March 2004

Ivan, proud of his work.

One of our standard duties is to drive up and down a major road in our AO to look for IEDs, hopefully without getting blown up by them first.

Today we were going to document the locations of all the dead vehicles on the road for eventual removal, such as this tank.

Another dead armored vehicle, probably once amphibious.

Since dead animals are a common place to hide explosives, we have to dispose of them as soon as we find them. Jeff, in the foreground, waits for a light for his cigarette and for his dog.

The dog being disposed of. Jeff got his light.

We recently found a dead cow, bloated as hell with all four legs in the air, but before we could get back to it, some other unit burned it. Damn them.

Any vehicles that are stopped on the side of the road, we stop and inspect to see if they are up to no good or if they just need help. Communicating with the Iraqis is nearly impossible, so we tend to stick to hand signals. To an Iraqi, the “thumbs up” used to mean “up your ass”, but now we have taught them that it means “A-Okay”. This ambiguity is absolutely sublime. Kids all across Iraq (and soldiers) can now use an obscene hand gesture with impunity. Here Jeff gives an apparent, “The bus doesn’t seem to contain any weapons or terrorists. It’s A-Okay.”, but in reality what he means is, “Don’t give me this ‘broken down Iraq fantasy tour bus’ shit! Where are you hiding the fucking RPGs??!! Oh, what, you don’t speak English like the rest of the world does? Fine. You know what guy, just shove it up your ass.”

Okay, so we’ve been in Iraq for a little over two weeks now and have performed a lot of different missions. Here are a few photos from a few fairly typical days:

On one of our first days, we did a little FOB (forward operating base) guarding. This is the view from a front gate guard post, protecting incoming convoys like this one.

During a patrol down a rural road, Matt says, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Oh my god, you aren’t kidding me.” Yes, we drove through a flock of sheep, but that’s okay because from our dashboard, plastic Jesus watches over his flock. Which brings to mind a song.
Feel free to sing along:

Oh, I don’t care if it rains and freezes,
long as I got my plastic Jesus,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.

I can go ninety-five miles per hour,
long as I got almighty power,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.

Hit a car, hit a truck,
plastic Jesus don’t give a fuck,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car…

For a few days we had to guard a bridge. We got swamped with kids wanting food. “Mister! Mister! Gimme food!” It helped pass the time, playing with the kids. Once we finally gave them MREs, all they’d do was ratfuck the candy out of them and dump the rest. (Santo with Wazina in the background)

One of the kids had a can of dip. Sean showed him how to pack it. Remember, education is the key.

While exploring the area around the bridge, we came across this mystery thing, across a canal and behind a locked fence. Some kids were pointing at it. I seriously don’t know what this is but am curious. Any ideas?

While guarding the bridge, we would stay at a nearby FOB that now is home to all the dead Iraqi tanks.

Our beautiful accommodations at the visited FOB. I slept on the concrete floor the first night, later upgrading to an inflatable sleeping mat with a slow leak.

Does this photo really need a caption? Shitters set up next to a missile. Photo by Matt.

The field showers were actually really awesome. They had hot water and good water pressure. They were run by an unattractive overweight female specialist that many guys concluded they would have sex with if given the chance. You’ve heard of “beer goggles”, well this phenomenon is known as “field goggles” and is even more severe.

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.

the bunker we live in

the bunker we live in

Jason & Willy
Me and Willy the day before my platoon would make the drive up through Iraq.

soldiers sleeping
This is what soldiers do when they are made to help out around the motor pool area– they hide out behind shady cover and catch some Z’s.

combat load of ammo
Since the convoy through Iraq would be our first combat mission, we were given our combat load of ammo. This is my load. Two-hundred forty rounds of 5.56mm rifle ammo (one mag of thirty not shown). I chose to load each magazine with the first, sixteenth, and last three rounds with tracer. My thinking behind the placement of the tracers being that I can see where my first round hits (aiming adjustments can be done very easily once you see where the rounds are striking), when I’m into the second half the magazine, and the final three to tell me when the mag is expended. I carry the M4/M203 rifle/grenade launcher combo so I was also issued a bunch of 40mm grenades: seventeen rounds of HEDP (high explosive daul purpose), two green smoke, one red smoke (for marking and/or signaling), and one white star cluster (a fireworks-like round used for signaling). I carry on my person 210 round of 5.56, five HEDP and one green smoke. The rest I carry in an assault pack (fancy name for a small backpack). The Interceptor kevlar body armor we wear now have in them the big ceramic armor plates in the front and back, making our everyday combat uniform remarkably heavy. Between the armor and the ammo, I feel like a human tank.

