"Hopefully this Buck won't stopone of the best damn MilBloggers to ever knock sand from his boots." -- The Mudville Gazette

22 April 2006


War is too important to be left to the generals.
-Georges Clemenceau

"Hey hey ho ho, Donald Rumsfeld’s got to go."

A coterie of retired generals have in recent weeks spoken out against the continued employment of the Secretary of Defense. And just like the campus chanters and chattering classes they echo, these Grumpy Old Men have not even bothered to elaborate on their surface critiques. For a group so disparaging of nearly every aspect of the conduct of the war, these generals sure don’t sweat the details. Here are what appear to be the most common refrains voiced by this outspoken and hardly retiring collection of flag officers:

'Too few troops to do the job'
This claim was a staple throughout the reelection season, as well as the grand insight of former Army Chief of Staff Shinseki that he was allegedly marginalized for by the Pentagon powers that be. Shinseki pushed for another Gulf War size force to invade Iraq -- Rumsfeld a more nimble, streamlined approach. In terms of the decapitation of the Iraqi regime, the blitzkrieg approach was undoubtedly correct. Twice as many troops would mean a bigger and slower logistical tail, retarding the swiftness of the descent on Baghdad, emboldening more Iraqis to stand and fight, and thus increasing coalition casualties. The longer a war goes on, the more soldiers that will die, a constant in warfare that has not changed since the time of Sun Tzu.

But just as prevalent during the political aftermath was the complaint that there were too many troops in theater, that in effect our presence was being viewed as an onerous occupation force. Precisely how many were needed, then? We await still the magic number that would have nipped all our current troubles in the bud and caused all Allah akbar-chanting fanatics to lay down their arms and hold hands humming kumbaya. Additional troops may have helped quell the insurgency, but would also have provided a bigger target, again leading to increased casualties, more civilian collateral damage, and at significantly more cost, all things harped on by critics of the status quo bellum.

Damned if we do, Saddamed if we don’t.

The state of readiness of our forces is something peacetime stewards like former Chief of Staff Shinseki bear responsibility for. The military needs to be prepared for all future contingencies at all times. It can’t simply special order all it’s current needs from uparmor.com in time for a military action. If we were so ill-equipped, what exactly were all these pre-9/11 generals preparing for? Their retirement parties?

Prior to September 11, General Shinseki had enmeshed himself with such vital tasks as the bolstering of sagging esprit de corps by mandating that all soldiers be awarded the black beret, formerly a mark of distinction with long standing tradition bestowed solely upon the Army Rangers. But with a flash of genius and a bold stroke of the pen, the entire active duty force was transformed overnight into an elite fighting force of highly trained warriors. Ahem.

The Way of the Shinseki: How best to squeeze the same performance out of the regular army that the Rangers consistently produce? Could it be a matter of selection, training, and investment in leaders a dedication to standards and a commitment to excellence? Or is it due simply to that sharp looking headgear they sport? The troops don’t lack competence, they lack confidence! It’s all about self-esteem. From this day forward, we shall all be “elite.”
Remember this when they continue to lionize a man who believed we should have mobilized extra divisions we no longer had for the invasion of Iraq.

'Intelligence failures'
This issue hardly needs rehashing, yet former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni insists on citing this as evidence that there was no casus belli in Iraq. But given his last threat assessment on Iraq in Feb. 2000 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he apparently no longer even believes his
own words.

'An unnecessary, invented war'
It's frustrating to have to make what should be an obvious case to all but the most rabid of moonbats, but apparently it bears repeating to even those who should know better. The U.S. entered Iraq because Saddam Hussein refused to fully render his WMD programs transparent and open for inspection, something he had agreed to do under the 1991 armistice. If binding agreements are to have any meaning, then they must be enforced, with force when necessary. Every major intelligence agency in the world was made to look counterintelligent by his counterintuitive intransigence, but that result is on his hands, not ours. The lessons of 9/11 meant no longing taking madmen at their word, especially in an era of state sponsored unconventional warfare that renders traditional notions of deterrence all but null and void.

We had a choice after toppling two despotic regimes to either stay and attempt to remake their societies for the betterment of their people, or to leave them in chaos and even more vulnerable to fanaticism. We chose the hard right over the easy wrong. If there's a reason why the transition to democracy in Iraq has not gone smoothly, it's because it has never before been attempted. Breaking new ground tends to break quite a few eggs along the way.

A retired general of another turbulent era once said "history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid." Dwight Eisenhower knew of what he spoke. His Army did not abandon Europe to its own devices after smashing its oppressors, but instead recommitted to its rebirth as a bastion of hope and promise. It was not easy then, and it will not be easy now. But then again, neither are most things worth doing.

'We failed to pursue the real enemy, al Qaeda'
From Saddam’s point of view, maybe, or in the feverish minds of the peace-at-any-cost crowd. But don’t get them wrong: they love the Afghanistan campaign! That’s where we should be focusing all of our resources -- on the real fight against al Qaeda! The problem is, that’s not what these same critics had to say prior to the Afghan invasion, and before it was clear that it would only require six weeks and a bare minimum of American casualties.

Unfortunately, reality once again intrudes on this historically revised fiction. Following the rout of the Taliban, the remaining al Qaeda forces fled in several directions. Many across the border to Pakistan, others to Syria, Iran, and indeed, Iraq. Zarqawi himself found refuge in Baghdad to recover from his wounds and begin recruiting more acolytes, well before the U.S. invasion. For us to remain focused on Afghanistan would not have furthered the goal of shaking up the diseased political culture of the Middle East. Only influential states like Iran or Iraq could serve as a lightning rod for the democratization of the wider area, as has since been felt with mixed results in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

'Disbanding the Iraqi army was a mistake'
This is debatable. Disbanding the army and rendering tens of thousands unemployed may indeed have been a grave error, as it is believed to have ignited the fuel that keeps the insurgency burning. But not to have done so may have turned out to be an even greater mistake. Being as its leadership was completely dominated by Baathist functionaries, to not overhaul the Iraqi military from scratch would have been to assure it’s primacy among the tellingly named “Party of the Return,” swapping one maniacal dictator for another equally fanatical military junta. The former regime elements who continue to fight us now would have been no friendlier to our cause back then. And much of the old army were conscripts kept in uniform under Saddam by force of arms. When his statues came down, they did not wait around for government travel orders, they shed the vestiges of their false allegiance and walked home in droves.

