Saturday, March 31, 2007


I've been really shitty about these posts, haven't I?

I'm not sure what it is. Ever since R&R, I've tried to write at least a half-dozen posts, all of which got scrapped. Leave, I suppose, was excusable--after all, I had a wife to catch up with--but with everything going on in Recon, I feel as though I'm letting myself, and readership down.

I'm just tired, I guess. When we're not on mission, we spend our time doing a lot of brute work moving equipment. It's getting hot these days, and in the afternoon we amuse ourselves at the motor pool by bawling out chain-gang ditties and old Antebellum spirituals. Between mission recovery, daily chores, my recent PT test, and the firing range I helped organize today, I've just been burnt out (I ran a two-mile stretch in 13:13, by the way).

I'm back working with Oz again, as I mentioned before. He finally got his PFC back, and with us living in the same room, Support now outnumbers First platoon by two-to-one. Brooks is the only remaining member of First, and as we've moved on to more satisfying work in Recon, his interactions with us have become increasingly frosty. He wanted to be chosen for Support, so I suppose he resents us, but over the last six months he's become increasingly sullen and confrontational. No wonder Recon didn't want him.

Things with Recon, though , are going well enough. As I said earlier, I was the Ammunition NCOIC for yesterday's range, and considering that I handled this all after pulling a late-night guard shift the day before, my leadership was impressed. I like Recon. I feel I have potential here. My NCOs are already trusting me with more responsibility than I ever had in First, and already my supervisor is telling me to start preparing for the promotion boards. It might mean losing my Recon slot, but for the first time in a while I feel like I have a legitimate shot at making Sergeant. Not like Sergeant Killeen was ever going to send me.

It's not that I'm lacking in material for writing. I guess I'm just feeling a little stifled by the whole "warblogging" thing lately. I've noticed my current-events blogs get the most by way of hits, but honestly I spend enough time warring with my battle buddies over their ideals, and the idea of doing it here seems less than appealing. I like being able to blog from a combat zone, but ever since leave I can't help but feel homesick. I got back in touch with part of myself over leave, and though I should be writing about what I see here, more and more I find myself dreaming of life Back on Earth.

I should apologize. I'm in a bit of a creative rut lately, and for that I'm sorry, both to myself and on behalf of my meager readership. I'm not going to quit the blog anytime soon--at very least, I'm resolved to see it through the end of this deployment--but I do feel like my writing needs a certain shot in the arm.

Reader feedback would be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Somewhere south of Baghdad, en route to As-Suwayrah, Iraq...

It's a balmy morning in southern Iraq, and I'm weighed down by sixty pounds of gear and ammo, getting ready for my first mission as part of Recon. The farmers' fields are shrouded in fog, and a hundred feet below me the countryside whips past the viewports. We're riding in a Polish Mi-8, a type of heavy transport helicopter. It's a Russian design, dating back to the Cold War, and a notable departure from the UH-60 Black Hawks that brought us down here.

The most obvious difference to a passenger is the noise--where the Black Hawk emits a high-pitched whine while in flight, the engines of an Mi-8 shake its cabin with a jarring roar. Your teeth actually chatter if you lean back on the bulkhead, and your spine vibrates queasily. There are no bucket seats or four-point harnesses here; just a line of bench seats on either side of the cabin. This morning, I'm sharing those seats with Sergeants First Class Gravelle and Jameson, Staff Sergeant Mueller, and SPCs Elder and Beckett. We're also being joined today by a squad of Polish Special Forces soldiers. Myself and the other Specialists will be working with them this morning, providing security for the Recon NCOs.

I'm actually a little irked--I had wanted to be a part of the primary Recon crew, but this being my first mission, I can understand leaving the task to my more experienced peers. No matter--there will be plenty of time to learn the ins and outs of this job. Meanwhile, I'm content to busy myself with snapping pictures and video from the inside of our chopper, as well as psych myself up for the next hour or so of my life.

Unlike Line engineers, Recon crews work hard and fast, moving to assemble quick intelligence on locations and terrain before calling in for a hasty extraction by air. Though Recon has a lot more downtime than the average Line platoon, our missions are faster, more challenging, and honestly a little more dangerous. As-Suwayrah, in particular, has become much more hostile of late. When we told our interpreter "Rocky," of our destination, the burly local went visibly pale. He told us of a known insurgency training camp less than half a click from our mission site, and crossed himself two or three times (Rocky is that rare bird, a Christian Arab).

