Friday, August 21, 2009

And We're Off

“In the second truck we have Adams driving, LT, Fernandez on the gun, and dismounts will be Gangluff, Calloway, and the reporter.”

Everybody stares at me. Damn. I thought they knew my name. Later I learned that they DID know it, but they enjoy bugging me. Fine; I bug them right back.

It is often difficult to tell somebody’s story, since at best I am seeing it through the foggy lens of the storyteller’s selective memory, withheld grief, unarticulated frustrations, and because I was not there. No doubt, every time I tell one, I leave out something that was important to them, and readers are left with an even more broken and incomplete picture of what actually happened or who they are. I fear I do them all a great injustice.

Similarly, I am baffled as to how I introduce the more than 120 Soldiers of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. I could tell the history of Tropic Lightning (25th ID), that of Bronco (35th Brigade), Cacti (2nd Battalion), or the Ace of Spades (Charlie Company). I have no idea where to start. I don’t know enough. Besides this, I’m not here to tell unit histories or combat prowess. I’m here to introduce people, but I suspect I do that poorly, too. I’ve known these men for less than a month.

So what I will do is present brief glimpses into their lives and personalities. They are not “the troops;” they are the sons of America. Few exhibit character like theirs, but it is commonplace among the ranks.

The company commander here told me he looks forward to coming back to Iraq some years from now with his family. He wants to know that the grueling effort that he and his Soldiers have put into this country has amounted to something. He hopes our nation has shed its blood for good cause. A free Iraqi would satisfy that.

When I walked into one Soldier’s quarters, I observed that he writes to-do notes on his markerboard in Korean. He’s white, but his wife is Korean. Another Soldier is covered in tattoos – in Hawaiian. More than once I have betrayed my poor language skills with conversations in Spanish.

These Soldiers come from the Navy, the Air Force, National Guard, Africa, Mexico, the Pacific islands, and other places, but they’re all American now. Some only recently swore in. Nobody cares where they came from, because they’re all here together. Most of the officers are graduates of West Point.

I have observed that the biggest hulk of a Soldier here is also the biggest marshmallow. He attacks people frequently, insisting that, “no, I don’t do steroids,” but then they get back to work and he does it all quite cheerfully. He’s one of the most patient men I’ve ever seen, but his wall locker displays enormous dents reminding everybody how bad an idea it would be to piss him off. I’ve never seen him angry, though.

There is a Soldier here who many used to call short, stumpy and fat, until he outran them all in a recent race. He’s a pack mule, and the first guy I’ve met who’s been yelled at to walk slower during ruck marches. Even with his short legs striding twice for everybody else’s step, he’s somehow built for the Army. He calls his machines gun Irene. All of them.

Some Soldiers have shown me photos of babies, wives, or a small cadre of girlfriends. Children, however, seem to be the most common photographs displayed on computers. Photos are also taped to steering wheels. Everybody misses their kids. One showed me a photo of “his baby,” which was his car. Just a couple days ago, I observed a conversation where a grunt counseled another on the best baby book to read if you have a child on the way. The other sharply disagreed, waving his preferred baby book. His wife had told him not to come home until he’s read it.

One Soldier’s little brother is a movie star, and other Soldiers rarely talk to their siblings. Some will return to great marriages, and others to a mountain of challenges. This deployment has solidified a few relationships, but potentially broken just as many. Like anywhere else, there are problems. But out here, there’s little they can do about it. They’ll deal with it when they return.

Some of the Soldiers here get too much mail, and live in rooms packed with junk food and amenities from home, but a few have received hardly anything at all. Every unit has a few like this. They’ve slipped between the cracks back home, families have forgotten them, and friends don’t know what to say. It’s lonely for everybody out here, but exceedingly so for those who will return to little.

I’ve been regaled with stories of bar fights and boxing, and seen plenty of Soldiers limp back to their quarters bleeding (but smiling) from martial arts training. A few have trained with professional fighters, but it’s rare to hear about it. It’s not important out here.

One Soldier described his Native American background to me, while another, also of mixed Native American descent, told me how much he misses hunting in moccasins in the Pacific northwest. Later, when discussing who won the “Indian Wars,” one remarked that he’s not entirely sure that the white man won. How’s that? “Casinos. They’re getting rich off the white man now.”

I waited for a patrol brief one morning while listening to several Soldiers debate the best way to manage their investment portfolios in the market. Come midday, they were telling stories about encounters with their girlfriends. In the evening, others were debating politics and the absurdity of their current uniform color. Opinions were varied.

