Friday Night Story


Gloria; I miss you and the kids more than pizza, which may seem callous, but you have no idea how much I miss pizza. Oh God, and cookie dough ice cream. They have ice cream here, but no cookie dough. The heat, the lack of cookie dough, I think I may be in hell.

Call it a roadside bomb. Call it an IED. It’s a goddamn monster in a hole, a trapdoor spider that swallows men and vehicles in a horror of light and sound. Something like a third of our casualties come from these damned things, and a lot of civilian dead, too. If it’s anything like the bomb that killed Kowalski last week, it’s crammed full of shipyard confetti: ball bearings, nails, metal pieces, anything they could find for shrapnel. Kowalski killed himself trying to use a pigstick to soak the electronic components, so if I don’t die today, he may have saved my life.

Still haven’t had a chance to actually use the vest you sent; we were right to order it a little large so I don’t overheat like some of the guys. And that sweat wicking shirt you sent me works like a charm; I’ve seen some of the guys walking around without a vest on, because they’d “rather die from a bullet than drowning in my own ball sweat,” sorry about the visual, but it’s worse for me, I’ve had to shower next to the guy.

I’m better trained for the work than most of the men here; I was trained to be an MP, and reclassed as EOD when I arrived. Some of the guys we’ve met over here were reservists trained to hand out uniforms or hold a videocamera, and they’ve been retrained on the fly to perform complex knock and announce searches inside a foreign, increasingly hostile country. Gunfire hits the truck from the rooftops. I’ve got my hand on the damned device, holding it in place, so I very gently ask over the radio for covering fire.

To your question, we’ve got the Armor Survivability Kit installed on our truck, which is good. We get our hands on enough metal to reinforce the armor another foot, they just angle up the next mine to blast over the top of the armor.

Our interpreter, “Andy,” tries to clear the area. He was outted as a “collaborator” by someone he went to college with, so he stays in the barracks with us. We have to keep it quiet, because it’s a no no, but it’s better than finding out he got killed in his home. He wants to come to America when we’re done, and we dodge the question every time it comes up; if nothing else, we’re fighting for an Iraq he can be safe in now. A bullet glances off the truck behind me, and digs into the earth a few inches from the IED, and I fucking swear in my head in every language I’ve ever heard, but my hands don’t flinch.

I hope Sergeant Wagner starts feeling better. It’s deplorable, that he gave so much, and had to fight the army for treatment when they got him stateside. I hoped the things you told me about the hospital conditions weren’t true, but it’s been in the news for a while now, and it’s impossible for me to ignore. And you can argue the semantics of it, but when budget increases fall below increases in the cost of care, it’s a cut; when you have to reduce staff and money for research, it’s a cut.

Sergeant Martin’s busy on the other side of the truck with the damned robot arm trying to disarm another IED. They’re probably built to go off in tandem; there’s no physical daisy chain, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t linked electronically. So if he screws up, I’m done, but if I screw up, it just messes up his stupid robot arm. The only effective render safe procedure I can see would have been to keep on driving. The design is sophisticated enough that there isn’t any hope of a low order detonation; it gives the full explosive yield or nothing. I stop, and take in a breath to stop from shaking.

I wish we could stop focusing on Abu Ghraib and the number of dead civilians. I know it sounds callous, but war is hell. Men in combat do terrible things; men changed by combat can do even worse. I don’t condone it- I couldn’t; but everything we do beyond acknowledging these things and apologizing- the way we try to hide it, and the way we try not to prosecute it once it comes out- it turns something tragic and heinous into something dangerous for every American in country.

I wish we could wait for the Andros, but the nearest one won’t be done for another twenty minutes, won’t arrive for ten after that. We’re using electronic countermeasures, but it isn’t likely they’re using anything so unsophisticated. Probably infrared or laser detonation. My stomach turns at the thought. The gunfire means the party’s starting. Whatever these IEDs were placed for, aside from fifty dollars American, they’re about to be used. Maybe the first one is just to lure a crowd, although these days Iraqis are pretty cautious about gathering.

And Goddamn George and Goddamn Condi; the British have been saying for years that the Iranians are supplying the insurgents with more and more sophisticated IED training, but because we disagree on Iran’s nuclear future, we refuse to even sit down with them. Goddamn them. People are dying because they think international political disagreements can be solved by giving them the silent treatment? Next time I may vote democrat; yeah, they’ll slash our benefits, but at least they won’t send us into a war and then cut the personnel that are supposed to be there to help us when we get back.

The whole thing is built around an Iraqi artillery shell, and the shit part about that is that we should have secured Iraqi munitions as part of the invasion. Instead, 250,000 tons, about a third of them, were stolen; the insurgency could wage war indefinitely with that, even without tapping the black markets out of Iran, Syria and Russia. Martin screams into the radio that his IED’s taken a ricochet. Thirty layers of Kevlar are all that stand between me and a wall of death, and I’m the only thing between that and the others in the truck. Thirty layers- enough to stop a 44 mag semi jacketed hollowpoint; it might as well be tissue paper. I drop over it, lowering myself the last few millimeters slowly. It hasn’t gone off, and maybe it won’t, and there’s no sense in forcing it to.

I love you. I do. And I’m sorry my letters so often take this kind of turn, but this damn war just gets to me. Being here, it isn’t good for anyone. But I am coming home. I promise. Tell the kids I love them, too.

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