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


  1. Anonymous23/4/08 19:06

    yessss....we notice that you're not posting as "diligently." Glad you have a nice distraction. Where I work there is a Marine who was part of the invasion in 2003...his favorite derogatory term is "douche bag." :)

  2. 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".

    Hey soldier, you better make sure that name badge is straight on your one-piece suit! =)

  3. I knew LT Nixon would post here with a quip before i did. I must say that I got a good laugh regarding your defintions of Fobbits.

    (LT Nixon would be defintion number 1.)

  4. Too bad the need to feel important so regularly involved dissing someone(s) else.

  5. It good to see you are writing. Maybe you could put together a book about the experiences.

    All the best.

  6. Anonymous8/5/08 20:52

    During WWII fobbits were called "garritroopers." They were rear-echelon troops that wore combat boots, carried side arms, had Eisenhower jackets, bloused their trousers, and never saw a shot fired in anger. Made famous by the Willy and Joe cartoons drawn by Bill Mauldin.

    Too bad this war doesn't have a cartoonist that can represent the combat troops the way Mauldin did.

  7. Like the other poster here, glad you're now able to have "distractions". Still interested in seeing your coverage-and it's a shame that you get treated differently as a member of the press and as a military member. I've long felt we should be far more honest with the press than we actually are.

  8. Fobbits, gotta love 'em. Nothing would make me angrier than coming back in from a 16+ mission to only be delayed going to chow by some fat MSgt because of a "uniform violation" or get this one, "looking too tired". Whenever we had an EOF incident I was never worried about the legality of our actions, but the inevitable insinuations of covering something up or incompetence from some douche officer or senior enlisted butt gnome. When in fact, their only experience with combat was punching hookers on Grand Theft Auto.

    Oh, and to John Beard, this is coming from and AF guy who was bomb maker bait and whose squad was outside the wire looking to wipe out those who caused " incoming incoming incoming" to come across the giant voice. If the AF guy who had the chicken shit look on his face was Security Forces, then you have my permission to slap him in the face and tell him to quit acting like a douche. The rest of the AF ( except tac-p,combat controllers, PJ's ) made even me sick to my stomach with their bitching about nothing and aversion to hard work.

  9. Hi TD, hope all is well

    On this Memorial Day remember my friends who died for your freedom.

    Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask and to answer “am I worth dying for?”~

    Eleanor Roosevelt

  10. Anonymous16/1/09 01:44

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