...A FOBbit I've Become...

25 APRIL 2010

A FOBbit is a creature—most often non-Infantry—who lurks the FOB or camp or base grounds, feeding off high-speed internet, satellite television, fresh hair cuts, hot showers and clean uniforms. They are awake and ready by Reveille, and yawning with sleep come Taps. All the while, between each tune, conducting themselves care –free of combat, and actively engaged in the lesser advertised duties of soldiering—inspections, classes, removing stall doors to deter graffiti artists and so on. They are a necessary evil in Uncle Sam’s Army. By this I have implied, if not directly stated, two certainties: one, they are evil, and two, the Army needs them. FOBbits do things like attend to our paperwork, finances, supplies and so on (there once was a commercial suggesting there are over two hundred jobs in the United States Army, the Infantryman’s joke is that there’s only one job in the Army, and over two hundred ways to support it). So yes, they are desperately needed. Their evil I speak of I will not indulge too deeply but to say, the removal of our bathroom stall doors—for more dark imagery seek out a copy of Catch-22, it speaks volumes of their irony and wickedness with dry wit—and so on.

Currently, and for the remainder of the month perhaps, I am sad to announce that I have taken on FOBbit status. This isn’t a far cry from what I had been, going off on two, maybe three missions a month, and settling down in my fancy resort for the time between each. My team and I spent hours on hands and knees, crawling through our truck with wrench near by, unscrewing countless bolts that once firmly held in place all the interior of our gun truck. We then loaded our vehicles onto flatbeds and waved good-bye. When they return, they will have a new hardened armor, able to protect against things like dinosaur zombies, I imagine.

I haven’t a clue what I’m to do as a FOBbit; I clean and read and go to the gym, but I had done all of this before. The extra time spent lingering at hurry up and wait leaves me with little option but to drink more espresso and chew on my pipe more than is preferable. Daydreaming proved soothing for a night or two but the thoughts turn bitter when they are not ended in a timely manner, like any story that carries too far beyond its climax. And I’ve begun to plan for a future that is not nearly close enough to the present; I’ve bracketed my after deployment options into A, B, C, D groups and so on. The most desirable being something to the sort of winning the lottery, then scaling down-a-ways to option D or so, which would probably have me return to college with more electives and withdraws and fails on my transcripts than anything else. Oh well, I guess.

This is clearly no way for a band of Infantrymen to live, muttering about in clean uniforms with minds wandering off to more suitable living. This FOB life is for the POGs, and they can keep it too. Back at Fort Hood, I remember having a sit down with my Lieutenant, we were held up on a pile of sandbags, probably talking about something reminiscent of our old heroics from the glory days of the wild west. This is when a group of soldiers, all sharply dressed and cleanly shaven, walked through our path. Our conversation halted and the Lieutenant let out a mighty terrible sneeze. I offered a quick blessing and asked if he was OK. To which he replied, “I’m allergic.” “To what,” I asked. And he answered, “POGs.” I had never seen him more deadly serious. And I had never found him so hilarious.

- The Exodus


...Face Part V...

PFC. Robert Watkins /  PFC. William Blanchard / PFC. Jason Loranger / SPC. Paul "Trey" Reynolds / SGT. Ryan Shinault

- The Exodus


...A transition to Sobriety...

21 APRIL 2010

Coffee has become bland. The days are spent swallowing this many units of water for every Gatorade. My mouth has turned numb to the want of thirst in this desert, and the offerings provided with the good and noble intentions to quench my un-amused palate. It’s the taste of the sand down the back of my throat. Dry. I think of burning campfires and bringing pots to boil and walking on the sun and so on.

I’ve stumbled in from a run with a sore back. Is it sore from the run or yesterday’s ammo detail or last week’s mission? I’m not sure, but I am very aware of it now, as I nurse on a flavorless coffee. And there’s a slight crick in my neck and a pinch in my shoulder too. I imagine both from wear of my tactical vest and I ignore them as I wash down the day’s last cigarette with nothingness. The last of my aches is in my knee; a constant tenderness I’ve endured for years now. Like my knee, I imagine each pain is one I’ve had following me all along, only now choosing to attack my nerves and thoughts.

