Sunday, December 19, 2004


Get this – I had to scrape ice off the windshield of our NTV (Non-Tactical Vehicle) the past two mornings. Who’d a thunk you would have to worry about defrosting your windshield in the desert? By noon it was over 60 again, though.

It’s interesting to watch how people react differently to the weather. A lot of the GI’s (females excluded) continue to wear the usual desert camies as usual, while the Indian and Filipino contract workers are waddling around in parkas with the hoods drawn tight and give every indication of being in an advanced stage of hypothermia. For the poor gunners going out on the convoys, it must really be rough. Being up in the gun turret and barreling down the road about 55 mph at 0730 has got to be cold, so you’d throw on everything you could find and borrow. But 4 hours later you’d be burning up.

Tuesday afternoon they had a large car bomb (VBIED – vehicle borne improvised explosive device) go off at the main entrance to Camp Grey Wolf in the Green Zone. Two of our agents were attending an Article 32 hearing (the military equivalent of a Grand Jury) there, and were pretty close to the blast. Fortunately, none of our guys were injured, although you did kind of have to yell at ‘em for a day or two afterwards to get their attention. Explosions are funny critters. There was an Iraqi guard only about 20 yards or so from the blast, and he survived. Other civilians further away, and in vehicles, were killed outright. Our MP escort had to leave through the scene right afterwards, and it was a pretty ugly sight. The next day there was another VBIED at the same place, and again, all they killed were Iraqis. I guess you have to be from the Middle East to see how any of that makes sense. It appears they’re willing to keep blowing themselves all up until we get tired of watching them kill each other, which strikes me as a pretty strange way of fighting a war. They have succeeded in making the highway to the International Airport a very dangerous stretch of road, though. The CG (Commanding General) here has struck upon the idea of lining the highway with a continuous concrete wall about 12’ high.

He’s got to be in violation of General Order #1: (No alcoholic beverages allowed). Lining the roadway with those will only create an artificial valley that leaves no escape route for vehicles if they’re attacked. One dead vehicle would jam the whole roadway, and it would be a regular turkey shoot.

I was afraid I was going to be the oldest guy in theatre here (I’m 54, if you must know, but I don’t look a day over 60…), but hey, there are some OLD guys here – I mean like, 57 and 58 or so. Or better. They’re Guard or Reservists, I’m pretty sure, and I know this deployment has to be hard on them. It’s a measure of their dedication to duty, honor, and country that their here and didn’t try to find a way out. And a reflection, I suppose, of how deep the services have to dig to staff this little brouhaha.

The face of war has sure changed, too, and I’m not sure if it’s a move for the better. When I get my laundry done, I drop it off at the KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root) laundry, where a bunch of smiling Filipinos write up my ticket and see that my laundry is properly lost. When I go to the mess hall, I eat food prepared and served by Indians. And when I dive for cover at the side of the road to avoid an incoming freight truck, I cuss out a Turkish driver. Or when I need the building worked on, I call KBR and they send over a couple of American civilians to fix it. I drew my supplies in Kuwait from an American civilian. American security companies are the hired guns that guard company executives and local VIP’s. All of the functions that used to be carried out by soldiers have been contracted out – and now they’re talking about hiring civilian security personnel to do law enforcement duties on the base.

I wonder if this is a good thing. Oh, sure, it lets us say that we sure do have a small army, and avoid the painful discussion of whether we need a draft, but it seems to me to be a game of smoke and mirrors. You can probably pay starving Third World Nationals enough to put up with being mortared occasionally, but what if we fought a more competent enemy that tipped the cost/benefit analysis to the other side? And what kind of moral issues are raised when we hire other nationalities to take risks that properly ought to be borne by Americans? How long would it take us to staff up the Army with cooks, cleaners, and truck drivers if KBR couldn’t fill their quotas? When one of those security companies light up an Iraqi citizen, is there anybody who assesses if it was necessary or not? The line between soldier and mercenary seems awfully blurry there. Worse, it seems to me that too few are taking the risks for too many who just can’t be bothered to take time out of their oh-so-busy lives to take their turn behind the gun. And I don’t mean that in any personal way against someone who hasn’t been in the service; hell, I probably wouldn’t have been here if it weren’t for Tricky Dick and his Merry Band of Selective Servicemen. But somehow I know that the country, and the individual, are both a little poorer when the duty – and the honor – of fighting our battles isn’t borne equally across all income levels. I’ve seen the attitude among some well educated and well- off families that their children certainly shouldn’t have to risk their lives for the country, and I don’t see how anyone can see that as anything but deeply troubling.

Entirely too much thinking for one night. I’m going to pop-a-top on a nice, frosty Dr. Pepper and meditate on how much an empty truck bouncing over the speed bumps outside sounds just like a mortar shell hitting too danged close.


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