Some Soldiers are in this for the long haul, and are eager to return stateside for further training, while others mull over what they’ll do when they get out. Many are weary of deploying. For one, his sixth tour will begin a few months into 2010. Another has been deployed constantly since 2002, save for about four months of each year. He looks forward to getting out. He’s considering college, as are many others. This battalion will be losing a full 40% of its members to either orders elsewhere or the civilian world.

One Soldier has been medically evacuated since I arrived here, and last anybody’s heard he’s in the states. He won’t be rejoining them out here, but will meet them in Hawaii. Even as he lay on the stretcher waiting for his flight, his military bearing shone through as he courteously answered the medical officer’s questions. Humorously, his primary concern was that the runner who packed his bag had also remembered to throw in his dip.

At least two Soldiers in this company conduct regular Bible studies attended by a rotating crowd of other Soldiers (and non-military personnel on this base). Plenty more wear crosses, or images of patron saints. Others hold no opinion, but at least one is Wiccan.

There are scores of Soldiers here who will be receiving medals for actions during the deployment, and I know the stories of a few whose hard work will probably go unnoticed. They were just doing their jobs, and they’re not here for the medals, anyway, but because they chose to be. Few talk about their accomplishments, but one told me what it was like to shove somebody in a bodybag. It was the first time he’d done it, and he prays the last.

I’ve lost money in card games here, invariably trumped by somebody who plays more poker, and learned a new game called “corn hole,” where a beanbag is thrown at a slick piece of elevated plywood with a hole in it. On “company fun day,” they had tournaments with both games, with carefully monitored results. If you and your partner lose badly, you’re never allowed to play as a team again. Period.

Platoon rivalry is serious business, as bands from one platoon randomly accost loners from the other. When it’s time to work, the games stop quickly. They take their jobs seriously, because they have to.

I’ve learned that some of the Soldiers here absolutely love Iraqi cuisine, while others won’t touch it. Even those that do like it have confessed that it caused a series of digestive problems that take forever to go away. Still, they eat the local food and drinking the local “chai” tea. As they sip, they joke about what diseases they’ll get from it.

During the fun day barbeque, the meal was briefly disrupted by an incoming rocket landing about forty feet from where we ate, but it didn’t detonate. In moments, we resumed eating and watched Soldiers from EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) pick up the pieces of the warhead and haul them away for safe disposal. It serves as a reminder that this is still Iraq, and there are still people that wish them dead.

And it is thus that most, if not all these Soldiers have lost friends and comrades over the years and during this tour. Several wear bracelets honoring fallen comrades, and plenty more have photos of friends they’ve lost.

Prior to missions, Soldiers brief every aspect of the mission, rehearse immediate actions and standard operating procedures, and ensure a rigid adherence to professional conduct as directed by the rules of engagement. They are read, in full, before each patrol. As their tour winds down, the company commander reminds them to stay sharp. They have two months left, and he wants them all to finish strong and safe. Ramadan begins on Saturday, a notoriously violent time in this country.

Should I ever visit Hawaii, I have been assured of a dozen places to stay, and invited to plenty of bars, beaches and other attractions across the island. I have been invited to churches, on motorcycle rides, and fishing, too. In truth, if I had served with a unit as professional, hospitable and motivated as this, I would probably still be in the Marine Corps. After years of horror stories about low morale, it’s nice to see something different. This company, in fact, leads the entire 25th Infantry Division in reenlistment rates. They have done well with their mission, and I have been honored to briefly witness this first hand.

And so, as fragmented and incomplete as this piece and my other writing may be, it is my hope that readers will now see men, fathers, husbands and sons where they previously saw sunglasses, flak vests and uniforms. It is also my hope that they see men laboring for their country where before they viewed anonymous players in a contentious war fought in a faraway land. It is my hope that they see people.

Here is what I see: stories, humor, hope, frustration, weariness, loneliness and enthusiasm. Well over one hundred lives lived out in radically different places and unique circumstances, drawn together by a single, uniform oath. I see that oath taken seriously. I see servants, companions, and leaders. I see tactical competence and the potential for combat ferocity. I see men and Soldiers. I see brothers, and I see friends. Welcome them home, for they are your sons.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Few Plans

*Retold with permission

I’ve spent nearly a year compiling a list of things I’m going to do when I get back. It’s a strange combination of things, but everything has a purpose. Most of them are simple, too, but you don’t realize how much you miss those things until they’re gone. Out here, they are. I have a lot of catching up to do.

