May 10, 2010

Name: Six Foot Skinny
Posting date: 5/10/10
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Milblog: Lost in the Desert

She is sitting on a step that leads to a door in a wall. Surrounded by Iraqi kids. Her rifle, magazine in -- no doubt locked and loaded -- in one hand, muzzle skyward, butt on the ground. The Vietnam-era flak jacket (yeah, we had those) riding up a little, kevlar helmet askew due to the small boy leaning on her head. And there, sitting next to her and clowning with a younger boy, is a kid in a blue-striped shirt.

Framed Skinny KIN IN THE BLUE-STRIPED SHIRT The kid in the striped shirt is Saef. He was eight years old when that photo was taken. If he survives this war, he will run Iraq someday. If he is alive he is fourteen. When we were first consciously aware of him, his English was limited to “HEY!  Jou-need-any-ting? I get Pepsee, Coke-a-cola, cheeken…” A huge voice booming from this impossibly little man. When we moved into the city, to a former Baath Party headquarters-turned Provincial Government Center, he was our lifeline. He brought cigarettes, foam mattresses, kabobs, falafels, and anything else. Once he brought us a couch.

Saef was hyperactive and wild and sweet and hilarious. He became our crazy little brother, an Iraqi Tazmanian Devil, and we loved him and he us. He was a constant ball of energy and good spirits. We never got to meet his family, never saw his house. Judging by his clothing, they were poor. Very poor. His vocabulary grew and he picked up our nuance and sarcasm and curses and greetings. By the time we left, he was bargaining forcefully with my platoon sergeant -- a man thirty years his elder and easily four times his size. Saef on his tiptoes, JC leaning over at the waist, red in the face, lip quivering. Trading expletives waggling fingers at each other. I think Saef won that one.

The day the photo was taken, we were guarding/facilitating/witnessing the dispersal of severance pay to former Iraqi Soldiers. It was a mess. It was hot. It was dangerous in a way that we half-joked about then, and that amazes me now. There were twenty of us, tops. There were 1,500-2,000 of them. The first day, when we took over from some American Military Police, all the former Soldiers were crowded around the teller windows on the outside of the bank, banging on the windows and hollering for their money. It was a mob-scene. Literally. Saef brought us Cokes and falafel sandwiches. No, not for free. Kid had to make a living, and he did it well. He figured out how to inflate his prices enough to make a profit and keep our business, ensuring future profits. Brilliant. I am fairly certain he supported his family throughout our tour.

When it was time to leave our little outpost and return to the big Forward Operating Base outside town, we told Saef to come that morning and say goodbye. The vagaries of military timelines had us rolling out the gate as Saef and his posse arrived. He immediately broke down in tears, and that was the last time I ever saw him, from the window of my truck as we drove away. We were crying too. That was the second time I ever saw Saef cry. The day B was killed, Saef showed up shortly after the chaplain and first sergeant had left. “Where’s B?”  He asked. He saw the answer in the tear-tracks on our dirty faces. This little man, a tough little street guy and hustler to the bone, dissolved into an eight-year-old pile of tears. He cried as if he had lost a brother. 

There are rumors that Saef was killed in the violence of 2004 and 2005. The town where we were posted, one corner of the Sunni triangle, was an ethnic mix of Sunni and Shi’a and it dissolved into sectarian killings shortly after we left. I choose not to listen to those rumors and I choose not to believe them. When I got home from that tour, I looked at my youngest brother, the same age as Saef, and tried to picture him doing what Saef did. I couldn’t. I hope he’s all right. I hope he has a crush on a beautiful little Iraqi girl, and that he’s going to school. I hope that he has dreams about a peaceful Iraq where he can raise his children and tell them stories about the guys from Minnesota that he was friends with one year. And tell them about B. Mostly though, I just hope he’s OK.


Man oh man, what a heart-breaker. There are kids like this in every conflict, from Nam to Korea to WW2 and WW1. Some survive. May God take pity and rest their souls.

That is very sad; on the other hand, maybe what he learned from you guys allowed him to not only survive, but as you say flourish with grace and aplomb.

Dear Skinny,
Your story made me cry. I hope he is ok, too.

From your lips...


t's at once poignant and goofy, alarming and sweet, and filled with vignettes of mother-child relations that will have you squirming with recognition, no matter who you are.

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