As the security crackdown has intensified in Baghdad, local militias and terror cells have made a mass diaspora out into the surrounding countryside, and it is now in these places, once known for little more than good farming and grazing for sheep, that the most violence is now occurring against Coalition Forces. Even our erstwhile base camp at nearby FOB Echo, a tiny post run by Poles and Mongolians, saw a dramatic spike in attacks recently. During the week we spent there, we experienced rocket attacks at least nightly. There was much grumbling over the Alert sirens interrupting our screening of the film "300."

Even so, all the risks aside, I'm actually thrilled to be on this mission. As our flight progresses, I'm able to watch the farmlands slowly give way to desert hardpan, a sight made all the more stunning by the sun rising silver through the dense morning haze. I glance around at my teammates, most of whom are passed out sleeping against the bulkhead, and wonder how they can sleep at a time like this. I, for one, am amazed.

A year ago, I was sitting at a desk in the local Army Tax Office; this blog was barely out of its infancy. Six months ago, I was staring down the barrel of deployment with mixed sorrow and fear. Two weeks ago I was on leave, walking with Anne through the cosmopolitan streets of Frankfurt. And here I am now, parked inside a helicopter flown by a foreign military, in the company of SpecOps forces, preparing to drop into a combat landing zone. It is times like this that I relish the extremes of my life. Not for the first time, I smile and give silent thanks for being chosen to join Recon.

After about an hour, our flight path grows slowly rougher. The pilot jinks hard to the left and right, and my stomach rolls as we abruptly drop altitude. Craning my head to look out the window, I see us passing over lush fields, bordered by the banks of the Tigris. There is a sudden rush of commotion as people start jerking awake, and as I turn back around, the Poles begin to lock and load. The rest of us take our cues from this act, slapping thirty-round mags into our M-16s and M-4s. One by one, we slide down off the bench seats and take knees.

A tap on my shoulder--SFC Gravelle, gesturing over the noise with two fingers: Your side exits first. I stare at him for a second, and then nod my understanding. I turn to face forward again. Our pilot pulls up to cut our forward momentum, and up front the door gunner is busy pulling his equipment out of the hatch. I pitch forward slightly as we lose altitude, and through the hatchway I can see us dropping fast into a rice field. My heart rate picks up, while simultaneously Time itself seems to slow dramatically down.

Easy, now, I tell myself. 360 security, that's all. You're on point, so as long as your head swivels, you'll be good. Make sure Sgt. Gravelle is covered.

I take a moment to digest this, and then nod. The adrenaline has set every nerve in my body ablaze. Sweet morning air gushes in from outside, and the hairs on my neck sing to me of sweat and wind. We pitch and jounce a bit, an everlasting moment curiously without sound, and at last the door gunner clears the hatch. The Poles leap to their feet. I hear SFC Jameson yelling, "Go, go, go!" I spring into action, following the man in front of me.

The darkness of the cabin suddenly gives way to ghostly dawn, and as my left boot steps out into air, I hear the slow-motion whump of the blades, and watch the grasses ripple in the wind as we hover some five feet above the LZ. A bit of downdraft rushes sweetly down the collar of my body armor, and in the moment before my boot thud down upon the earth, I feel like the star of every Vietnam war movie ever produced. I feel like the Master Chief in Halo.

I feel like a cultural cliche, and yet nowhere in my memory do I ever remember feeling more alive.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jan'ry Wind

Maple, Willow, Pine and Oak,
Alder, Ash and Ivy;
Withered sisters clutch the sky,
Their fingers scraping dryly.
Upon the shore, the tufts of grass
That spear up through the snow
Form choruses of mournful string,
A Jan'ry wind for bow.

No singing jays, no cardinals,
No gulls to haunt the bay;
No sunlight peers through silver clouds
To light the lonely day.
On Maiden's lashes, lace of frost,
The sign of Winter's chill.
From Maiden's lips no sweet words spring.
Her form is cold and still.

Maple, Willow, Pine and Oak,
Alder, Ash and Ivy,
Mossgrown sisters clutch the sky
Their fingers scraping dryly.
Choruses of mournful strings,
A Jan'ry wind for bow,
Form at the shore, from tufts of grass
That spear up through the snow.

Friday, March 16, 2007

...The Ground Running

And I'm back. Two weeks of leave in Germany behind me. I apologize for the lack of updates, but honestly, I needed the time to focus on the wife.

