October 11, 2006

Name: SGT Salamander
Posting date: 10/11/06
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Pennsylvania

I had been pulled for an OP here in Baghdad. So I grab a private, my favorite private, and tell him to throw on his gear and leave those books behind.

College was a terror. I went from Protestant and a believer to well-read and subversive. Let's break the mold, son, let's enlist and have things to write about.

So here I am, educated and enlisted, an infantry sergeant enamored with the violence. And to promote, among other things, the development of a good private, I suggest reading lists. I steer these buggers away from pulp and pop and more towards explorations of the dark night of the soul, hoping, somehow, to get these dudes to realize the enormity of their present baptism in world affairs. So this private, the one throwing on his gear and leaving behind the books, is my little project. A social service product, a kid with no home, a kid who tags along on leave; this is the kid I pick for everything. I hammer his genitals into the wall. I want to make him my son and I his father. I want him to trust me.

So we go out, we infil, we lay there on the gun, we whisper and conduct our hourly radio checks. And this kid, this little bugger once soft and pink and now twenty years older than he was last year, this kid who read my list of books, gobbled my list of books, this kid says, "Sarn, we have to personify something, don't we?"

"Kid, we are human beings, we have the luxury of BEING the metaphor."

He thinks a second, shoots an azimuth at a cluster of people there in the haze, adjusts a few million pounds of gear, he says, "Nah, Sarn, I used to have the luxury."

God Bless You, Mr. Palahniuk.

And this kid, this little hero, is about one month from returning home to a country that will fear him, to girls who will desire him. He'll get his miniature round of applause at Atlanta airport, the USO will give him a razor and can of shaving cream and will thank him, impersonally, for being present in another debacle. And sooner or later, this kid, hopefully will thank God for his involvement in the deterioration of Baghdad, the crumbling of American foreign policy, seeing bodies turned to burger, watching a tracer round from his weapon burn a hole through a man's neck, the reading of books, the performance of thousands of pushups, the lack of sleep, the dust in his lungs; hopefully he'll thank God for this devastation.

I know I do. It has brought us away from the luxury of the metaphor. And this rarely happens in my world. And yours. He is exponentially disconnected from nuclear America. And now, a dog of war, now, having read the books and pulled the trigger, having bowed down to the violence, away from celebrity magazines and bad music, away from social formulae; this kid is as fatalistic as he needs to be, being what we in uniform have become.


How do we manage to keep going to war and forgetting how this effects everyone who fights and their families? I learned this with Viet Nam and how it affected the father of my son. Please stay safe. And come home. And give yourself time to heal.

My goodness, what a great little piece of writing. Whoever you are, keep at it.

I hope the insight is worth the price. For all of us.

Amazing. Maybe that is not the best choice of words, but that's all I have to offer right now. I would like to show my gratitude for this post, by enlisting.

Thank you.

Interesting indeed is the level of intelligence among today's enlisted corps. The essay above shows not only a high level of maturity and self-understanding, but a mastery of irony and Thompson-esque prose that most of us can only dream about.

So, like the man says, the warrior culture will come home one day. And what will our pussified society do with guys who have shot tracers through a man's neck and really loved it? Sure, chicks will love them and men will fear them; I suppose that's a good thing, though I personally have a lot of ambivalance toward the whole project. It's too bad for the Iraqis that their innocent country has to be the bloody backdrop for the coming-of-age of this generation's American Soldier and the loosing of his beast within.

God help us all.

Sgt. Sal,
Thanks for making the sacrifices that the rest of us have not been asked to. I hope you do not get killed. I hope you have a lifetime to grind the grist of knowledge and experience and become an exceptionally mature human being. I believe you will.

The “dark night of the soul” is a dimension the sentient must endure, but there is no good in remaining there.

I will borrow and paraphrase Wallace Stevens:
“…like a rose rabbi, later, I studied and continue to study
the origin and course of love, but until now
I never knew that fluttering things had so distinct a shade.”

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.

What is on your reading list?

