Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Taji, Part III: Tigris

And so I found myself thrust onto the back of a patrol boat, something one would think the Army (think ground operations) wouldn't even have use for. I found myself there mere hours before I was supposed to convoy back to Balad, and moreover I found myself there in possession of a weapon that wasn't even mine. Sometimes, I found myself thinking as I climbed aboard, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

The boat on which I rode had been retrofitted with a crude gun mount, but it lacked the bracket with which to affix my newfound source of firepower. As a result, I was forced to rest my bipod on the mount, standing with my legs apart so as to avoid destabilizing the weapon. As we departed the launch, I had to fight to remain standing--the boats we were using produce an awesome amount of thrust, and the sudden acceleration to 60 mph nearly sent me tumbling over the stern. I was carrying over 60 pounds of gear at this point, between my armor and weapon, and since I hadn't exactly been fitted with a life-vest, any fall into the water would most likely have dragged me, clawing for air, straight to the bottom. I found my ears ringing from the roar of diesel engines, and cold spray from the boat's wake slashed at my face.

I can't say exactly what we were doing there--I wasn't given a brief, and honestly as an E-4 I don't make it my place to ask questions. That being said, it was an experience well worth describing here, as winding a road as I have taken to do it. There were two boats--I was on the rear, and Meiers playing gunner on the lead. We fought wind, noise, and low visibility as our hosts sped us along the curving banks of the Tigris River. It wasn't my idea of a good time, but even as nonplussed as I was to be there, I have to admit, even now, that the whole thing was pretty cool.

At one point, we attempted to thread the columns supporting a metal railroad bridge. The passage was narrow, and my ferrymen made no effort to reduce speed or heading. We were almost through the gap when the wake from the lead boat caught us and slammed our craft head-on into one of the columns. I'd say we were doing about 40 at this point, but it's hard to say. Whatever the case, the impact pitched me fully off of my feet, and sent me sprawling, weapon and all, into the crew area. My ears rang with a metallic thud--the ceramic plates in my vest impacted harshly off the aluminum deck of the patrol boat. The ammo drum went flying out of my SAW, and as my vision cleared I could see the long line of brass glinting off the sunset. I sighed with relief. The drum was still back in the birdbath, but my rounds were still safely secured in the feed tray. I'd be in the hospital right now, if not for all that armor, but at the moment I was just glad to be still holding on to a functional weapon. My experience from Baquba a few weeks before continues to make me wary when not physically holding my piece. The collision rang my bell, but I was unharmed. I stumbled back to my feet, repositioned my machine gun, and we continued.

Thankfully, the rest of the evening was less eventful. My guides took the boats out to their mission site, and they were able to fix whatever had caused the problem. The evening grew chill, and purple twilight began to fall over the river. After scanning the riverbanks for almost three hours, the engines roared to life again, and once more I was steadying myself against the violent acceleration of our chariot.

As daylight faded in the West, it seemed suddenly that my discomfort--the coldness, the wetness, the suffocating weight of my armor--faded with it. As we hurtled back to the launch, dodging sandbars and bridge overpasses, I remember feeling my eyes open in a way that seemed to have little to do with the onset of darkness. I remember lights coming on in a dozen riverside dwellings, and I remember staring transfixed, at fireflies dancing among the groves of willow and palm. It occurred to me again, quite out of nowhere, that I was traveling over the Tigris River, one of the nursemaids of Western Civilization, and as I scanned my sector I found myself distracted again by the natural beauty of the Mesopotamian deltas.

I heard the Voice: How many others have seen this? How many generations has this river nurtured? How many more will take life from its banks? How many will have to take life upon its banks before this all comes to an end? The questions came unbidden. I could not answer, but instead found myself whispering an unconscious phrase: "The Waters of Creation." I found myself wondering if perhaps being party to this foolish Crusade wasn't, on some level, a worthy price to pay for the lesson on display before me. Like so many of my thoughts, this one, too, never resolved itself; never tilted one way or another. Then the Voice again:

Civilization began here. Will it end here?

I shook my head, adjusting my ballistic goggles. I didn't reply with an answer, only posed another question:

MUST it end here? Heidegger, redux: Muss es sein? Must it be?

Must it be?


Blogger iamcoyote said...

Just beautiful, Milo. And some very worthy questions, too. I have to say, the way you describe it, I wish I could see what you see. It's all just so tragic on so many levels, and yet, like a flower growing in a crack in the pavement, the beauty cannot be denied. Thanks for your eyes!

7:42 PM  
Blogger fjb said...

What iamcoyote said. Thank you, Milo.

You words are thought provoking, and for that I'm eternally greatful.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

Hi Milo, I just want to delurk and say wow. Your posts are great. Thanks and stay safe.

10:40 PM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/23/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

5:24 PM  

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