CASH, A LATTE, AND A HAIRCUT |
February 14, 2007
Errands to run today. Out the back door (I almost always leave that way) I hop up onto the ledge of the Texas barriers that surround the porta-potties, hop down past the HESCO Barriers and by one generator. Now I am out in the open.
I cross a small footbridge and find my self in a field of connex containers. This is also were we stage the logistic patrols before they leave. It is a field of mud, or more accurately drying mud. Some parts are still soft and pliable, other parts have dried and begun to harden. The large wheels and tracked vehicles have created peaks and valleys in an ostensibly flat piece of ground. It will be fascinating to watch as the moisture departs. The mud changes to hardened clods of dirt, which will evolve into a concrete like substance, only to have the last bit of binder finally leave through the process of evaporation and return the individual particles to moon dust and a flat surface.
I negotiate the obstacle and pass another set of HESCOs and a generator that powers I don't know what, leading me to the VIP helipad. I always know the arrival of VIPs because their helicopters make a low pass over Badger Main before touching down on the helipad, allowing their cargo to alight near Brigade Headquarters.
Having passed the two chopper pad, I am now on the paved road that stretches clear across the FOB. Passing the PX I turn left. This side road has been a muddy mess lately, but it looks like some repair and the recent drying trend has helped out. The road is packed down. On my right is the HESCO-barrier-enclosed compound that houses the Green Bean, the barber shop, the alterations shop, a gift store, and the ATT calling center. I move further up the road and pass the Memorial Chapel to my left and a baseball field on my right. Finally after passing through some housing areas I emerge on another major road in front of the Dining Facility.
Now I turn left. Charlie Med is to my right. This is our FOB aid station where life-saving treatment can be rendered and a decision to transport to higher medical care made. I have sent two Soldiers out of here. One is back and one is at home. My trips here have all ended reasonably well, but I have no desire to return.
I pass motor pools and packed connex containers. Someone is always moving around here.
Finally I arrive at my destination, I turn right into a building that makes a square around a courtyard, reminiscent of the forts of the Old West. And it has a name to match. The Alamo. The Alamo houses various units and operations. The two that are salient to me and my Soldiers are the Post Office and Finance.
Finance is my destination. At the PX I can use my debit card, but I can only take $20 in cash. All other places here take only cash and there is no ATM. In addition to the PX, the only other place to get cash is here at Finance. You can take a "casual pay", i.e. an advance against your next paycheck, or cash a check. I am loath to do anything that touches that pay check. I cash a check.
In addition to my ID card they want me to write the following information on my check
1. Social Security Number
3. Expiration of Term of Service (ETS)
4. AKO Email
5. Camp Stationed
8. Bldg and Room number
I have no ETS as an officer so I write INDEF; my building has no number the post would be familiar with, and we have make shift rooms that we have not numbered. I give them something plausible. The clerk scans my ID card and then scans my check. He then stamps the check twice, once in the Pay to the Order of line (I have flashbacks of my negotiable instruments class in Law School; things beside combat can cause PTSD). I also initial next to a block that states:
I CONSENT TO THE IMMEDIATE COLLECTION FROM MY PAY THE AMOUNT OF THIS CHECK PLUS BANK CHARGES IF THIS CHECK IS DISHONORED
The clerk then hands me my $100 cash, I initial his log, and he hands me the check back. The money will be withdrawn from my checking account a few days later as an electronic transfer. The bureaucratic Gods have been satisfied.
Cash in hand, I depart the Alamo with less fanfare than Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie. As I make my way out to the main road, there are half a dozen connex containers with various Soldiers and Marines sorting through the mail that has arrived for all of the units in the area. Not only do they handle the mail for Camp Ramadi, but they must coordinate the mail sent to Soldiers even further out on the tip of the spear.
I retrace my steps. The motor pools and the connexs staged for departure. Charlie Med and the DFAC. Back on the hard surface running between the housing areas. To the HESCO-barriered compound where I can use the few services offered.
First I stop in the alteration shop, classified as a “Hajji Shop”. As it's under the auspices of AAFES and staffed by Koreans, I find the term “Hajji” not quite appropriate. I am looking for the I MEF (FWD) patch (I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)), our new combat patch. The MEF has ordered them but they may take awhile. Rumor is, alternations has it. They do, a locally made version. For $30. I pass.
Next the Green Bean. I seem to have missed the rush and I don’t have to wait too long for my triple non-fat latte. The most surprising thing though is to run into a Sergeant with the same last name as me. I have never met someone with the same last name that I was not immediately related too. Neither has he. We talk about where we are from and try to identify any possible relations. Wherever they are it is too remote for us to connect anywhere else than here in Ramadi, Iraq. I offer to buy him his drink but he declines. We part ways as he heads for his trip home. I head to the Barber Shop.
I prefer my choices in Falluja. There I can go to the Turkish Barber shop with the flaming cotton balls, or I can get my hair cut by Iraqis at the former Republican Guard Barber Shop. This is a trailer turned into a barber shop.
I take my number and take my turn to wait. The magazine collection is poor, a journal about yoga and an auction catalog. Numerous copies of the same issue of Stars and Stripes from last week, and a dozen novels. Who reads part of a book while waiting to get their haircut?
Indian pop music is playing and the movie Platoon is on the small TV. I see two GI’s going into the local village for some recreation with the ladies of the village. A flash of breast in the bathhouse scene makes me wonder if movies such as this violate the MNF-I order against pornography, and if not, where does that line lie? Whatever the political comparisons are, this war is nothing like Vietnam for those of us on the ground.
Soon it is my turn; high and tight, trim the top. My barber speaks just enough English to get that message across. At $3 it feels like I am ripping them off. I tip him a dollar and I am out the door.
The weather has turned nice. It is mid 60s. I have no need for my jacket. I enjoy my leisurely walk along the drying dirt roads of Camp Ramadi, back to Badger Main.