...Still Alive...

...just been really busy. More to come.

- The Exodus


...The Commas of History...

17 MAY 2010

To break it down Barney style—third-grade reading level, No Child Left Behind, Windows 95 version, and so on—the CET is given big guns and told to baby-sit convoys of transportation units and civilian contractors as they drive load ‘A’ into country and then load ‘B’ out of country. We deter bad guys from doing bad things, and in the event of bad things we shoot at the bad guys. This, I’m told, is our piece of the pie in America’s withdraw, er, exit strategy from Iraq. So let it be told and recorded in the commas of history as such.

The question posed by so many loved ones and fence-line voters back home, is something to the sort of measurable change. A society of must see it to believe it—which is fine; I prefer it that way, helps to dilute the ignorance. “Do you see any difference, Mac,” they’ll ask me. Sure I do, and not merely the drastic change from 2003’s gunfights to 2010’s espressos under the desert sky—though that is mostly what I notice. It is measurable, by the naked eye of this Joe, who is so far down the information hierarchy, that we are moving tons (both literally and figuratively, my father would have me clarify) of equipment out of country; our presence in the cities is limited, that FOBs are closing, that Iraqi police and army are on every corner (to the last some might argue of corruption but I’m not privileged to those studies and if I was I doubt it’d compare to Chicago flat-foots of the 1930s) and so on. And that would, by and by, cover loads falling into ‘B’ group—clearly without giving specifics or adding jail-time to the end of my enlistment.

This of course leaves to debate all the loads of ‘A’ or ‘into country’ loads. These are far fewer in number and their manifest is purely left to imagination and daydream. At this speculation, our line-medic has had the most recent break-through. “Chips and Dip,” he calls it. I’ve heard the concept before as “Burgers and Beers”. The last was used by a fine dining manager, who was trying to over-simplify our duties as servers, that when it all boiled down, we were just passing out burgers and beers. Here, Jackson, the medic, uses it as a reference to our role in the support/stability operations for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

As we have Starbucks on Resort Buerhing, each FOB up north has a Burger King or Pizza Hut or Subway and so on. Jackson’s assumption is that what we escort northbound are supplies for these happy international chains. His meal at the time of illumination happened to be Taco Bell—hence, Chips and Dip. I think of the Golden Arches Theory—or the Dell Theory, whichever—and that maybe we’ll get this country too dependent on nachos to have the want to cross swords again. And yes, I know I just used a well-known script out of context but for all those who never read up on it, who judge a book by its cover, perhaps they’ll like that last passage.

And these loads of ‘happy meals’ again offer a note of measurable change. Everyone back home knows all about Red Bulls, even if some—as is in my case—only experience this cranked up beverage with heavy portions of vodka or in the collegian concoction known as a Jager Bomb. And then of course you have the numerous knock off brands, which leads me to the point at hand: Rip-its. A Rip-it is the Army supplied ‘holy goodness I have to stay awake’ solution. They are the answer to what I think is in box ‘A’.

At each transit stop our supplies for the road are re-fit, including this sugary, caffeinated treat. What I’ve noticed, on each mission south to north and back again, we are afforded fewer and fewer of these pick-me-uppers. On just this last drive, there were none. If my fantasy is correct—which it surely isn’t—and these transportation hauls had been stacked with Rip-its, that they’re coming up short in our FOB re-fit is a clear sign of a shortening of supplies into country.

So, to whichever side of the fence this might push you; or to whatever level of comfort this brings my family and friends: yes, there is a measurable change. I notice everyday that they give me less Rip-its.

- The Exodus


...Non-smoking Compatible...photos...

I am no writer, Giunta is, so instead of me talking about the last mission go to the post below these photos. Giunta sums it up quite nicely. Enjoy.

- The Exodus

...Non-smoking Compatible...

15 MAY 2010

Our mission is halted due to weather. The CET is held up at some FOB in southern Iraq just waiting for the sand to settle back on itself. It’s been three days here now and if we’re delayed again tomorrow, we will have spent more time stuck than on the actual mission.

Each day that we’ve stayed over I’ve had to run my truck over to maintenance to have a fuel leak checked. It’s coming from a little hose right next to the tank. At each visit the hose is replaced but hours later the line is swollen and a puddle of go-juice is pooled in the dirt below. Apparently, there aren’t any lines on this FOB rated to hold diesel. So it goes. I think of a story from my dad’s youth, when a little plastic piece to his flat-bottomed boat, maybe a 45-cent part, broke apart and had him drifting out to sea.

This was our first mission where Nigel was able to tag along. He was a quiet passenger in the back seat and went hardly noticed until the trucks came to a halt coming down a main supply route, where he hopped out to see what-was-what. The what-was-what had been a transmission issue with one of the transit trucks. It seems they had allowed their fluids to run bone-dry, neglecting to stow extra supplies in case of emergency. This is a unit, whose job it is to drive up and down Babylon; this is their only job, and they appear to attempt this without 10 weight on hand. I say it’s like the Infantry trying to roll without bullets and so on.

The hurry up and wait that somehow found me on mission is driving my thoughts off to silliness. I think of my replacement gunner and though he’s capable of the task at hand he’s still not my gunner, like I have some nonsensical right to ownership of my usual crew. I’ve dreamt of NYC and what adventures I might find when this tour has ended. But mostly the silliness has been found in jibber-jabber with the men. I asked a Joe for a smoke and he produced a clove, which, naturally lead to the rant of silly…

I started, “Do you know why we use the 9mil round and not a 45?” He answered—which wouldn’t be a bad guess, “Because it’s cheaper?” “The 9mil round is a NATO round,” I corrected him, “and all members of NATO have to use compatible ammunition. So that, if you walked up on a dead Canadian Joe, you could fall in on his bullets.” “Oh,” was all he said. So I went on, “Now let me ask you this: If I came up on your dead body and I needed a smoke, but you didn’t have any Marlboro Lights, you’d be non-smoking compatible, wouldn’t you?” And then he chuckled just a bit until the thought of his dead body sank his face sore, which is when I had a chuckle. So we both got a good laugh out of it I guess.

