The Fighting Last Night...


Video: Side by side

February 3, 2006 10.04 a.m.

Coffee in a plastic cup, in a plastic chair, at a plastic table.

Heavy rain today, gray skies. When you run, if you stick to the existing tire treads in the mud there is better traction. 38.07 minutes yesterday, 39.57 today.

We fed our first report that will run on Friday evening. It's a good thing we fed it early, because we've lost electricity. If you don't do things early in the field, you miss deadlines. S and E were up until after 1 a.m., feeding it through the sat phone.

"Aren't you going to ask about the package?" E said when he got up in the dark container.

"No," I said, "I know you wouldn't have gone to bed unless it was fed."

When you swing open the door of your "chew" in the morning, it's a nice moment when you first see the light. You can leave the door swung open and take your broom and sweep out the dirt, and maybe someone in the next chew is also sweeping out, and you say, "Hey, how did you sleep?"

There was fighting last night and there was .50 cal fire. I was standing out in front of my chew talking on the phone when I saw the red tracers go up in the dark night.

"Tracers," I said. I held the phone up so the person I was talking to back in the U.S. could hear. Of course that's the wrong thing to do, but it's hard not to.

February 2, 2006 7:17 p.m.

Humvee door handles open by pulling up, a good thing to know in the dark. Of course, in a place that is always dark you should have a little mag flashlight with you. You should have two. In the night, one should be in your boot, so you know where to reach for it. But sometimes it doesn't happen.

The humvee doesn't need a key either, and it never gets locked. To start it, you turn a switch on the left side of the dash and then wait until a light goes off. To fill it up with gas, you drive up to a truck and turn on a pump.

Ralf got us plastic chairs and coms. The team decided on each other’s handles. As I sat in a plastic chair, at a plastic table writing a script, "Fox Sauerkraut" contacted "Fox Fairy" in a heavy German accent. He wanted to find out where "Fox Eczema" was.

First package will run Friday night.

February 1, 2006 1:58 p.m.

The warmth of the midday sun brought a fly into my "chew" (CHU, or Container Housing Unit). My nostrils may have flared. I turned to my right, wide-eyed. In previous visits to Baghdad, I had at my disposal Iraqi-made fly swatters — round ends with happy faces etched out of the air holes, not only frivolous but ineffective. The bend, the whip was too great and the faces themselves often shattered after a few strokes. Flypaper, also purchased locally, proved a farce — the flies munching happily on the glue before taking to the air again, sated. Despite the winter season, when campaigning is ordinarily at a stop, I still went ahead with the purchase of an American-made Laidlaw flyswatter in the Baghdad PX. The head was blood red, rectangular, with overlapping strips of plastic weaved together for durability. The whip in the plastic shaft was firm. This was a no-frills fly killing instrument. When the insect made its first pass, my eyes darted and I had one thought, "my Laidlaw." Had it made the trip from Baghdad, and was it, as a flyswatter always should be, ready at hand? I looked back right from my plastic table, where I was screening tapes of Iraqi soldiers. There it was, unblemished by contact, maroon head menacing on top of a pure white shaft, the fly-killer, untouched in battle.

I reached back and took it in hand. On the first pass I gave it a waggle. It would almost be too easy. As the fly alit on my Powerbook G4 I struck, and the hunt was over all too soon. It seemed dazed, but not dead. I decided not to soil the Powerbook, and strike again. I scooped the maroon head under the trophy and carried it into the next chew. I laid the fly down on the white sheet next to Rudden's pillow, where it stood out handsomely in relief. I raised the Laidlaw for a final strike, to lock it into position. Of course such an action was bound to inspire revenge, perhaps revenge out of all proportion.

Jan. 31, 2006 2:48 p.m.

We live in a "chew." Like many words around here, it is an acronym whose origins are debated. "CHU," container-housing unit, makes the most sense. If you took the back of a 16-wheel truck and put two windows on, two fluorescent lights and two bunks, you'd have a chew. Chews are way better than tents. Good ones have heat and electricity. If you have a broom you can keep it clean. The square lines of a clean chew are calming.

