Friday, April 30, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pom Poms

Yesterday I was sitting in the chow hall with Lieutenant PK while he was telling me about his wife leaving him. LT PK used to be in my company, but sometime during our mobilization at FT Hood, he got transfered to a different company in our brigade. He was up at Taji for a few months, but since we closed that detention facility down, his company was brought down to VBC. I've run into him a couple of times here and there. He saw me in line and waved me over.

I'm not sure why LT PK and I hit it off. Back at Hood we ran a gunnery range together and got along pretty well. He has a sarcastic sense of humor that I can readily identify with. I am not sure how well liked he is among his peers and troops, and while I wouldn't call us fast friends, but we get along pretty well despite the age and rank difference.

I was chewing my Cornish game hen and LT PK was cussing Jody when I saw some heads turning and necks craning at the tables around us. LT PK pointed behind me. "Saint's cheerleaders."

I turned to look and there were three or four girls standing in the chow line. They were being escorted by a couple of officers. One wore tight jeans, another a black micro skirt that might make a good hankie. Lots of makeup, big hairdos, child sized tee shirts. They were drawing a lot of attention, needless to say.

I took a good look and turned back to my food.

"How'd you like to have that job, escorting them around?" LT PK asked.

"Eh," I shrugged.

"What? Not a fan?" He said, with raised eyebrows.

I'm standing in the lobby of the FT Hood guest house. It's probably 2004, 2005 and I'm up there for weekend drill. I'm wearing civilian clothes because I have the goatee because I'm working undercover at the Task Force. I'm standing in line behind a gaggle of fourteen or fifteen cheerleaders. Emblems on their baggage and clothing identify them as San Francisco 49er cheerleaders. None of the girls pay any attention to me. They gab or text on cell phones or chat with each other as they wait for rooms.

They are all heavily made up. Lot's of mascara, eyeshadow. Long nails, long hair, locked in placed with copious amounts of hairspray. They are wearing casual athletic attire, most of it pretty snug. Lots of shorts. I hate waiting in line but I don't mind it so much today. 

An Army aviator walks in and joins the line. She is a captain, doesn't look thirty yet. The cheerleaders look at the female captain in her flight suit and combat boots and unpainted nails and while nothing is said there is an almost tangible sense of superiority when they look back to their cell phones or resume their conversations with their friends. 

I look her over. She is petite but fit. Short blonde hair, big hazel eyes, no makeup that I can tell. Pretty. She wears a green flightsuit that doesn't do anything to hide her curves. She looks bad ass. Athletic and healthy and natural. I look at her and the cheerleaders and it's no contest. The cheerleaders, while aggressively sexy, reek of high maintenance and drama. The captain is strong and exudes confidence. She has something that goes beyond looks, that those cheerleaders, for all the attention heaped upon them can never hope to match.  

I looked back at the cheerleaders in the chow line. They had their plastic plates on their trays and I looked at their butts and their boobs and their long legs. As they moved through the line and were served by the Malaysian workers, one of the girls turned to her friend in line and made a little "eww" face at the selection.

I turned back to Lieutenant PK. "Not my type, " I said.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Overheard in the Army

" 'So I'm just going to put on this blindfold, and whatever winds up in my mouth, winds up in my mouth.' "

(What a Navy chaplain allegedly told a young Marine during a "counseling session." The chaplain was later court martialed and discharged. Allegedly.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Villa

The new guys have arrived. The Boss's aide-de-camp, a captain, and PSO, a SSG C, have been doing the left-seat/right-seat deal the past week. Aide Man has already pretty much been replaced by the new aide, and for the moment at least, I am staying on, splitting the PSO duties with SSG C. How much longer until I am back filling sandbags, or, even worse, riding a desk in the TOC is anyone's guess.

The other night we took the Boss to a meeting at the Villa. We walked him through the outdoor patio with its marble columns, past the Level 7 Lounge that I am not allowed enter, and then past the sparkling swimming pool to his meeting room. "What a way to fight a war," Aide Man said, and I couldn't agree more.

