Friday, July 23, 2004

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Fall

Jackass has been so unnaturally nice these last few days, I'm waiting for the catch, the proverbial Other Shoe. He said I looked tired last night and sent me home. Huh???

I slept soundly until about ten pm local time when BOOM!!! Huge explosion. BOOOM! Even bigger one five minutes later. A bunch of us gathered outside after turning off our porch lights so the sumbitches wouldn't have anything to aim at. We could see blue flashes of light from both the east and west, the ground shook. There's no bunker, so we stood there laughing nervously.

"Was that one closer? Are they bracketing?" someone asked. Bracketing is what folks do with artillery, use a spotter and tell the dude firing the tube to crank it left or right so they can hit the target.

So we all felt pretty sheepish this morning when we read that only the first explosion was an incoming mortar...the other ten? Us firing back, hallalujah.

Just now all the field grade officers in the Brigade Headquarters freaked out, walked from office to office shouting and swearing and threatening to fire folks. A fist fight almost broke out between two majors.

When will these infantry types learn that it's in times of chaos that calm counts the most? And that jackassery has a way of trickling down if you don't have a strong enough leader in the middle as a stopper? They all reminded me of little barking chihuahuas, walking around spreading vitriol without task or purpose or direction.

So I escaped. It's air conditioned in here. I snuck out with our Warrant Officer and Shayla, the other female lieutenant. They won't miss us in the chaos. 

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Let the Jackassery Begin

No shit, there I was, moving north from Kuwait to Baghdad on a three-day hell convoy. I had a PFC driving, the ambient temperature with the asphalt and whatnot was about 130ยบ, we wore full body armor, and the first thing we saw outside the gate was a dead camel stretched halfway across the road. Unbelievable stench attendant.
You would think that the road connecting Kuwait to Baghdad, roughly the same route Saddam marched years back, would involve a nice, four-lane interstate. And parts of it were. But mostly, it was worse than the back roads of Mississippi. I had neither door nor seatbelt to keep my body-armored butt in the vehicle, so spent a significant amount of energy just holding on. That and pointing my rifle out the door, ready to tear somebody's ass up if they messed with us.
The radio consumed the rest of my effort--I had no speaker, so had to hold the handmike under the kevlar helmet the whole trip. My ear was purple when we finally arrived. But we're not there yet.
The first flat tire hit just after the dead camel. We'd been out the gate maybe twenty minutes. It took almost an hour to change it...the truck was huge and heavy and bent the jack like a paperclip. The next flat tire hit the next day. There were six in all. And then the coup de grace.
"Shit, is that a wheel in the road?" I drove at this point, the PFC almost passed out from the heat and fatigue. Sure enough, an entire wheel spun off the road, the heaviest truck we have beached to the left of the road. Thank Allah there was no fuel truck convoy from the opposite direction at that particular moment.
For three hours, midday heat, we stood on the side of the road. Everyone kept both hands on weapons, fully alert despite the face-melting heat--we were, after all, in Iraq by this time.
The third day began with the outpost where we'd "slept" getting mortared. Time to hit the road, folks, let's move. Next, I fully exploded on a Staff Sergeant from another unit who dismounted his vehicle moments before we were to depart in order to inform me, snidely, that our trailer/big satellite dish had a tail light out. He'd been openly disrespectful the whole trip, and my Flip Mode went something like this: "No shit, Sergeant! It's been like that for four days, jackass! Get back in your goddamn vehicle and get your head out of your ass! And take whatever personal bullshit problem you have with you!" I think there was more as he slunk back to his truck.
We finally arrived here. I have my own room in an air-conditioned trailer. I bought a fridge. But that is where the luxury ends. We're two miles from the chow hall. A mile to work. Three miles to the higher headquarters. No vehicles. Very hot. I'm buying a bike today.
Three days of holding urine for hours on end to my GREAT discomfort culminated in a bladder/kidney infection that hit me like a bag of bricks yesterday. It went from "Hmm, I may have to go to sick call tomorrow" to "Holy shit is there an emergency room around here?" in the span of an hour. Nothing like pissing volumes of blood and suffering pain that doubles you over speechless to make you move toward the doc.
What's next? Possibly, some days of frustration and more jackassery from my commander. I'm getting better at avoiding him entirely.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Close Call(s)

"Um, is that an HE round?"

HE, or High Explosive--an artillery round. This question from the driver, a Specialist in my platoon and one of my favorite soldiers. We drove willy-nilly through the desert, ten Humvees, thirty personnel. We were on our way to yet another range, another day spent in the face-melting heat. If we could just get there.

People went on a recon the day before, to make sure we could get out to the range. It's notoriously hard to find, this one--out in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert. They finally found it, somehow, and now led the pack. We were already late, having wasted half an hour before we left due to a mixup with guard duty and the last-minute addition of several vehicles to the convoy without telling me.

ME, the Range Officer-In-Charge. Yeah, ME, the one who organized all this crap for the last three weeks. ME, the one who needs to know about additions to the convoy so I can get the paperwork done.

But surely there is a real road that leads to this range, or what passes for a road out here--generally two little mounds on either side to guide you through the loose sand. Only out here, no guidance. Only craters and spent artillery that indicated we were in an impact zone.

