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.”