The Villa his home to secret OGA types. OGA means 'Other Government Agency' which might mean CIA. Or so they say. I certainly don't know, and probably couldn't say even if I did. Which I don't. All I know is, there were a bunch of overly buff dudes walking around in tight tee shirts and cargo pants with pistols on their hips, plus a couple of  Laura Croft looking chicks who were also rocking tight tee shirts, cargo pants and pistols.

I remembered to bring my assault pack this time, and as we were sitting in the chow hall feasting on steaks, we were also eyeing the shelves of snack goodies we had strategically seated ourselves near. The new aide and Aide Man were scoping out the assorted boxes of candy bars, chips, cereals, and so on that were put out for us.

"Oooh, they have Frosted Mini Wheats!" the Aide Man exclaimed. A passing Air Force colonel heard his childlike enthusiasm, and stopped in his tracks.

"You know," he said, "I wouldn't have believed a Marine could get that excited over a breakfast cereal if I hadn't heard it myself."

"Ooorah, sir," Aide Man said, with a sheepish grin. In his defense, Frosted Mini Wheats are quite yummy. But still. I couldn't let that pass without comment.

"Sir, you just got busted on by the Air Force."

"Well, for what it's worth, both my grandfathers were Army, my father was Army, two uncles were Marines, and my brother is Army," the colonel told us. He went on to tell us that his grandfather had met his grandmother at a hospital after he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and we spent a couple of moments talking about the hardships endured by those servicemen who went before us. Someone made a joke about how good we had it, eating steak and all, and how those soldiers from past wars were probably spinning in their graves.

There's some grunt in Afghanistan right now sleeping on the rocky ground on top of some barren hill. He stinks because he hasn't showered in ten days and he has eaten nothing but MREs for the past two months. He hasn't had his boots off in three days. He finally got a Christmas card from his mom two weeks ago.

I have a warm bunk to sleep in each night, three hot meals a day in a chow hall, gyms, internet, bootleg DVDs, hot showers every day, an armored Suburban to roll around in...they even have ice cream in the chow halls. I have an air conditioned room, small though it may be. I might not be thrilled with walking as far as I do to the latrine, or the constant noise from the huge generators outside, or the power outages and constant dirt everywhere, but the reality is, I have it pretty good and I know it.

Especially compared to that kid on that Afghanistan mountain.

After we ate, and I filled my assault pack with pogey bait, We waited for the Boss. SSG C and the new aide, CPT M, sat at a patio table and chatted. Aide Man flirted with one of the Laura Crofts. I lounged by the pool, laying back and looking at the stars reflected in the water.

What a way to fight a war.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Morning

We roll into the IZ, past the Iraqi Army checkpoint. Three or four Iraqi soldiers stand near the guard shack, AKs one handed by the pistol grips, a tank parked across the street. T-72, I think it is. I remember when they gave us playing cards in AIT with Soviet tanks and aircraft and armored vehicles on the backs. The BMP. The Hind. The Backfire.

Down the long dusty road that fronts the Embassy. Suburbans and assorted cars here and there. I hear Velcro sounds from the backseat. "Eltee," I say into the mic at my lips.

"Yeah," Aide Man answers from behind the driver of the Humvee.

"Is that the Boss, getting out of his gear?"

"Uh, roger."

"Okay, he knows we're not getting out here, right?"

"Don't worry, we won't let him jump out."

"Roger that," I say, and we are slowing as we near the pickup point. As we roll to a stop, I peel off the headphones and mic, turn back to the Boss. I tell him that we are picking up passengers and then going on to the MOJ. He nods, and we stop and I jump out.

 I see a man in a dress shirt and suit pants coming out way. He hold his suit coat, body armor, and helmet. I recognize him from a trip we did the other night. We meet by the first Humvee, and I confirm he is my pickup. The other gentleman, an embassy staffer, is already at the Ministry of Justice, our final destination. he gets in, and I mount back up and off we go.

A few minutes later, we pull up to a small parking area and disembark. We are still in the IZ. To one side is a busy stretch of road, to the other, T Walls, and on the other side, some Iraqi government areas, guarded by both IA and US Army.

