June 25, 2005: Someone with a sense of humor has hung a sign outside his hooch: “House for Rent.”
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I walk into the dining facility for dinner tonight and am hit with a wall of musky fish stink. It’s seafood night at the Rock of the Marne Sports Oasis (the fancy name they’ve slapped on our chow hall): boiled lobster, fried shrimp and something called “Trout Almodene.” The fish fillets are sizzling on the grill normally reserved for hamburgers and they look fresh and good. The Filipino cook in the white hat scoops one up with a spatula and deposits it on my plate. I look down at the pinkish slab of trout meat and immediately get a vision of myself standing calf-deep in a cold Montana river—the Madison River, in particular. My fly rod is bent in an arc, I strip in line, a cutthroat flips its way through the shallows toward me. I think of how I take that trout home, gut it, fillet it, bread it, grill it and savor its sweet succulence on my tongue.
I sit down at a table in the DFAC, sink my fork into the “Trout Almodene” and put it in my mouth. I nearly spit it back out onto the plate. It tastes like canal water, like sewage mud, like the fatty, oily carp that swim in the piss-colored water just outside the front door of the DFAC. This is no mountain trout. I doubt it’s even trout at all.
On my way back to my hooch, I pause on the bridge spanning the canal and take a quick head count of the carp below. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that their numbers have dwindled.
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Yesterday, we got a report of two soldiers injured in an IED attack. They were in a convoy, which means they were supposed to be cocooned within the womb of uparmor—and this makes their injuries all the more distressing. One guy had both legs severed. The other one, a sergeant first class like me, lost both legs and an arm.
A few hours later, we learn the triple-amputee has died. I can’t think of him as a person, only a horrific vision of three sliced-off limbs, the stumps pumping blood onto the street, his life draining at an alarming rate. I don’t even see his face. Just those bloody stumps.