Soldier's Diary: Smoking Cigars in Baghdad

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

May 8, 2006
2000 hours

I am writing while my roommate Alex waits on me so we can smoke a cigar to finish off the day. We do this a couple of days a week.

Prior to heading back to the tents or trailers, we smoke a cigar and talk about what we intend to do when this deployment is over. If we head out of here in late September as planned, then tonight is the 140-day mark before we leave the country, barring anything unexpected.

It’s not that I am counting down day by day, but when you have an Excel spreadsheet countdown on your desktop you open it up every now and then just to see how much time you got left. The countdown devices are fairly common. I first saw them in Korea, and naturally I see them here as well.

The cigar smoking ritual is, as I said before, something we do every few days. I have had my family and friends from home send cigars over, as have a number of other officers on staff. Next to toothpaste and baby wipes, they rank third in quantity of care packages. I am still working on a box I received in December.

It’s Monday night, and if I were back at home, I think the discussion we would have over cigars would involve a couple of crazy nights spent out over the weekend, or possibly a movie watched at the local theater. Those conversations will not happen tonight. Instead, I may bring up "The Ice Harvest," which I just purchased for $3 at the Hadji Mart on our camp.

The Hadji Mart is a local-owned business on the FOB that sells bootleg movies for three bucks each. It’s a good deal, and you get the movie theater experience when you watch, as you can hear off-screen people laughing and coughing and cell phones going off. It’s amazing; those people are annoying even in Iraq.

You'd think you would not hear a cell phone go off while watching a movie here. Maybe a rocket or mortar, but not the cell phone of some guy who was in the theater while the bootleg copy was filmed. But I can’t complain too much. For $3, you get what you pay for.

I have assembled a pretty good DVD collection over here, both movies and TV shows. Along with the tax-free price, the Hadji Mart is a definite advantage of being here.

May 8, 2006
2200 hours

It was a good smoke coupled with some good discussion. We talked about how our time is winding down here.

Alex made an interesting observation: it's good to take a break and smoke or head over to the coffee shop every now and then, because when we look back at our time in Iraq, all the work we did will just mesh together but the memories that will be most clear are the ones that involve soldiers we worked with.

He’s right. I look back to my first time over here, and the memory that sticks out in my mind the most is sitting on the steps of a bombed-out Iraqi Air Force building and smoking a cigar and talking with friends on the staff.

On this deployment, my clearest memories are not those of sitting in front of my computer working or even sitting in meetings, and all the convoys somehow just melt together into one long drive. What sticks out in my head from the last 220 days are conversations, jokes and other such meaningless activities with soldiers over here.

I mentioned it before when I paraphrased my boss, but war takes on a totally different meaning when the icon on a computer screen or the pin on a map is the soldier standing next to you, eating lunch and drinking a crappy cup of coffee or smoking a cigar.

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.