not just yet.
So my friend Mikey-O in Salt Lake has a couple jokes that I love. They go like this:
Q: How many straight-edge kids does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Straight-edge kids don’t change a thing.
Q: How many emo kids does it take to change a light bulb?
A: What, you don’t know?
The second joke I especially like. Let me tell you why.
My company motto is “Let’s Roll.” Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. We yell it when in company formations. I cringe every time I have to say it. But I cringe less when in battalion formations and Delta company yells their motto of “Death by Wire”, which is meant to signify them killing the enemy with wire-guided TOW missiles, I think. Or them hanging themselves with piano wire instead of going to Iraq, or maybe them always calling their cheating wives on the telephone (wire) and them eventually eating a bullet. I dunno. Since “Let’s Roll” is our motto, we use it colloquially, sadly always sarcastically, but still, we employ it regularly in conversation. But I have noticed for quite a while now a few other phrases used on an even more religious and fervent basis. Some of them go like, “What, you didn’t get the word?” or “What, you didn’t hear?” or “You’ve been here three months and you still don’t know that?” or “You’re an infantry team leader and you didn’t know that?” All this time I thought when guys asked these questions they were being condescending patronizing assholes trying desperately to fight for the alpha dog position by leveraging themselves ever-so-slightly with even the most miniscule of information advantages like a bunch of petty little bitches, but now I realize they were just being hooah and quoting the new company motto: “What, you don’t know?”
January 15, 2004
They say Iraqis-gone-wild sometimes like to climb onto Humvees. To deter those wacky Arab frat-boy antics, you just wrap your truck with concertina wire. This is an effective tool for crowd control in all places other than New York City where the wire would be covered with plastic shopping bags by the end of the day.
This is Orlando, my new SAW gunner. Peter, my now-former SAW gunner, has managed to catch a mild case of narcolepsy and is probably going to be discharged from the Army. I’ve know Orlando for several years. He is an experienced SAW gunner and an all-around bad motherfucker. He’s mellowed over the years, but there was a time when this salty Lower East Side-raised Nuyorican would cut you for looking at him wrong. This is not hyperbole. He has a knife scar on his face that runs from mid-forehead, through his right eyebrow and down to his nose where part of his nostril was sewn back on. Orlando’s SAW is the most enemy casualty-producing weapon I have direct command of and there is no doubt in my mind that Orlando will gladly produce these casualties from me, should I ask.
Socky got promoted! He is now a Private (E-2). This is our company sniper section, a photo taken immediately after the promotion ceremony. Yes, Socky got blood rank. From the left, Ed, Chris, Socky, Ray, and Cola.
Ray recently discovered the sniper video game “Silent Scope” in the laundry building. It’s become a bit of an obsession for both of us and Cola is starting to get into it too now.
If anyone reading plays this game, could you please validate for me that these are some incredibly sick scores? They all belong to Ray except the last which is Cola’s. My top score is a meager 388000.
Trying to walk to and from chow usually involves having to avoid a lot of mud. Ray got tired of walking around the mud and was going to walk through a puddle when Chris told him, “Ray, do not walk through that mud puddle.” So he ran, dove into, crawled through, rolled around in, did flutter kicks in and made snow angels in it instead. This is not the first time Ray has spontaneously violated unsuspecting mud puddles. Chris, frustrated, made Ray do three-to-five second rushes, high crawls and low crawls all the way back to the barracks where he just rolled around in more mud. There is no degree of physical discomfort that I believe Ray would not gleefully endure. Just don’t ever give him tuna salad with celery bits in it– this he will not endure.
Tom Ridge and President Bush say to stay vigilant. You think you’re vigilant? What do you know about vigilant? Willy literally sleeps with one eye open.
January 18, 2004
Tomorrow we go into “the box” for our final training exercise before going into combat. Here at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, the scenarios that units go through are all pretty much unwinnable. I don’t think anyone has ever beaten JRTC. But that’s kinda the point. You will lose. It’s just a matter of how long you can hold out before losing and how gracefully you lose. This, apparently, is a good way to assess the battle-readiness of the brigades that come to be given a stamp of “deployable” before going over seas. The guys that are posted here, the “Geronimo Joes” as there’s known, spend the better part of the year in the field playing the opposing force (OPFOR) for unit after unit that comes down here to be tested including the Rangers, Special Forces and all manner of bad ass. Even these elite units get their asses handed to them most the time. Geronimo Joe knows how to play the game really well. They know these training areas like the backs of their hands, their MILES laser equipment is zeroed perfectly and they know how to fight in such a way that will inflict the maximum amount of damage with the minimal amount of effort. The mission we are taking part in involves my entire brigade and is going on right now. My company will be relieving the guys that are out there now. So far a key logistical bridge has been destroyed, the Brigade Sergeant Major has been killed, three Bradley fighting vehicles have been destroyed by IEDs, two soldiers have been captured and a massive car bomb recently killed 47 soldiers. (Just so things are clear here, none of this is real, it’s all a training simulation.) My job will essentially be to keep a small town safe. This entails quite a bit of work and the way they have things scheduled, I don’t think they expect us to eat, sleep or poop for five days straight.