I’ve stumbled in from that run and I thought of beer. An Amber Lager, smooth and rich, and having lounged in a metal drum long enough to lose most of its fizz. Then I felt the wave of heat and sweat that follows the rush of exertions, and I thought of cheap watery Lites I’d drink at tailgates, as my brothers and I chased down girls and made pretend our team was worth a damn. This brought me to think about places I’d rather be, which lead to Double Chocolate Stouts in New York and then to Key West, with a Margarita on the rocks, no salt.

And this added thoughts of cocktails: Vodka and Tonic at the Muse; Jameson and Bailey’s at Kelley’s Pub; Whiskey and Water at Riverside; So-Co and Coke at the Sand Bar; and Martinis at the Lounge. Now I’m back to thinking of beers, something from Belgium, an ale, at The Garden in St. Pete.

It’s been months since my last drink in Austin, and it seems the mystery of what my life had been has made the complete transition to sobriety. I am very aware of everything now, especially the pains in my tired body—the reminisce of what had once been a healthy young man. It is an annoyance to think I’ll have to bear this until fall, when my leave comes. But it is an annoyance I must and will permit. I have teased with the idea of throwing together a homemade, ramshackle of a distillery in the spare wall locker. But I hardly suspect I would succeed in my efforts to brew, and further, I doubt, would I manage to hide something so foolish. Oh well, I guess.

- The Exodus


...Love and Hate...

...never have I hated a place so much and yet felt like I’m where I should be. It’s a conflict I’ve been wrestling with for over a month now. My bank account continues to decrease, I’ve yet to see anyone care enough about Iraq to consider publishing my work/Giunta’s writing, and as I hear about my friends getting hit and rolling over vehicles, I think at what cost is my life and/or appendages for this story. Thank God the worst injuries so far have been a broken leg, five staples to the head, and concussions. That being said, there is still enough crap flying around on the sides of the roads to make you un-easy every time you jump in a vehicle.

So back to my hating yet feeling right in this place. Why? I still don’t know. It could be the promise I made to this unit over three years ago, stating that no matter what, I’ll do everything I possibly can to cover their tour. Or it could be the fact that many of these men and women are now good friends of mine and I want to share the suck with them filled with moments of hilarity that resembles a bunch of ten year olds at a sleep-over slap happy from excessive sugar and lack of sleep. Oh wait, we usually are filled with excessive sugar from energy drinks and lacking in sleep….Or maybe I enjoy the adrenaline that comes with the few “oh shit” moments. Possibly all of the above, maybe none of the above.

All I do know is this place is not Afghanistan; nobody really cares other than immediate family and friends. This merely is the documentation of the suckage, boredom, and moments of joy that come with a deployment. I may have missed the war, but there is still a story that people need to see and read. All I can do now is keep taking photos and leave it up to the population’s current ignorance or lack of caring for the war in Iraq.

- The Exodus


...Romantic to Cynic...

18 APRIL 2010

War stories are a sad ritual you can never avoid once you find yourself in the company of too many soldiers. And these stories are not in short supply here, but what they lack is content. Mostly the newer Joes—the ones whose definition of combat could only reflect their last two month’s experiences—are asking the questions: grunts want to know about receiving a Combat Infantry Badge; the POGs want a Combat Action Badge. I tell them silently, “No, they only give those to soldiers who actually see combat.” But I don’t tell them aloud for fear it might insight more dialogue of their exploits, to prove their hardened warrior skills.