'Excessive micromanagement'
Ultimately, this charge seeks to reopen the non sequitor linkage between Iraq and Vietnam. Calling the war a quagmire every day for three years didn’t seem to gain much traction with the public, thus the Harpies have changed approaches.

Flag officers love Big Army. Big, slow, stupid, bureaucratically maddening Army. Secretary Rumsfeld has sought from day one to restructure our forces to better handle the nature of the war we are now knee-deep in, and tellingly he is facing heavy resistance from the very people who now claim we were ill-prepared to face such challenges. That is what happens when you insist on preparing to fight the next war by relying on the methods of the previous one. Some may disparage this challenge to forward thinking as an "atmosphere of arrogance." I call it leadership.

'Alienating our allies'
Those who decline to help you in your time of need are by definition no longer "allies." Much of Europe made it perfectly clear back then, and have made it perfectly clear ever since that they are unwilling to get involved in Iraq no matter how much we kiss up to them. And other than Great Britain, they have virtually no military forces or assets to speak of. In times of crisis, you find out who your real friends are. Estonia currently has 5,000 troops assisting in Iraq. Estonia! I can’t even locate it on the map. But they’re helping out. Ditto for Poland, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Italy. One would think other Muslim countries could be bothered to lift a finger to help out a fellow Muslim nation. Instead all they offer is more death, destruction, and turmoil. Their true colors have shone through.

Reconstruction teams are greatly needed throughout Iraq, yet these grand “humanitarian” organizations like the UN are nowhere to be found. They cannot get involved until the security situation improves, they claim. But the security situation cannot improve until the economic prospects of millions of underemployed Iraqis are alleviated with projects to rebuild their shattered and neglected country. Here, idle hands are the insurgents’ workshop.

'Failure to acknowledge mistakes'
Not even a perfect plan survives first contact with the enemy. Any general worth his brass should be well aware of this principle. It is not a new one. Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the Prussian general staff during the wars of German unification:

No plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force. Only the layman thinks that he can see in the course of the campaign the consequent execution of the original idea with all the details thought out in advance and adhered to until the very end.
President Bush refuses to engage in acts of endless contrition, which is the true goal behind much of this criticism. More importantly, the administration goes further than to simply admit its missteps, it actually heeds their lessons:
We have learned from our mistakes. We’ve adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground; we’ve adjusted depending upon the actions of the enemy. By pursuing a clear and flexible strategy in Iraq, we helped make it possible for Iraqis to choose their leaders and begin to assume the responsibilities of self-government and self-defense.
'Strategically, operationally, and tactically incompetent'
Under the SecDef’s civilian tutelage, General Tommy Franks--clearly no favorite of the Grumpy Old Men--orchestrated and waged two of the most brilliant and swift campaigns in the history of the United States armed forces. Two brutal, entrenched regimes were dislodged and defeated within a matter of months with less combined casualties than were lost in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Military historians will be studying and marveling over the Afghanistan and Iraq victories for centuries. When viewed strategically, operationally, or tactically, invasions don’t come any cleaner. But logistically, the aftermaths of such swift victories are always going to be messy, chaotic, and unpredictable. That is the nature of the beast. But to critics it will forever be: our easy wars, your messy peace.

More from Prussian General von Moltke:
The successive acts of war are thus not premeditated designs, but on the contrary are spontaneous acts guided by military measures. Everything depends on penetrating the uncertainty of veiled situations to evaluate the facts, to clarify the unknown, to make decisions rapidly, and then to carry them out with strength and constancy.
Strength and constancy. Remind you of anyone?

Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure has been one of a bureaucracy-challenged visionary, one who has been willing to rock the Big Army boat and keep the focus always on the next war, not a stale replay of the last one. That means eliminating the bloat, streamlining the force, favoring Special Forces over outdated warhorses, and a unique willingness to remain very unpopular among the military-industrial bureaucracy. In fact, his memoirs should be entitled "How to Make Enemies in Washington (and Live to Fight Another Day)."

Rumsfeld is the first CEO of the DOD in recent memory to cancel not one, but multiple major weapons contracts: the Crusader artillery platform and the Commance reconnaissance helicopter, two defense boondoggles decades in the making. It’s no small wonder he hasn’t been shot from the grassy knoll. But absent an open motorcade, character assassination will have to do.

Like any cabinet member, Mr. Rumsfeld serves only at the pleasure of the President, just as the President serves at the quadrennial whimsy of the American people. The very same American people who barely eighteen months ago at a critical low-point in the war, sent a vote of confidence to the current administration to stay the course. They chose then not to change horses mid-stream. That decision clearly was not liked by all, but it should be respected by all if our system is to retain civilian control of the military.

A clear majority of Americans awarded President Bush a second term, in the largest mandate since his father. They rejected the politics of penance and self-flagellation that John Kerry sought to apply to the stewardship of the war.

These Johnny-come-lately generalissimos seek to use their accumulated prestige as military bigwigs to effect a media-driven coup d’etat within the civilian ranks, and at a critical moment when Iran is baring its uranium-enriched fangs and defying anyone to stop them. It is a moment that calls for a unified voice in government, not more of the same political backbiting that has characterized the entire history of the war.

Smart bombs are useless without smart people. We need motivated, highly focused men and women; and we have them in abundance.
-Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a characteristic moment of obvious "disrespect and disdain for the military"

In wartime, soldiers vote with their feet and a raised right hand. Not only do patriotic young Americans continue to join this fight, but an unprecedented number of its veterans have recommitted to it since it began. For a so-called "wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place," they sure are in a hurry to get back to it.

Wartime also tends to sharpen the spear, and much of the dead weight has since been shed. Those donning their country’s uniform for self-serving reasons have since been purged, and with good riddance. The military’s prime function is not to pay your college tuition, it’s to defend the nation from foreign threats. The GI Bill is a fringe benefit, not a raison d’etre.