The first order of business is to take my daughter to Chuckie Cheezes, hand her $20.00 in quarters and tell her to just have fun. I’ve missed her. I’ve missed watching her play.

I’m going to cook my own breakfast next, at whatever hour of the day I feel like eating it. I intend to eat a real omelet with real eggs, bacon, biscuits, and probably a hardboiled egg, too. I’ll eat it slowly. Then I’ll drink a beer. Why? Because I can.

I’m going to enjoy using a real porcelain toilet for the first time in forever, and not having to wear socks and shoes while I’m in there. When I’m done, I’m going to take a shower – without shower shoes. After I’m finished, I’ll just sit down in the tub. You can’t do that here. You’ll catch something. Or perhaps many somethings.

When I’ve determined that I’ve lounged in the bathtub for long enough, I’m going to get out, throw on a towel and air dry. Then I’ll sit on the porch in my towel and smoke a Marlboro Red. Maybe I’ll have a beer then, too.

When I get back to Hawaii, I’m going to “the spot” along the beach. My spot, actually. On the coastline, there’s a small hill of sand, maybe three feet tall. Then there’s a ledge, and a steep drop of more sand right into the surf. I’m going to sit up there for a time, alone, drop my shoes, and tumble all the way into the surf.

When I’ve knocked off all the sand, I’m climbing back to the top of the hill again and riding down on my boogie board. When I reach the breakers, I’ll do a couple barrel rolls and hit the water. This time, I’m staying in. I’m not setting a schedule.

When I get back to my home in the states, I’m going to take the Harley out and ride it to the lake. Not many people know about it, but there’s a trail that runs along the shore. Some distance down, there’s a short break in the bushes on the bank where you get a full view of the water. I’m going to sit there for a long while and not talk to anybody. I’ll have brought a fishing pole and a can of worms, so I’ll do some fishing, too.

You can’t walk anywhere on this base without running into somebody you know. They’re nice people, but I need my quiet time. You never get that out here, or the nice porcelain toilets. When I’m done sitting and fishing in peace, I’ll get back on the bike and ride until I don’t feel like riding anymore. It doesn’t matter how long or short that is; it’s my decision to make, not somebody else’s.

Aside from these few things, I don’t have many plans. I’ll see my family at some point, and a few friends, but more than anything I’ll spend my time alone or with my daughter. She’s the only important one. Every day that I go into work is for her. The rest of my life is devoted to raising her. Out here, that’s mostly been on hold.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm Still Thinking

“In reading all your posts, it seems to me that most, if not 90-95 percent are positive and about people serving their country and doing good blah, blah, blah. But where is the dissent? Where is the bitching? Where are the people just tired of all the bullshit, being led by people who have been [consumed] by stupid?” Surely, he surmised, at least one person here has a problem either with his leaders, his peers, or his mission. As a veteran himself, he has experienced it all personally. In many ways, we all have.

This was the email that I received a few days ago. I have been expecting it, from one source or another. And in truth, these are all legitimate questions.

His inquiry brought back memories of some of my own experiences in Iraq. Days where I am convinced we existed and thrived on anger alone. They were tempered with days we were relieved to simply sleep, or be alive, or have all our limbs. But yes, we were angry.

During my first tour, I remember carrying out orders and missions that made no sense and seemed to needlessly endanger myself and my fellow Marines. I remember belting out a litany epithets at whomever would listen about how what we were doing was an absolute waste of time. I remember being involved in firefights and other shooting incidents where the first order of business upon our return to base was writing statements about precisely what happened. I remember fearing that we would be charged with murder, even when we clearly acted in self-defense.

I also recall wondering why we were issued rifles if our actions were going to be deemed inherently suspect, and concluding on more than one occasion that the Rules of Engagement (ROE) seemed more concerned with protecting the Iraqis than protecting us. I remember muttering that my commanders had fixated on their own careers and reputations at the expense of every one of their subordinates. I remember wondering aloud why I was in Iraq, when it seemed like every effort we made to kill the enemy was checked, watered-down, or altogether halted.

I remember writing emails home to friends and family about some of these matters, venting frustrations about orders and command decisions that, as far as I was concerned, led to the deaths of some of my friends. I also remember being sharply rebuked for doing this – by a family member. In fact, the only people who were interested in entertaining my gripes were various reporters who were hellbent on identifying and publicizing controversy. Fearing repercussions, I said nothing to them.