There was a time, when I would sit patiently around the circle, awaiting my turn to tell of daring heroics in the face of certain death. Now those tales are reserved for bar room chatter with some nut-job who wants to buy the veteran a drink—which, in a case such as mine, is far too often than my liver can manage. But there was a time. This was years ago, in a bombed out, roofless/doorless/windowless, crumbling shell of a home for a company of men, just a half dozen months after the invasion. I was with Shanks and Walker and Sowers and Wells, and a number of other Joes all gone now or spread elsewhere throughout the Battalion.

Do you remember when we walked up on that car, all turned to swiss cheese, and saw that guy’s head in his son’s lap? Or that suicide bomber whizzing by on his motorcycle and vanishing into a pink haze just before he reached our truck? Or when we cleared the whole damn hospital and found nothing, only to have someone drop grenades down on us as we walked out the front door? This was the type of conversation passing around the circle when a cook—who had escorted by to drop off some foodstuff—spoke in, “I was stationed at Fort so-and-so in Peaceful Town, USA, when this happened…”. He had brought a knife to a gunfight, which is to say, he tried selling over-easy eggs to a hard-boiled customer.

Having an outsider like Nigel here this time around helps me to realize the only hard-boiled anything, found this late in the game, is found in the DFAC. This, however, has not deterred the aspiring war story fanatic. And the mellow happenings of each mission brings back some auditory on you should have seen me out of the wire; that’s just how I do, cause I’m hard. And I try to take some level of calm in thinking, whatever damage 2003 brought to my scale of romantic to cynic, it is unlikely to teeter any further in the direction of the latter.

- The Exodus


...Blah blah blah...photos....

Post below photos....

- The Exodus

...Blah blah blah...

...I just returned from my second mission and as I suck on some sour patch kids while waiting for a sugar rush, I’m trying to think of a way to write about my second venture into Iraq. Anything that could go wrong on a mission happened to us; minus getting blown up or lost. Which I guess are two pretty big ones, but those aside, this one was a doozy.

Giunta just wrote a new entry that will be going up shortly about how individuals who have never seen combat try to blow out of proportion everything that happens to them just to sound like a hardened combat vet. I found myself a couple weeks ago watching “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and seeing myself exactly as the journalist in there. You know the part where he is sitting in Kuwait for a month trying to get into Iraq during the invasion as he hears the other war correspondents sharing their stories from the fronts? Well I catch myself every once in awhile being like that soldier who wants to sound like he’s seen 'things'.

This time around I saw a young private almost blow his head off with a flare and just like in the movies his hands shook as his Sergeant gave him the last remaining puffs of his smoke to help settle his nerves. I sat in a vehicle for countless hours as tires blew out, break lines broke, and loads shifted. Spent more time waiting for the Iraqi Army to secure a trigger man who just set off an IED ten minutes before us on another group only to find out that another IED a few klicks behind us was just cleared. So we sat and waited in the middle of an IED that just went off and an IED that was recently found. Later on Moore, a veteran from the invasion, almost got decapitated from a canopy that collapsed on top of him causing the turret to spin out of control. Blah blah blah, loss of a sensitive item; blah blah blah, rocket attack at VBC; blah blah blah, sandstorms; blah blah blah, a six day mission finally ending on the eleventh day. Oh and I how could I forget listening to Enya cranked up in the back on an MRAP; that’s right, don’t ask don’t tell!

This year will most likely become a series of “almost” events, and I’m finally coming to terms with that. It’s hard to explain the amount of stress one goes through when you spend countless hours bored out of your mind, then have a few extreme moments of clenched buttocks. You wait for something to blow up, listen to other convoys that got hit…then you arrive safely at your next destination.

“If you’re going to die Wright, you’re going to die! You need to chill the fuck out, fucking relax dude.” Followed by the gunner screaming, “BOOM!!!!”, “hahahaha!” A quote taken from SGT. Bertelli trying to calm his driver down. That statement basically sums up every time we roll out, boredom with a few moments of, "oh man, I think we're screwed."

- The Exodus


...This anxious Delay...

