Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Musings and Memories

(crossposted at Jules Crittenden)

Who's up for some war stories? Ok, maybe not *exactly* war stories, but I've been mumbling through old memories of Iraq recently. This post will be pretty much stream-of-consciousness, so continue reading only if you want a look inside.

Trash. Iraq is covered in it. Some areas are getting cleaned up now, but canals and roadsides are still the skunky lairs of plastic refuse and decaying filth.

I never understood the guys who complained about the mess, saying that "no one here cares enough to pick up the trash" (I would have a hard time caring, too, if the trash in my neighborhood covered IEDs), and then use the trash as an excuse to toss old water bottles-turned bathroom breaks out of the trucks.

An old favorite pit stop was Saddam's Mosque, the grandest structure in Ramadi, and oddly (I thought) named for the primarily secular former leader. Every night there was an IED on the corner next to the mosque- often, the wires ran inside the wall. Every night, the Explosives Ordnance Disposal techs blew up a little more of the mosque wall. No sense, after all, in moving the bomb too far from the site in the interest of preserving architecture. Every night, piss bottles sailed over the broken wall in a barrage directed at the IED triggerman.

Some parts of Iraq, most of the sprawling garbage is composed of old plastic bottles. Some places, the average IED has a few 1-liter bottles full of diesel fuel attached. The "accelerant", as the military calls it, doesn't usually make the bomb more deadly, but it sure becomes a hell of a lot more impressive. Less like fireworks, but less fun to encounter were the 1-liter bottles straddling artillery shells and filled with pesticide. We started wearing Nomex jumpsuits just in case, so the Army-issue brand new polyester-blend ACUs we went to Iraq in wouldn't melt to our skin if one of those impressive fireballs engulfed the truck.

Those tan Nomex jumpsuits were controversial, sure. We considered them important to our continued, unmaimed survival in our constant dealings "out there"- by a similar token, ice-cream licking desk jockeys considered those jumpsuits antithesis to good order and discipline "inside". I can see why: since we wore them to work in, those jumpsuits smell like work. It's best not to remind fobbits* too often of the vast difference in what you and they consider "work".

At Logistical Support Area Anaconda, the fobbit capital of Iraq (roughly equivalent to corporate headquarters in the Real World), no one knows how to address warfighters in jumpsuits. Little fobbit girls whisper in the back of the bus that those guys must be Special Forces! If they had been somewhere that actually sends men nightly into the breach, they might have known that SF and SEALs are more likely to be found wearing Carhartt and sporting a 4-day growth of beard.

I abused that look every time I found myself on a large base when I went back to Iraq as a photojournalist. The press ID that I picked up in Baghdad was virtually useless (and indeed virtually unused). Once I learned that displaying my press ID inevitably led to the same tired litany of questions and the same display of orders permitting my presence, I began strolling around in my Carhartts and goatee, flashing my military ID to the confused Specialist guarding the chow hall and the Ugandan mercenaries guarding the PX. I had more freedom in Iraq on my own presenting myself as a member of the military than I had experienced while deployed to Iraq on orders from the military.

My train of thought was interrupted here- by my girlfriend coming home from work to find me typing on her couch. That's a kind of distraction that I didn't have while blogging in Iraq. Frankly, I think I prefer the distractions of home to those of Iraq. ;-)

1. A military member who works primarily on a Foward Operating Base
2. douchebag
a. A military bureaucrat concerned with style over substance
b. A soldier more worried about ice cream stocks than ammo stocks
See also: FOB Goblin, FOB Rat

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sons of Iraq

There's been a lot of buzz lately over the Sons of Iraq (or "Sunni militias", depending on who you ask). I have a new article up over at The Long War Journal going into a bit of detail about the direction we are trying to go with the SoI.

With the security situation improving daily, especially in Sunni towns, within sight is the future that worried so many at the beginning of the grass-roots level movement: What will these fighters do when the Coalition tells them it is time to put their guns down and go home?
Go read and understand. Make sure to click the slideshow.