To make a long story short, when the time arrived for me to either stay in the military or leave, I ultimately left. It was a solid year before I began to see beyond my anger, and another year before I could articulate it with any intelligence. Even then, the best I could state was that I hadn’t yet formed an opinion. I needed to think about it further. That statement also applies now, too.

But, there are several things I have learned since I first set foot in this country more than five years ago. When combined, they form a very solid, clear answer to the question that was posed to me. Here is what I have learned:

I have learned that wars are imperfect situations at best. They are waged by imperfect men and women against a substantially more imperfect enemy, and serve as evil intended to defeat an even greater evil. They are extremely imperfect solutions, though often the only one remaining. Regardless of how well they are conducted, men will die, innocents will die, families will be torn apart, and many more will be driven into poverty as a consequence of the circumstances. I, and everybody else out here, volunteered to participate in war. It helps rein in the anger, to a degree.

I have learned that wars are also chaotic, and unlike other fields of work, a small mistake here may easily translate to one’s own demise, or similar harm befalling another. By virtue of the fact we are human, mistakes will be made. None of us is perfect. To include myself, the United States military does not summon the able, but the willing. Naturally, we will err from time to time. We simply try to keep it to a minimum.

I have learned that reporters, writers, or whatever you wish to call representatives of the media, all have personal agendas. It is innate, and cannot be helped. I, too have an agenda. My only defense is that I have made it clearly known from the very beginning of my writing: to reacquaint the public with the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, to share their experiences, and to remind the nation that, for all their faults and shortcomings, they routinely demonstrate astounding acts of selflessness. I am here to tell stories of their character, because it is inherently good.

I have learned that complaining about the mission and/or the military is usually altogether misconstrued by whomever hears what I say. Conservatives will most likely see it as a betrayal of the ranks and the aforementioned good men and women. Liberals will probably regard it as further ammunition to their argument that this war was unnecessary in the first place. Neither conclusion is correct.

I have learned that people like to demonize somebody, just as they like to find a scapegoat. After the initial shock and response of 9-11, the entire United States saw to blaming somebody for the “security oversight” that permitted such an attack on US soil. They forget that our government, too, is comprised of humans.

I have learned that the product of these investigations and inquiries are often fellow US citizens who at some point or another may have made a mistake or misjudged a threat. Despite their limited responsibility, they are tangible, they are relatively close, and they will often shoulder more of the blame than is appropriate. I have learned that we quickly forget that it was the enemy who hated us and attacked us in the first place. We prefer to attack something more palpable: ourselves.

I have learned first-hand that the military is composed of men and women who answer to the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress, and the White House. In other words, the gravest decisions being made are taking place in the continental United States, in many cases by men and women who have never set foot in this country. Those beneath them, from generals all the way to privates, are left with the task of carrying out those orders.

I have learned that despite the fact that orders are coming from mostly civilian leaders in the states, the men and women who volunteered to serve are bearing most of the blame in the public eye. A “concerned citizen” will have a hard time getting his message heard by the President or his congressional representative, but he can easily approach a Soldier or Marine and voice his opinions on the conflict. The President has an entire organization devoted to his safety. US servicemembers have no such thing. It is they that will be screamed at, called baby killers, have food thrown at them, or mocked publically for their service to country. I have learned that blame is being poorly cast.

Finally, I have learned that complaining about something without providing a viable solution degrades the complainer to no higher position than gadfly, an annoyance that has no better suggestions, but is content to merely fuss with the status quo. Problems are not solved with complaints, however, but solutions.

So why have I elected to restrict my writing to predominantly positive stories about the good troops, blah, blah, blah? Because that is my mission. Why have I chosen to ignore or simply not report the negativity, the injustices, the low morale and lack of belief in the mission? Because I refuse to be responsible for any more negative opinion of the United States military. As is, they are already receiving undue blame for decisions in which they took no part. They carry out orders. They do not dictate policy.

Why am I comfortable with the fact that I am effectively silencing the voices of thousands of men and women who I claim to be reacquainting with the public? Because I am protecting them from those who will not understand them – at least not yet. They are already considered ignorant, mindless automatons who gleefully carry out heinous acts against innocents. I will provide no further “evidence” for that baseless accusation.

Why am I not sharing the numbers of troops who oppose the mission and doubt it will work? Because it is not relevant – at least not yet. They did not join to complete a mission, they volunteered to serve their country. It is the decision of our elected and appointed political leadership how and where they will serve. Nor does opposition to the mission in any way alter their dedication to it. Their country called them and they answered. If this is how the county wishes them to serve, they will do so to the best of their abilities, regardless of their conviction that it will work. And that is what I WILL write: they exhibit superb character.