The Grumpy Old Men deem their outbursts a needed breath of fresh air. The problem is, no collection of arguments could be staler. These complaints jumped the shark two years ago when they were trotted out incessantly by the likes of Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and John Kerry. For all intents and purposes, they're the only discernible planks of the Democratic Party platform left other than WE HATE BUSH. Is there much doubt that the sudden ire directed at Rumsfeld is really a proxy attack leveled across the president's bow? But at least liberals have finally found a group of military men they can find common cause with. We support the troops who hate Bush too!

These disgruntled generals say they have "spoken out for the soldiers in the field." It has become de rigueur to claim to speak on our behalf these days. But if you’ve turned your back on our war, you’ve turned your back on us. All you’ve accomplished with your latest antics, gentlemen, is to provide even more fuel for the war’s political opponents to douse us with. The day you decided to place your own bruised egos and office politics above the welfare of your own country and comrades, you forfeited whatever weight your words may have carried. Do-or-die men like George Patton were no stranger to outspokenness, but they must be spinning in their graves.

"When I read their comments, I'm embarrassed for them," says retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, one of many peers who remain stalwart supporters of both the war and its executors. There are approximately seven thousand living generals among all the branches of service, retired or otherwise. Thus far .001% of them have demanded that the Secretary of Defense be given his walking papers. Sadly for them, a half-dozen malcontents does not a moral majority make.

Voicing one’s opposition to war is every private citizen’s right, but when it comes to lending one’s former prestige to a growing chorus of defeatism, perhaps retired generals should do the right thing and just stay retired. Barring, of course, new books to promote, epecially those "exposing for the first time!" all the same tired tropes that have been trotted out ad nauseum for the past three years. As the saying goes: If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.

But who am I to question the patriotism of a collection of brass monkeys furiously pounding away on their keyboards in a vain attempt at literati esteem? Me, a lowly noncommissioned officer! While I don’t question their love of country, I do question the peculiar timing of their invective. Long and honorable service does not give one a pass on sound judgment or questionable motives. Safely ensconced in retirement, these "critics of conscience" have nothing to lose and everything to gain by providing ammunition to the media’s preconceived notions. They held their tongues when it counted, but now see fit to wag their fingers. "We told you so." Actually, no. You didn’t.

In the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Volunteers, who would later receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg, remarks to his younger brother, "Nothing quite so much like God on earth as a general on the battlefield."

You see, I do retain some measure of sympathy for these misguided bedfellows, who until recently languished in relative obscurity having walked away from the defining struggle of our time. I can understand their frustration. Relinquishing omnipotence must not be easy.

But instead of taking wild swings at the administration, wouldn’t it serve all of us better if these Senior Citizen Soldiers focused less on the ups and downs of the war and more on the ins and outs of their golf swings? Is it too much to ask of them that they acknowledge the bulk of what has gone right, to rally the country to victory and bolster our national self confidence at a time when the carping harpies in the fourth estate seem hell bent on surrender?

It's no secret that the surest path to becoming a media darling is to lend credence to their preconceived narratives and foregone conclusions. And even better when they can refer to you on camera by your former rank. So long as you stick to the script, you'll get more media coverage than Paris Hilton in a high speed police chase.

When asked to weigh in on the swirling controversy over his former boss, retired general Tommy Franks initially couldn't be reached for comment on the latest political nonstory gripping the Beltway press.

Reason? He was off fishing with his grandkids.

14 April 2006


photo by Buck Sargent

It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger.
-Theodore Roosevelt

Reverse Engineering

Failed totalitarian states like Iraq are case studies in field-tested anarchy; societies with very few hard and fast rules and a glaring lack of authority figures to enforce the ones that do exist. In many respects, Mad Max would feel right at home.

The Iraqis are presently reverse engineering a modern society from the pavement up. As it stands, holding the line on mortality rates is clearly a bigger priority than holding down insurance rates. (Not that any of them have insurance, mind you.) But take traffic patterns, for instance. Vehicle ownership has exploded since the fall of Saddam, and many drivers appear to observe the same right of way rules as do teenage mallrats, which is to say not much observance at all. Here in Mosul, Iraqis often travel down whichever side of the street is most convenient for them at the time. They break for no one, not even donkeys. They speed everywhere because they can; the Iraqi police are understandably more concerned with fighting off ambushes than with setting up speed traps. And you can forget about trying to merge with a friendly wave: it’s dog-eat-mangy dog out on the highways and drive-byways. Our Strykers receive deference only because they weigh 22 tons and wield .50 caliber machine guns. Displacing oxygen with your ride apparently means never having to sit through rush hour.

I reflected on this with one of my soldiers while in a long-term surveillance of a high traffic area and a common site for insurgent mischief.

"You know, Gunderson," I said. "If I lived in this country, I think the only traffic laws I’d follow would be yielding, and only then because I’d be wary of getting T-boned in intersections or sideswiped by fast-moving convoys. I’d speed everywhere, I’d blow through red lights, pull u-turns whenever I felt like it, steer against traffic... I bet I could make daily commuting an extreme sport. What do you think?"

"I would drive backwards."

He said this without a even a hint of irony. He would drive everywhere he went in reverse, simply because he could. I believe him.

Splitting Crosshairs
In the twilight hours of a seemingly average day in February, an Iraqi pedestrian tossed a hand grenade at our platoon during a routine foot patrol on a bustling market boulevard. My roommate Sgt. Sweet was walking point on the left side of the road with myself in the median to his right and Sgt. Romero several meters directly behind him. Sweet had just crossed the intersection I was preparing to step across when small arms fire directed across our front halted us in our tracks. (On the receiving end, AK fire often sounds closer to firecrackers than gunshots, causing momentary sensory confusion.)

Within seconds a sharp explosion erupted on our immediate left, directly between Sweet and Romero. My initial read of the situation screamed "IED" as dirt and debris shot across the roadway. Sweet had been knocked down by the blast and peppered with shrapnel in his lower legs and backside. As he later recounted, he heard the spoon of the grenade clink on the ground as it was hurled in his direction and had time only to turn away before it exploded. Romero saw it come toward him and scuttle in the ubiquitous trash and refuse that lines every sidewalk. The concussion rendered him momentarily senseless, wounding him in the inner thigh and lower legs with nearly a dozen shards of searing metal. (Another chunk we'd later discover embedded in the forehead of his Kevlar helmet.) Walking behind us were our platoon leader and RTO, also hit with minor leg wounds. I was directly in the open, smack dab in the middle of the avenue, and somehow I emerged completely unscathed. Call it the luck of the Irish. I call it dumb luck.