09 APRIL 2010

There’s a Lego Man head lamp illuminating my workspace, which is covered in a dozen samplings of Mark Twain, by and by, his complete collection. These, the reading light and literature, were recently received in care packages from home, namely from my father, mother and oldest brother. The word passing down the family tree suspects I will have more clutter added at each mail call. My family, most often, has been found guilty of loving me too much. To this I have no complaints. And by this I have implied there are complaints to be made, which is true, there are.

The chief complaint of the day is that I’m sitting in my workspace with Lego Men and Twain novels and the daydream of my loving family. Our last mission had us home, safe and sound, over a week ago. There is only so much entertainment found at Camp Buerhing; running laps and drinking Starbucks and reading of Huck’s adventures can only sooth so many hours of the day. My team is ready for another mission—bored and ready. There is the want for excitement and scenery and to get off the bench and make a play.

The coming attractions have become more and more interesting, where zombie dinosaurs, a relative fright already, have given way to dinosaur zombies with lasers attached to their freaking heads! Squirm and shift and sweat in my truck I may, but that sounds like a damn good flick. So let me be the child watching on with both hands over his face, insisting to have just little enough spread through two fingers to watch on. Just get me off this base.

I go on as if we haven’t been allocated for another mission, which we have. Truth be told, it will be our farthest and most ‘interesting’ mission yet. So, more accurately told, my complaint is the anxious delay spent in down time that will inevitably fall between each trip out of the gate; the time spent at hurry up and wait. A little of this is good for the soul; wash some clothes and play some volleyball. Too much makes you feel like a kid two days before Christmas, when the tree downstairs is already surrounded by gifts and ready to surrender to the prying interest of Santa’s ‘Good Boy’ list.

- The Exodus


...Faces Part IV...

...I'm still on the road in Iraq and thought I'd post some older portraits that I've yet to put up.

- The Exodus


...Reason for no Updates...

...I'm on a mission as is Giunta. My six day mission is turning into a two week one. Posts will be going up once we both get back...and at this rate he may beat me...

- The Exodus


...Tom Foolery...

03 APRIL 2010

Happy April Fools, everyone. The giddy childish play of this practical joke holiday was not lost on the soldiers of my team; in fact, it seemed to define our last mission.

The list of things to do before your gun trucks can leave the gate is much longer than we’d like it to be. Hours of inspections, packing, functions checks and so on. So you can imagine our relief when the trans unit we were going to escort told us the mission would get a late start the following day. We occupied the hours of night with movies and Starbucks and phone calls home, the variety of amenities here at resort Buehring. Some of us hadn’t made it to bed still, when our boss came running through the billets half naked. He was screaming, “Let’s go” and “Move your ass” and other little NCO clich├ęs of motivation. The whole team was late, late for a time hack that never existed, our naked boss included.

When morale is high and bad things happen, Joe doesn’t get mad, Joe catches a bit of the crazies. Couple that with a holiday built around the crazies and what you get is a bunch of grown men giving their best impressions of their children.

Two of our gunners had a battle with Honey Buns, throwing thousands of calories at each other while their trucks moved in and out of the convoy. Another soldier’s doggy bag of chicken wings was secretly slathered in hot sauce, sending him to the latrine for the better part of an hour. And at our transit tent the first morning, our boss woke us all again, told us to be productive with our time and when the last man left, our boss laid back down and slept. The Army Combat Shirt is a form-fitting top worn underneath our tactical load. We switched our 5’10, 220lbs boss’ top with one that belonged to a 5’7, 150lbs Joe. It was like watching the Hulk try to put on his mild-mannered counterpart’s clothes after he had already made his transition to rage.

Soaking in the spirits of all this Tom Foolery made it difficult to believe our youngest truck leader, a corporal, when he told us our return trip would roll out at 0200. It was made more difficult to believe when our trans unit pulled into the staging lane an hour and some odd minutes later. I’m still not sure if it was shenanigans on our part, or incompetence on theirs. Oh well, I guess.