Something more important needs to be remembered right now, and learned, and taken to heart. Tonight, more than 130,000 United States citizens, all of whom volunteered to serve their country, will go to sleep alone, missing their spouses, children and families. Tomorrow, they will awaken and return to duty. That is what the country needs to know.

What is my opinion on the war? I don’t know yet. Ask me later. It’s still waging right now, and the men and women serving in it deserve our fullest attention. I will complain when I have a solution.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Or, We Starve

*From a conversation elsewhere in Iraq.

The reason I’m here is because my children were starving. This certainly wasn’t what I’d planned to do with myself. But, between no work, no money, and a pressing need to feed my family, the Army was the only solution. Even still, how I arrived here in this unit specifically is a long story. It began more than seventeen years ago...

Before I was ever in the Army, I was a Marine – like a lot of Soldiers out here. Just after Desert Storm and fresh out of high school, I enlisted as a Marine LAV Crewman [infantry]. Ans to be honest, it wasn’t what I had expected. A military during peacetime is vastly different from what is in time of war. It’s not as fast-paced, and it’s easier to lose sight of what you’re doing why you’re doing it. I enjoyed certain parts, but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career. After four years, I elected to get out and pursue other things. It wasn’t the life for me.

But I still had an itch. Yes, there were aspects of the Marines that weren’t very appealing to me and a few things I outright hated, but there was plenty more that I missed: the uniform, the camaraderie, the brotherhood, and the knowledge that you’re involved in something greater than yourself. Rather than keep missing it, though, I did something about it. Less than three years after I’d gotten out of the Marines, I enlisted in the Army National Guard – again as an infantryman. It was a good supplemental income.

After years of typical Guard duty, unit was activated to augment Department of Homeland Security personnel at airports, putting me back on active duty from 2003 to 2005. With that, of course, came the aspects of active duty that I didn’t particularly like. When the tour ended in ’05, I chose to get out again. Itch or no itch, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.

Things were tough for my family and me in southern California. After several unsuccessful attempts to find work, I talked with a cousin in Chicago. He promised me a job, and a place for my family until we got on our feet. They had room in their house, he said. Packing everything we owned into a moving van, we headed to Chicago.

My cousin, however, had not been particularly truthful. There was no guaranteed work, and he hadn’t even mentioned to his wife that we’d be coming to stay. Nor was there any room, at any rate. For lack of anything better, I moved my family into a motel room. I needed work.

Job prospects in Chicago weren’t much better than they were in California, though. In desperation, I started doing day labor, but it wasn’t really fruitful. I had a hard time getting a ride to the pickup point – especially at six in the morning.

Day labor, hard and honest work though it may be, doesn’t provide income sufficient to feed a family – at least not one living in a motel room. My paycheck was mostly spent on the motel bill, leaving entirely too little for my wife and children. And if I were to buy all the food we actually needed, the motel bill would go unpaid, and we’d be literally homeless. We’d spent all our savings on the move from California.

So come 2007, in total desperation, I enlisted into the Army – active duty – this time as a Refueler. Infantry tends to wear you down, so I needed to “reclass” into something different. I’m not as young as I used to be, either. It was by no means what I really wanted to do, but it was work, a steady paycheck, and it would certainly provide for my family. My children needed to eat.

So two years into my “latest enlistment,” I’m in Iraq on my first tour as a Refueler. Thankfully, it’s much more relaxed than the infantry. Unfortunately, though, because of all my broken time, I’m only a specialist [E-4]. That’s even after four years active duty Marines, eight years Guard, and now another two years active duty Army. Basically 18 years on and off. I’m hopeful it’ll change soon. We could use the extra income.

If I’d known that I’d end up here anyway, I’d have never left the Marines in the 90s. I’d be two years from retirement, and a hell of a lot higher rank than I am right now. If I’d known, I’d have done things very differently.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Somehow We Win

“Everybody likes to tell stories about how great they did in combat,” a Soldier recently remarked. I would agree. It’s a matter of pride. I like to recall a time when we were young and did great things. They’ll be tales for the grandkids someday.

He continued: “But usually, we get out there and dumb things happen. We’re not tough and impressive; we’re clumsy and we fall down a lot. It’s hard to be proud when you look like a dumbass.”

