Monday, February 09, 2004

Drunken Conversations in Qatar, Our Nation's Chairforce Warriors, Russian Prostitutes

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February 9, 2004 2100 Baghdad, Iraq

Back in Iraq. It’s a landfill compared to Qatar. I arrived back in country today at around 1600 or so. Our departure from Doha was at 1300 or so. It was pretty uncomplicated. As soon as we got to the Doha terminal this morning shortly after our 0400 formation, we ate breakfast at the ridiculously well appointed chow hall. They had everything at the Air Force chow hall, and rumors spread that these “soldiers” were getting paid just as much as we were under the hostile fire pay provision! Qatar is not Iraq. Anyways, all of the U.S. armed forces in Qatar are living it up and cheating the system.
An infantry soldier sat next to Nixon and me. We watched the clean, neat Air Force people go by loaded down by gadgets intended for war, but unnecessary here (good only for looks). “Hey, look at this guy! He’s a real bad ass, fuckin’ pouge!” The infantryman was talking about some airman walking with his chest out in an ironed uniform. “What is this? A fucking fashion show? Let’s get out of here, these pieces of shit are pissing me off,” the soldier said as some of the airmen looked at each other, then looked at the ground. They could hear all the remarks. “Hey, nice hair! You should come up to Baghdad sometime…uh, oh, wait, you sit here in Qatar and play desert soldier while we fight the real war!”
Nixon and I chuckled at each other and then left the dining room. All the Air Force people just looked down as we walked by. I guess we are combat hardened veterans.
On thing Nixon and I noticed while in Qatar was the reaction of people who asked where in Iraq we were from. ‘Baghdad,’ I would say.
“Oh shit, you really deserve a break,” lots of soldiers would say. “I wish I was up there with you,” was another line. “Keep your head down guys. We really appreciate what you’re doing!” Or, “You’re real heroes!”
‘Thanks,’ I would say blandly, yet politely. ‘I appreciate it.’
All of us Baghdad guys figured we just got used to the danger up there, and didn’t even realize how messed up that place seems from outside.
After breakfast, we wandered over to the passenger terminal and I laid on the concrete floor of the hangar tent. Soon, I passed out. When our flight number was called, we all jumped up and slowly gathered our things. We got on a bus and went out to the C-130. We had to travel across the massive airfield, past the F-15 protective hangars and bunker structures. It looked like a scene out of Star Wars. The desert terrain is so flat and mono-color there.
We boarded our C-130. We all sat in the middle of the cargo hold on our red net seats. Soon the engines roared to life, and in minutes we were airborne. It was a 3 hour flight, but it seemed short because I kept falling in and out of sleep. We were woken up at 0300 in Qatar, and I had been talking to you until 2400 or so. We were tired! There’s no place to rest your head on a net seat, so we just leaned forward, or to the side, our heads bobbing.
We did a combat landing into BIAP, since planes are getting hit with missiles. As we started our wild descent, I made one more pita and date sandwich (I learned that from the Iraqi farmer near the missile site I mentioned at the front of the book). The landing was wild, but not as bad as I expected.
As soon as we landed, some fat Air Force E-5 was talking about “hustle, hustle,” and I about told him to shut up, but I think he knew by everyone’s reaction to him that pep talk was useless. We got off the C-130 and went to the Baghdad passenger terminal. Navy SEALs were there and the usual crowd of Special Forces or CIA types. All doing their part for Iraq. We got in our 5-ton truck, driven by our cooks. I hate riding in those trucks, especially on the highways, because they sit so high, and the person driving is usually an idiot. So you have 24 lives in the hands of 1 idiot. I’ve got to drive in the Army. I don’t trust anyone else to drive.
As soon as we got off BIAP, we were welcomed by some children who leaped from their butts to show off their middle fingers, say “FUCK YOU MISTA!” and display looks of anger.
‘Give me a break,’ I thought to myself and pointed my rifle over their heads. They immediately ran away. We continued our way through the city and people waved and cursed, smiled and frowned, or just ignored us. Our cooks were trying to weave through traffic without using the horn at all (so no one really realized the truck was there until we almost ran over them). We got on the highway and our driver kept us on the far left lane right along the median, where IEDs are usually placed. Our drivers from HHC are stupid, because they aren’t combat trained, just support people. I stuck my head into the cab. ‘Get in the center fucking lane and stay there!’ They got in the center lane and stayed.
We got back to camp safe and I went straight to my room. My skin began to crawl as I thought about going back to work with these people. I hate it, and only realized how much when I came back today. It was so good to be away and feel normal a bit again. Soon depression set in though and aggravation and the realization that I’ve felt that way for almost a year. It was an amazing and sad thought. Of course, as I was going to my room, SSG Newsome saw me. “T, how was your vacation?!”
‘It was great,’ I said without looking back and made my way up to my room. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
I called you to let you know I made it OK. You were upset about our time crunch coming up when I get back, about studying, about what you want to do. I know everything will be OK, but it’s hard to say that when you are crying on the phone. It really breaks my heart that I can’t be there – probably more than I show. I love you so dearly though, and I want to be successful for you so we can have a stable family. It’s so difficult being away like this, you really do feel dead. I’m trying to stay positive though – I have to. I love you Nora. I don’t want to ever lose you.