At first, it was funny. The Commander has us lost and wandering like the Philistines through an impact area. Ha ha, we could get hit with a mortar.

We drove through herd of camels. Passed heavily scaled lizards as big as your leg. Turned around more than once. I instructed the soldiers in my vehicle to scan for heffalumps in homage to that Winnie the Pooh where they wander in circles through the forest.

Two hours of nudging camels and dodging lizards (but thankfully, no mortars), we arrived at the range. One of the infantry units from our brigade occupied the range off to our right about 400 meters, well visible on the desolate desert floor. The heat has become even more intense these last few days. In the afternoons, stepping out of the tent into the glare makes me think of that Nazi sumbitch on Raiders of the Lost Ark who opened the Ark, and his face ran off onto his shirt, eyeballs rolling off his chin. It literally feels as if your meat is cooking.

As we assembled the big weapons we were to shoot, I bent into a Humvee to get another bottle of water. And then there was a MASSIVE explosion. I straightened up to see sand falling about 150 meters from us, between our site and the infantry guys. Someone close to me yelled, "What the hell was that??"

"Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire!!!" I yelled. I was the Range Safety Officer. I got onto the radio to Range Control. The consensus among our guys was that it was a mortar round, far too big for anything we or the infantry guys fired that day.

It's a point of contention. There was a mortar platoon up the hill from us who categorically denied having fired at all. And so the range went on.

But we did notice, on passing the mortar platoon a second time on our way home, that the tubes all pointed in a different direction than they had when we'd passed them earlier.

Well, yeah, it could've been bad. But it wasn't, and makes a good story.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Oh Say Can You See...

No, not really. Not in this sandstorm. And I don't think we'll see any fireworks. Everyone please have an extra beer for us today and I'll catch up when I get back.

I managed to creep into my tent yesterday and spent the afternoon writing and reading a summertime trash novel: Trading Up by Candace Bushnell of Sex and the City fame. It's exactly what I need--a frivolous tale about some rich, hip girls in New York, driving out to the Hamptons for parties on the beach.

Talk about escapism. What, am I supposed to read Hamlet out here?

Still, I can't let my brain go to mush, so the next novel on the trail is Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Must Bear it Away. Great Southern black humor, too bad she died at 32. She would've continued to whup ass.

I have never lived well with people. Right now I'm crammed into a tattered, filthy tent with thirteen other females, and I'm the oldest one by at least ten years. I cope using earplugs and a frou-frou little blue silk eye pillow that allows me to shut off my lights whenever I get away from the Headquarters at night.

Most of these ladies, they're good people, just a bit young. But two of them just annoy the hell out of me--it's just this constant litany of honking, braying laughter, loud enough to shatter glass. One of them plays the I'm So Cute role, using babytalk and all other manner of nerve-grating, little-girl vernacular. The other plays Poor Me, My Life's So Hard. AND they BOTH greatly exaggerated illness and injury while we were in the desert in order to get driven back here, away from all that hard stuff. And they're both Sergeants!

Nothing annoys me more than a female soldier who feeds right into all the negative stereotypes many of our male counterparts assign us: we're lazy, we're weak, we malinger and complain.

The First Sergeant made my whole day yesterday when he told me that officers live in single-person rooms. I won't have to listen to all that blah blah blah from those two.

Friday, July 02, 2004

No Wonder They Hate Us, You Jackass!

I just took a blessedly long, cool shower and changed into freshly laundered and pressed DCU's after five days out in the desert. I was FILTHY. Sand ground into the scalp filthy.

I've concluded that they must've filmed the Tatooine piece of the original Star Wars here. I've never seen such a vast expanse of utter nothingness. Not a bush, not a scrub tree anywhere in view. I thought El Paso was bleak...this place looks like the surface of the moon.

But I'm satisfied. I ran five ranges in four days, successfully trained the company on a myriad of combat tasks. And the best part of each day out there was the early morning "range sweep," bearing close resemblance to a Rat Patrol remake.

It was that short period of time in this moonscape that it's actually pleasurable--the sun's just up, it's still cool, and there's a pink-purple cast on everything. My range sweeps involved my riding shotgun in a Humvee with some crusty old retired-Infantry Sergeant Major, smoking and cursing, as we hauled ass through the landscape. Felt like a bobblehead doll, almost fell out a time or two, and loved every minute of it.

The purpose of the Range Sweep is to chase off the Bedoins. Hard to imagine, in this day and age, a herd of camels sheparded by an astonishingly wiry Bedoin, accompanied by a pack mule and a dog, roaming the landscape in search of scant feed for the herd. But we chased them off the range all day, keep them from getting accidentally shot.

I'm strictly limited on time, so I have to keep this abbreviated.

There was another unit out there with us on an adjacent range, and I watched them through my binoculars as they chased a herd of sheep away...they did it differently from us though. We politely asked the shepard to move on, using gun-gestures to explain they might get shot if they stayed. Usually worked just fine. These jackasses, however, barreled right into this poor man's herd. I SAW them run over a lamb.


I saw the Lieutenant, a guy I've dealt with here from time to time. I asked him, "Hey, did ya'll just run over that guy's flock???"

He smirked. "I think we scared one, it might've had a heart attack."

I stared at him for a moment. "No wonder they hate us, you jackass," I said, then walked away.

I can't abide arrogant American assholes. Period.