The last of our annoyingly comical set backs brought just a glimmer of real world affect. As we snaked our way through the FOB exit and merged to the southbound lane, one of the rear trans trucks broke down. I could still see the guard towers when I stepped out of my truck. A friend of mine from another gun truck—a veteran of Iraq from a time when you could still call this a war with a straight face—walked back to give me a hand with security. We walked the desert, kicking up dust and sand, and cleared it of bombs and bullies. It felt like real Army work, just a little quieter than I remember.

The repairs were finished as the sun met up with the horizon, and we had to share the road home with the civilian traffic that comes with morning. The children were out of bed and along the roadside. And our gunners were tired of their April Fools games and turned their efforts to dropping bottles of water to the boys and girls of the baking desert oven.

But Private Murphy had one last zinger in him. Our convoy limped across the border with bloodshot eyes and sore backsides. We were less than an hour’s drive to warm meals and hot showers and the familiar cushion of a cozy bed. But before we could enjoy any of that, we would have to hoist a humvee, and change the flat tire.

- The Exodus


...Gloria was my First...photos...

Photographing at night and not using a flash is making my job difficult....but here goes...

- The Exodus


...Gloria was my First...

…I have spent almost a month in Kuwait on the verge of tearing my hair out as members of Bravo Company started going on missions. All I could do was wave goodbye. Well thanks to an MRAP named Gloria, I finally entered Iraq on a mission headed for Balad. My experience was a whole new form of boredom and adrenaline combined. I’ll do my best to make five days as short as possible, this was my first time so it may run on. The past year of training for potential IEDs gets thrown out the window the moment you enter Iraq. You just can’t stop for every odd looking piece of trash or lump of dirt. So you drive fast and pray you don’t get blown up.

Day 1: Driving…lots of driving, followed by endless amounts of rubble and trash that look like alleged IEDs or EFPs. Then more driving and boredom only to lead up to a (pardon the language), “Oh SHIT!!! Where the fuck did that car from!? Get the fuck back! Get back!”, which led to a car full or Iraqis almost being ‘lit up’ for trying to creep past our halted convoy. We arrive at Scania. Sleep.

Day 2: We leave Scania at around 11pm and continue to drive north to JBB, Joint Base Balad. Lots of boredom, a sore arse, then, a gate blocking the road and halting our convoy. What happened next was Shinault telling his gunner Reynolds, “I swear to God Reynolds if I get shot…I swear to God Reynolds…I swear to God…….”. Shinault jumped out as an IA (Iraqi Army) helped him move the gate as by passers watched. We drove on to JBB and watched every piece of trash waiting for an explosion that would never occur. Sleep.

Day 3: As Giunta put it, unless you’ve had to run for your life, you haven’t been mortared. I slept through my first mortar ‘attack’ and laughed when I heard a few people say we were mortared. The rounds where barely audible due to the distance they were from us. Therefore, I have yet to experience the running for my life. I have yet to be mortared. Sleep.

Day 4: JBB falls behind us around 12:30am and we find out the routes have high EFP and IED threats, just like every other night. We get lost and go on some other route that makes us all clinch our buttocks tight until we find our way back to our original route. We reach Scania and sleep.

Day 5: Leave Scania at around 1am, try to stay awake from the boredom of the ride back to Buehring. A few minutes out from Scania we catch up to an EOD team who are finishing up their blast analysis on a recent IED and drive on thinking, “that’s not a good start”. We arrive, home sweet home.

To sum this all up, I will probably spend the whole year here and not get mortared or receive small arms fire or see an IED or EFP go off. That being said, it is still nerve wracking each time you see some odd looking piece of trash or built up dirt on the side of the road…or when a car tries to ‘ninja’ past you with their lights off. It’s an odd feeling being in the front gun truck attempting to clear the road so the convoy can drive safely on.

Oh and camels make for some nasty road kill.

Photos will be posted soon…….hopefully.

- The Exodus