Bullshit Sandwich By Katko

Bullshit Sandwich By Katko

Friday, December 3, 2010

Baby birds & dirty nightgowns

 I woke up this morning, and none of the news was good
Death machines were rumbling across the ground where Jesus stood
and the man on my TV told me, that it'd always been that way
there was nothing anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah I almost lost my mind
and I regained my senses again
looked into my heart to find
that I believe that one fine day, all the children of Abraham
will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem
-Steve Earle "Jerusalem"

A painting on tile of Ali.
IA Checkpoint
On the dusty, cratered roads leading to all US F.O.B's (forward operating base), there are a few things that are constants- haphazard Iraqi checkpoints, manned either by the Iraqi Police (IP) or more likely, some militia. These militias present themselves in a wide range of conditions, from rag-tag and filthy to downright dapper... some checkpoints are festooned with plastic flowers, some huge paintings of the Shi'a hero, Ali, Son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammed, and considered by all Muslims to be the first male Muslim, looking like the Zig Zag Man, often in the company of tigers... The militia that had the checkpoint outside the North Gate of Joint Base Balad (JBB), had matching leather jackets and cold weather beanie caps, all bearing their unique insignia, like a street gang from Westside Story, or group of oil changers from Jiffy Lube... The "soldiers" in these checkpoints lean on their AK47's, sometimes muzzles in the dirt... they stare, they smoke, they try to look indifferent, they beg water, sometimes they wave, and sometimes they make a gesture, like a knife cutting their own throat and then point at you, laughing. If you get this signal, I tell my guys, I wanna know... It's an indication that we may be driving into something...Were still gonna drive into it, but maybe I'll put my kevlar helmet on... Probably not.

The other constant on these roads are the kids.

He is maybe 8, barefoot, wearing what appears to be a nightshirt. It's filthy, his hair too is stiff and coated in the talc like dust... pointing in every direction -Iraqi bed-head. His sister holds tightly to his arm. She is dressed in a similar nightshirt, hers appears to have once been green, it's sequined... it was once beautiful, something my daughter Piper would have loved when she was her age... a "Princess Jasmine" dress. She lets go of her brothers arm long enough to make a gesture... her hand like shadow-puppet bird, opening and closing, she holds it to her mouth, she's begging for food. Once in awhile a box of Pop-Tarts will fly from the turret of an MRAP (Mine Resistant... something or other... a big armored gun truck) or an MRE. I have told my guys, that under no circumstances are they to throw ANYTHING to the kids, or anyone else for that matter. It is one of the few things that will get them in deep shit on my convoy - hit a cement barrier? I'll cover the damage with mud & we'll all repeat the mantra "what happens outside the wire, stays outside the wire" But if you throw something to the kids, The Dude (thats me) will chew your ass... and The Dude doesn't chew much ass.

Before I got to Iraq there was a female CC (Convoy Commander, later re-titled Convoy Lead, to avoid confusion about exactly who was in charge of the convoy - the Military CC)... This CC, so the legend goes, would go to the PX and buy all kinds of sweets and treats, package them in individual baggies, like birthday party hand-outs, and throw them to the kids... one day a kid got a little too excited and ran into the road. The kid was killed, by one of our trucks... Imagine being that CC... Imagine being that driver. The kids were fearless, and I wasn't going to have a dead kid on my conscience.

Most of my drivers were from Ghana. They grew up barefoot & filthy. They wanted to treat the kids. I wanted to treat the kids. I always saw Piper or Lisa when I saw little girls in filthy Princess Jasmine dresses. The risk was too much however. Don't throw a fucking thing to those kids. Ever.