― Reflections on Qatar ―

I wrote earlier about CPT Chris. We stopped by his house and he led Nixon and me inside. The house was very nice and looked like something in the States. Chris handed us a beer. I already had two beers the night before, but it didn’t get me drunk at all. So Nixon and I sat in the living room and watched TV. The news showed pictures of more random violence. I changed the channel. Two civilian guys were in the living room working on a laptop computer. The two men acted like teenagers and joked with Chris about introducing us to Russian prostitutes. ‘Oh God,’ I thought. ‘Men behaving badly. American civilians away from wives and girlfriends living it up and screwing around.’ I got sad all of a sudden because, one, I knew women were being exploited by these overpaid civilian troopers, and two, because you believe in the common good of man until you run into a situation like that. So far, Qatar looked like a hidden playground for DOD bloodsuckers. We spout the virtue of this war, but so many are getting rich off of it or purely enjoying it at government expense. No thrift, no fiscal conservatism, no limits – all at taxpayer expense. I already decided to voice my disapproval of any escapades if they seemed serious enough to start partying with prostitutes. Why can’t people just do the right thing?
Chris got dressed, and we jumped in his Army-paid-for SUV and flew out of the gated compound for the Doha Golf Club. He was driving pretty fast and actually hit a sign on the way there. “Now, I wouldn’t normally drive like this if I was back in the States,” he explained.
‘I’m sure people do a lot here they wouldn’t do in the States,’ I thought to myself.
We started to go into the city of Doha, and the sun was setting. The city and suburbs amazed me. It was so clean and neat. It was modern. People drove by in fancy cars in full headcover and flawless white gowns. The women would be fully covered and veiled showing nothing of their face. “It’s so other men don’t fall in love with their wives,” Chris explained. “Some soldiers think it’s a turn on.” I fixed my eyes on the amazing skyline as the sky turned pastel red and light blue. I thought about you and bringing you to Doha one day. I missed you so much. I thought about how lucky I was to go to Doha to see something new – since it seemed I wasn’t going to get to go anywhere after they cancelled Germany. Sometimes some good can come out of a bad situation.
We started heading up the north shore of Doha. We pulled into the luxury golf club and drove up a path to the club house. It looked like an ivory palace. Something out of a luxury magazine. There was a British Airways Celebrity Open sign in the front, and British people around packing clubs into their luxury autos.
‘Why are the Brits so rich?’ I wondered. Perhaps returns on land investments or just investments in general. We went to the clubhouse and it was beautiful inside, with Arabic carvings and waterways, plants, white and gold and blue walls. It was very impressive. We went into the bar, and some Brits were there in matching polo shirts. I walked past them and onto the patio. Nixon and I sat with Chris. Several other Americans were at our table, all ex-Army military guys now working in Doha. The two civilians mentioned earlier were also there. I looked across the golf course, and it was lit up by the amazing full moon. You could see the water in the distance. There were a few pops that sounded like gunfire, and Nixon and I turned immediately. I forgot I wasn’t in Baghdad and got pissed because I didn’t have my rifle or pistol. That feeling faded over the days.
The guys there were older, and gave us their support for being in Iraq and all. They bought Nixon and I some drinks. I had a Guinness with my fish and chips. I couldn’t believe I was out of Baghdad. I watched the airplanes fly into Doha from the balcony and thought about you. I wanted to call you so bad, but I would wait until we got back to camp. The dinner was good. The reason we were there was for a goodbye party for one of the civilians (one of the two guys). After dinner, we decided to go to the mall.
The mall I will never forget, not because of its size, but because it was civilized – even more so that anything I’d ever seen. Arab men walked around very civilized and neat. Little brown children all played and laughed – even ice skated, just as kids do in the U.S. or Europe – only they spoke Arabic. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The women were faceless, but carrying bags from cosmetic stores and western fashion stores. Some whole families, husband and wife holding hands (even though veiled) pushing a baby carriage and two kids tagging along. Perfectly civilized. All were smiling. Men didn’t gawk at passing women, there seemed to be a general peace and respect there. I would say it looked like a perfect society, but then you would have to look at the immigrant service workers who looked dreary and tired and depressed. They did all the work. I noticed that in Kuwait too. The Qatar Arabs are all rich though. There’s no democracy – it’s all a monarchy, and the ruling family controls the power and wealth. Then you almost realize Iraq could have been just as nice if Saddam didn’t waste so much money on himself and war. You also realize, in a way, that wealth can buy or destroy peace. Or, a good economy makes for a peaceful society. Qatar is oil rich though, so it’s easy for them to have a good economy.