This is the second time that I’ve been to JRTC. The Geronimos are very proficient at what they do which makes for excellent training exercises. Instead of having someone from your own unit play OPFOR in an ad-hoc fashion like most training exercises, these guys have everything orchestrated really well. I have to admit that I’m very excited about this operation. I didn’t discuss the last op much because I was too busy going off on a personal tangent in the post where I would have mentioned it. We did well and I was reminded how much I love my job, how much I love to fight. I may not feel the same when the real bullets fly, but I can’t deny how exciting those brief moments of intensity are.
We did the same scenario twice. We were in a small village of about a dozen buildings, trying to find a suspected insurgent, an arms dealer and link-up with our contact guy. On the first iteration we went in fast and hard. We cleared the buildings fairly quickly, found the insurgent, found the arms dealers and found our inside man. All without firing a single shot. But they said we were too aggressive, that we didn’t “win their hearts and minds.” I supposed I contributed to this. There was a guy in a black ski mask that was harassing us, trying to take our gear and just creeping us out in general. So I had finally had enough of him and had him detained. When it came time to remove him from the building we were keeping him in, he wouldn’t get up. So I kicked the chair out from under his feet that he had them propped up on and grabbed him by the shirt collar. At this point the observer-controller (OC) started freaking out and told me how he was going to escort me off the training area if I got any more physical with the guy. Understand that I hadn’t done anything wrong at this point (yet) other than I shouldn’t have grabbed his shirt. I had no intent of getting physical with the guy, but I wanted to instill in him the fear that I was just stupid enough to take the training too far and actually lay hands on him. In reality if this were to have happened, I probably would gotten my ass kicked. This guy was twice my size. I successfully articulated to the OC that I was just using the universal word for “stand up” by trying to pull him to his feet. I know I come off as a nice guy, etc. etc. to the other guys and in this blog, but in reality I have a very competitive and very aggressive side, I just don’t wear it like a crown. So the big joke about all this was the irony of how it was me that was getting warned that I was in danger of being escorted off the training area. To tell you the truth, I looked at this guy wearing his nasty little ski mask, his blonde eye-brows and redish goatee stubble sticking out of the mouth hole of his mask and all I saw was a typical bully. This guy was an active duty soldier and he wanted to fuck with the National Guard guys. So I fucked with him.
The second iteration was us trying to win those hearts and minds. We took it slow and because of this we never finished searching the buildings– all we did was argue with villagers. (Side note: the translators we had this time were Iraqi-Americans all from Salt Lake City of all places, my home town.) Then we took sniper fire. We were pinned down in a building. Three guys had already gone down. Kirk wanted to go out a window and run straight up to the building where the sniper was, using some available cover along the way. I wanted to run across the road and from cover of some other buildings, maneuver to the side of the sniper’s building where he had no window access to engage us. As usual, Kirk and I couldn’t agree, so he took his team out the window. He reacted quickly, something he and I both like to do when we start taking fire, so I’ll give him props for that. But as soon as they got out that window, his whole team got lit up. Now that Orlando and I were the only ones left from out squad at that time, we ran across the street like I wanted to, linked up with some guys from another squad and I told them, “follow me” (the motto of the Infantry, one I actually like). We ran to the building, entered it through a window (the front door was locked), and prepared to enter the next door. I opened it and, hey, what do you know, a second door! This is the second time this has happened to me if you remember when I opened a door on a building only to find the other side boarded up. Very frustrating. It’s like taking off panties and finding a plastered-shut vulva. There were keys attached to the doorknob of the first door, but they didn’t open this second one. While I was working on the door, it suddenly burst open, a barrel poked out and fires blindly missing everyone in the room, then slammed shut again, locked. Okay, now I was pissed. This was a brand new structure and the door was meant to be able to close and lock. In other words, not be kicked in. By this time, there were three OCs watching the whole mess and there was even a film crew capturing the events, I supposed for training purposed. Then I heard someone say somewhat hushed, “Just kick it in.” So I was like, “Yeah?” and the response was a solemn, “Yeah.” Looking at this steel reinforced door I knew it wasn’t meant to be kicked in, especially not for training, and wouldn’t go down easy. So I grabbed Orlando and told him to kick the door with me on three. One, two, three! Bam! The door bursts open! We quickly cleared the room, got the sniper, and continued on with the mission. It may seem like a stupid juvenile violent thing, but kicking that door in felt really damn good. The OCs could have stopped us and they didn’t, so fuck it, right?
