December 2003


Today we were issued the Interceptor Body Armor. The only thing that is important about this is the kevlar dickflap. This entire post is dedicated to it. Just look at the pride and elation on Willy’s face!

Christmas Leave

This post has more images and links about my life and friends than may keep your attention, so I’m putting it all under a separate link. It has nothing to do with training, the Army or Iraq. If you’re curious about my life outside this deployment, follow the link below. If you are not interested in my civilian life, you can skip this entry knowing you haven’t missed any good G.I. Joe action.

How far does the rabbit hole go?

My roommate, Erin thinks you should follow the rabbit…

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.

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.”

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.

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

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.”