I glanced to my rear and saw the majority of the platoon instinctively move to cover behind an adjoining wall, but I still could not see Sweet or Romero. Only seconds had elapsed, and it had still not occurred to me that the blast had not been a much larger and more powerful bomb. Initially I feared they had been vaporized. But as I moved out of the road toward his last known position, I witnessed Sweet materialize out of a cloud of dust and smoke in slow-motion Dolby Surreal. You don't easily forget something like that.

"Are you hit?"
"Yeah," he said hobbling toward me.
"Can you make it?"

Looking back, I suppose I could have dragged him to cover against his will and put myself in for a Bronze Star with V device. Then I could run for the Senate! Maybe next time.

Together we fell back to a position behind a nearby wall since taken up by the rest of the platoon, where Sgt. Romero had already holed up. Sweet collapsed on the sidewalk beside him for buddy-aid while we waited on our platoon medic to get there. As our Stryker vehicles sped to the scene to medevac the wounded, local traffic continued to bear down on our position as the remaining daylight faded. Several soldiers stepped out into the road in a futile attempt to ward it off utilizing their tac-lights and weapon lasers. One particular blue sedan sped around the corner at a high rate of speed, refusing to stop until warning shots were fired, violently braking it to a halt. In the chaotic aftermath, an Iraqi woman riding in the passenger seat lay dead, a tragic but unavoidable casualty in a war where every speeding car is a potential bomb.

This was not a lapse in discipline on our part. It was not like the movies depicting rattled soldiers firing from the hip at anything that walks, crawls, or breathes. It was a by-the-book application of ROE, and a textbook answer to the question of what results when a guerrilla "resistance" takes their ideological fight to the streets and neighborhoods of a populace whose "honor" they claim to be protecting. Iraqi bloggers like my good pal
A Citizen of Mosul will likely post about another innocent woman gunned down by the bloodthirsty Americans. Never mind that several school-age bystanders were wounded in the initial attack. We’ll probably get blamed for that as well.

In the immediate aftermath our remaining elements fanned out and searched several blocks and nearby homes for suspects with the assistance of the IPs, but by then the effort was already a day late and thousands of dinars short; clearly they were long gone. Such is the nature of the hit and run tactics routinely employed by the ghostly "insurgents." I still regret not focusing more during the initial moments, as the perpetrator likely had been waiting in the shadows just at the periphery of my sight. If I had only caught him in mid-toss I would have had him dead to rights, and my roommate wouldn’t in the future have to drop his trousers every time he attempts to pass through airport security. I’d like a do-over, please.

From a purely tactical standpoint, whoever pulled off this minor and relatively ineffective ambush failed. But from an Al Jazeera viewpoint, it was a success. U.S. soldiers got hurt, the bad guys got away, and another Iraqi civilian was sent to the morgue.

Over here, the devil is always in the details.

'The Lil' Fella's Okay'
All American casualties are given the opportunity if able to place a call home from the CASH (combat support hospital) to inform their loved ones of their injuries and to head off the Army’s vague and impersonal notification process. (If they are incapacitated, the unit’s commander will typically make the call himself to provide families an honest account of what happened and how serious the injury really is.) These calls also serve to stymie any resultant hyperventilation on the homefront by apprehensive hausfraus. But not always.

Some soldiers fear having to make this ominous call home more than the actual reason behind it. When Sgt. Blakely and I had tried to get Sweet to roll over on his stomach for treatment, the first words out of his mouth through a grimace and clenched teeth were, "My wife is going to be pissed." He was already dreading having to make The Call before the bleeding had even stopped.

Sgt. Romero dialed his wife as soon as he got out of surgery to remove the shrapnel from his upper thighs and groin. "She was pretty freaked out at first when I explained exactly where and how bad I was hit, but she seemed to calm down a bit after I reassured her, "Don't worry Honey, the Lil' Fella’s okay.'"

And as for the reaction of Sgt. Sweet’s "Household Six?" Let’s just say he called that one right on the money.

IED Pluribus Unum
No sooner had Sweet and Romero returned to duty than did our squad’s Stryker, aka the USS* Dirty Snatch, hit a roadside bomb that showered debris -- mainly dirt and pavement -- across her bow and down inside her hatches. Whoever triggered the blast must have buried it way too deep and suffered from a bit of premature initiation because we sailed through without even a hint of damage, notwithstanding the bowling ball size chunks of blacktop that bombarded the topside and open hatches. (I’d just as soon not take one of those to the face at Mach 2, thank you very much.) Although at the time, Sweet and I were actually riding below deck flipping through back issues of US Weekly and other trash tabloids that litter the interior of our truck. So while Gundy, Evans, and Romero were busy dodging an inverse meteor shower, there we were absorbing useless factoids about celebrities. It gets boring on patrol, until it suddenly and violently stops getting boring. But then it usually reverts right back to soul crushing boredom again. It's a vicious cycle!
*United States Stryker

Say what you will about the Stryker combat vehicle, though: the Dirty Snatch is one tough wench. As soon as our ears stopped ringing and we checked all our fingers and toes (they were all still there), we let out a collective war cry of defiant bravado that was a sight and sound to behold. It's probably not what most people expect to read or hear about -- soldiers actually cheering after an IED attack like their team just won the Rose Bowl -- but at that particular moment there was nowhere else I would have wanted to be. One second we’re reading about TomKat’s impending breakup and marveling over how much weight Britney has put on since having her baby, and the next the world is blowing up all around us. But we're still here, and we're still in the fight. That's all you can really ask for. And that's all that matters.

Full disclosure: Once all the excitement wound down and the adrenaline wore off, yes, Sweet and I went right back to reading our magazines.