Qatar offered an opportunity for soldiers and civilians alike to unwind on the sprawling military facility. The most sought after form of entertainment was drinking, which was allowed at the base club. Drinks were rationed out to prevent severe intoxication, but mysteriously, drunkenness was on display nonetheless. It was nothing to be alarmed at, except for the mixed sex units. Many of the female soldiers were boozed and looking for some attention from their somewhat uncomfortable-looking comrades (an example of this being the Military Police unit there that had a mix of female and male soldiers). There were some civilians that would come to the bar at night and mingle with the soldiers, listening to their stories of war in the ‘Rack. I was sitting at a table as I listened to several MPs go into detail about the abduction of a suspicious Iraqi. They went on to detail how they drove him about 10 miles away from where they captured and blindfolded him. During the ride through the night, the soldiers threw punches at the Iraqi, until they stopped, and “threw him in a ditch.” One civilian, sporting a Harley Davidson t-shirt appeared to laugh – but it was a fake laugh. He then asked, “Well what did you do then? What happened to him?” One young, redneck soldier laughed and responded,
“Fuck if I know!” The civilians laughed with the soldiers, but it seemed only out of some strange politeness. Their faces betrayed concern. The Harley civilian then went on to ask,
“I heard that for every door that you kick down, you are supposed to reimburse the Iraqis for the door if they are innocent.”
“Yeah, right,” the soldier responded laughing. ‘Fuck that, they don’t deserve shit.”
I thought about what the young soldiers were saying, I watched as the drunken female soldiers tried their hardest to snuggle up to some soldiers, and I sipped my beer. I thought the stories were typical, who even knows if they were true. They were all drunk. The drunkenness didn’t bother me, but being in their company did. I thought about how good we were at waging war as a nation, and how bad we were at building the peace.
The Qatari nights were beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen in my life. The night sky was a sapphire blue, like stained glass illuminated from behind. The moon was radiant silver and the stars were intensely bright. It was amazing.
Nixon and I witnessed an interesting encounter between a civilian contractor and a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel while riding the military shuttle bus around the base. The civilian, a young, scruffy-looking fat man entered the bus and took a seat next to the lieutenant colonel sitting across from us. It was only a matter of time before the contractor started teasing the officer. Of course, being soldiers, Nixon and I thought this was disrespectful, albeit it somewhat amusing. The contractor asked rudely, “Hey sir, why ain’t you up in Iraq? Why ain’t you there instead of here? You been up there yet?” The lieutenant colonel fidgeted and looked uncomfortable with the questions. I always wondered why he didn’t immediately ask for the civilian’s information and demand the civilian cease his disrespect. That didn’t happen though, bafflingly, and the LTC answered feebly,
“I am working the logistics piece here and then I’m scheduled to go up there.”
The civilian laughed, dismissing the LTC’s claim. “Yeah, right. I’m sure you’ll make it there one day, hmm.” At the next bus stop, the LTC hurriedly gathered his things and quite literally fled the bus. As he did, the sloppy, unshaven civilian let out a victorious laugh from his barrel chest, and then looked at Nixon and me. “Just what the military needs! Another O-5 coffee maker! HA!” I was sure the colonel heard the remark. Nixon looked over at me wide-eyed. He’d never heard an officer accosted like that.

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