Monday, April 23, 2007

Back in the Box

The first half of the trip, the commercial airliner bit, went smoothly and without event. I slept for most of the 20 hours we spent either in the air or at the several refueling points. The bird was roomy and comfortable and the nasty cold I picked up in El Paso started to subside.

We hit Kuwait and the Duffle Bag Drag ensued. I had Basic Training flashbacks as I hauled the two huge bags and my carryon across the dirt and rocks, wearing the bulky, heavy flackvest and kevlar helmet. The setting immediately spawned more flashbacks--we spent almost a month in the Kuwaiti desert training up to move north last time I was here.

I remembered the fear. The loathing--that would be the Commander who seemed to take real pleasure in debasing me and undercutting my authority every chance he got, just to ensure I always understood that he was In Charge. Ostensibly, anyway.

But that's another story and it's all on the May 2004-June 2005 postings. I deleted quite a few of those posts on returning Stateside--not because I feared they'd be read (they were), but because it was the low point of my life and brought out the worst in me and everyone around me.

This trip through Kuwait proved painless, and I found myself, once again, breathing a huge sigh of relief at being a civilian. I marveled at how relaxed I felt, and had to chuckle to myself--it's because I'm not in charge of anything but myself and my own affairs. My supervisors are about as competent and easy to work with as I've ever seen.

In other words, a complete turnaround from my last jaunt in The Box.

Every time I've flown into Baghdad, I have puked mightily--it's that combat spiral into the airport that does it. I ate very little all morning pre-flight in anticipation. Smart move--less to puke up. I did, once again, loose it into the little plastic barfbag.

After we landed and I hitched a ride to the next stop, where I would await transport into the Green Zone, I had long since acquired that nasty, been-travelling-for-days, filthy feel. My hair, in a ponytail, stuck to my head, my side-bangs glued to my forehead. My pants, already a bit too big, felt sloppy and stiff.

My old unit is headquartered on the same FOB where I awaited passage to the GZ. I considered walking around to find it, catch up with old friends, but decided against it. I was so dirty and at this point, sleep-deprived. I felt, in short, like a slug, and who wants to see anyone in that condition?

But then a soldier I'd worked closely with all that year came walking into the waiting area. It was good to see him--and he immediately commented that I looked great. I stared at him, utterly puzzled. He said it was the stress--all the signs of it were gone. I told him I'd considered walking down and catching up, but felt filthy, etc. He laughed and said, "Right, ma'am, like I've never seen you like that before!"

He has a point. I felt silly for caring about that.

We had a couple of hours to wait for the Rhino, the big, armored vehicles that move folks around Baghdad. I heard all about my old unit--this one got married, that one got promoted, a guy from my platoon lost an eye earlier this year in an IED strike.

It felt very odd being in that environment without a weapon and wearing just a t-shirt and pants--no gear or uniform. Their living conditions are worse than we had it--everyone's three to a room, and now they've been extended to a 15-month tour. Morale is in the toilet, as you'd expect. Everyone wants out of the Army.

We climbed into the Rhino for the ten-minute trip to the Green Zone. Everyone started out laughing and jovial, but as soon as the door closed, it grew silent. Even with all the armor and gun trucks, and even for a quick streak down the highway, we were still outside the wire, and the mood grew somber immediately. I watched out the ballistic window as the date trees and crumbling buildings slid by silently in the dark, remembering all too well the trip I'd taken through the streets of Abu Ghraib with the Colonel when we got IED'd, how everything changed in that slightest instance when the explosion rocked the vehicle and sparks showered down with the pieces of cement and shrapnel.

But that was then. As soon as we crossed all the checkpoints and sped into the safe area, the laughing and shit-talking started back up. My supervisor picked me up and I slept for almost 24 hours straight, waking with a pounding headache and hungry as a hostage in my new digs.

We live in a massive, thick cement building--it's very cool inside, and quiet as a tomb. The AC masked any and all sound from my roommate, a drop-dead gorgeous forensic scientist named Amy. She's great to boot, warm and funny. There are twenty gorgeous manly-men in the security detachment who roll all over Baghdad every day, and I was introduced to them via a late-night poker game, where I played well and raised some eyebrows. The male-to-female ratio here is probably about 20:1, so an average-to-cute lady like me can land a hottie who would be out of reach at home.

Yes, I'm thinking I'll be happy as a pig in shit here.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Four monkeys, one football, can of Crisco. That's how the last three weeks have felt. And now I'm in a very nice hotel in Crystal City (Washington, DC), in a food coma from the amazing meal I just ate at Jaleo. The chef/owner competed against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, and won. I've never eaten at one of Bobby Flay's spots, but I know that he does not lose challenges often at all. This was just scrumptious.

Last night it was Legal Seafood, where I slurped down the sweetest, plumpest raw oysters known to man and drank a stiff margarita. As I finished my beautifully grilled mahi, jalapeno polenta, and sweet potato fries, and older couple sat at the table to my left, which was close enough to touch and shared the bench seat. "Oh, you poor thing, sitting here all by yourself," the woman said, laughing. I told her I was in DC on business and we got to chatting about Iraq, as is always the case when I tell anyone what I do. Turns out, they were endangered Bush supporters. It's been so long since I met anyone who still admits to supporting that nincompoop, I was startled. They were warm people, though, despite their penchant for spouting bumpersticker slogans disguised as insight, and we actually had a friendly discussion and parted on good terms.

I can do that, you know, talk about something controversial without getting shrill. Not always, but it's there. Depends on the other guy--these folks weren't looking for a fight and neither was I. And there's nothing wrong with eating at a fancy schmancy restaurant alone...there's no "poor thing" about it.

So here's the whole point to this ordeal:

My house in Mississippi. My little corner of paradise. I got all my crap out of storage and into the new place.
I cannot express how glad I am to have wound up the AZ job so I can get back here to my dog, my cats, my family, my home. I hope I never have to go back to Arizona. I hate the desert. All the pretty mountains in the world mean nothing to me if you can't grow tomatoes in the yard.