The whole reason I recounted all this is that this particular exercise reminded again how much I love doing this. It’s utterly visceral. I know it’s completely counter to most of my personality, but intelligent measured violence is a magnificent thing.
So I’m gonna be gone for about five days. When I return, hopefully I’ll have some good stories and photos. Tonight Socky was kidnapped and someone tried to frame the First Sergeant by planting Socky in his wall locker. Socky was recovered, but Ray was none too pleased. HUMINT (Human Intelligence) brought the sock-snatcher to light and retribution will be meted out. I’ll try my best to cover the bloodletting.
Some of the guys from second squad (mine) and third squad
When giving an operation order it is good to have a terrain model of the portion of the map where you will be operating to explain things. They usually are constructed from items found around the barracks.
Today while we were doing close quarters battle (CQB) rehearsals in an old abandoned theatre down the street, this is what we found in the projector room: The Love Shack! The theatre is right next to the Troop Medical Clinic, the only place you’ll find female soldiers for miles, so we deduced that this was where the medics go to play doctor. Those naughty, naughty medics. As usual, Dan is looking grumpy as hell. I truly believe he was one of Tolkien’s dwarves in a former life. If he started carrying a battle axe during training, I don’t think I’d even notice.
When clearing buildings, it is important to keep a barrel pointed on all openings in the room where a possible threat could emerge such as doors, attics, windows, large holes in the walls, etc. While we were using the latrine to rehearse CQB, Anthony made sure to cover any possible threats that might have emerged from this hole. Yes, that’s Ray, he was just trying to wash cammo off his face before we rudely interrupted him.
From left, Kirk, Chris, and Ray in Louisiana model the alternate ways to wear the kevlar collar and groin protection as headgear in the “Pope” and “Flying Nun” styles. Photo by Matt.
Here, Ray displays the “Pharaoh” style of the kevlar collar. “Let me see you make bricks without straw, Moses!” Photo by Matt.
Ray models the new ninja suit underwear.
February 1, 2004
I’m sorry. I’m really agitated right now about this whole stupid mess. I truly have better things to write about. Like how much ass we kicked at JRTC at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Or like how I got my first injury ever in the Army in twelve years (second degree sprained ankle). Lesson learned: just because you can jump across a ravine, doesn’t mean your ankle is not going to give out from the body armor and all the gear you wear when you land on swampy soft ground. Or like how we got issued M4s finally. Or like how we recently found out that we are going to be part of the main effort for the 1st ID where 90% of our missions will be combat missions in the Sunni Triangle (translation: we will being seeing a lot of action). Or like how Tim Smith and his coworkers at Maxis Software/Electronic Arts in Walnut Creek, California hooked me and my guys up with some GameBoys and a ton of games (including for the PC and PS2). This is truly cool. There are care packages (brownies, stamps, toilet paper) and there are Care Packages (a couple thousand dollars worth of video games). Tim, you are now in our cool book.
At some point I’ll actually get to the part where I cover what we did in Loozee-anna. I’m just pissed that I missed half of it because of my stupid ankle. I did however take part in the assault that got us an enormous enemy weapons cache and the squad leader I was attached to at the time (Jeff) the “Hero of the Rotation” award. This is twice now that I’ve found myself working with this guy where I’ve had a blast (no pun intended) (see last door-demolishing sniper-killing entry).
After twisting my ankle, I had to man the radio in our tactical operations center (TOC). Being that I was now working with the command structure, I thought I’d try out my Patton look.
Socky is really into Medal of Honor for the GameBoy Advance. Socky says thanks, Tim!
March 4, 2004
This is me today, rockin’ the new Neo-esque Ray-Bans. Matt has the Mr. Smith ones.
Tent livin’! This tent is currently home to two platoons from our company.
The walk to chow is a kilometer (.6 miles) and starts here as we step out of the tent.
Then we walk…
and walk by the MWR (moral welfare recreation) area where the phones, computers, gym and theatre can be found…
stop to take a photo for the mom…
and walk by the tower whose purpose is beyond me (modern tower of Babel perhaps?)…
then we wait in the line for chow…
then we wash our dirty little sandwich clamps…
then we actually get the chow slung to us with a kind of haste reminiscent of New York City…
then we take a seat and wolf it all down.
On the way back we hit the fast food area where the coffee shop is
and we order up coffee. In the bible this area was referred to as “the wilderness”, but today I can still manage to get a café latté. And Jesus wept.
“Justice”, Kirk’s newest tattoo. A second date will be put on the right side once our deployment ends.
March 14, 2004
The bunkers we live in once stored ordnance for the air base near Balad 15 miles north of us. The parabolic interior makes it so that a soldier on one side of the bunker can hear music of another soldier on the other side of the bunker, even if the volume is low, causing disputes about noise. An optimist would say that it has the feel of an urban industrial loft space. Photos by Anthony.