Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Mark of Your Shame

Remember Garrett Knoll.

Remember Joseph Anzack. Remember Bert Hoyer.

Remember, for these men are dead; their families left to face yet another day without their loved ones. These men, and three thousand souls like them, are gone. The grief of those left behind is beyond your understanding.

And yet on this day--a day dedicated to the memory of those lives sacrificed--some of you are waiting in line at the pump, trying to get out on the road before 9 AM. Some of you are trying to get to the beach before all the good spots are taken. Some of you are peeking in the fridge, trying to check on the ribs you've had marinating since last night, in preparation for today's big barbecue.

For some of you, this is a pageant. This is a show. This is a game. Some of you will attend Memorial Day parades in your hometowns, and when the local VFW honor guard fires off its 21-gun salute, you will plug your ears and flinch at the gunshots. You won't be thinking of the spouses left to raise their children alone; you won't be thinking of the children left to grow up without a mother or father, forever wondering. You'll be hoping you left enough change at the meter; hoping your mother doesn't get drunk again and start calling your wife a tramp.

These are the thoughts that will occupy your mind this Memorial Day. And they will betray you. When you bite into that steak, I hope you taste the blood leaked from three thousand shattered bodies; taste the salty tears of three thousand loved ones. I hope you taste the chalky grit of Iraqi dust in your beer; hope you smell the scorched odor of gunpowder in your lover's perfume.
For those of you to whom this applies, I am offended at your celebration of this holiday. I am sickened. I am repulsed. You do not deserve this day. You are not worthy of these sacrifices. You should mourn for the human beings we can never get back, and you should mourn the path that led them to their deaths.

This day, America, once sacrosanct, is now the mark of your shame.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


So I go to the Charge of Quarters desk around 0715 this morning.

I've got S-4 (supply yard) detail today, and I'm hoping to catch a ride with the duty-runner. Sergeant Schultheiss is manning the desk; tells me that Morales is at chow. I'll have to wait a few.

I know Sergeant Schultheiss from back in Germany. Former Guardsman, he lives across the stairwell from me. His wife and mine had difficulties when they worked together on the Family Readiness Group, and frankly I find the Sergeant to be a tad caustic myself. Needless to say, we're polite acquaintances, but we don't really talk.

I set down my Kevlar and IBA, leaning against the counter to catch what's playing on the TV--it's Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Not always hard-hitting journalism, but at least it's better than Fox. An effeminate thirtysomething pundit is seated across from a middle-aged redhead with sharp cheekbones and narrow eyes. She's busy nodding her head as the pundit talks about the public's perceptions of various Democratic presidential candidates. I have to admit, I'm surprised--for once, I can't see an overt instance of Republican spin. I lean forward, trying to summon up some interest through the haze of sleep.

A few moments pass. Sgt. Schultheiss and I continue to watch the segment in silence, until finally Sergeant First Class Lundt wanders up in PTs. He places a brief phone call, and afterwards hangs up, regarding the television for a moment. He looks over at Sgt. Schultheiss:

"What are you watchin'?"

Sergeant Schultheiss, all bald head and sullen stare, simply shakes his head. His moustache bunches disapprovingly, and his eyes never leave the screen as he responds in that nasal Wisconsinite accent.

"Jim Lehrer. I dunno, sounds like a bunch of college propaganda bullshit ta me."

The words echo in my brain. College propaganda bullshit. I give a small start, staring at Sgt. Schultheiss. He ignores me. SFC Lundt, however, registers my reaction, and gives a shrug with a raise of the eyebrows. I'm guessing he chooses to stay out of it. I go back to watching the TV.

A moment passes. A thousand thoughts run through my head. I can feel the response begging for voice: What makes you say that, Sergeant? It's practically a guaranteed ticket to a heated argument. Sgt. Schultheiss and I are on vastly different wavelengths politically. A few weeks back, he and I got into a heated debate over a headline in the Stars and Stripes--something to do with another al-Qaeda "leader" killed in Afghanistan, I think.

Basically he overheard me commiserating with a younger soldier about the dubious value of the story, and so he chose to get up in my business. Started accusing me of "not supporting the War on Terrorism," "coddling Saddam," and other such nonsense. I kept my poise and quietly tore his arguments to shreds. It got to the point where Sergeant Schultheiss, having started the argument, stormed loudly off, shaking his head and feigning disbelief. "I can't believe dis shit," he droned, loudly enough to make his own soldiers stop and stare. "I got work ta do. I ain't got time fer dis." I had to laugh.

Needless to say, I'm used to all sorts of pseudo-political bluster from the good Sergeant.