Princess icecream
I suspect that there is a secret cult within the Army dedicated to subjugating soldiers into homosexuals. For example, every single icecream freezer in the chow hall at Camp Udairi was one day inexplicably filled with nothing but “Princess” icecream bars, flavored with rose oil. They tasted like your grandmother’s perfume. They were fucking disgusting.

air freshener
John, our commander’s driver and RTO (radio guy) in their Humvee. Although my commander hates my writing, like John and myself he’s a big fan of Repo Man, one of the coolest 80’s cult films ever. In homage to the film, John put a (patriotic) pine tree air freshening where the rear view mirror should be. “You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.” If you haven’t seen this film, your homework assignment is to rent it, watch it, and love it. Just like Burt Reynolds is an unremarkable actor with a cool as hell performance in Deliverance, Emelio Estevez is also an unremarkable actor with a cool as hell performance in Repo Man. My favorite line is at the end when girlfriend says, “But what about our relationship?”, and Emelio responds after a short pause of incredulity with, “What? Fuck that.” Emelio’s character in Repo Man has had as much an influence on John’s personality as this film had on Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

the berm
Driving through Kuwait just below Iraq, we saw an incredible number of Bedouins. The drive is literally like driving through Nevada where there isn’t ANYTHING for hundreds of miles, yet incredibly there would be families just chillin’ off the side of the road, usually with a herd of sheep or camels. As we approached the Iraq border, various messages could be found on concrete block beside the road. This one reads, “Iraq border ahead 1000m. Beware of children in roadway.” I can’t tell you how exciting it was knowing we were moments away from crossing the berm into “The Raq”. Once we made it past the berm and through the one kilometer buffer of no-man’s land, I distributed cigars to everyone in the truck. As soon as we kit the border town, we held our cigars in one hand and our digital cameras in the other. Not the most tactical way to enter the country, puffin’ and clickin’, but oh well.

kids, home
Some Iraqi kids in front of the average home in the town bordering Kuwait.

A young girl runs along side the convoy. Photo by Anthony.

kid + tank
A kid leans against the remains of past conflict. Photo by Anthony.

kid on bike
Another Iraqi kid rides his bike alongside the convoy. Photo by Anthony.

kid on bike again
My photo of the same kid, this time in front of another typical border home.

The entire drive through Iraq, stupid American soldier graffiti was everywhere. Like I give a shit that you were in the 367th Pogue Battalion. Idiots. It especially slays me how many white trash soldiers with cans of spray paint have proclaimed love to this girl and that girl on every overpass along Iraq highway 1.

The Iraq tour of homes. Another random house along the highway.

another home
As we got closer to Baghdad, the dwellings didn’t improve much, but things became increasingly more green and included palm trees.

view through the Aimpoint of an M4
The weather was perfect and warm and aside from being in a combat zone, the trip through Iraq almost felt like a relaxing summer roadtrip. Except for when we took a wrong turn and drove through the heart of Baghdad at two in the morning, accidentally avoiding a huge daisy chain of IEDs we later found out. I guess all those Christian prayers for this godless heathen paid off. This was my view for most of the three day trip.

On the way back from the range we ran into a herd (the correct noun?) of camels and some Bedouins. It is not uncommon to have to cease fire on the ranges so these guys can pass with all their camels.

A happy little camel family (in a Ranger file).

In the chow line I noticed this Marine’s cheat sheet for handy Arabic phrases.

Alpha Company
Group photo of Alpha Company before the road march up through Iraq.

on the laptop
Apparently this is what I look like quite often.

Neo-esque Ray bans
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…

and walk…

and walk…

and walk by the MWR (moral welfare recreation) area where the phones, computers, gym and theatre can be found…

I love you
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.