Monday, June 25, 2007

Three Sixty Five

A year later and we’re back where we started. On this great crusade in which we have strived for many months, our efforts and goals have become more nebulous than when we deployed in June of last year. In Mosul, we held relatively stable ground and assured the community of our positive impact by training the Iraqi Army and Police. The Army has had organization problems since 1775, but to my untrained eye it seemed we had our act together up there. The enemy met us a handful of times. Later in Baghdad the mission became more bold and active: to quell the spread of sectarian violence that plagued the city. It was like a royal rumble between Shiites and Sunnis, and we were the knocked out referee in the corner. Each sect believed we were working with one side to eradicate the other, like anyone in command understood the ageless conflict and had the solution to it. Building a wall between volatile neighborhoods was the culmination of four years of observance and occupation. It sounded like a great idea. I mean, it worked for Berlin, right?

Our greatest asset as a Stryker brigade has always been the Stryker itself. Fatigue has been a thorn in the side of commanders since war has existed. Up to the Korean War, most days were spent getting to the battle than actually fighting the enemy. With the use of helicopters and armored personnel carriers in Vietnam, troops could get to the fight faster and with more firepower. In the 21st century, technology made warfighting practical (in a hawkish sense of the word). From our bases outside the city we drove up to sixty five miles per hour to the gate of a bad dude and snatched him up. No marching, no warning. And the Strykers are scary, really. For their size and weight, they’re quiet compared to a Bradley or Abrams. Something is intimidating about an armored vehicle that can drop an infantry squad on your doorstep thirty seconds after you first heard them, taking most IED blasts with a few popped tires. In Mosul and Baghdad they were a godsend. They were always around to cover and protect us, always within an arms reach to pick us up in a pinch or to hold cold water for those long clearing missions. In Baqubah however, we’ve been transported back to the old days.

Quickly we learned to stay off the roads. The word overkill received a new definition when we saw what deep buried IEDs did to the trucks, limbs and lives of the men in our battalion. In the summer heat we began to dismount on the main routes and walk a few kilometers to the neighborhoods we intended to operate in. Not daring to face the bombs underneath the street, we were cut off from the life support of the twenty-two ton vehicles that were our second homes ten months prior. Water went from a luxury to scarce treasure instantly: you have only what you could efficiently carry. In the 120+ degree heat, a bottle of water that has been boiling in your cargo pocket is about as refreshing as drinking sand. But when you run out of water, the only thing left to do is drop iodine tablets into a bottle of tap water that you got from some Iraqi’s faucet. I remember reading about the practice in my basic training manual, thinking it would only apply in a theoretical situation where we were dropped in a steaming jungle and isolated for months. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that in year four of The Long War, we’d be drinking treated sewage water and eating local bread because it’s all we had.

In some ways it feels like 1907 instead of 2007.

The military is obsessed with taking something and renaming it with a totally different term. A jumping jack is a side straddle hop, and any Islamic terrorist not affiliated with Al Qaeda is a concerned local. When a mission is complete, there is a rollup of killed enemies and found weapons. A rollup is another term for a summary. So I present my own summary (er, rollup) for the time my company has spent between June 2006 and June 2007:

525,600 Minutes Passed

Countless Enemies Killed and Captured

3 Destroyed Strykers

Dozens of Rifles, RPGS and Mines Found and Destroyed

2 Fatherless Baby Girls

Thousands of Rounds of Ammunition Found and Destroyed

9 Figure Severance Paycheck to Dick Cheney, Courtesy of Halliburton

3 Cleared Cities

2 Dead Friends

100,000 Contractors Making Five Times My Pay for Doing Laundry and Serving Food

Thousands of Cleared Houses

1 Quagmire

A year later and this is what we have to show for it. A year later and we care about the survival of each other more than a fledging democracy in the Middle East. To officers and officials influencing policy, our goal is to stimulate the economy and prop up competent Iraqi Security Forces. To the unwashed enlisted in the muck, we’re just trying not to get blown to fucking bits. A year later and we have realized finally: we’re biding time until the next unit comes to replace us. That’s it. Rotate in, rotate out. A year’s worth of sore backs, twisted ankles, near death experiences, shootouts, blown up buildings, fires, mangled corpses, dead kids, dead soldiers, cold desert nights, hot desert days, shit covered boots, trash filled streets, unfulfilled dreams, stagnant aspirations and murdered futures.


A year well spent.


AH

4 comments:

Jeff said...

I'm looking forward more than anything to your blog post covering the period from the end of June to the day your boots hit the tarmac at McChord AFB.

Love,

Dad

Mom said...

Alex,

Awesome summary, er, rollout. I never imagined anyone in the modern army having to put iodine in water.

Great job as always,

Love,

Mom

Andrew said...

hang in there man and make it home and that's all that matters!

disasterpresident said...

Thank you for telling us your reality honestly. Your service to your country with this honesty stands out over and above what we could ever repay you for your military service.
I refered to your blog in mine.
Good luck, stay safe.

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http://disasterpresident.blogspot.com/