Counting Sheepdogs
This next greatest generation of soldiers is made up entirely of volunteers -- not a draftee among them -- and I’ve never been around a more aggressive or fearless group of Americans: guys who never fail to move to the sound of the guns, if for no other reason than because it’s their duty. (Plus, it alleviates the monotony.) But I don't believe an American army has ever fielded a more professional cadre of warriors. Admittedly, if you take a look back on our nation’s long and storied history, that’s a bold statement. But it’s a Pepsi challenge I’d be willing to take.

Consider the following from On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by retired Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman:

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath -- a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

The Iraqi Army used to be the wolf. But now this new collection of Kurdish and Arabian knights we’ve built from the boots-on-the-ground up fight him alongside us. They’ve progressed from right-seat riding in 2005 to left-seat driving in 2006, and at the current pace a sizable number of them will be flying solo by early next year. We’ve remade them into our own image to hunt the wolf, and so far they’ve stunned him with their aggressiveness. The battalion of soldiers we work with in our (soon to be their) sector operate out of tiny but aptly named FOB Resolve.

re·solve [ri zólv]
1. determination: firmness of purpose
2. decision: a choice to do something
3. change: to convert into something else

These courageous Kurdish warriors can barely pronounce the word, but they’re living it every single day all the same. As the late Great Communicator once put it: "Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."

Iraqi Five-O
I'm willing to bet you didn’t hear about any of this in the Stateside press, although it did merit a small blurb deep inside last week’s Stars and Stripes:

U.S. and Iraqi security forces rescued three Iraqi hostages on Tuesday who had been held in Mosul, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
The three hostages were reportedly chained to the wall of the basement in a house in the northern Iraqi city; there was no information on the hostages’ identities, whom their captors were or why they were kidnapped.
The rescue team included U.S. soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade and the Iraqi 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division, and members of the Iraqi police. There were no casualties during the rescue, which followed tips from local Iraqis, officials said.

I can vouch for this story: we were there. 3rd Platoon was launched as a quick reaction force to back up the IA and a fellow Stryker platoon on the scene providing outer cordon. The hostages were indeed chained in a veritable dungeon whose stairwell was concealed by a false floor tile, admittedly something we may not have been capable of discovering on our own. But the Iraqis are old hat at such tricks. Dungeons were par for the course under the Baathist reign of terror.

But not all of the story is accurate, however. We were not supported by Iraqi forces, the Iraqi forces were supported by us. They worked the lead, they conducted the reconnaissance, they initiated the raid, and they ultimately secured the hostages. They did make one big mistake in tipping off the kidnappers by reconnoitering the site a little too closely and indiscreetly (a hamfisted tactic they likely learned from us), but they later made up for it. Their emplaced sniper/killer teams (SKTs) overwatched the house long enough for the suspects to foolishly return to it and stroll right into the dragnet waiting for them. Bravo, fellas. Another step forward.

Deep Thoughts from the Crapper II
Elements of our squad spent several days back in March holed up in a "hide sight" (in this particular case an Iraqi residence), staking out a known IED emplacement route that had in recent months become an O'Pucker Factor fun park ride as our unit's patrols routinely ran this gauntlet of roadside bombs. Our orders were explicit: apprehend if possible, eliminate if necessary, anyone observed digging or attempting to bury objects in the median, i.e., things that make you go Boom.

Most Iraqi homes don’t have toilets; they instead squat over recessed porcelain bowls in the bathroom floor connected to sewage pipes that lead to Allah knows where. (From the stench of the neighborhoods, they obviously don’t go far enough.) I was determined to hold out, but by about the third day I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to do the hajji squat. My only question: How on Allah's brown earth do the locals maintain this quad-quaking stress position while reading their morning paper? They must have thighs of steel.

We Can't Do It!
Vocal critics of the war continue to harangue me incessantly, snidely baiting me on what I think "victory" in the war will ultimately consist of. These Rosie the Rioters and
original cynics don't really want an answer and they certainly don't want to hear any solutions. They just want to keep playing the same blame game over and over and over until their self-fulfilling defeat and retreat-ism is vindicated. It's an exercise in futility on my part, but I usually refer these "type nays" to the officially stated position of the Commander in Chief anyway. He's been hammering this point home for awhile now:

"Victory will be achieved by meeting certain objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country. These objectives — not timetables set by politicians in Washington — will drive our force levels in Iraq."

There you have it. Is that really so tough to grasp?

Mosul’s Most Wanted
Major Fallah, the supercop of southeastern Mosul, while appearing as a guest on a local Iraqi talk-radio show, took a call from a Moslawi citizen forwarding a tip about a suspicious person in his neighborhood. Fallah listened intently between sips of chai tea, asked a few pointed questions, and then stood up and declared: "I’ll be back." He then turned and walked right out of the studio leaving the radio host likely dumbfounded.

Within the hour he returned and theatrically announced over the airwaves: "He’s been detained."

From what I've seen and heard about Major Fallah, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if he'd performed a spot-on "Shatner roll" across the hood of his SUV on the way out.

Not to be outdone, our 3-4-2 Iraqi army counterparts, responding to another tip from locals, recently excavated an enormous cache of artillery, mortar, and recoilless rifle shells from the muddy banks of the Tigris, wading into the water and pulling round after round from the water. Every one of these shells would be enough to inflict serious carnage on an American or Iraqi patrol if emplaced as a roadside bomb. We won't leave the wire in anything less than monstrously armored vehicles, yet they still roll out day after day in thin-skinned Nissan pickup trucks. When it comes to IEDs, they're about as protected as a bicycle. I say this not to excoriate the pace of their aquisition process; better equipment is slowly but surely being provided. I say it only because I'm not familiar with the Kurdish or Arabic phrase for "Got balls?"

Dismantling the enemies infrastructure and support system is a task that homegrown Iraqi fighters are clearly better suited for. No matter how many months we spend here, we will never be able to match their ability to shake out the bad guys and spot the out of the ordinary. With an enemy that bobs and weaves among the populace and fights only on their own terms, the Iraqis can sniff them out a lot faster than we can snuff them out. This has always been their beat and their responsibility, and they’re well on their way to finally owning up to it. Every step they take forward in reclaiming their country is one more we can step back to repatriating to ours. Isn't that what everybody claims to want?

I'm beginning to love the smell of chai in the morning. Smells like... victory.