I can personally attest to this, too. After a time, you don’t mind telling the story anymore. Personally humiliating though it may be, you learn to see the humor in it. Below is a collection of potentially motivating, dangerous combat situations that had unusual endings…

A friend of mine was on a foot patrol though a small town when the urgent need to attend to business hit him. Finding an alley as secluded as possible, he squatted against the wall, dropped his trousers, and relived himself.

As he leaned against the wall, a bell started ringing. To his total horror, the gate next to him crashed open, and he was greeted by several dozen school children filing out the door into the street. They were met by a Marine whose pants were at his ankles, beads of sweat rolling off his forehead, slowly realizing that he probably just cancelled out the efforts of a hundred public affairs missions. Trying to be polite as possible, he greeted them in Arabic as they slinked past him in total disgust.

“No wonder they hate us,” some will say.


During one tour, a Soldier recalls his unit receiving repeated intelligence reports of a suspect frequenting a certain house. Five times they assaulted the house, each time not finding the target. Except for the time he rode by on a scooter and waved to them. Another time, they kicked in the door, and were surprised to find that the family had prepared dinner for them. They were expected each time.


A Soldier I know was involved in a high-speed air assault wherein two choppers would unload a slew of troops into a landing zone by night, they would quickly reconsolidate, and move on to their objective. It sounds like the stuff of Army commercials.

Well, that is until they determined that the choppers had landed in a field with head-high reeds and interlaced with small canals. They poured out the rear of the birds and sprinted through the weeds to provide perimeter security. Most of them soon found themselves in tangled heaps in small ditches, disoriented, in the dark, and completely covered in mud. Even after the choppers took off they had a hard time reorganizing. It was like playing Marco Polo in the dark, in a combat zone, in high grass. So much for the element of surprise.

Their extraction a few days later was a perfect shot at redemption. In a CLEAR field, the helicopters would land, and they would all collapse their security as they loaded up and flew away.

Unbeknown to them, the field was extremely dusty, and recently fertilized with manure. As the rotors kicked up dirt, rocks and other debris, the Soldier raced out to climb aboard. Breathing hard, they swallowed a lot of dirt. One Soldier recalls an incident with the man next to him.

“As we ran along, this guy made the mistake of running with his mouth open. The dirt and sand was bad enough, but then a huge piece of manure flew into his mouth so hard that he accidentally swallowed it. He slowed down immediately.”

“Oh no! I think I just ate shit!”

“Are you okay?”

“No.” He began gagging, and then vomited all over the LZ – into the wind. So much for redemption.


Another Soldier recalls a night mission where he leaped across a small canal, but was unaware there was another directly beyond it.

“I cleared the first trench, but then I started to fall into the next one. I tried to push my SAW [light machine gun] away from me, but I forgot I still had the sling around me. It was just like a cartoon. I slid down and in, through the mud on the bottom, up the far side, and then I went airborne right back into it face-first. My night vision goggles smashed into the side of my head, and my face hit my SAW. I also messed up my back pretty badly.”

His injuries were concerning enough that the mission was temporarily halted to assess his condition. The medic thought he’d need to be evacuated, since he was having trouble walking. He radioed back to base.

“Who was it,” came the reply, and Doc relayed his initials and last four.

“Oh, him? What a dip shit. Keep moving. I’m sure he’s fine.” In time he was, save for a bruised back and an equally bruised ego.


As is becoming quite obvious, canals are the source of much trouble. It was in 2004 when, running along one trying to halt a car, I found myself flat in another ditch, up to my chest, still aimed in at the car. They stopped, thankfully, but started laughing at me.

I remember dejectedly wandering back to the humvee, hoping nobody had seen me. Of course, we had a key leader with us that day.

“First Sergeant, you didn’t see what just happened, did you?”

“I did, but I knew you had things under control.” He turned away, laughing.


And finally, this:

As a friend was on a patrol through some farmland, they came to a canal and located a section shallow enough to wade across. After a few crossed over, my friend jumps in to do the same. He missed the shallow section.

“As soon as I jumped in, I knew I was sinking. I raised my SAW above my head, and then sank into the mud – completely underwater. I couldn’t get out, either. We were weighed down with too much gear. All I could do was shake my SAW and hope somebody heard the links rattling together. If they didn’t, I’d drown.”

Moments later, they heard him, scrambled into the muck, and extracted him. Gasping, he had one thing to say:

“Don’t cross there. It’s deep!”


If we’re the best, how incompetent must everybody ELSE be?

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved