UNDER THE CRESCENT MOON |
March 11, 2008
UNDER THE CRESCENT MOON
Name: Lt G
Posting date: 3/11/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Reno, NV
Milblog: Kaboom: A Soldier's Journal
We slip out under the crescent moon, carefully treading our way through the midnight blackness, adjusting to our night vision devices while locking and loading our M4s. Red direct, fingers and minds ready to switch from safe to semi in an instant, trained to kill without hesitation and without mercy. Shades of green ebb and flow into our vision, like a Poe hallucination where color and depth perception disappear into a hazy mist of the amorphous. I utter a quick message to our Headquarters element over the radio, letting them know we’re departing, and follow the shape in front of me disappearing into the dark horizon.
“Sir?” PVT Das Boot says from behind me, as I leave both him and the radio on his back.
The young private’s German accent crackles with anticipation. “SSG Boondock told me to stay 10 steps behind you. Is that okay for you for when you need me to bring up the radio?”
I nod, and then remember there is no way he could have seen my acknowledgement. “That’s fine, man. That’s fine. I’ll let you know when I need you.” I turn back around and start observing my surroundings carefully. SGT Cheech has assumed the point position for tonight’s patrol, and the platoon falls into a staggered column behind him with nary a pause. SSG Bulldog’s Alpha section in front of me, SSG Boondock’s Bravo section behind me.
“Better keep up, Lieutenant,” my subconscious tells me.
“Don’t worry asshole,” I respond, silently. “Won’t be a problem.”
There are few things I’ve experienced in this life as eerie as a late-night dismounted patrol through the pitch black of Anu al-Verona. Sure, fear is a part of it, and an expected element, at that. But when you’re surrounded by twenty stone-cold warriors bred on machismo and testicular fortitude, it’s relatively simple to ease yourself out of the trepidation you imagine one should feel during combat operations. It’s not just the nerves, either. "Corporeally stimulating" makes it sound too much like a natural high, "feeling alive again" makes it sound too much like a daytime television talking point. All things considered, it’s simply sensual overload -- every sense churns away on the fumes of our remaining wits to keep us alert, with every turbo button being pressed maniacally to keep us moving; these are the moments that will make the rest of our lives grey and mundane in comparison. Sunday morning trips to the supermarket with the wife and the kids just won’t be able to compete with the dynamic vitality of this, the world’s oldest hunt.
I see the smoke from burning tires smoldering away all over the town. I smell the raw sewage toxins so prevalent in this Iraqi province. I hear the insurgency of barking wild dogs chronicle every explicit detail of our winding movements. I touch Biggie Smalls’ shoulder next to me to guide him through the dark as he leans over to whisper the historical significance of Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, while we pass the Shia mosque towering alone in no-man’s land. I taste cool, bracing water from my Camelbak as it rushes into my dry throat -- and I walk, and then walk some more, all the while scanning for enemy activity in the urban ghettos, exchanging various hand-and-arm signals with my men to my front and to my rear. Stop. Take a knee. 360-degree security here. Linear danger area ahead. Bring up the LT. Send an update back to SFC Big Country and Bravo section. Keep moving.
While I am impressed with our stealth -- as are the various groups of locals we sneak up on, shocking them into quiet conciliation while they huddle around burning tires and newspapers for warmth -- we are by no means Delta Force, and certain missteps occur during the opening minutes of our patrol. Some of the younger soldiers in front of me begin to bunch up the formation, seeking out subliminal comfort with closer proximity to another human being. SSG Bulldog quickly remedies this however, maneuvering through his section with a hammer’s grace, physically moving the Joes back into proper place and distance. A few minutes later, I see a body -- I register the stocky cut and hasty strut as (newly promoted) PFC Boomhauer’s -- fall over a curb some ten feet in front of me, stagger up, and follow that up with some muffled expletives. I smile to myself, something that inevitably brings on the god of karma, as I do the same thing five minutes later.
“Mother fucker,” I hiss, as I stand back up, unrolling my ankle, cursing at the terrorist hole that had seized my leg, instantly more sentient to the 60 pounds of additional weight compressed around my chest in armored plates and various gear additions. “Stupid ass country and its stupid ass bullshit.”
“What was that?” Biggie Smalls asks. “Are you okay, LT?’
“I’m fine, Biggie,” I growl, temporarily livid that a near-blind terp with a hobble and without the benefit of night vision goggles somehow manages to never fall. We keep moving. Stop. Take a knee. Crossing a linear danger area. Bring up the LT.
I saunter up to a typical Sons of Iraq checkpoint, while my soldiers fan out around me, posting far-side security. A group of Iraqi men, ranging in size from small to smaller, are gathered around a small fire, AK-47s hanging loosely from their backs, all sporting the same matching white hats and white jackets that serve as a uniform in this sector.
“We got four of ‘em, Sir,” PV2 Romeo says back to me, as he moves to his far-side position. “Roger,” I say, and continue my movement up to the Iraqis.
“Salaam aleichem,” I say, hand raised.
“Hello mistah!” they respond, trying to act as awake and as alert as possible, scrambling up to shake my hand. We’ve snuck up on them by emerging silently out of the shadows of the night, surprising them by not rolling by in our monstrous Strykers first. They know they should be closer to the street, in order to stop any late night traffic that comes by. There should also be six Sons working at this hour at this checkpoint.
“Where are the other two?” I cut straight to the point of the discussion -- I don’t feel like dealing with the normal bullshit and glad-handing at this hour. Biggie’s voice matches mine in both pace and tenacity; this is his fourth year of interpreting and I’m his seventh lieutenant. His English may at times be shoddy, but his understanding of American SOPs and platoon leader moods is not.
A rapid flurry of Arabic words emerges post-translation. “Don’t bullshit me,” I warn, not bothering to wait for Biggie. I’ve had this discussion before, and heard the excuses before. All they’re doing right now is delaying my ability to crawl back into my sleeping bag at the combat outpost.
There is an awkward pause, and then one of the Sons speaks to Biggie. “He say that the other two are sick, and they were unable to find replacements,” the terp says, voice dripping with disgust.
I smile to myself. This bothers him more than it does me. I pull out my notebook and red lense flashlight, and begin writing with great demonstrative flair. “Tell them we’ll be letting their Sheik know about this, and that CPT Whiteback will be docking their pay. Again.”
Keep moving. Stop. Take a knee. 360-degree security here. Linear danger area ahead. Bring up the LT. Talk to the Sons of Iraq. Keep moving. Send an update back to SFC Big Country and Bravo section. Keep moving. Scare off another growling wild dog with a rock tossed its way. Stop. Take a knee. Keep moving.
We are walking up one of the main routes in southern Anu al-Verona now, staggered column intact, silence assured. The mental tracker I keep in my mind places our positions just short of Sheik Abu Franco's sprawling compound of slumlord excess. I impulsively check my watch; it has been three hours since we left the combat outpost. I chide myself for letting my mind wander over the course of the patrol, thinking about things and people and dreams that were left across the sea, instead of concentrating solely on the mission at hand. It’s not going to be like it was, anyways, I remind myself. Or how you want it to be. Or how it should have been. Why bother.
I hear shouts in Arabic to my front, and the sound of an AK-47 cocking reverberates into the still of the night. My men immediately drop to the ground, and seek out whatever cover they can find; I spy PFC Cold-Nuts just ahead of me huddling behind a generator, and SPC Flashback across from me rolls into a ditch on the side of the road. I’ve moved to my left, and find myself kneeling in a door frame of a store, and can feel Biggie behind me, crunched over in the same position. Twenty upgraded M4 Carbines are wedged tightly into shoulder pockets, oriented systematically to our north, night vision lasers dancing around multiple shadows and shapes that resemble human silhouettes. Three seconds -- maybe -- have passed since we heard the AK lock and load. I know my men. They are aching for positive identification of the enemy.
“Hey mutha fucka!” It’s SSG Bulldog, somewhere to my front right. “We Americans, Whose you is?!”
It must be Sheik Abu Franco’s bodyguards, I think to myself, wandering on their own dismounted patrol. It’s gotta be. No one else would be down here this time of night. If they weren’t his bodyguards, they would have shot already. Unless they hadn’t seen us yet. I refocus my night vision. Three green blobs, all standing up and holding rifles, are pacing frenziedly, heads scanning for our movements.
I can hear SSG Bulldog yelling again in the direction of the green blobs, and I can tell he is thinking the same thing I am regarding Sheik Abu Franco’s bodyguards. I am also aware however, that Arabs -- be them Sawha, terp, terrorist, or dilapidated bum -- struggle with SSG Bulldog’s deep southern drawl, and believe it to be a different language than English. Time to execute a shitty plan quickly, rather than wait for the perfect one to develop.
“Let’s go, Biggie,” I say, walking into the middle of the street. “Salaam aleichem!” I yell. “Americans!” I inject as much nasal whitebread suburbanite as I can into my voice, for clarity’s sake. I also swing my rifle back down into the low ready, and begin to stroke the safety trigger. If they start shooting at me, at least my soldiers will finally have their positive identification.
On my fourth step forward, I see the Green Light of God (a poweful naked eye laser) shine past me and center directly onto an Iraqi’s forehead -- SGT Chico’s own way of telling the mystery men that we are Americans ready and willing to turn their lives Jurassic. “That’ll work too,” I think to myself, feeling a smirk stroll across my face. My gunner’s always bailing me out of tight situations.
I continue walking, and come up on three frozen members of Sheik Abu Franco’s bodyguard posse. They stutter their way through a conversation, filling it with apologies, explanations, and offers of Chai. I make them clear their weapons and we keep moving.
I look over at Biggie, who is shaking his head. “Stupid men do stupid things,” he says.
We walk around a corner and start moving back west. The bright lights of the combat outpost shine in the distance, washing out my night vision. Like a proud citadel rising out of medieval lowlands, our home contrasts starkly with the dirty paucity we now trudge through. I can feel my pace quicken slightly, with the visual promise of our mission’s end, and the simple pleasures that come with it. Judging by the patrol’s movement, I know I’m not the only one who hears this silent siren’s song. Ten minutes later, I am counting my soldiers in through a maze of Jersey barriers and razor wire. Twenty Gravediggers out, twenty Gravediggers in. End of mission. Bringing up the rear of our patrol is SFC Big Country, who as always, ensures that no wolf wanders off from the pack.
“Another productive mission,” I say, my words laced with undertones.
He looks down at me, grabs my shoulder for leverage, and begins to stretch his legs. “Hell Sir,” he says, “we all made it back. That’s the most important thing.”
When he finishes stretching, we go take a seat on the front stoop. I accept his offer of a cigarette, and take a long drag. I cough, but do my best to muffle it. I still don’t get a buzz from tobacco, but it makes the headaches go away. Usually. “You’re right of course,” I tell my platoon sergeant, after a few minutes of silence. “That is the most important thing. Mission accomplished.” I pause melodramatically. “Think we’ll get a banner?”
He laughs and says no, probably no banner. We look at up at the crescent moon, still grinning madly. We will sleep before it does. I take another long drag from my cigarette, stifle a cough, and watch smoky embers rage into nothingness on the concrete. Then I walk inside, eager to shed my body armor, hoping that our patrol tired me out enough so that I will be able to sleep instead of think about things beyond my control.
I fall asleep eventually, despite myself