04 April 2006


American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal hand-recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. All OEB entries are previously unpublished.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

11April2004 Easter Sunday
FOB Salerno, Southeastern Afghanistan

More rocket and (possibly) mortar attacks rained down on us late last night during our perimeter guard shift. Happy Easter from our good friend Allah. You know, the President is right. Islam truly is a wondrous religion of peace!

Our platoon received the LT’s standard “complacency speech” again tonight. We’re to the point where we’re starting to get complacent about listening to his lecture about not getting complacent. More vintage El-Tee Harber (speaking through a giant wad of Copenhagen):

“Men, I know it’s boring, and at times you may not feel like you’re accomplishing anything worthwhile over here -- but trust me, you are. You’re doing a job that needs to be done. These guys helped crash planes into our towers and now we’re here to hunt them down and kill them. It’s really that simple.

“As long as bombs aren’t going off over in the States, then the way I look at it we’ve done our job. Right now bombs aren’t going off in the States -- they’re going off in Spain (scattered laughter) -- so we must be doing something right.

“I need you to stay focused… keep doing the right thing… don’t get complacent… always be ready for anything… expect it to happen. Just give me a few more months of your ‘A-game’ and then we can all go home and get piss-drunk and tell war stories.

“That’s all I’ve got. Squad leaders, I need to see you about the…”
The rest of us joes quickly file out of the “head shed” and resume our nightly DVD watching/cigarette smoking/book reading/phone waiting/navel gazing…

Monday 12April2004
My new OP partner for the past few days has been SPC Nix, the RTO to the platoon’s attached FO (forward observer), SGT Saunders. (Riddle me this, Batman: If the FO’s RTO is MIA, does his family receive his SGLI, ASAP? Or are they simply SOL?)

Nix is not exactly what you’d call the sharpest tool in the shed. With his bushy, perpetually furrowed uni-brow, tiny chiclet-like gapped teeth, and brillo pad mustache, he appears more akin to a desert cammied hedgehog with body armor and body odor than a combat soldier. Nix not only looks dumb, he insists on proving it at every opportunity. One recent night shift he occupied himself by repeatedly fiddling with the ITAS* thermal imaging scope in the dark OP, swiveling it to and fro and manically pressing buttons like a hyperactive child in an elevator.
*A large, tripod mounted weapons sight normally used in conjunction with the TOW anti-tank missile.

“Hey, how do you rotate this thing forward?” he asks me. (Say in dumbest voice possible).
“Pull out the lever on the right side,” I tell him, already visibly irritated.
“Is this it…?” CRASH, BOOM. “Oh shit.”
“'Oh shit'? 'Oh shit' what? Nix, what the hell did you do?!”
“I guess I pulled on the wrong lever, ‘cause the ITAS just fell off the tripod onto the floor.”
“Jesus f***ing Christ, Nix. You are without a doubt, THE stupidest person I have ever met. Bar none.”
“Oh man… I hope I didn’t break it. They’ll be taking this out of my check for the rest of my life. Hey, help me pick this thing back up, will ‘ya?”

The ITAS is indeed an expensive piece of equipment, its cost rivaled only by its sheer weight. We spent the next 30 minutes struggling to lift it back onto the sturdy tripod and latch it back down with the aid of only a tiny red lens flashlight. After a thorough systems check, the ITAS seemed no worse for wear, Nix and his pay stubs breathing a nervous sigh of relief.

His incessant, mindless chatter, though, was not the least bit cowed by this latest faux pas. For hours on end I struggled to ignore his incoherent babble until I was finally reduced to a near-vegetative state, my head cluttered with his moronic commentary. By the end of every shift, my brain felt like a computer hard drive slowed to a crawl by a slew of unsolicited internet pop-up ads. If I could have gotten my hands on a Norton anti-virus cd-rom, I’d have gladly shoved one up my own ass in an attempt to defrag my grey matter and cleanse my thoughts of his mind-numbing babble. After nearly a week of this torture, I was a miracle I could still read and write.

Thursday 15April2004
From the March 8, 2004 edition of the Army Times:

Soldier Seeks Refuge in Canada
A paratrooper with 82nd Airborne Division who belatedly concluded he couldn’t kill people in Iraq is living with his family in a basement apartment in Toronto while his unit patrols the combat zone near Baghdad.

SPC Jeremy Hinzman, 25, an 11B infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, fled to Canada Jan. 2 seeking refugee status on the eve of the unit’s deployment, after a long, fruitless attempt to be declared a conscientious objector.
“When I enlisted, I knew what the Army was about,” he said in an email to Army Times. “But I didn’t foresee how much effort would be employed to break down my barriers and turn me into a being who would not only simply be able to kill, but to do so with enthusiasm.”

The Army will not attempt to track down Hinzman and take him into custody, said spokeswoman Master Sergeant Pam Smith. “We do not go after soldiers who are AWOL.”
Meanwhile, Hinzman, his wife and baby son [They must be so proud. Dad, what did you do in the war? Well son, I ran away like a scared little bitch before I even got there!] are living in a basement apartment in Toronto found with the help of connections in the Quaker community near Fort Bragg, N.C.

In late spring or early summer, Hinzman will have a hearing before a Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, his lawyer Jeffrey House said.
“At the hearing, they will decide if he has a fear of persecution by reason of his political opinions,” which would entitle him to become a refugee, House said. He could then acquire “permanent resident status,” the equivalent of having a green card and, after three years, applying for Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian government could deport Hinzman if his citizenship request is turned down [Right. Canada deport somebody?], but that would happen only if he was discovered to have a criminal record, House said. [Hey, how about “desertion in a time of war.” Ring a bell? We used to hang people for that, you know.]
Canada opposed the invasion of Iraq, however, the country has troops in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. [So, in other words: Welcome to Canada, Jeremy. We think you’ll fit right in with our quite extensive Vietnam draft-dodger community, although they are getting on in age lately. We hope you like Bingo.]

Hinzman has “certainly expressed the desire to remain in Canada permanently,” House said. [I’d like to go on the record as expressing the same desire for this dirtbag.] If Hinzman returns to the United States, he could be arrested, turned over to the Army and court-martialed on a charge of desertion. The maximum penalty for desertion during wartime is death. [Now we’re talking].