That being said, though, I can't help but take some offense at his last comment. Being labeled "gifted" from an early age, I tend to be defensive, rather than proud, about my education and intellect, and so I get a bit angry when people try to hold those attributes against me as a character flaw. Ever since September 11th--and especially since arriving at this unit--I've had to deal with a steady flow of anti-intellectual sentiment, and frankly it's a large part of why I have difficulty fitting in among the other soldiers.

I don't have time to follow up on his statements. Morales shows up, back from breakfast, and grabs the keys to the Humvee. I follow him with my gear out the door. The morning is mild, and the sun is out--the first wave of blistering heat isn't due for a couple of hours yet--but still I something about Sgt. Schultheiss' attitude worrisome. It takes me a while to identify it. Questions blur through my head.

Why is it always the intelligentsia who take the blame? Why is it the educated who are viewed as dishonest? Why is it that, in times of social crisis, the cooler heads and voices of reason are always the ones put against the wall--viewed as "threats to the state" or to "family values (as if they can be neither patriots nor a loving spouses and parents)?" Why is it that the way I speak has to make people so uncomfortable, so quick to point out my other numerous failings? Why can't I open my mouth sometimes without feeling like my personal safety is threatened?

And why should I have to put up with it?

Friday, May 25, 2007

If The Shoe Fits...


Memorandum for Record: Military Spending Concerns

FROM: SPC Freeman, Milo; US Army, Iraq

TO: Senate Democrats, Republicans, and "American Idol" viewers across the nation.

1. You. Punk. Ass. Pantywaisted. Bitches.

2. You had a chance. You could have put your money where your mouth is--could have put some ass behind all those claims of "favoring an end to war."

3. And you fucking choked.

4. Let me explain something to you. Your children; your spouses; your lovers and friends and parents and CONSTITUENTS are hostages to this war. They're dying for a conflict with no concrete objective. They're losing marriages and childhood moments to a neverending cycle of extended tours. Their equipment, their morale, is stretched thin. And some of them--those of us smart enough not to buy the fucking hype--were counting on you to find your fucking testicles and put an end to this shit. We were counting on you to save us from ourselves; to find a way to put us to use serving our country in ways perhaps more effective in rebuilding our nation.

5. And you. Fucking. Choked.

6. I haven't gotten a current edition of the paper in months. It's always a day behind. I don't get to check the news--I barely have the time. So what am I to think when I read yesterday's Stars and Stripes, and hear about this shit? Is that supposed to tell me that my leaders, my countrymen give a flying FUCK about what happens to me or my wife? Is that the message I'm supposed to glean from this STUNNING lack of cojones? Because I gotta tell you, America, I'm not seeing it.

7. I'm so sick of hearing this wretched war talked about in terms of Victory or Defeat. "If we leave, the terrorists will win."

8. Fuck that.

9. Today it's Terrorists. Yesterday it was Blacks/Gays/Jews/Hippies. Before that it was Communists. Before that, it was Uppity Colonials with Secondhand Muskets and Pitchforks. It's always fucking something with you people, isn't it?

10.You just need your little wars to feel good about yourselves, don't you? Something to make you feel threatened; something to make you feel heroic; ANYTHING to make you feel like your pathetic lives are more than just you against the Big, Black, Scary Infinite. Well, obviously, it's working.

11. You don't magically "win" an occupation. It's an inevitable bleed-out. We're stuck in a situation beyond our powers to fix, in a country that WE voted to destroy, whose history and people we neither understand nor care to try. We bought the hype, hook-line-and-sinker.

12. Fuck Victory. Fuck Defeat. Any way you slice it, This. War. Is. Wrong.

13.You don't keep trying to win the game after it turns out you bribed the refs. You fire the coaches and/or players responsible, and you hand over the Title. You take your lumps like a fucking man and try to rebuild. Accept it.

13. Hope you're happy, America. Clutch your pearls about all those dirty liberals who voted against the proposal ("They didn't Support The Troops!"). Whine about all the evil elderly schoolteachers and librarians protesting the war on a Saturday morning outside your courthouse.

14. But when your son or daughter or spouse or first lay comes home airfreight, mangled into a closed-casket service by a daisy-chain of 155s buried under Route Tampa, remember this:

15. It won't be the dirty liberals who put them there.

16. Hoo-ah.



Milo Freeman, SPC

United States Army, Iraq

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Desert

117. In the shade. That's Fahrenheit, for those of you just tuning in.

It's been murderously hot, and getting hotter. The sun casts its hard eye down on everything, and as I walk around post, I swear I can feel the plant life dying.