Leave was wonderful. I hiked the Alps, dined in a mountainside Bavarian bistro, tooled around Frankfurt with my honey, caught up with friends, and just generally seized the opportunity to just "civ out." I want to write more about my time back home, but to be honest there's just so much that I'm afraid the posts will have to come in sporadic flashbacks. So many moments, and I refuse to forget a single one.

Just finished Mark Z. Danielewski's "Only Revolutions." Like his other novel, "House of Leaves," it's definitely avant-garde lit of the most mindbending variety, but for all the Mars Volta-esque mutations in structure, "Revolutions" is as brash and poignant as "House" was deeply disturbing. Well worth the read.

Checked in this morning, just after midnight. It's official: I am now the property of Reconnaissance Section, Support Platoon. "Hey, don't feel sorry for me," as I told my friend Aldrich this afternoon. "I've been wanting off of the Line for months." I'm back again in the same platoon as Oz, which will be fun. A whole new cast of characters waits for me there, including a few very close friends, to include the oft-mentioned but undeveloped Ramos, so all in all, I'm happy about the switch. Only downside? I have to go away for a few days as a result, sometime early next week. Fear not, though, I'm in good hands. I promise to have some rich posting material upon my return.

Anyway, this is just a brief blurb. I know, not the most literary of my entries. I promise to redeem myself, though, gentle readers, so all I ask is that you hold on tight for a few days, and then I shall reward your patience.

Peace in the Middle East (however unlikely).

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Pain is waking up on the morning you leave, with your wife's back against your chest and the smell of her shampoo on your skin. It's feeling her press back again you as she sleeps, and suddenly feeling you've wasted every other similar moment the both of you have shared. It's the hot swell of tears, and the hitch of breath.

Pain is the last breakfast; it's the feverish desire to linger over the coffee, not bolt the croissant. It's the fervent wish to share fond memories; to watch through the windows of the cafe and comment over the thousands of ordinary Germans you see going about their lives. Pain is wishing desperately that you were among them. Pain is Time gnawing away at the back of your mind; minute by minute, second by second. It's the Agony of holding on to the moment. It's the Oskar Schindler moment in your relationship: Could I have done more?

Pain is the hurried packing; the rush to gather gear and slip out the door. It's seeing Alliecat laying out on the couch, sunbathing, and smelling the incense your wife always burns. It's seeing how the morning sun catches in her auburn hair; reflects liquid-smooth across dusky green eyes. I've wasted every life's moment not spent looking at those eyes. Pain lies buried in the hollow thud of the door in your empty stairwell. It pulses, pings in every step towards the car.

Pain is the glint of morning sunlight off the wings of incoming planes; pain is the itinerary of every business traveler, tourist, and couple of the verge of reunion. Pain crackles like electrical current jabbed into a deep gash, arcing hot with every ordinary life whose hum and drum you'd sell your soul to mimic. Pain is the loss of Peace, or at least of Peace's illusion.

Pain is the downturned lip, the sorrowed aversion to your gaze as you stand for the last time outside the gate. It turns your chest to lead as she mumbles apologies, sniffles and buries her face against your neck. It's her warmth and love that turns to daggers at the touch, and the endless wave of self-recriminations at bringing her into this way of life.

--"Tell me not to, and I won't."

Pain is the final embrace; the kisses goodbye. I'm so sick of goodbyes. Pain beyond pain, torture lies in breaking her gaze to walk away. Hatred. I hate myself for this; for anything that comes between me and my duty to her. Is there a name for the sin I've committed? Can it be tattooed, Kafkaesque, into my skin until the needle scrapes bone and flays the flesh of me? Would any such pain be worse?

Pain is the roar of the plane's engines; the rumble and stir that pushes you forward, drives you to stare out the window despite your fear of heights. Pain is saying goodbye to the Rheinland morning; is wanting to tell yourself what you know your wife would say--you're just doing what's best for us--and knowing that for once you're both wrong. Pain is hearing her sobs all the way as she drives back home.

Pain is the hitch of breath; the swell of hot tears. Pain is the bonding of her skin to yours, and the worldrendering rip as that swaddling cloth is torn away. Pain is the inability to stop yourself from crying as the plane shudders skyward; while at the same time being powerless to do anything but lift your head and blink back the wetness in your eyes.

I hate myself.