Hinzman studied Buddhism and attended Sunday meetings at Quaker House in Fayetteville, N.C., which counseled Hinzman and hooked him up with Quakers in Canada. He said he wanted to be a conscientious objector on both religious and philosophical grounds.
He declined to be interviewed at length, but said in a Feb. 26 email:
“It was a very personal decision and I don’t want to influence younger soldiers to do something like I’ve done, even though I believe in what I’ve done. Although my co-workers and superiors will undoubtedly have a cynical view of my actions, I would like to say that they are the most devoted people I have ever seen. They sacrifice seemingly ceaseless time away from their families during deployment… They should be extremely proud of themselves for the way they live their lives. I know that sounds a bit patronizing, but I am sincere in saying…”

Blah, blah, blah. Shut yer cakehole and save it for the judge, shitbird. I’m torn between hoping your dumb ass gets court-martialed and glad that someone like you is out of our country for good. But couldn’t you have at least persuaded Michael Moore to go with you?

Heinlein said it best:

"Pacifism is a shifty doctrine under which a man accepts the benefits of the social group without being willing to pay -- and claims a halo for his dishonesty."

2nd Platoon had our own AWOL wannabe by the name of PFC Eric Korotki until he finally got chaptered for disrespect and a host of other charges right before we left for Kabul. This guy had been a total shitbag ever since he’d been in the unit, and from day one it was painfully obvious he had no place in the Army, much less the airborne infantry.

The shrillest whiner, the loudest complainer, the biggest liability in the entirety of the 501st -- it’s truly amazing how difficult it is to get rid of people once they make it past basic training. Korotki’s drill sergeants not only failed him by allowing him to squeak through -- they failed our whole damn battalion.

A constant headache in garrison, he was a total disaster in combat. Terrified to even venture outside the perimeter, he would constantly make asinine remarks that the U.S. was only in Afghanistan “for the oil.” Yeah, apparently his public school geography teacher failed him as well. We had money on how long it would take for him to go AWOL from Salerno and try and make his way alone to the nearest Pakistani airport. Hell, we encouraged it. But the thought of him being captured and forced to become some hajji’s Talibitch was probably hoping for too much.

Eventually, his recalcitrance went too far and he was stripped first of his ammo, later his weapon altogether, and ultimately his liberty. After a short stint in the stockade at Bagram, he was reportedly shipped back to Alaska to be discharged from the Army. But he got off easy if you ask me. I think we should have kept him here in the detainee center with all his “Talibuddies.” No such luck.

So if anyone out there ever runs into this kid back in the real world (I believe he hailed from Maryland) and you hear him spinning all kinds of wild tales about his brief time in the Army and all the “harrowing combat” he survived, please kick him in the nuts for me.

Friday 16April2004
--We rolled out during our QRF shift today to a nearby village to implement yet another Operation Feed the Children. This typically involves bringing food and supplies to a friendly village in reward for helpful information or cooperation in the past -- what the mainstream media likes to call “winning hearts and minds.” Winning wallets and stomachs is probably more like it.

--Salerno U. is now in full effect. Tents and several dozen folding chairs have been set up along an empty stretch just inside the north gate, ostensibly to provide a school forum on the FOB grounds for the local children to learn English. I will say one thing about the Afghan culture, the young ones are always eager to learn. They have yet to embrace the uniquely American “too cool for school” attitude of intellectual indifference. Give this country a decade or two to get its act together and I bet they’ll start outperforming the U.S. on standardized test scores. (No big feat, really, but more impressive when you consider that we have laptop computers in our schools and they haven’t even progressed to chalkboards yet.

Saturday 17April2004
Two separate rocket attacks in one night. Woken up twice in the span of a few hours in order to haul balls over to the bunkers and stand there in the dark with our dicks in our hands.

Some 1st Platoon fool in an OP tower then had to go and radio in that he “saw the flash” of the rocket as it launched -- from 15 klicks away! (He’d soon regret that whopper).
Launch the QRF! (Dammit, that’s us). Hey, who needs rest anyway? Sleep’s a crutch. If you guessed that we’d drive around all morning on a wild goat chase and find exactly nothing of value -- you would have guessed correctly. The TOC supposedly intercepted a hajji radio transmission describing a planned ambush for us once they’d successfully drawn us out of the FOB. No such luck -- we didn’t see shit. Operation Enduring Boredom: Take 47 [clack].

My bet is that these lame rocket attacks are not simply aimed to annoy us and deprive us of needed rest, but are a method for gathering intel by measuring our level of response and reaction times, just as a master criminal would test the 9-1-1 system before making any moves in a certain locale. Okay, whatever.

By the time we get back to the FOB, most of us are dead on our feet, not having enjoyed an uninterrupted night’s sleep since the previous Wednesday. (The other platoons would have to pull 12 hours on/12 hours off until we’d had time to recover. They can thank 3rd Platoon’s PFC Hubble Telescope for that one). Lesson learned: If you happen to find yourself on guard duty during a rocket attack, the correct response is, Rocket attack? What rocket attack? I didn’t see a goddamn thing.

Sunday 18April2004
We slept all day to make up for constant activity of past two days, not to be deterred by the 90 degree-plus sweltering heat. (And that’s in the shade, with portable fans blowing directly on you). Indeed, this is the most miserable country on Earth.

Our platoon finally received a new joe, a SPC Scott Noe, fresh from the rear in Alaska. Apparently, he failed to deploy with the unit originally after inadvertently discharging a POW (personally owned weapon) into his foot while drunk barely a week before we left for Afghanistan. He’ll fit right in at 2nd Platoon.

Monday 19April2004
The day shift with new OP mate SPC Scholz is eminently more entertaining than it was with “Stevie” Nix. For one, Scholz, the resident brainiac of the platoon and longtime RTO (Wainscott recently assumed the mantle) can always be found with a sly grin on his face and a snide comment on his tongue. A natural born cynic, he makes Andy Rooney look like Mickey Rooney.