"How it really is" is a lot of things, not just war. Unfortunately war is a lot easier sell.

i hope that my son, currently serving with the 172nd SBCT in Baghdad, has a "Sarn" that pushes & pulls at him like this as well

stay strong. stay smart. stay safe.

"It's too bad for the Iraqis that their innocent country has to be the bloody backdrop for the coming-of-age of this generation's American Soldier and the loosing of his beast within."

This quote doesn't surprise me at all. This is what the support the troops not the war people think of our Heroes in Cami.

Y'all get a razor, and a can of shaving cream? No wonder you're over there! Sorry, bad joke.

Glad to read your writing. Will look forward to more.

Good luck Sarge, and remember this lesson 20 years from now when the battlefield is working within some corporation and the pressure is on to perform some mindless little miracle. Remember, when everyone else is stressing out, that you're not on the battlefield, no one is going to die, and it's not really a crisis. Because you are in the crisis now. Enjoy. Stay safe and return alive. It'll be fun to work with you and I, for one, won't fear you or your pet private. I too served.

Dear Sgt.Salamander,

During my time in Vietnam my nickname was Sgt. Spider. With old French maps and lots of trees and mountains, we were always getting lost. My job was to climb the tallest tree and figure out just where we were. One day there was a cool breeze up there and I just kind of hung out and took a brief break from the never-ending humping. It was then that I earned the name of Sgt. Spider. I was attacked by a family of spider monkeys. It seems that they did not want any part of the madness that was on the ground. I left the cool breeze as fast as one can fall from a tree. I felt that the monkeys did not like violence
any more then my platoon of Marines.

You wrote your posting well, but one line stood out - " that you have become enamored with violence". I never felt or craved contact with the North vietnamese which became violent and chaotic. I feel that you have not become "enamored" but just used to war, it is easy to do. Sgt. Salamander you are doing a good job under very violent conditions, as evidenced by your looking out for your young troop. If spider monkeys in Vietnam avoided the madness that we caused, you can keep a little bit of kindness of who you are. Not by avoiding, but being the person that wrote that fine letter. It was a brief moment in your time that seemed like a rose in all the darkness. Sarge stay aware, alert, and come home to us safe.

You and your troops are in my thoughts every day. Semper Fi, Brother.

You should put Cormac McCarthy's new book "The Road" on your reading list. And some Tim O'Brien, if he's not there, either "Going After Cacciato" or "In the Lake of the Woods". And maybe Gabe Hudson's, "Dear Mr. President".

If there's any books you want and you can let me know, I'll mail them to you.

War is about ruining people.

Thanks for reminding us that some of the greatest poets, thinkers and artists were once soldiers. Perhaps it's because metaphor is the only way to describe the intense experience of war.

You are in good company.

Think of the burst of creative energy that the soldiers brought back from WWI after most of a generation of young men were obliterated by WWI. Expressionist art, jazz music and Hemingway, Joyce and Tolkien.

WWII had its creative wave of the 1950's, like R&R, Vonnegut and Heller.

Stay alive and inspired, guys. Civilizations come and go, and nobody remembers their politicians but can still admire the work of their artists.

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts. The world is a better place because of thoughtful folks like yourself.
This war is unjust for all.

Someday, when you're back here in the real world and you're trying to figure out what hit you over there, read Jonathan Shay's ACHILLES IN VIETNAM, about the experiences and reactions of soldiers in combat over the ages. Wonderful piece of work, helped me understand my Vietnam experiences and reactions. In the meanwhile, keep your butt down.

Wow. Very moving write up.
I hope and pray you will make it home safe and sound, and he will too.

WTF? How unfortunate we should bring such devastation to another culture of pathology, as with so many others in our history. If only we could have found the nobility to abdicate in the face of past tyrannies, we could now proclaim our glorious victimhood.

Please, I hope that writing is one of the main things you continue to do in life, with the aim of being read by as many people as possible. I know I may not always agree with your sentiment, but it will be something I have to analyze before I completely get it, like so many great writers.

Ummm.....we related? ;)

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