Sunday, January 25, 2004

Children Approach My Patrol With Mortar Round, Dreaming of IEDs, Assad the Welder's Undying Love for George W. Bush

We’ve talked today for quite a while on the phone. It’s so wonderful to hear your voice Spatzi. I was moving some of my duffel bags and I could swear I could smell your perfume. I miss you dearly, but I’m so happy to be coming to you soon!
Today was interesting, just driving to a few of the camps in Baghdad. SGM Walker, Foley, and I were on my truck, and we had a scout escort truck. We were driving to Charlie Company to take them the morale phone (satellite phone) in the north of Baghdad where the farmland begins. Charlie tank company is at Camp Marlboro, called that because it used to be a cigarette factory.
“THEY’VE GOT A BOMB!” It was only 15 minutes into our trip from our base camp and Sergeant Monroe came across my tactical headset yelling this chilling message.
‘Goddamnit,’ I muttered to myself.
“We’ve got several kids, motioning that there’s a bomb, one is holding a mortar shell,” Sergeant Monroe said to follow up. “We’re pulling over.”
“Roger, pull over, contact Knight X-Ray,” SGM Walker told me. The guys got out of the trucks.
“Watch the rooftops, I see someone over there,” Sergeant Gonzales said. I got the GPS (global positioning system) and called up the grid location and situation to our headquarters. The guy on the other end of the radio was having trouble copying information and getting numbers right, so I kept repeating myself.
“Get the fuck back!” I heard SGM Walker yell. “Get back!” One of the kids was running up to us with a mortar round in his hand. I looked over and saw another boy in the mud tossing a mortar round like a toy. We cleared the kids away. They were all gathered around the mortar rounds. The girls’ school nearby was just letting out, so a lot of little girls were running up and waving, close to the site of the bombs. The kids started motioning with their hands and indicated that 10 rounds were there. I called it up to headquarters. “We’ve got to go, we can’t sit here,” SGM Walker said. It was true, you can’t sit out in the open like that or you’ll become a sitting target. Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) was notified and said they would come pick up the rounds. So we told the children to stay away and left. It happens sometimes that these kids blow themselves up playing with these things. Just another day.
We arrived at Charlie Company camp and I walked into the warehouse where everyone lives. It was cold and dirty – nothing like the luxury of our HQ. Immediately I saw my friend, Sadr. He worked at the internet “café” at our camp and was now working at Charlie camp. He was happy to see me and came to give me a kiss on the cheek. I was surprised to see him there. He told me it was cold there and he didn’t like it at all. It was especially cold at night. We talked about Iraqi food and how you were doing. He asked about the next time I would make Mexican food. ‘Whenever you want,’ I replied.
Then I saw CPT Berlin, and it was refreshing. He said he and his fiancée were getting married in Friedberg and reserved a grand reception hall in Bad Nauheim. I was genuinely happy to hear this news. I looked outside of the door at the muddy tanks and thought about those old WWII movies you see about the B-17 bomber crews. The warehouse had the same atmosphere as one of those old airfield hangars. ‘Hey Sir,’ I said, ‘All you need is a B-17 sitting out there and a record player playing big band music.’
“Yeah, that would be perfect,” he said as he smiled. “During targeting briefs, I say, ‘Gentlemen, we’re going after Bremen!’”
Eventually, we went back to the Martyrs’ Monument. While there, two trucks pulled up – civilian trucks. It was the SAS – British Special Forces. They got out of their trucks, took off their bullet-proof vests and went underground where our brigade HQs are. They don’t look like macho military guys – just normal guys that look like hikers.
When I got back, I talked to the welder and checked up on his brother, who I took to our medic station yesterday for eye damage from welding. He was doing OK, but still insisted on welding without the proper eye protection. I went to see the welder to get some metal plated doors put on our truck. The welder is a big guy, who speaks very good English. He’s got a scrubby beard, the same green shirt, coveralls and a welding mask with a peace sign on it. He’s short and fat, big. We always have good conversations about Iraqi life. I am trying to get him to ask for more money for welding jobs. He does a lot of honest work and asks very little in the way of money. So I am trying to get SGM Walker to put in a good word for him so he can get paid more as skilled labor. I know about his family and his kids, and we talk about how his kids are doing. He has 7 children, one is only a few months old, born during the war. He said his youngest son wasn’t planned at all, but (they use the “pill” birth control here) there was no contraception available or something. “I didn’t plan on him, I made a mistake you know, but I thank God for him. He’s a good boy!” I had to smile.

Well, it’s time to go to sleep now. I’ve got so much to write about! Nora, I love you! I thought about that dream I had a few nights ago about finding the bomb along the road. Then, today, we found bombs on the side of the road with the help of the kids. It’s strange, but a lot of what I’ve dreamt has come true out here. It’s nothing supernatural, of course, but you probably take in indicators all day long of things that will happen soon or as a result of events that are constantly unfolding. You probably don’t even realize it, but all of these indicators come together in your mind and sometimes you can see the end result in dreams. Like you know x and y and figure it equals z. Just a though. You try not to think too much about all that stuff here. The less superstition, the better. You don’t think certain thoughts though, because you don’t want to tempt fate, or write letters from beyond the grave, or make comments about luck, or carry new pictures. You keep everything consistent and neutral. I love you Nora. Have faith always in God.

Most of the Iraqis I talked to loved George W. Bush. “George Bush, he is my king, he is like a king to me. He freed my country,” said a shopkeeper to me one day. He was Kurdish, and moved to Baghdad to open a shop that specialized in fake Rolexes and other brands of watches. Assad the welder was one of the most outspoken supporters of Bush and Bush Sr. He would scold other Iraqis who thought poorly of Bush, and politely remind me that Bush freed Iraq when I would avoid speaking positively about Bush.
“The Americans brought a big storm to my house, break all glass, shooting. But, we are friends. The American army is our army. We love you. You have given us liberty,” he told me once as we drank tee while sitting on some old car seats in a junkyard. “You know, Iraqi people are stupid. I was on bus today, and we see ICDC on the road. Some women are saying, ‘Look at them! Traitors! They wear American uniforms! They are American puppets!’ Other people started agreeing! I told them to shut up. They ask why. I tell them ICDC is army, and army must have uniforms. Every army has a uniform. There are not enough Iraqi uniforms and they are bad quality. I tell them this! I tell them it’s good thing America give ICDC better uniforms, that they all look the same! When I say this, all Iraqi people on bus were quiet, and then all agreed with me!” Assad said. He was a positive person. Only once did he tell a negative story about the American invasion. “We were in Babylon, and the American Apache helicopters came. We would wave to the Apaches and finally we knew that Bush was coming! Then the soldiers came and began shooting. Shooting at everything, even where there was nothing. My family stay in house. When it was quiet, I go into city. There were people stealing from the school! I yelled at them and told them to stop, but no one listened. They all wanted something! These no poor people! They take only because they can. I go to police, and there is big black American sergeant in police station. He tell me, ‘Fuck you and school. Go away. I don’t care about the school!’ I yell at him and black sergeant says, ‘We are not enough people, I cannot leave here. What can I do? Everyone is stealing! We are not enough soldiers!’” Assad said that he wrote down the names of the thieves and later turned them in to the MPs.


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