January 04, 2008

Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 1/4/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url:

A routine trip to the motor pool, only supposed to last an hour or so ("Should be a quick fix, no biggie") becomes an all day event when you find out that this truck you're driving is scheduled for full servicing.

Why not? Gotta do it sometime.

Or maybe it wasn't the truck. Maybe it was the patrol, or the police call, or the tower guard, or it was any number of menial tasks and numb moments. Whatever it was, maybe you found yourself in a situation like this:

You light that cigarette -- you know, the one you're going to give up when you go home, but for now there's no reason to. Take a drag, and you look at nothing. You can even turn around to do this. Drop your hand to your side and exhale. Your eyes scan your surroundings. It's all tan and barren and you've seen it a million times before. And there are the same people you see every day.

One is pissed off, likely about some task they have to do. A couple more are smoking and joking. But everyone's doing the same thing: ignoring the magnitude, the realization of exactly where we are and what we're doing.

That's right. That's you standing on a sea of gravel (keeps that moon dust down, y'know) looking at barriers and baskets filled with dirt. CONEX* sheds and MILVAN* containers, villages of CHUs* (those little trailers most soldiers in Iraq live in....not your tent). A humvee rolls by and it doesn't mean anything.

That guy's bringing back a to-go plate from the chow hall. This guy's going to the gym. The phones. The internet cafe. This one's going to watch a movie. They're all going to ignore the open panorama that whispers thunderously loud, "IIIIIrrrraaaaaaaaq."

You choose not to see the palm trees on the side of the broken road as you roll out the gate. The kids jump up and down and demand soccer balls. The women make bread. The men stand in their gates and talk to each other. Groups congregate in front of shops. They all slide past you. You in your air guard hatch, in your multimilliondollar Stryker.

You in your $17,000 worth of equipment. You in your burned-out-tastebuds ether-and-xanax stupor of indifference brought on by endless repetition. You who have no idea where the world is going. You who probably never think about it anyway.

You who wake up for another nameless day, kneel down and jerk your bootlaces to tie them. One of them comes out right in your hand.

You who looks at it with a vague feeling almost resembling confusion.

You who tucks the remaining lace in your boot anyway.

You who never uses the phones because you hate how you can never find anything worthwhile to say and neither can they. We who all know that the phone can never compare to being with this person. The phone that can almost never prompt the random and hilarious conversations that spring up on fishing trips.

At red lights. Over the third beer and second game of pool.

You who wishes you had a better way to comfort the people you miss, other than hoping that your own absence becomes routine. You who misses graduations and 18th birthdays and anniversaries and the birth of children, your kid's first step or first word or first fistfight.

You who doesn't know how The Sopranos finally ended. You who doesn't know if the Buffalo Bills even call themselves a team anymore. You who with a grudge, hopes they don't. You who will also never forgive the Dallas Cowboys.

That bored Iraq winter sun starts to set and splatters pink and orange across the clouds and everyone is milling back and forth from the chow hall. Everyone is getting through another day. Most people aren't counting. Everyone's in limbo. Everyone seems fine. Maybe everyone is a little bit numb. Maybe everyone's a lot of bit tired.

Maybe everyone only vaguely remembers what it's like to drive a normal car. To stop at a red light. To think that careening over the median to get through traffic is an unspeakable act. To think less of that guy dumping your french fries in a box. To smell the sweet decaying funk of commercialism in a shopping mall.

So what is it that you're doing out here? It can't technically be called "shutting down". You aren't giving up, aren't even feeling sorry for yourself most of the time. You're still keeping your eyes open and watching your corner.

Maybe you're just hibernating for a bit. And maybe you're wondering how you're going to make the transition back from Suspect to Ryan. Or what it'll be like to never tell anyone about this place.

The sun is all the way down and here and there are the fireflies of cherry tip cigarette embers doing slow arcs upward, glowing bright, fading slightly, and dropping back down again. Gravel crunches under foot and tire. For most, the day is pretty much over and it's time to embrace that sweet nothingness for as many hours as your schedule and your mind will allow you. Because tomorrow, it all happens again.

And for the most part, this isn't bad. Life in the Purgatorium is usually devoid of strong emotion. Life in the Purgatorium is a sentence of time, a test of luck and personal fortitude. It's counting down days or cigarettes or bottles of Gatorade. It's wading through the echoes of a media frenzied war. It's little surprises here and there, not always good, but usually things you get accustomed to.

Life in the Purgatorium is not thinking too much. That's why the bootleg DVD sales are so high. That's why the gym is so full. That's why the MWR* is always in use. Life in the Purgatorium is distracting yourself so that you can continue your dream-state trek through things that make no sense.

life in the Purgatorium is only partially asking yourself what you got yourself into, and never trying to answer that question for yourself. Life in the Purgatorium is looking forward to the things you left behind, the simple little things. It's continuing to breathe and getting yourself through the lifeless day after lifeless day.

It's doing your time.

And everyone closes their eyes and everyone lingers in that stage just before sleep, and just before they nod off, all things considered, everyone is doing just fine.

And all the while, The Purgatorium patiently and methodically feeds all of these anemic pseudo-emotions.

It's only time.

CONEX: Container Express
MILVAN: Military Van (container)
CHU: Containerized Housing Unit
MWR: Morale Welfare and Recreation building


Your words; "So what is it that you're doing out here? It can't technically be called "shutting down"."

Well put. And true. It's a best course for doing the time. The pilot lights' still lit, and you can turn it up if need be, but why bother . . . for no reason? You're still watching, still alert to known dangers and perils, and fully capable of dealing with the shit, if it starts near you.

My prayers for the holiday were this; May you be warm and safe and bored. I don't know if you guys till say, "Hours of boredom. Moments of terror." I just wish you many, many more hours, safely bored. Unappealing, I know, but the alternative, whatever you call contact with the bad guys, is much, much less appealing.


A second to Richard's comment above.

The fact that things are so boring is a testament to how good a controlling force you are. I hope things stay boring and safe. I think your post is good evidence of the sacrifice made every day by all of you. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you. Even when safe and bored, you are our heroes. God bless and stay safe.

The fact that things are so boring is a testament to how good a controlling force you are. I hope things stay boring and safe. I think your post is good evidence of the sacrifice made every day by all of you. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you. Even when safe and bored, you are our heroes. God bless and stay safe.

Life is something that in the universe is common, for me there is no doubt that more advance, intelligent life is out there, some may already contacted us, others probably are in other regions of the universe.

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