Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Sirens

I was relaxing in my quarters when the first siren split the afternoon sky.

I was laying in bed, reading Stars and Stripes, when an eerie wail roared across the base. I sat up, listening for other activity outside my trailer--explosions, shouts, footsteps--but heard nothing. Then the siren ramped up again. Over it I heard a male voice, prerecorded:

"Attention in the compound. Attention in the compound.

"This is the Command Post. This installation is at Alert Status: Red.

"Repeat--this installation is at Alert Status: Red."

Mortars. There was more, but by that time I was no longer listening. I grabbed my combat gear--kevlar helmet, armor, rifle--and hastily made my way out. I paused only to lock my door. The living areas were empty as I jogged down the stairs, and the only other person I was a soldier across the way. He, too, was on the way out. I turned right off my block and made my way toward the nearest bunkers.

About ten steps later, I heard a shout. "Freeman!"

I turned. It was Brooks, lumbering toward me, munching on a green apple. His Army-issue Birth Control Glasses glinted brown in the afternoon sun. He seemed unaware of the proceedings--probably returning from the chow hall.

"Yeah," I called back expectantly.

Brooks took another bite of his apple. "Hey," he said, "what's that alarm mean?"

You have got to be fucking kidding me, I thought. Brooks and I go back to Basic together, but when I went to my initial tour with the Reserves, he went straight to his first tour in Iraq. This is his second deployment, and he should damn well know what that alarm--hell, what any alarm means. I half wondered if he thought he was testing me, being the "new" guy. I glanced down at my gear, then up at him. I shook my head. "We're at Red, dude."

"We are?"

Christ. "Uh, yeah man. Come on. Get your fucking shit and let's get to the bunkers. Let's go." I turned to go.

The bunkers near our smoking area are the designated section rally point, in the event of mortar attacks. Technically, our living areas are surrounded by enough sandbags and Jersey barriers, I probably could have just kept on reading the paper. That said, this is my first unsupervised Red alert, and I didnt feel like taking any chances. I ducked as I entered the bunkers--no more than five-foot-high rows of U-shaped concrete blocks--and it was here that I found several other soldiers, all in various states of uniform. I dropped my kit next to me and started throwing on my body armor and helmet. Brooks wandered in several moments later.

"This is the section rally point," he drawled, "right?"

We were the only ones here from our squad, even our platoon. Most of the others were at chow. I nodded. "Yeah." I went back to fastening the velcro strips on my armor.

"Fuck it," he said, taking a seat against the opposite wall. "If I got time to go back and get my gear, I might as well stay there."

I looked up. "You're not grabbing your shit?"

"Naw, dude." The alarm sounded yet again.

"Well, shit, there's another one." He rolled his eyes. "You might as well get comfortable, Freeman, we're gonna be here awhile."

I complied, but that wasn't entirely true. Maybe five minutes went by before we were downgraded to Yellow, and after another minute or two we were given the All Clear. People started filing out of the bunkers, and I stripped down out of my gear to begin humping it back to my trailer. Honestly, the first mortar attack over a week ago was more intense. Last time, we'd been down at the motor pool, and we'd spent damn near half an hour listening to the alarms as insurgents and local field artillery traded rounds back and forth. I remember Brooks and Jansen yelling "Get 'em," and cheering every time a guard tower uttered bursts of fire from a SAW.

Based on what I've heard, these mortar attacks are more of a nuisance than an actual threat. They're notorious for their inaccuracy, and this is only the second since I've been here. But that being said, we are still located pretty close to the Wire, and we are still in a combat zone. As complacent as I can get being on the forward operating base, or FOB, I need these little incidents sometimes to remind me of where I am.

I'm in Iraq. I may not always be fighting--hell, I may never fight--but we're still involved in combat operations. I have to remember that sometimes. We've got a nice little living arrangement here, and sometimes it's easy to get too comfortable. So as much as one might worry, I'm glad that we got attacked today, and that nobody was hurt. Stuff like this wards off complacency.

In the words of our first sergeant, it's complacency, not the enemy, that kills.


Blogger cinnabari said...

I worry about you, but I don't worry about you, if that makes a goddamned sliver of sense. It's the shambling mounds of apple-munching blasé that make me nervous.

Keep hauling yer ass to the bunkers. *g*

9:26 PM  
Anonymous mik said...

I agree with cinnibari and your sergeant. Keep your focus. Some day that wolf may really be there.

Stay alert. Come home safely. God bless.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you shared...and is not about needing the shelter or the bunkers or whatever it is about your attitude and your compassion...and how you help and look after the others...'s not the strongest that survive according to Darwin, it's those that adapt to change...that survive.
God bless and God are always in my thoughts and prayers.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Hi Milo - We're getting ready for snow here in IL. Elections went well and it looks like we'll be bringing some men home soon. Rummy quit yesterday. Stay Safe.

6:08 PM  
Blogger essa said...

I'm glad for your blog. I'm glad to know what my husband has felt... not that I can ever really feel the intensity of war (nor would I want to), but, with your words, I come a bit closer. I'm mostly glad that this comes towards the end of his tour. I'm certain I wouldn't be able to read it otherwise. Take care... and I'm thankful you care when the alarms sound.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Alice said...


I hope you are doing well and continue looking forward to reading each and every blog entry you will be able to post over there in the sandbox. Take it easy and know that lots of people are thinking about you.


9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you? We miss reading your Blog...I count on you to bring the news and the emotion behind the news...please write soon.

6:26 AM  

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