The terp gets out of the last vehicle and the embassy man gets out of the first. They both take off their body armor and helmets and put on their suit coats. I leave my M4 in the front floorboard, and take the MP5 out of my assault pack, sling it across my chest. The Boss, me, Aide Man, LT Hal, newly promoted to First Lieutenant, and SSG M all walk through the Green Door. None of us take off our gear.

The Green Door leads to a wooded area, and on the other side, a series of walkways that head off to the Ministry of Justice, or MOJ. There is a big clock tower above it. A few nights ago, Aide Man and I were at the Embassy. I noted with surprise that the clock hands and numbers were red at night. I read online that the clock tower was used by Iraqi snipers during the invasion, after which we shot it up, but it's been restored now. I've been looking forward to getting a closer look at it.

We walk past some US and Iraqi soldiers. The US troops are from my battalion.  LT Hal is leading the way Boss and the gentleman from the embassy are deep in conversation. One of the IA, wearing a desert cammo tee shirt and pants, walks quickly up from behind. He is holding a handheld radio he asks us to stop. There is some quick conversation between him and our terp, and I what the terp says next makes my heart sink. "This isn't the MOJ."

Shit! I took the Boss to the wrong place? That's a cardinal sin in the PSD business. I got this location from our Ops Master Sergeant. I confirmed it with LT Hal. None of that matters. I am responsible for getting the Boss to the correct location safely, no matter what. I did not do that. This is bad.

The embassy man and the terp and the Boss and the Iraqi soldier are all talking. The MOJ used to be here. It's been moved. We are in the wrong place. We were operating off of old information. I have fucked up. I look at Aide Man. He is stone faced behind his dark eyepro. His mouth is set in a tight pissed off line. This is so bad.

The man from the embassy gets on the phone to his colleague that went ahead. They talk about where we are and where we are not, and where we should be. We get a ten digit grid that I out in my notebook. We head back to the gun trucks. I'm hoping we can punch that grid in our GPS and get to where we need to be. The embassy man said the MOJ, the real MOJ, the new one, isn't far.

We get back in the trucks. LT Hal and SSG M work on getting the grid punched in. LT Hal is working a map. This is taking an eternity. "," Aide Man says softly into the mic. I do not, however, think he means it.

After a few minutes, the Boss is standing outside, looking at the map with LT Hal. Aide Man, SSG M, me, and the embassy man are also standing in the parking lot. The embassy man is on the phone. We are trying to work out where we need to be and how we need to get there. I check my watch. 1123.

I hear an explosion in the distance. A couple of minutes later, another. Then, a third, closer, louder. It sounds a bit like a dump truck dumping a load of concrete and steel, but only lasts a second. Nobody reacts. This is Baghdad. Stuff exploding in the background sort of goes with the territory.

Matter of fact, the night at the embassy when I noticed the red hands and numbers of the clock tower, we heard an explosion and then a quick rattle of gunfire. I didn't find out what is was. Mortar, rocket, IED...who knows. It was in the distance. An explosion in the distance might as well be a hundred miles away.

After another half minute, we seem to know where we need to go. Then the gentleman from the embassy, still talking with his colleague on the phone, tells us that the meeting we were trying to reach has been cancelled due to a bombing.

We load back up, and go to head back to the NEC to drop off the embassy man. As we gain speed, the Boss raps me on the shoulder from behind. I turn my head, and he says, "Look there, that's the bombing." I look out the window and see a large black mushroom cloud filling the sky in the near distance. Call it just under half a mile.

We drop the embassy man off where we picked him up, and run back down Irish. As we near our ECP, entry control point, we are diverted to another one due to a threat of a VBIED, or car bomb. We make it back in without any problems, and drop the Boss off at the office. I apologize to him for not getting him where he needed to be. He doesn't say much. He isn't happy, but thankfully he isn't a screamer.

A little later, I am checking my emails. Several security and intelligence reports about the trio of bombing in the city. The locations of the explosions are shown on a map. I check the grid, check the map, check my notebook. Yeah. We would have been in the neighborhood, in the general area.