In heat like this, even your skin feels like a bulky sweater; a hot, oppressive thing you can't wait to pull off. And sometimes, you're just crazy enough to try.

Spent a few days in Tallil last week. Just as hot.

Nothing but hardpan out there. Nothing but sand and snakes and the shimmering horizon, with the afternoon sun attempting to claw your eyes out. My only companion the Ziggurat of Ur, looming just beyond The Wire. Forget my squadmates; forget all that hooah bullshit about "the Company." Me and the oldest civilized ruin left standing--together we understand something of loneliness.

I think the desert makes people crazy.

I think lack of water makes people crazy.

Growing up on the shores of Huron, how could I think any way else? This is the farthest I've been from coastline, and people are so busy killing each other that they can't decide who to kill next. People on both sides, vultures picking the bones clean, till they can't take it any more and start ripping each others' throats. Plucking for feathers and eyes and soft underbellies, gutting each other and shrieking out out of anger and starvation and a million other emotions born of suffering.

I miss my wife. I miss my friends. I miss having friends, peroid.

Instead, I'm left to count down the months again (seven, after the extension). I'm left trying to while away my days in this sun-cursed hell, while at home the world continues and the struggles of this place barely register a footnote.

I never want to see this place again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Road

Past the 45,
Up where the bridge
Slices the sky above
The Straits of Mackinac,
The soil grows rocky,
And the maples give way
To tamarack and jack pine.

The scenery passes,
And the people change,
The only thing
That stays true
Is the road.

Huron is long gone,
Getting smaller
Here, in the long rear-view
Of memory. The sun
Gleams hot and liquid,
Bright in your sunglasses,
And on your lips as you smile.

The same gas-stations,
The same lonely bars.
We know these places,
But what really brings us back
Is the road.

With my seat kicked back,
The sapphire sky
Of Grand Marais looms deep,
And seeing Marquette,
Rising from the bay,
Gives me hope for better.
Our home, wherever we roam.

A million words,
And snapshot moments
Of shared experience.
You bring me back.
You are my road.

With you at my side,
I will follow
US 2 anywhere.
We will read aloud
In cafes, and laugh
Over beers at Vango's.
We will smile. We will make love.

We'll drink to the times,
And to the friends,
Forever lost to us. We'll race
The sun, and pray aloud
To Angels of the road.

Time robs us blind,
Robs us of moments,
Robs us alone. But I don't care.
For now, there is only you,
And I, and the road.

Friday, May 11, 2007


It's official.

The extension came down about three days ago. We were called to an emergency formation at about 0900, at which point the company XO gave us the news: Extended 90 days. This means I'm stuck in this stinking shithole until possibly December. Another Thanksgiving, another Christmas without my wife, without my friends.

Anne took it poorly. Like myself, she had an inkling this would happen, but when the FRG called an emergency meeting to pass out the information, I'm told that the room was filled with a slew of angry, sobbing wives. My wife related to me, with unusual disdain, the story of the local Chaplain spouting hollow platitudes about The Mission, and our importance to it. It seems they had little effect on her--from the moment she picked up the phone for my daily call, she was sniffling; her voice cracked and hitching.

The days are hot now, and the mortars slowly getting closer to our motor pool. I'm working longer hours than ever, and with all the work I have to do after-hours--mailroom, weapon-maintenance, et cetera--I feel like I barely have time to breathe anymore. I don't know how long it's been since I could hear myself think. I keep wanting to write, but at the end of the day sometimes it just feels like a chore. I haven't even written a new poem in over a month.

Daily affairs in the world, it seems, continue apace. Bush swears to "stay the course," vetoes any bill that comes out against the war; the American people issue their halfhearted cry for a withdrawal. Iraqi parliament representatives argue for a timetable while simultaneously demanding a two-month vacation. And as all this occurs, the locals continue to murder each other in cold blood, pausing only to shell my motor pool or take potshots at the guard tower just east of my housing trailer.

I grow increasingly cynical, and lately it seems as though there are none who are exempt from my deepening rage.

My command chain strips us dry of morale and resources, driving us further into the ground with every passing day. My countrymen, 300 million strong, remain powerless to stop a group of perhaps five or ten men, felons and nepotists all. My news outlets feed me more party-line bullshit from the men in power about how this is a "battle against evil" and how "God is on our side" (sound familiar?) My fellow soldiers blithely accept their lots, standing silent as their marriages crumble and their privacy dwindles to nothing.

And for what?

So we can bring "freedom" to a people who so obviously seem to want it neither for themselves, nor any of their neighbors. Barbarians, opportunists, fanatics, spies, and savages, the lot. I am powerless to fathom how a people can collectively act against every SINGLE impulse of reason or compassion which might present itself.

