TALES FROM THE FRONT
Every war is begun, dominated, and ended by political considerations; war and politics are siamese twins, inseparable and interdependent.
Once Upon a Time in Mosul
Where better to get your view of the frontlines than straight from the soldier’s mouth?
My original impetus for this site was to maintain a weekly opinion piece, allowing me the opportunity to fight both the war and the war of ideas simultaneously. Indeed, the latter may turn out to be the more important of the two. It would appear the web is also at times mightier than the sword.
It is with these concerns in mind that I bring you the following series of random thoughts, pointed commentary, and (occasionally) amusing anecdotes from the frontlines of the War on Terror.
Bowling for Palestine
Mosul’s proximity to the Syrian border, coupled with the American assault on Fallujah in November ‘04, sent hordes of foreign jihadists and homegrown insurgents in search of friendlier territory, and many settled here to regroup and reassert their dominance over the local populace. The Iraqi citizens of Mosul were left virtually defenseless as roaming gangs and thugs routinely left shattered bodies and headless corpses littering the streets and alleyways.
Many of the locals have clearly tired of the daily hassles of living under the U.S. presence, and understandably so. Nevertheless, most are not so short-sighted that they would prefer our swift departure over having to endure frequent traffic congestion or the occasional housecall by American troops. It's still preferable to being dead. For all the talk about Iraqi extremism, the overwhelming majority appear instead to be realists.
Inshallah for Dummies
A seemingly random page of the Holy Bible bearing the following passage floated out of the clear blue sky in front of my hooch the other day. Naturally, I took it as a positive sign.
Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. --Luke 10:19
Thanks, Luke. May the Force be with us.
Iraq Whips Syria, All Heck Breaks Loose
A torrent of gunfire spontaneously erupted throughout the city last month, bringing several of us out to the front of the motor pool in only our t-shirts and underarmour to witness the abundance of glowing tracers crisscrossing the night sky.
“One of our units is in quite a firefight out there,” remarked one bystander. “Sounds pretty one-sided, though.” Sounded one-sided in the enemy's favor, to my ears. In the words of Gunny Highway, AK-47s make a "very distinct sound when fired."
Digital cameras and night vision goggles were quickly produced; quality firefight footage is hard to come by. If you have the time or inclination to film one, you more than likely aren't in one. One of our company's 'terps casually emerged from the latrines, surveyed the scene and shook his head with a laugh.
“You think there are this many bad guys in the Mosul?" he said in his trademark Arabish. "This is the futbol match, the soccer. Iraqi team beats Syria four to three. This is how the Iraqi man he celebrate.”
Fantastic. Can hardly wait to see what happens when they lose.
My loyal but spasmodic SAW gunner, SPC Gunderson, recently penned a blistering love letter via email to his dearly beloved back home.
“It was juicy,” he says. “Real juicy.”
“So what exactly's the problem, Gundy?”
“Well, you know that quick address box on Hotmail, right? The one that just lets you just click on the recipient’s email without actually typing it in?”
“Well, they should really space out those names more. Cause as soon as I sent it off I got a confirmation page saying I’d emailed this racy love letter to some friends of my parents!”
“Hahahaha.! So what’d you do?”
“What could I do? I immediately called my folks, that’s what I did. I told them to tell their friends that they were not--under any circumstances--NOT to open any emails with my name on them.”
“And… they said they didn’t read it.”
“And you believe this?”
“No. Of course they read it. I would have."
He got up to leave. “But the next time my folks have them over for dinner, it sure is gonna be awkward."
Doc Clark: the Action Figure
During a random patrol, our platoon’s vehicle convoy rolled past what appeared to be a dead Iraqi male outstretched on the side of the road. Upon further investigation, he was found to have multiple gunshot wounds to the head, left arm, torso, and legs. The blood that had escaped his wounds had already begun to coagulate on the sidewalk. A horde of flies fluttered and danced across his body, oblivious--or merely indifferent--to the fact that he was still very much alive. Though unconscious, his breathing came in laborious gasps, the rise and fall of his chest mimicking his fading pulse.
We hadn't kept our line medic especially busy up to this point in the deployment, as the enemy had been yet unable to inflict any significant casualties among our platoon. They apparently prefer softer targets, such as unarmed middle-aged locals on late-afternoon strolls through the neighborhood. Those types typically don’t shoot back or call in fire support from hovering Kiowa gunships. It’s a high-percentage roll on their part.
It's possible he was an off-duty IP (Iraqi policeman). Perhaps he was a coalition forces collaborator being repaid for his trouble, or just a civilian in the right place at the worst possible time. Or maybe he was just way late on his monthly Opel payments.