We live out in a place called "the dog pound." It's where they train sniffer dogs. A handler told me if a dog gets out and charges, to stand still. It is counterintuitive, but I'm ready to try it. At night you can step out in front of your chew and look up at the stars. A handler came out and told us that his dog had uncovered a bomb-making device the night before — a phone handset that was rigged to an explosive. The suspect had tried to toss the phone in the woods, but the dog found it from the scent he left on it. The handler told me if he gave me a 15-minute head start, the dog would find me in no time. I asked if there was any way to deceive the dog. I was thinking of movies where they crossed a river to hide the scent. He said there was no way. Each footstep disturbs the ground, releasing a scent, he said, so the dogs follow that disturbance even more than any human scent. I watched the two at work. There was a deep understanding between them.

We followed a U.S. officer around all afternoon. He was looking in on the new Iraqi quarters. He walked around with an Iraqi colonel and looked in all the rooms. He asked the colonel to see the worst rooms. He spoke softly without hand gestures. He greeted the Iraqi soldiers with a handshake. He walked into bathrooms and turned on the water to make sure it worked. He asked the Iraqi soldiers if their heaters worked. Most of the complaints were about the food. There was some trouble with Iraqi contractors. He was almost, in the best sense of the word, like a politician, talking to four Iraqi soldiers at one time who were sitting in the dirt.

"I'm asking for your patience," he said. It was a strange constituency for a U.S. officer, four Iraqi privates sitting on the ground, but he asked, he listened, he saw stuff with his own eyes.

E-mail Harrigan

Steve,

I notice that you get and post e-mails from Viet Nam vets. My ex-husband was there from 69-70. He was in the signal corps, other than that I to this day have absolutely no idea what he did. He never said and I didn't ask. Seems you are a good outlet to bring back some of those buried memories ever so gently. It's a good thing.

Donna


Don't get bogged down in all that mud. We will all be watching tonight for your package. Thanks.

A&N
TX



Steve,

Are you saying we need to include good flypaper in the care packages we put together? That makes perfect sense having been in that area of the world myself. Thanks for keeping it honest.

Scott


Steve,

The "Laidlaw flyswatter" post was the most amusing one I have seen from you, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

It's good that we can keep our sense of humor in dangerous circumstances. I kept mine in Viet Nam - it's what gets you through the days and nights.

Jerry
Birmingham, AL

Steve,

Please give my thanks to those you have contact with.

Amy


Steve,

Please pass this on to that soldier friend of yours who wanted to pick a fight with a civilian...I learned this many years after my tour in Viet Nam where I was a combat scout.

Nobody ever tells returning soldiers that staying alive while doing their duty out at the "point of the spear" was the most important thing they ever did in their life. Almost nothing will ever be so important. Nothing will come close to the intensity of living they had every second of every minute of every day at the point. Very few civilians ever get to know this feeling.

It's important for returning soldiers to realize this and understand what is driving their emotions when they feel lost and uninspired and depressed and frustrated and angered by the ordinary lives to which they return. Once they were warriors now they are mail-clerks. But being a mail-clerk is a pretty good thing if it pays the rent and puts the kids through college.

When one sees the reason for the negative feelings they are 10 times easier to deal with.

On their return from combat everyone tries hard to hammer the "wildness" out of the Warrior. Everyone wants the Warrior to "be just like everybody else." That is a bad thing. Warriors should resist. What the Warrior needs to do is to channel that great and wonderful power he (or she) has learned about out there on the point, into a powerful creative force that no one who hasn't been out on the point will ever have or understand. It makes you special for the rest of your life.

-- Anonymous


I, being a military wife, am enamored with any and all information I can get about conditions in Iraq. I want to know what the soldiers are thinking and how they deal emotionally and mentally with losing a comrade. My husband has only been deployed since Thanksgiving, but eventually I'm sure, he too, will have to deal with the loss of a soldier. With him also being in a leadership position I wonder, if something happens to one of his soldiers will he ever be able to let it go? Will he ever be able to say, "There was nothing I could do," and move on with his life? We have been together for almost 7 years now and we have had our ups and downs, but we know how to work things out and communicate. I'm terrified that he will come back a completely different person that I don't know how to relate to or connect with. Are we going to end up another statistic?

Thanks for such an insight into the every day lives of our soldiers....

AJ
Tennessee


Steve,

The thing we had to remember in Vietnam is that we would have lives after the war. The danger is not that you will die in Iraq, but that you will live. He should quit the smokes.

As for "not being that guy," most of us had similar incidents.

Lee
San Bernardino, CA
Semper Fidelis