If a Major League scout had any balls, he would be handing out gloves and baseballs along the roads of Iraq. I once saw a kid, maybe six years old, standing on one side of the pontoon bridge leading over the Tigris river one early morning. He had laid down a sack some twenty yards away from the road, and walked towards our idling trucks making the hungry bird gesture. A dog approached his sack and was sniffing around it when the kid saw it... he stooped and picked up a golf ball sized rock, and in one fluid motion winged it, on "a rope" as the scout would say, straight into the poor dog's ass... the dog went yelping away and the kid continued his bird feeding... They could be just as accurate with bigger rocks, aimed at our windshields. The glass on our trucks was 4 inches thick. Layers of glass & Mylar. They would stop a 7.62 round, shrapnel and, of course a rock. I was never angry at the rock throwers. No matter how many hours of sleep they cost me, filling out reports and talking to Security dick-heads... I woulda been a rock throwing motherfucker if I had grown up on those dusty roads. Someday Iraq may surpass the Dominican Republic as the best place to scout future Major Leaguers outside the US.

The kids also stole anything that wasnt securely fastened to our flatbeds... as we'd creep in or out of a base, they'd run along side and open our side boxes, liberating heavy chains & straps... tools, cargo, spare tires, whatever they could get. I'll never forget the sight of a 8 or 9 year old boy hauling ass, barefoot through the desert, a 70 pound length of chain trailing behind him... What the fuck did they do with all of that chain? I imagine they sold it to the local truckers, or maybe they even sold it back to Army.

Most of the chain was probably wrapped around old Russian 155 artillery rounds, then wired up and buried along those same dusty roads to be detonated as we drove by... When an artillery round is set off it spins a half turn as the explosion finds the weakest point in the round to escape from... they blow out sideways. If they were in an artillery piece as designed, the breach of the weapon would contain the explosion, and the energy would force the war head (or "bullet") out of the barrel. A 155 round wrapped in chain would send thousands of chunks of steel flying sideways. They would tear a human body into tiny wet pieces, but they rarely did much damage to our trucks, or military vehicles... Often the idiot that planted the IED would lay it parallel to the road, war head pointed up or down the road, The thing would be set off and spin a half turn, sending the nasty stuff up the road instead of into the road.

Truck 5:"Truck 5 IED!... still rolling"
IED attack on my convoy, 10 Sept 2011.
Me: "ok guys, lets get out of the kill zone"



And down the road we'd go. Another night in Iraq. Maybe we'll asses the damage on the road, up a few clicks, maybe we'll just keep rolling and check it out when we get where were going. I'd get on the Qualcomm and let Operations know back at JBB, that we were hit... then I'd earn the 200 bucks extra base pay I got for being a CL, the questions would start, the paperwork would begin, and sure as your born, some dick-head "security" dork would be all over my ass at whatever base we were headed towards, and he would keep me busy for a few obnoxious hours...

Once as we were idling our way into JBB after a long night on convoy, Poncho, the driver who was behind me keyed up the 40 watt radio "Hey Dude I just saw a kid stick something in your side-box". This was a fear of mine... as easily as they steal shit OUT of the boxes, they could have put something UGLY in the boxes. Something could blow up inside the wire... I notified the military and we pulled our truck up against a blast wall in the South entrance to JBB and I got out of the truck. I had my helmet on then! - not that it would do any good...I had my flashlight out and I approached the box. A soldier came up behind me "See anything?" "Fuck I cant see anything yet!" he was hiding behind me and we were both giggling the nervous giggle of two guys who were about to be blown to shit as I approached the box...slowly... My light lit up the open metal box... it was empty... "Nothing" I said. The kid then came around me and looked for himself. We laughed the relieved laugh of two guys who are going to make it to morning chow and we ran back to our respective vehicles.

Just another night in Iraq.

1 comment:

  1. Jeezzus. WOW. I'm so glad I'm going to get to hear the story. I worked with some civil servants who had gone over several times to help the kids. The said it's going to take at least 3 generations of kids to get them to a place where they understand there is life outside the mountains they are brainwashed, dropping candy from the sky, and the horrors, the chaos. The hatred. The intense poverty. Their lives are changed forever and they can't stop going back to help. I'm pretty sure it was Iraq. I can't imagine seeing your own kids in the faces of all the little ghosts running in the street. Wanting to care for them but not daring to hurt them. That is suck city for sure.