This is a failed state. A failed culture. A dead civilization comprised now only of mummified skin, dried by years of sand and wind, barely clinging to the sun-bleached bones of a once-great Mesopotamian empire. This, this is what we fight for. This is what my classmates die for. This is the cause for which I neglect my faith, my principles, my family, and my partner. This dessicated carcass, this cratered wasteland; a place whose strongest sensory markers, for me, are the smells of human shit and burning garbage. A place whose flag will one day bear the initials of KBR. This I defend, along with the egos of a few paranoid old men.

I joined up believing I could make a positive difference. I believed that, even if I didn't fully support the cause, that I could set a positive example for Americans abroad. I am beginning to see now that I was gravely mistaken.

Fuck this miserable place. Fuck Iraq, and everything in it. You can't rescuscitate a corpse, so stop trying to perform CPR. Better to let it rot in the sun.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Merrick's Fabulous Dancing Monkey

First day, officially, as driver for my platoon leader, Lt. Merrick.

First Lieutenant Merrick is the one officer all the soldiers in the company lust for. Young, pert, blonde, and definitely a girly-girl, she's the type who makes this uniform hot. Honestly, I was secretly pleased to have been made her driver, if only for the chance to enjoy a bit of eye candy.

But man, oh man.

After lunch today, I spend damned near an hour waiting for her in the company parking lot. That much, I don't mind--I'm just glad to be relaxing in my Humvee with the AC on. It's been murderously hot the last week or so, and the idea of roasting away in that forklift seemed less than appealing today.

A certain amount of guilt creeps on. I feel bad, not being out there with Oz and Ramos where I belonged. I feel like I'm getting off easy. I've been acting driver for about a week now, following Miklaszewski's return to Germany for shoulder surgery, and with all the errands that LT had to run, I'm not getting much chance to help out my buddies down in the motor pool. Seems lately like I'll barely be out there for half an hour before I gotta run her up to Mayor Cell or DFAC 2 or the Company, and honestly some part of it offends my work ethic.

Anyway, there's that. She doesn't get out to the Humvee until almost 1400. Not so bad, save for the guilt. Then a run up to Battalion S-6 (what the hell is S-6 again, anyway?), to pick up some desk-job Specialist (lucky bastard) for some deal down at the motor pool. Get stuck in traffic behind a civilian convoy, so I don't get back on-site until almost 1410.

But then, I no more than get out of my vehicle and light a smoke, when I hear THIS from pretty, flaky LT Merrick:

"Oh, and uh, Freeman? When you get a chance, I need you to run this thing down to the Maintenance Bay. They said you need to replace the tires."

I look up. "Tires, ma'am?"


"All of 'em?"

She shrugs. "I'm really not sure."

I pause to think about this. "Ma'am, if I may, when I was doing PMCS on 37 earlier today, Faulkner did my QA/QC and he told me the tires were good. I specifically asked him about the treads. I know I did."

"I dunno. All I know is, they called up here about an hour before lunch, and said you needed to do it."

She says this with that same stoned-out, upward-inflected pseudo-inquiry that I noticed from all my pothead friends back in college. This woman actually outranks me. She graduated from West Fucking Point. I remember putting away my matches and fondling the end of my filter between my teeth. I scratch my nose, sniff, and shrug.

"Okay, then. I'll get it done, ma'am. What time did you say you needed me back up here?"

"Well, okay,"--she says she's from Pennsylvania, but she sounds like she's from the fucking Valley--"I gotta be up at my meeting early today, so I'm gonna need you up here at--"

I nod. "-1545?"

"-1530." She squints behind her BCG sunglasses, like a cute, blond Ray Charles, and affects a sweet halfhearted smile I know she's perfected over the years to get her way. As if the bar on her chest weren't enough. I nod again.

"Can do, ma'am. See you then."

"Thanks." She grins again, and goes bouncing happily into the office. I shake my head and extinguish my cigarette.

"Fuck," I snarl under my breath.

That gives me less than an hour to possibly change out all four tires by hand--no impact wrenches in the bay--and on a Humvee, it's more of a feat than on your little 2003 Chevy Prizm. I place the barely-smoked cigarette back in the pack and grab my Kevlar off the roof. I slam the door as I get back in.

"Son of a bitch," I say. Say hello to Lt. Merrick's Fabulous Dancing Monkey. Wear the little hat. Grind the little organ. Dance, bitch, dance.

I swear to God, if I have to come back to the motor pool after this meeting of hers, I'm gonna scream.