*The below is fiction. Maybe...
Hall remembered when he liked being called insane. By his interpretation of the accusation, people were impressed that he was willing to do creative things, but they were entirely too weenie to try such things themselves. It invariably took them too far from the comforts of their suburban neighborhoods with neglected little lawns, overweight and emotionally disengaged husbands yelling at a football games on TV, and their disillusioned wives attempting to keep the kids from climbing the walls while they struggled to cook dinner. He enjoyed not being like that. But now, the prospect of drinking his cheap beer, watching his game, and disliking his frantic wife seemed appealing.
Absently grinding the curved magazine of his AK—47 into the top ledge of the mortared half wall, he looked behind him to confirm if Tucker was asleep. As expected, he was. Despite frequent eminent danger, Tucker still considered any lull as a superb opportunity to catch up sleep – a puzzling trait considering that he never appeared to exert more than the very minimum required energy to stand from his bed in the morning, eat something, drink a strong coffee, and drift back to sleep. Hall had more than once accused him of being a waste of carbon.
He flicked his still-lit cigarette back towards Tucker, hitting the low wall above his head. In the dark, red embers showered onto his head and shoulders and he stirred, eventually lifting his head to stare groggily at Hall.
“They coming?” he managed to ask around a yawn.
“They why’d you wake me up?” He vigorously brushed cigarette ash from his hair.
“Because if I have to be alert up here, so do you.”
Tucker stood with monumental effort, slung his rifle on his shoulder like a shovel, and shrugged. He remained silent, unwilling to concede that Hall was right.
He peered off the roof into the dark. “Anything to see out there?”
“Just jackals. I haven’t heard anything else, and no car’s come near for an hour, but they could be walking in this time.”
“We’ll see, I guess. Hand me a smoke, will you?”
In silence, they looked out into the desert, listening to jackals bicker over which one owned what piece of empty desert. Hall thought about the suburbs again and realized with irony that he was doing exactly the same thing the jackals were doing – only with guns. Being insane had disadvantages.
It had begun as a barroom joke years before. US commanders often made shabby attempts at humor when addressing their troops. “I’ve been here so long, I ought to buy real estate and build a house.” Nobody would laugh, afraid to give them any license to continue. It was true, though. They’d ALL been there too long.
Hall and Tucker, along with five other escapees from the infantry ranks, had repeated the joke over drinks one evening in Oceanside, California and wondered if maybe the commanders’ jokes were more reasonable than they had previously been willing to admit. Tucker thought it would be funny – the ultimate middle finger to a country he had visited repeatedly, never liked, but strangely would be willing to visit again. Hall considered it an adventure. Burr, always eager to horrify people, thought it was a splendid opportunity to wear a “man dress” and get away with it. The rest, judgment blurred by varying quantities of beer and discontent at the prospect of living in their parents’ basements and attending community college, quickly agreed. It could be done, maybe, with the proper funding, careful planning, and a certain death wish.
“Why?” was the question they were asked with incredulity when they tried to explain their reasoning. “Why not?” however, was the best response they could summon. It satisfied them, but not “normal people.” They always seemed enthusiastic to provide a long list of reasons why it was a stupid idea. Most of them were valid, too. If they were so enthusiastic about visiting the sandbox again, why not stay in the military? Each quickly fired off his own reasons for getting out. After Hall mentioned his intentions to one friend, who looked at him with incredulity, he determined it was better to simply not talk about it. He’d wait until he’d done it, grew bored of it, and came back home. He was eager to further distance himself from the weenies.
They concluded that the logistics would be bloody awful. To anybody’s knowledge, no US servicemembers had ever decided to return to Iraq as residents. Tourists had traveled through the relative safety of Kurdistan, yes, but nowhere else – at least not without securing large compounds, hiring enormous guard forces, driving exorbitantly expensive armored vehicles, and living in terror. One American guy had tried to motorcycle the country, but he’d been arrested by Iraqi forces, handed over to the US military, and quickly deported. He was clearly insane, and not in a good, adventurous way. This would be more calculated, and methodical – and still seemed absurdly dangerous. But, that was part of the thrill.
It would take years to research and execute, obviously. Not so much because it was difficult to visit a dangerous area of the world, but because certain things needed to transpire first. The conflict as a whole, specifically as it pertained to US presence, needed to change first. Very simply, the longer they waited, the less likely it would be that they were marching blithely to their own deaths. Time would change the situation on the ground, no doubt, and give them ample opportunity to prepare. Something as complex as this deserved a little forethought. With refilled glasses and even dimmer thinking, they toasted to their health, their success in future exploits, and to hell with everybody else.
To be continued...
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