Well, here I am, sitting behind a computer screen on day 13 of what was supposed to be a 6 day op. How does that happen you might ask? How do we end up staying out here more than twice as long as we were scheduled? That is a mystery even to us. We will be at Camp Fallujah prepping to leave for an op and we’ll be told to prep for 6 days. No more. We’ve been over extended too much lately. Six days max. Translation: "We’re gonna go ahead and let you head out there thinking six days, but on day four we’re going to extend you three more, and then the next day we’re gonna smack you with another four days…suckers."
Luckily these 13 days haven’t been too bad. Now understand that I say that in some serious context. We saw the end of June turn into July, which means God turned up the heat on the oven. We missed the Fourth of July dinner we were supposed to get back at South Camp. We ran low enough on water at one point that we were not allowed to brush our teeth or shave (no one complained about not shaving, but the fuzz on the teeth was a little annoying). The water we did drink felt like it came out of the microwave. We had to live in a house with dirt floors.
BUT, the patrol schedule was pretty easy, we never actually ran out of chow and water, everyone got through a bunch of books, we saw two pay periods come and go, we threw a bunch of batteries on the fire and had a homemade Fourth of July, and we didn’t get shot at, not even once.
It’s pretty hard to sit here and try to recount what happened at the beginning of this op. Two weeks is a long time in the field. If you’ll recall the last time we were out our rotation ended with us getting in a little 3 day tiff with al Qaeda. Well after we left the area, AQ decided to line the road they retreated down with about a baker’s dozen worth of IEDs. So the first night we came down to the Zaidon, our Route Clearance unit hit 4 IEDs within about a 500 meter stretch (luckily they roll in virtually indestructible vehicles, so they were okay). Because of this, we couldn’t reach where we were trying to go, so we went firm and tried to push down the road again the next night. Boom, boom, boom, boom and boom. They hit 5 more IEDs the second night. Hmm, this is like trying to push open a door labeled ‘pull’. Our platoon ended up just staying in the vicinity of the road that had all the IED’s on it.
About the most exciting patrol I had to do in 13 days involved going into the market to help cordon an IED that 4th platoon and the Iraqi Police had found when sweeping through. Yes, this is the same market that tried to kill me and my squad about 4 weeks ago when we got ambushed. Walking back to that thing was a complete head trip, everyone was a little itchy going back in. We got to the north side, and we had to link up with the IPs. We had brought an interpreter with us, but this guy was new to the job, and well apparently in the interpreter screening process they don’t ask if you speak English, because this terp spoke English about as well as my dog. After linking up with the IPs I actually sent him away because his lack of English was just making things worse. Explosive Ordinance Disposal ended up rolling up on scene and wanted to speak to someone who had actually seen the IED. Well that person wasn’t me, so I was trying to get this IP guy to explain where the bomb was. This became difficult because two IPs explained about 4 different bombs in about 7 different locations down the street. Finally, one of them just grabs a flag, runs down the street, kicks over a tire, points to a bomb lying there, drops the flag on it, and runs back. The Staff Sergeant from EOD and I just sat there with our jaws dropped. That guy was lucky he didn’t turn into a pink mist. Have you ever heard of the Darwin Awards? It’s a compilation of stories about people who die doing things like smoking while pumping gas and effectively control the outbreak of the ‘stupid’ genes in the human genetic code. I think this guy locked up a spot for himself in the Darwin Awards.
July Fourth came and went. Not without protest, but it came and went. On July 3rd ev
eryone was still holding out hope that we would be headed back to South Camp and would partake in the steak and lobster dinner that would be served. Those hopes were crushed. We tried to make the best of it. We obviously didn’t have access to any professional pyrotechnics, but hey, "adapt and overcome" or something moto like that. We saved up all our radio batteries, got our burn pit going, tossed them in and sat back. It was a nice Roman Candle/Black Cat combination, with an added element of ‘dodge the random burning piece of lithium battery screaming at your face’. Everyone talked about what they had done on last year’s 4th. Mine was spent at the beach in Hermosa and will go down as one of the all time greatest four day weekends ever. For four days it was wake up, cold beer, grimace, grab pounding head, glass of water and aspirin, cold beer, walk down to grocery store, buy new Styrofoam cooler and beer, walk down to beach, drink, swim and party all afternoon, walk home, shower, bbq, walk to the pier, go to the bar, come home, repeat. Last year’s Fourth saw us pioneer going to a bar called the "Poop Deck", where we played flip cup on the table and Joe and I climbed up on the roof, a college style keg party in Bodine’s garage, complete with beer bong, nights at Union, days at Dragon and the drunk man’s triathlon. I’m pretty sure I wrote a post following last year’s fourth, it’s probably in the archives, and when I get back to South Camp, I think I’ll read it and relive it.
We adopted a dog from the first house we stayed at. We pulled in and the house was abandoned but it had this little puppy chained up outside. The thing was filthy but we gave it a little shower and took him in. This little guy probably ate half our food in the first couple of days. Everyone loved the little guy, even though he wasn’t exactly house trained and he like to pee where we slept. Having him around reminded a lot of us of back home. When we moved houses three days later we took him with us. He was always waking us up to play in the middle of the night, biting guys on the ear or licking feet. The best part was he ate all the MREs that none of the Marines like, the thing was a little garbage disposal. Unfortunately, he followed one of the squads outside the wire when they were leaving on patrol and chased something into a field and never came back to them, so we haven’t seen him in 3 days now.
The house that we stayed in last was a complete dump. Dirt floors, a roof with a giant whole in it, hens and roosters that think they own the place, lots of bugs (including one that we have zero clue what it is, it’s about 3 inches long, looks like a cross between a grasshopper, a locust, a scorpion and an alien. We call it the Land Lobster), spiders and bats. At first we thought the bats would make really bad roommates because they made a lot of noise at night and were constantly flying around, not to mention they’re nothing but rats with wings. Then we realized that they hunt the bugs and mosquitoes, so we formed an unholy alliance with them. No one was allowed to kill the bats. The rooster, on the other hand, was fair game. That guy would constantly launch sneak attacks on us when our backs were turned and then retreat through open windows to safety.
We did manage to invent a new game on this op. It’s pretty lame and not a whole lot of fun, but it helps pass the time. Here’s how it goes. During the day (and night) it’s so hot that you are literally swimming in your own sweat. You will lay down and just sweat as if every pore in your body is a garden hose. On top of the sweating, the bugs are constant. The bats were just too undermanned and underfunded to effectively control the bug population. So here are the rules. You lay down and try to go to sleep. You close your eyes and succumb to the misery of the heat. You work up a killer sweat, until its running down your body in little rivers, you also stop swatting away all flies. Then every time you feel the hairs on your skin tickle you try and determine whether it’s a fly landing on you or sweat tickling you on its way down. That’s it, that’s the game.
Really, looking back on the last two weeks it wasn’t too bad. The time actually went by fairly fast. Two paychecks come and gone. By the time we come back out here again July will be halfway over. Guys have started talking crazy like, "if we come out for two weeks ever time, we only do two rotations per month!" Yeah, awesome and you only get about 3 days off per month, no thanks. But, in reality, I’ve stopped caring. Being in the field sucks, but everyday, no matter where you spend it, is one more day closer to going home. Closer to my family and friends, closer to sharing a cold beer with my dad and talking about being here, closer to sitting around a fire that’s not a burn pit full of trash and human waste, closer to the Badgers in Vegas, closer to the beach. So long as the clock keeps ticking, I’ll let it pass wherever.