- The Exodus


...Faces Part VIII...

SPC. Anthony Suitto / PFC. Thomas Aldridge / SPC. Nick Acevedo / SPC. Kevin Lopez / SGT. Neil Buckman

_ The Exodus

...Just got Back...

...from a mission. More to come in the next few days.

- The Exodus


...Happy Birthday to Me...

08 MAY 2010

Today is my Birthday. I am 27 years old. The boys in the CET all signed a card. On the front are two kids playing basketball; one of them has a giant gold star on his shirt. It’s funny because whenever they do something good, I award them ‘Gold Stars’. Scuteri filled all of the radios so I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Good job, buddy, Gold Star!” And so on.

This is my second Birthday in Iraq. The first one, back in 2003, was spent stuck up on a wall getting twenty licks from a belt by my squad mates. This year, I was given comforting words from my Lieutenant about 30 being the new 20. And I think, “Oh, how Iraq has changed…” It’s a good thing too, I imagine, the idea of 27 lashings doesn’t sound very agreeable right about now.

The first Birthday I can remember, I was 8 or 9, maybe 7, I don’t know, and my school teacher was there. Mrs—or Miss or Ms or whatever—Covey something or other was her name. She deployed in the middle of the school year as an Army Reservist for the Iraq War: Part One. And I remember we all dressed up like Batman characters and stuff.

My favorite one—to date—was turning 23. Liezel, my South African angel, surprised me at midnight with champagne and sang in such a sweet voice and yada-yada-yada. It is debatable, my closest friends would argue, that this couldn’t possibly be my favorite. “After all,” they say, “What about the great times we’ve had? The trips to the Keys and island parties and block parties and keggers and such!” They go on, “And didn’t you have to bring her to the airport and send her home that same day?” Yes, I remember all the good times, and yes, she left that day too. Maybe my happy-o-meter is askew, or something, but it was my favorite.

I guess it’s expected I’d say, “Dude, when I turned 21 that was awesome! I got so f’ing messed up, man!” But that isn’t true. I turned 21 just a month or so after the first deployment; was happily married; and had yet to begin ‘self-medicating’. It only took six Long Island Iced Teas at dinner to make my night end throwing up in the shower. And if it weren’t for my poor wife, I probably would have drowned in that tub. So no, I imagine, 21 was not awesome or my favorite. Not by a long shot. 21 was stupid.

And what would I be doing right now if this deployment didn’t happen and I was spending the day back home? It would probably be a toss up between what I did last year verses the year before it. It is quite likely that I’d spend it alone at some beach bum bar, bare footed with my toes in the sand, while I sipped on a Margarita—on the rocks, no salt—and reading Vonnegut or something of the sort. But it is just as likely that I’d creep around in some hole-in-the-wall, trying to find some ‘patriotic civilian’ or old Vet who wants to buy the young hero a drink in exchange for a good war story—even though what they’d get from me is probably some watered-down, hippie-leftist, tree-hugging gibberish and such. But I can’t please everyone.

All that aside, Happy Birthday to me.

- The Exodus


...These Little Substitutions...

Three weeks in Kuwait has made me miss Iraq and the past few weeks I have found myself drinking far too much coffee, smoking more cigarettes than I should, and watching endless hours of TV broken up by video games. Missions have come to a halt due to armour refitting and I find myself trying to kill the time with things I usually don’t do back at home. My sleeping and eating schedule is beyond backwards due to trying to keep a sleeping pattern that mimics the ones on missions. Four AM fall asleep, two PM wake up, five PM eat, twelve AM eat…repeat. I write about this because I find it interesting how the routines I had at home have essentially just been replaced with different times and other ‘vices’.

In the comfort of my room back in Florida I find myself sipping on a Scotch as I edit photos and walk around the house to take a break when I’ve grown tired of staring at a screen. Smoking is non-existent habit for me unless I’m at a bar with some friends who enjoy cancer sticks and I’ll puff on a couple along with them, but here, it has changed. I can’t sip on a Scotch after hours of editing, or chase my dog around the house, or go into the fridge for some food to fill me up. So instead I smoke a cigarette or munch on chocolate or walk to other billets in hopes to find someone to smoke a cigarette with me or attempt to pick up my bible and try to not feel like a hypocrite. I’ve replaced an enjoyment with something to fill the mental hole of relaxation that I’ve created out of routine. Have I become addicted to smoking? No. It’s just a substitute for the time being. This deployment has become filled with many little substitutions.

I’m finally leaving for Baghdad again.

Oh…..and it’s Giunta’s Birthday. We are eating Ramen Noodles, scraps from MRE’s, and drinking a six back of near beer.

- The Exodus


...Faces Part VII...

PFC. Chris Lopez / SPC. Zach Molnar / CPL. Jon Kellam / SPC. Michael Walker II / PFC. Carlos Arauz

- The Exodus


...Faces Part VI...

SGT. Francis L. Giunta / PFC. Justin Barnhardt / CPL. Luis Delgado / SSG. Jaime "Mr. Clean" Lugo / SPC. Stephen Roberts

- The Exodus