Whoever he was, Doc did his best fixing him up and prepping him for casevac. Still, Mohammed Doe’s chances didn’t look good -- his pulse took a discouraging nosedive during the home stretch and he was last seen going into defib. If he was indeed yet another innocent Iraqi caught in the crossfire, then his family has our condolences. We did our best.
However, this case did pose a timely example of the crossover between terrorist activity and routine criminality in Iraq. At times, the two are indistinguishable, which contributes to the sense that insurgent activity has not abated even as successful attacks on U.S. forces dwindle. But the L.A. Times wouldn't characterize routine gang activity or petty street crime in it's own backyard as "insurgent violence;" perhaps it should refrain from doing so in it's coverage of Iraq as well.
Tyranny of the Minority
Reuters recently proclaimed the “Honeymoon Over as Sunnis Cry Foul Over Iraq Vote”:
Iraq's rebellious Sunni Arab minority cried foul on Tuesday over results of last week's election, angry at signs Shi'ite Islamists will remain the dominant force.
Well, well, well. Yet another group of "disenfranchised" voters perturbed by the fact that they are no longer in charge because a majority of their fellow citizens disagree with their views. Could “Sunni” be Arabic for “Liberal Democrat?” Cries of election fraud can't be far behind.
Dude, Where’s My Car Bomb?
Despite the impression given by the nightly doses of terror TV, most of what passes for modern combat is really just extended, drawn-out boredom. The realization of this produces some strange impulses among many young infantry soldiers. Perversely, it's not unusual to catch yourself praying for someone--anyone--to break up this miserable monotony and just go ahead and take their best shot. Now of course, this doesn’t mean one wants to be hit; as Churchill said, the exhilaration comes from being shot at and missed.
What it must be then is simply a latent desire for the opportunity to utilize one's skills and training; the desire to test one's mettle; to see if you're made of bedrock -- or sheetrock. One almost becomes jealous upon hearing of another platoon that took fire or got hit with an IED or V-BED, although you then feel immediately guilty until it is known whether or not any comrades were seriously injured.
Still, you always have to be careful what you wish for.
Torture Statistics Long Enough and They’ll Confess to Anything
A brand new cherry private from one of our companies was in country a grand total of twelve hours before being shot in the hand by a sniper’s ricochet. A minor grazing wound, he’s already on RTD (return to duty) status. Welcome to the suck, kid. Collect your million dollar wound and your meds, do not pass go.
The several hundred amputee cases that do exist are both tragic and ironic. Tragic because of their grave injuries; ironic due to the fact that they are alive at all. Without modern advances in battlefield protection like body armor--the liberal battle cry of the week -- they would be buried in Arlington rather than laid up at Walter Reed. Better body armor = more horrific (yet survivable) injuries.
Ask an infantry soldier how much armor he really wants to lug around on his person before you pass a Congressional Resolution and shove it down our throats. I'm sure they could develop a helmet strong enough to deflect a direct RPG hit, but I don't know too many soldiers willing to don a 27 lb. k-pot for eighteen hours straight. But honestly, wearing a tank wouldn't even suffice when you've got M-1 Abrams's getting cut in half by 500 lb. shape charges.
If there's anyone who needs more personal body armor, it's Donald Rumsfeld. He's caught a ton of flak in the press for expressing that "you go to war with the army you have, not necessarily the one you'd like to have." Characteristically glib, perhaps, but also entirely correct. The age old trade-off of protection vs. speed vs. cost has always applied throughout the history of warfare.
Example: Remember those high tech bat-suits in Batman Begins that Morgan Freeman's character claims were designed for the army and could stop all enemy rounds cold?
If you truly believe every American soldier is worth that expense, Senator Clinton, let us know. We'll expect you to actually show up for that vote, and we'll gladly cash the checks.
Deep Thoughts From the Crapper I
It's difficult to imagine any sport in which one can compete while comfortably wearing a silver, Swiss-made TAG HEUER wristwatch -- yes, I’m talking to you, Tiger Woods -- as being much of a sport at all. Forgive me if I fail to recall Joe Montana ever taking the snap from center… dropping back in the pocket… reading the defense… and then checking the time.
The Tao of Fox and Socks
What do you know about tweedle beetles?
SAW gunner Gundy never leaves the wire without his trusty copy of the Dr. Seuss classic tucked securely inside his flak vest. It was his favorite childhood book and his copy contains inscriptions from all his family members and loved ones. He trusts it to stop the bullet with his name on it more than his own ballistic body armor.
And to think he actually had to spend his own money on it. Where's the outrage? The Congressional investigations? The hyperbolic NY "High" Times hit-pieces?
Wait just a minute, Mr. Fox Socks.