June 18, 2007
Posting date: 6/18/07
Stationed in: Iraq
His rage was palpable. I honestly thought the Lieutenant Colonel was going to make me, a sorry 1ST Lieutenant, do push-ups. Not without good reason; I -- members of my platoon, but by association I -- had eaten the last of his favorite fudge ice cream cones. He fumed and frothed for what seemed like an eternity but was actually closer to 15 minutes, asking me over and over again with desperate agitation if I realized how important fudge ice cream cones and “turkey jerky” were. I think what infuriated him most was that the gravity of my demeanor failed to match that of the topic being discussed. I tried to understand the depth of his agony but, as demonstrated by his still-flailing arms and ongoing complaints, it seemed that my efforts were wanting.
In my defense, it had been a long day. My platoon began a mission at 0400 and it was currently around 0100 the next morning. We had traversed the entirety of the city ten times in the course of the day. We had engaged in several firefights. We had bandaged the grazing wounds on one of my soldiers. We had faced somewhere around 12 RPGs in a two-hour stint. We had applied tourniquets to the stumps of what had once been the legs of one my Company’s soldiers. We escorted him and three other soldiers to the CSH*. We were involved in several high speed chases. We got into heated exchanges with mutinous terps. We dropped several terps off outside the city. We picked up one of the top ten insurgents in the city. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant Colonel, I gather, had been puttering around the COB* imagining with righteous impatience the joys of that first bite into frozen chocolate before turning in -- the delicious taste that, to him, signaled the end of another productive day in the noble fight against terror.
So we were now at a local Iraqi Army COB waiting for the jundis to work the prisoner over or do whatever they do with prisoners before they give them to us. My soldiers were hungry. I knew this. I also knew the MITT* teams at other COBs let QRFs* help themselves to food and drink when they’re trapped outside the FOB* for days on end. I told the guys to “head inside and grab something to eat."
My usually keen prescience failed to fathom the dangerously Promethean potentiality of those words. There I was, lying on my back on the rocks outside my HMMVW, enjoying one of those rare moments of peace, of desert stars not obscured by smoke, when I heard the baleful sound of a penitent Joe: “There’s a LTC who wants to talk to you...He looks pissed.”
“Ah shit.” My mind unfurled a long list of possible grievances. Was it about the mission today, something about those obnoxious terps, about the state of the casualties we took, about the high priority prisoner who was soon to be in my charge? I mean this is a LTC. This must be a matter of strategic relevance.
No, he wanted me to shake down my soldiers for ice cream cones and "turkey jerky". I resisted. Something deep down, a hidden recess of forgotten and unbreakable human dignity, spoke up against the order. Let them have the ice cream cones and "turkey jerky" I said -- to myself of course. Besides, I suspected the ice cream had already melted, rendering the order impracticable.
He was adamant.
I went back to my soldiers. I tried to say something stern, paternalistic, to convey succinctly the reprehensibility, the ingratitude they had displayed in their immature taking of highly coveted dessert goods. I must say it didn’t come off quite the way I wanted. After a few minutes emphasizing the necessity of avoiding the building and its inhabitants at all costs in the future, I dismissed them from my presence and turned imperiously away. Sated with chocolate as they were, I doubt they truly grasped the depth of our guilt. I did not escape so easily. To this day I suffer. A little sadder and a little wiser, I suffer for that LTC -- his cozy chocolate night lost irrevocably, my unforgivable transgression to blame.
CSH: Combat Support Hospital
COB: Contingency Operating Base
MITT: Military Transition Team; lives with and trains the Iraqi Army
QRF: Quick Reaction Force
FOB: Forward Operating Base