Wednesday, July 3, 2013

War Journal: Fireworks in Baghdad

From time to time, just to keep things in perspective, I like to go back to the journal I kept during my year in Iraq.  Some of the writing is pretty horrible and embarrassingly trite--like so many free-writing exercises tend to be--but it's still good to remember the important things which were dominating my life eight years ago.  I thought it might also be of interest to Fobbit readers to get a taste of the life which inspired the novel.  So, here's the Fourth of July entry, live and in living color from Camp Liberty, Iraq.  Some of the names have been changed to protect those who don't know they ended up in my journal.

July 3, 2005: When I walk in the front entrance of the Division Main headquarters this morning, the guards at the front desk are having an intense conversation.
      “No, man, I’m talkin’ about that cat from Tom and Jerry.  Which one was the cat?  I never can remember.”
      “Yeah, Tom, man.  Dude, that cat was always gettin’ his ass whupped.  Just for once, I wish he’d win.”
      “You don’t get it—it’s all about the underdog.  When the small and supposedly weak is pitted against the big and strong, you always want to cheer for the little guy.  That’s what makes those cartoons so great.  Jerry has to win.”
      “Oh.  Is that what it’s about?  The underdog?”
      “Yeah.  Jerry’s the underdog—the undercat, I mean.  Good triumphing over evil and all that shit.”
      The other guy was silent for a few pondering moments.  “Still, I wish for once the cat would win.”

* * *

      Somehow, the general population, not just the news media, ends up getting our press releases and our e-mail addresses.  Every so often, an e-mail will pop up in my inbox from someone in the heartland who doesn’t tote a camera or wield a pen.  Here’s one I received today:
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 5:57 PM
To: Task Force Baghdad PAO
Subject: Release A050627g

      My friend was the one who you were referring to in this article.
      If there is any more information pertaining to this in the investigation, I would appreciate it if you would keep me informed.  Tim and I have been best friends throughout high school and this has been a shock to me as well as my friends that knew him.  He had died doing what he loved and it saddens me to know that I will never be able to make new memories with this outstanding hero and soldier.
      Thank you,

Task Force Baghdad Soldier dies
Task Force Baghdad PAO
      BAGHDAD — A Task Force Baghdad Soldier died June 27 from wounds sustained during a small-arms fire attack in central Baghdad around 10:15 a.m.
      The Soldier’s unit was assisting Iraqi Police at the scene of a vehicle fire when it came under attack from terrorists.  The Soldier was evacuated to the 86th Combat Support Hospital where he later died of his injuries.
      The name of the Soldier is being held pending notification of next of kin.  The incident is under investigation.
      This is the KIA which had caused so much confusion between me, our G-1 Casualty section and Corps last week.  I remember sending up a ceremonial-like groan when I saw this come across the Sig Acts —the same kind of knee-jerk groan I release every time another soldier dies over here.  Put a tick-mark on the wall, another nameless, faceless American has died.  Now, reading Brad’s e-mail, that gesture seems so hollow, so plastic and artificial.   This guy—who I only knew by three letters, K-I-A—was once somebody’s best friend, someone he’ll never be able to make new memories with ever again.
      Terrorism sucks.

July 4, 2005: They’ve got the Dining Facility decorated in full red-white-blue orgy.  Flags draped everywhere, red-white-blue crepe paper, red-white-blue silk flowers on each table.  Hell, I’m surprised the eggs are still yellow.
      At breakfast, instead of the pulsing R&B that always dominates the room and kills all hope of conversation, they’re playing music from the 50s and 60s: “One Fine Day,” “Our Day Will Come.”  The Third Country National cooks and busboys stand around grinning at us listening to the music.  I guess they assume the 4th of July means nostalgia and nostalgia means the Chiffons and Bobby Darin and the Supremes.  What they don’t realize is that for most of the kids in the chow hall eating their omelets and slurping their Coco Puffs and gingerly taking sips of their rancid coffee, nostalgia means Nirvana, U2 or Prince.

* * *

      Specialist Carter says today is “just another holiday in Iraq,” then corrects himself, “Well, just another day, actually. They’re all the same here.”
      And when I come in to work, Master Sgt. Randolph turns to me and says, “Happy Fourth of July, Sergeant Abrams!”
      I give him a dead-eyed stare.  “Yeah.  Yee-friggin-haw.  Just another day.”
      Randolph gets that silly, vacant grin on his face.  “Well, I hope you don’t have too many fireworks.”
      “I’m thinking we might, actually.  Like the terrorists want to make a point about our upstart, independent nation.”
      “If it’s any consolation, G-2 (Intelligence) doesn’t seem to think so.”
      “Really?  They think it’ll be quiet?”
      “Well, I don’t know about that, but they don’t have reports of any planned attacks.  Of course, the terrorists don’t exactly go around advertising what they’re going to do, do they?”
      “No.  No, they don’t.”

* * *

      When I walk to lunch, I see a group of Third Country Nationals clearing away the seven-foot reeds along the canal by the Dining Facility.  A U.S. Soldier stands by, casually holding his rifle and smoking a cigarette while they hack away with their machetes.  They are working right next to the red, triangular metal sign that marks where an unexploded mortar buried itself into the mud a year ago.  From Day One in the Army we’ve been told that UXO is not something you fuck around with.  That’s why the reeds have been allowed to grow up around that short little stretch of the canal.
      Now, for whatever reason, they’re brave or stupid enough to go traipsing around in the hair-trigger mud.
      I walk past them at a faster pace, unwilling to be part of their human fireworks display.

* * *

      Today’s Stars & Stripes carries an article which is headlined: Great-grandmother, 73, heading to Baghdad PX.
WASHINGTON – About the time most Americans are celebrating the Fourth of July, Lena Haddix will be en route to Iraq.  She’s a 73-year-old great-grandmother who recently finished a six-month deployment to Kuwait and then signed up for a six-month deployment to Baghdad.  Haddix is a store manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and volunteered to work overseas because she wants to support the youngsters in the military….She did not tell her children that she had volunteered for the duty until her paperwork was in order.  “They were kind up upset at the start, but they support me and are behind me,” she said.  Haddix is the mother of five children, ranging in age from 41 to 52.  She has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren….Yes, she said, it is “sometimes” dangerous in combat zones, but the military and her co-workers at the PX “take good care of me…I just don’t feel the fear, and I feel like I am of help to them when I am there.”
      Well, Mrs. Haddix, thank you for dealing a square blow to the terrorist propaganda machine which is fueled by fear and intimidation.  I mean, if we’ve got white-haired great-grandmas over here defying insurgents, then it can’t be all that bad, can it?


  1. Thanks for sharing these. What a weird ride from Tom & Jerry on.
    As an insignificant side note, I always wanted Tom to win once, too

  2. Heh. I shared a tent for a while with the guys who ran the PX at K-2. Interesting bunch. Wandering the world like nomads dispensing Pringles and copies of Maxim.