Friday, October 27, 2006

Baghdad Musings

Faithful readers, this week I come to you from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq and center of a very conspicuous insurgency movement that seems to know no end. The much talked about 172nd Stryker Brigade is operating here after we replaced them in July. I arrived here on Saturday afternoon to take a week long course on a piece of equipment that probably should remain unsaid in the interests of national security etc etc. Along with me are two fellow soldiers from my unit who were painstakingly selected from a special pool of talent (meaning a dartboard was somehow involved in the process). Much to our surprise, we were told by the dude in charge that class begins on Tuesday morning, giving us two and a half days to spend exploring. In Mosul, there's a very straightforward and basic setup for us. A few chow halls, a PX, some little shops and a place to play foosball and ping pong. The base in Baghdad, however, must be three times larger or more. They have paved sidewalks! And traffic circles! They take showers in clean, potable water! In Mosul there are signs posted in the bathroom advising you not to ingest any of the water that comes out of the faucets, which has a strange odor to it. We took a bus to the main section of the base, which contains the big PX (like a shopping center), a Burger King, Taco Bell, Popeye's and Cinabon. No, seriously.

I can't give any credence to the people who come home from this country and tell how awful and cruel it is. This is the easiest, most polite war that was ever fought. Once we were called in to secure a site where a dude attempted to detonate a car bomb next one of our vehicles. It killed only him and left a smoking pile of wreckage. I briefly caught a glimpse of his lower body; a pair of bloated, bloody legs severed right at the hip. His upper torso, not his better half I assure you, was an unrecognizable pile of entrails some yards away. After seeing a dead body for the first time in my life, I went to lunch. And then had some ice cream. Some people are shaken by viewing such grotesqueries and are driven into combat stress meetings. I'd like to know what they're doing in the Army if they are shocked, shocked I say!, by what they see in war. But even a good deal of people here dwell 24/7 within the safety of 'the wire,' the perimeter of walls and fences around the base, rarely venturing out in the dangerous city, if at all. I was waiting for a bus back to our tent yesterday after a souvenir binge, and I overheard a conversation a lady was having on her cellphone (which is outlawed where I'm from, but I digress). She was explaining to her friend back home how she felt about Iraq. Her words were "This place is hell on earth. We walk with the devil." I couldn't help but notice her M-16 was in flawless, pristine condition and her uniform, clean as the day it was made. I can only imagine her idea of hell was discovering the Baskin Robbins here serves only six ice cream flavors instead of the expected 31.

You encounter all sorts of characters in Baghdad, being the epicenter of the war. I've sat next to plenty of Aussies and Brits in the chow hall. But one thing that's different is seeing a lot more Navy folk. I was walking with a buddy to get a flight out of here when a Navy officer was walking with an Army enlisted dude. The procedure for an enlisted dude such as myself is to first salute her and then she returns it to me. But her rank was covered by her sling and I couldn't make it out, so I walked right on by. We must have gotten thirty feet past them when the Army dude called out "Uh oh, you missed your chance" with her replying "You don't have to salute, I'm not an officer or anything" with an incredibly sarcastic tone. I'm all for saluting...when I see the rank. But her attitude smacked of an antiquated notion of knee jerk respect that seems out of place over here. In the deadliest month since January '05, she is most concerned with old traditions. I'm sure at some point she told the story of the lowly enlisted Army scum to her officer buddies, scoffing at his lack of respect. After a few laughs, I imagine she went to bed that night, in relative peace, far from the mortars and explosions, cursing the cracks of gunfire keeping her awake.