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

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hadji Houses

We pulled into the open space between the two houses we were to occupy for the night at about 2000. The house set aside for us and our Marine security detail was single-story cinderbrick of perhaps 1500 square feet, with a walled flat roof. The Marine company that had been moving dismounted alongside our patrol made their sleeping arrangements in the second house- a split-level two story building, also with a walled roof. Most Iraqi houses have the same flat roof and low wall, which makes them very expedient to convert into nighttime firm points with reasonably good fighting positions. Both houses had obviously been vacated hurriedly- food was halfway prepared inside the outdoor kitchen, and laundry still fluttered from the line. Someone said the owners had tested positive for explosives residue and been arrested. That could be true, or the Marines could have simply sent the families off to another house for the night with a few extra dollars in their pockets.

We gathered our gear inside our assigned room, and broke out cartons of MREs and water. We ate quickly in the darkness- the better to secure a chunk of rug on which to spend the night.
I pulled the first roving guard shift, and spent the next two and a half hours pacing an Iraqi farmyard and listening to the distant rattle of gunfire somewhere north along the river- punctuated by the deeper whoomp of Bradleys firing.

The operations officer for the cavalry's parent unit came by and mentioned that troops pushing south towards us had hit multiple IEDs, and lost men, but "there wasn't much to be done, because they don't have route clearance". I wished for the hundredth time that there were more of us. He also mentioned that sporadic fighting continued all up and down along the river, as well as out into the desert on the main road south.

The houses were set off the road about 150 meters, and were surrounded on three sides by farmland, with a palm grove stretching away to the south. We were very close to the river, so the ground was moist with springtime, and the air smelled of plants both growing and dying. To the west, pens of goats and cows added their noises to the air. Beyond the animal pens, a field of tomatoes and then of grass unfolded. Far off in the western sky, illumination flares rose in a constant stream of orange harmony to the distant sound of incoming American artillery.

The air was thick with musky scent- the product of an already long mission. The sharper smell of crushed vegetation mixed with the dank odor of animal manure and that of tired men. It was a bouquet that will define Iraq for me someday- the smell of living and sweating and dying.
Inside, the house was a tangle of sleeping men. Chemlights spread their ghostly light from the corners in a vain attempt to help the changing guards avoid their sleeping buddies. The room in which I spent the next five hours in fitful sleep was large enough to accommodate all thirty members of our patrol, and yet the only decoration was a poster on the inside wall that simply said "Allah" in fancy calligraphic script.

The house itself smelled of animals of some sort, perhaps dogs, and a pungent tarry smell. The smell of the house bothered some, while others seemed not to even notice. I inhaled and remembered sleeping on my grandparents floor as a child and smelling my grandfather's beloved cats. That grandfather is my only surviving grandparent, and the only other member of my family to have walked the sands of the Middle East. I fell asleep thinking of him, and of home.

(The third and last post on the trip will be up tomorrow)


  1. Honestly? It was pretty low (weak-sause? Is that what you kids call it? ;) ) for that Cav officer to add that bit about "not having road clearance".

  2. Anonymous3/5/07 06:08

    TD, you sure have a talent for putting the reader right in the scene. You guys take care.

  3. I want to hear more about the grandfather, he walked on the sands of the middle east, are you just carrying on an old family tradition. Your writing skills are truly amazing, I do expect there is a book in the future.

    Stay safe young man, America needs you

  4. It is not uncommon to bring a weak lamb into the house for some extra nursing and warmth - lambs often stink to high heaven. Your thoughts on smells, "It was a bouquet that will define Iraq for me someday" I expect is very accurate.

    Great story!

  5. I cam over from Sarge Charlie.

    This is amazing stuff. You do put us right there with you. Your writing skills are excellent.

    I will be back.

    God Speed and be safe always

  6. TD-

    Thanks man: your blog helps me better understand that part of the world. Your work there is valuable on so many different levels. Take good care.

  7. Anonymous3/5/07 12:56

    Smelled the cats... or woke up realizing they were sitting on your chest? Haha, just kidding. Let me know if you get to ride a camel though.

  8. Good stuff, TD, as usual. Your writing is a true gift, both to yourself and to your readers.

    Thanks very much...and take care.

  9. To pass the time my friend as you watch the sky at night;
    Now by what whim of wanton chance
    Do radiant eyes know sombre days?
    And feet that shod in light should dance
    Walk weary and laborious ways?
    But rays from Heaven, white and whole,
    May penetrate the gloom of earth;
    And tears but nourish, in your soul,
    The glory of celestial mirth.
    The darts of toil and sorrow, sent
    Against your peaceful beauty, are
    As foolish and as impotent
    As winds that blow against a star.

  10. check out when you get you know all that free time that the media says is causing y'all to suffer malaise. Keep your head down

  11. Anonymous3/5/07 22:17

    TD, would it surprise you to know that being there with you hurts less than being here without you? You don't know me, I don't know you, it doesn't matter... until again, I'll dream about this tonight....

    marcus... sound and sorrowful

  12. Hey Man, wish you were here for the conference to get the award in person, I'll turn up one or 6 for you.

  13. Great writing, I can see the place, and imagine the noise. Thanks for sharing.

  14. You are an American Hero. Looking forward to part 3 and someday hearing about you Grandfather. Thank you for sharing. thank you