SOUNDS OF WAR |
March 02, 2007
War here in Iraq has generated an entire set of sounds that are unique, whether in origin or presentation. They come from both the mundane and the deadly, and each has its own particular flavor.
The most common sound we all share is the drone of the generator. Every building has its electrical power provided by generators. In Falluja, large banks of huge CAT Diesel generators are so well insulated they are almost quiet. In Ramadi we have more and smaller generators that are not so well insulated. Inside my barracks they emit a drone. Standing next to them, one is best advised to follow the warnings and wear hearing protection. The sound is a constant companion.
Gunfire is a very common sound. A lifelong firearms enthusiast, it would be dishonest to say I no longer like it. It is however, far more contextual for me now. Gunfire to the south is just as likely to be coming from the ranges as any place else. Gunfire to the north is almost certainly a battle being waged. Range fire has more of a predictable rhythm, while gunfire from battle has peaks of intensity, as well as rapid stops and starts. I find myself with a heightened level of awareness of gunfire and its likely ramifications.
Aircraft sounds are not restricted to the battlefield. You experience them in a whole new way here. Helicopters in the civilian world are usually either some sort of Life Flight, or your local television or radio station traffic-and-news chopper. Here helicopters might mean Medevac, or the arrival of VIPs, or they can be just general transportation. Since I've been here I have flown on two models of helicopter I never thought I would have the chance to ride.
They fly low, very low. Two days ago I watched a Black Hawk make a tight turn and tilt so far I thought the blades might strike the building it was flying over. Every flight is serious and a combat operation. Helicopters are also inherently dangerous, at least more so than fixed wing aircraft. I marvel at the skill of the pilots.
Fixed wing aircraft, at least at low levels, are far less common. In fact only twice have I experienced low level flights by fixed wing aircraft -- F-18 Super Hornets on attack runs. If you have ever been to an air show where the Blue Angels have performed, you know what that sounds like. Those two times were moments that I thought my life was about to come to a quick conclusion, as I mistook them for incoming rockets.
Loud explosions are not uncommon. Fortunately, instances of incoming mortar and rocket fire have been few and far between. We have experienced it, but it is not something we are experienced at. Outgoing artillery fire is another matter. Before my current incarnation as an Engineer I was a Field Artillery officer, and I thought I was accustomed to the sound of outgoing artillery. But I think that was because I was giving the order to fire. It is always a surprise and a little disconcerting. Because among other things it can be confused with...
High order explosive detonations. We have had two of these in the last two days. AIF hit an IP check point about 2500 meters from our TOC. It shook the place good, and we could only watch the smoke rise from the scene. Two days ago the fatality was the bomber. Today I don't know what the results were.
I know being here has affected me and has changed me. I am sure these sounds, and maybe others, will always remind me of the war in Iraq.