"Dude, I gotta shit. Find me something to wipe with around here."
Matt was direct and to the point. He was shitting all right, in a corner room of a makeshift hospital deep in the heart of Chibernot, the more rural and wooded neighborhood of Baqubah. Bill, the unremitting carrier of toilet paper, was on the other side of the building. He'd have to use whatever I could find him as he squat in the corner over the dust covered floor.
Just a day earlier, we were making our way through the abandoned neighborhoods fulfilling our raison d’être: cache and insurgent locating. After turning up nil for the first few hours of sunlight, we entered a courtyard with two pick up trucks and a modest yard that fed into a grass field surrounding three sides of a house. Immediately after searching through the house, we found what we had been looking for: ammo magazines, bags full of huge anti aircraft rounds, bulletproof vests and bundles of wire, rigged with sensors that sent a charge when run over by the wheels of our Strykers. The wire that is hooked to the IED requires no manual operation to be set off, just the weight of one of our vehicles. They were called victim operated IEDs, and we found bundles of wire that made them possible.
By then we learned to burn mostly anything we found. There was a hole in the back already dug, and we threw the vests, wire and many documents found throughout the house into it. One of the many smokers lit a first aid bandage on fire and threw it on top of everything.
But then there was the house. And the trucks.
A good portion of the platoon was in the courtyard already, including my friend Bryan. He was a college graduate who enlisted a little after me, and we got along well due to our sense of humor and because we both called north Texas home. He was a machine gunner in weapons squad, but we got to talk during these lulls in activity when we're sitting around wondering what to do next.
Destroy the vehicles, we were ordered. Finally, something that made sense!
I slipped off my vest and helmet and began my search of some type of blunt object. In a back room I found a hammer and a small pole. I walked out to the first truck and made small work of the windows, mirrors and headlights, smashing glass and breaking bulbs. I popped the engine to find a tangled mess of wires and tubes. I slash, cut and broke everything that wasn't part of the engine and put a brick through the windshield. Bill came by with his knife and slashed the tires. We did all we could, but there was still the other truck.
It was being smashed to bits by others, but this one had room to be flipped. The other was parked right next to a tree, yet this truck was ripe for turning over.
Better call Macco
Men lined one side of the truck to give it the heave-ho onto its side, causing a real big headache for the insurgent who owned it.
God dammit, I had only two payments left!
You guys got it!
One thing Bryan and I had in common was that our names ended in -ton. We created the name Team Destructon for ourselves, forever pledging that together we would destroy any insurgent property (and have fun doing it). Lamps, bowls, tea sets, everything in that house that was capable of being smashed was shattered with the attention to detail and precision only we offered. Our goal was to be the least hospitable guests possible.
Two safes in the house drew our eyes and they were drug out into the yard, next to the only truck still on its tires. We didn't have any C4 with us, so we called another platoon in to rig up the doors to see what was inside. Along the way, they found stuff to put on top of it to see how far in the air they would go. A rock, a boombox, a curious pole and some leftover rounds were thrown on top.
And a partridge in a pear tree
More was added that I didn't see (or document), namely a wheelbarrow. We all moved to another courtyard to stay away from the big blast. Once the dust settled, the guys who rigged up the explosives took a peek into the insides of the safes. Not a damn thing.
We soon left and continued our patrol, going for about thirty minutes before the other platoon clearing on the right side of the street found something. It was a dungeon-esque torture chamber, filled with handcuffed civilians and a few bodies. When asked how long it was since they saw their captors, they replied, "just before you got here."
We held at the house across from the chamber and ransacked it. It was too close for its occupants not to know what was going on at their neighbor's house. A bulletproof vest was found, along with two AK-47s, ammo and a camera tripod (used to film IED attacks, giving them a more professional, cinematic feel). There were mats and blankets on the floor in the living room, and I peeled back a layer to find a full length sword and scabbard. It was all added to the pile I was arranging, along with a radio, two American grenades used for a MK-19 grenade launcher and a couple of bayonets.
Insurgent starter kit
The sword had dried blood on it, giving it an orange tint from the handle to the tip from where it was wiped away. I thought it was a unique souvenir and stuck it into the bag I was using to carry a fold out stretcher (a Skedco for all you military folks). Another fan of cameras quickly grabbed the tripod to use for his own equipment. He still has it, and I still have my sword in my room today.
The tortured Iraqis were being treated and cared for, and it was going to be awhile until the situation was resolved. My platoon sergeant said we'd be there for a couple hours, so we all took off our vests and crammed into one of the rooms. I left my vest and helmet in the shade outside. Others watched the gate and talked lazily about this and that. Most of us fell asleep for those two hours until we got the word to move on.
By then the sun had shifted and my vest and helmet were sitting under the blazing heat for some time, absorbing all the warmth an Iraqi summer sun has to offer. Grabbing it to put on, I almost burned myself on the metal hook bolted onto my helmet that was used for night vision goggles. Well, this is going to get interesting. I slung one of the AKs on my back and pressed on.
In a few steps I was pouring sweat like I just finished a marathon. The heat from the vest and helmet had nowhere to go except into my skin. At every house, I took everything off and doused them with water. I wasn't about to be carried out of there. After an hour, the heat went back to its usual intolerable level, but I was out of water for the rest of the afternoon.
Toward the end of the next day, Matt really had a case of the shits. We had just found an insurgent hospital after a tip from a local, and he wasn't interested in finding buried weapons, just simple bowel relief. Since Bill wasn't around, I went to go look for anything appropriate to wipe with. When times were tough and we had to go in the corner of an abandoned house, we'd use curtains, clothes, anything. But this building was a few rooms with dirt floors and bloody towels. The cleanest thing I could find was an abdominal wrap tinged with crusty blood. Not good enough for Matt (so stubborn with his selection of wipes). In between my mission to find rolls of Charmin, I was collecting the medical supplies and weapons we found so we could document everything before we destroyed all of it.
Matt was still in the corner, waiting. I chanced upon Bill and got his TP to deliver to Matt, held hostage by his own pants. If he had waited, he would have known we were on our way back to the base soon, with plenty of sinks, toilets and yes, rolls upon rolls of toilet paper.