Scholz is also a diabolical mystery bomber -- as in, “Mr. E” bomber -- as in, MRE bombs. For the uninitiated, an MRE bomb is a rather crude yet wonderfully devious device created with the help of an empty water bottle, a cornucopia of powdered condiments -- to include cocoa mix and Tabasco sauce -- and the contents of an MRE flameless ration heater. Mix ingredients, add a few ounces of water, screw cap on tight, emplace in obscured area near unsuspecting persons, and wait. General hilarity will typically ensue, especially when anointed victim lets out girlish scream and instinctively dives for cover at resultant POP! Bonus points if they are within the blast radius and unfortunate casualties of condiment shrapnel. Atomized Tabasco -- the poor man’s mustard gas.

Tuesday 20April2004
Oops… I did it again.
I’ve created a monster. I unwittingly allowed SSG Sarten to borrow a pirated Britney Spears “hits” compilation cd that I had impulsively purchased in a fit of new music desperation from a hajji-mart in Kabul. He promptly burned it onto his Xbox hard drive, and now the most common sounds to emanate from our tent include: “She’s so lucky… she’s a star… but she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart…” and “You drive me craayy-zee… I just can’t sleep… every day and every night.

That last one is especially astute in regards to our current predicament. SSG Sarten’s Britney fetish is driving us all crazy! Add the constant Madden football monopolization of the squad tv by the Xbox Addicts and you have a virtual recipe for close quarters-induced madness: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Spears Disorder). Unless something is done, and soon, the rest of us are Section 8* candidates in the making. Britney’s “loneliness may be killing [her],” but it’s her music that’s killing us.
*The apocryphal military parlance for “nuttier than a fruitcake.”

Wednesday 21April2004
On the heels of an overnight 12-hour guard shift we were lucky enough to get to escort a detainee being released “on good faith” back to his village. Never mind the fact that this is scheduled during our “off time” following a long, tiring night in the OP towers. Our PL as much as admitted to us that he gets bored “sitting around on his ass all the time” and thereby volunteers us for anything and everything that comes down the pike. Don’t get me wrong: I like our LT. And I know it must be tough sleeping in his bunk all night while we get to have oh-so-much fun on FOB security, but he needs to learn how to say NO. Most of us who looked forward to this guard rotation as a welcome respite from the frenetic activity of mission cycle are now having second thoughts.

A quick word about our battalion S-2 (intel) shop: They suck! All day long we listen to the radio traffic from the guard towers between the front gate and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center):

“Comanche TOC, this is North Gate. Roger, there’s a local-national here to see Captain (So & So) concerning some info about his village, in accordance with some ridiculous promise Comanche Six* made him last month. He says it’s taken him all day to travel out here. Can you send someone down here to speak with him? Over.”
*Radio call sign for the Charlie Company commander.

“North Gate, this is Comanche TOC. Roger… yeah, tell him to come back tomorrow, m‘kay? S-2 says they’re busy right now [playing cards].”

“Comanche TOC, North Gate. Yeah… uh, this guy’s saying he has information on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body, and knows where Saddam’s WMDs are hidden, break… Roger, he also says he’s discovered the cures for both cancer and erectile dysfunction, over.”

“North Gate, Comanche TOC. We don’t care, over. We’re busy right now.”

Okay, so Hajji tends to exaggerate a bit, but that's no excuse. Not only are these S-2 guys terminally lazy, they're also supremely incompetent. That detainee they had us deliver home? They gave us the right guy, but the wrong village. So no shit, there we were driving all over Allah’s brown earth when Hajji starts waving his arms and chatting furiously with the terp sitting behind him.

“What’s the problem, 'terp? What’s he jabbering on about?”

“Jes, da man is says dat he live dat way.” (Points in complete opposite direction).
Well, that’s just freaking swell.

I actually enjoyed myself on the (eventual) way there, manning the Humvee-mounted SAW while Shirey drove like a rabies-infected bat out of hell. I’ve found that one of the rare pleasures of combat patrols in Afghanistan is manning the gun either in a turret or on a vehicle mount. One, it makes you feel high-speed and two, it beats getting your ass pounded in the back of the truck any day of the week.

After about a dozen wrong turns, back tracking, and dead ends, we finally found this yahoo’s village and kicked his ass out of the truck. The trip back, though shorter, would not be nearly as fun. The weather suddenly turned to shit -- lightning filling the sky, rain stinging our faces like an angry swarm of bees, a massive sandstorm obscuring our vision, and the temperature plummeting thirty degrees. Shirey of course feels diabolically compelled to hit every mud puddle and sinkhole at breakneck speed, thus vaulting torrents of grotesquely brown flood water over the Humvee and into our unsuspecting faces. It felt like the log ride at Six Flags Over Bangladesh. For the first time since arriving in country I belatedly wished I’d taken my malaria pills after all.

It would seem the oft-alluded-to rainy season is finally upon us. We finally made it back to the FOB -- cold, wet, muddy, and hungry. Our tent is leaking like a sieve because the Supply jackasses keep dragging their boots on finding us a rain fly for the top. We contemplate stealing the one off their own tent (If anyone asks, just tell ‘em we got it from ‘Supply‘), but end up jacking one from one of the empty tents vacated by the recently departed 10th Mountain crew. And wouldn't you know it, this one leaks too.

What’s missing from this so-far stellar evening, you ask? You guessed it… rocket attack! Predictably, it lands nowhere near the interior of the FOB, but we have to trot over to the enclosed bunkers nonetheless: Army regulations. (We can’t have anyone getting hurt in a war, now can we?) If it was up to me, during incoming I’d never even leave my tent. Let’s make these hajji bastards prove they can actually hit something before we start scampering around like scared rabbits.

Unbelievably, some here actually still take these “attacks” seriously. One young female recent arrival was seen quietly sobbing in the corner of the dark bunker until the rest of her tent mates arrived to console her and help allay her fright. Lockhart -- sick bastard that he is -- and never one to pass up a prime opportunity, looks down at this Incoming Queen and announces: “Man, that last one sounded close. We’re really screwed now! Oh my God, we’re all gonna die!!”

So naturally, she starts crying harder and is practically hysterical by this point. I’m still not sure if it was from the rocket scare or the abject terror of being trapped in an enclosed space with this coterie of obviously unhinged paratroopers. But either way, can you really blame her?


"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed." -- Abraham Lincoln