This is My Rifle . . . This is My Gun
What do you most fear in war?
Dying or being wounded? maimed for life? disfigured? After a firefight, shoot out, whatever, anyone injured said “Tell my wife I love her” or “Get the chaplain” or “Make sure my kids are taken care of?” No. Uh-uh. Four times out of five every injured trooper I approached said either nothing, just shut his eyes and gripped a hand and prayed silently to himself or asked, “How’s my dick? Oh, my God . . . my dick, is it okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine, but if your leg is broken we’ll have to destroy you.”
Though we were equipped with plates to protect our “equipment” there remained the unshrugable fear that it would be wounded maimed disfigured.
Dick. Dedicated Infantry Combat Killer. That was the joke. We weren’t infantry. We were cavalry. Though we spent so much time dismounted, as it were, that we might as well have been infantry. Jesus Christ. Walk hump walk hump hump humpin’ it walk walk walkin’ it in our LPC (that’s fancy speak for Leather Personnel Carrier: boots), kickin’ up the Arabian dust, relaxing frightened females with a wink, ingratiating kids with candy and school supplies and soccer balls.
Rules prohibited mingling with the local females – yet it was mostly the local males who’d approached us, gestured for us to lower our sunglasses, expose our eyes. The females mostly avoided us, our eyes exposed or otherwise. They lowered their own eyes – goddamn beautiful – and side-stepped away from us and seemed surprised, genuinely surprised, that we hadn’t gone after them, reach grabbed groped for them.
One I-rackie female who’d been hired by the Provisional Authority to work in the Green Zone as a interpreter/secretary specializing in logistics was a favorite of mine. I’d say, “Mornin’, sunshine,” and eventually she started saying it back to me and then to everyone. Everyone. All the time. Even when it was fucking nighttime. Goddamn, she was a sweetheart. Then her brother was killed in Haditha and she stopped saying “mornin’” to anyone. Goddamn, she broke my heart. And my dick had nothing to do with it.
Females in combat zones are a problem: leastways, they were for us. Not because of poor performance, but because, well, hell, they weren’t equipped like us. And so, like big brothers looking out for our kid sisters, we were extra vigilant, extra violent when there was a female among us. And that’s why we ain’t liked them being on the frontlines, in combat: ain’t we got enough to worry about without the extra worry of where’s the female? anyone seen the female? is the female hurt? any fucking asshole shot kidnapped beaten raped the female? The civvie female embeds were the worst burdens. Lady, ain’t you got more pertinent things to write? like, say, the best purse to wear on a casual afternoon lunch or how to wow your man in the bedroom? With the male embeds we joked, “if you get hit we can evac you out to a hospital in like fifteen minutes, if you get hit really fucking bad we can get you out in like ten hours . . . if you get killed we’ll have you home in a week” but with the females we always said, “Don’t worry, ma’am, it’ll be all right. We’ll look out for you.” – you’re cameraman be damned.
One embed aboard a transport of the dead to the F.O.B. was absolutely silent for nearly the whole ride. Should he be asking questions? Getting information for his story? The wind, being the unfuckingcaring wind, blew fierce and the flaps of some of the tarps over the bodies were blown over, uncovered faces. That embed, mid-forties, married, exhausted, probably stunned, said, “No one even close their eyes for them.” Shit. That was a headline waiting to happen. We didn’t close their eyes for them; but we made sure their dicks were okay.
You’d be aiming at a certain corner, waiting for the fuckface to poke his head around it so’s you can put a bullet through it and be thinkng, C’mon, will you hurry up and look around, I gotta scratch my balls like crazy or you’d chance to see an Iraqi scratch his balls and think, Yep, no matter religion, politics, all that shit, we are all the same. Do females think that? Maybe one asks another is she’s got a spare tampon, We are all the same. There was this medic obsessed with tampons. Every range of absorbency he had to have in his kit. The females at the F.O.B. got mighty pissed at him cause he’d horde all the tampons. “What do you need them for?”
“Same thing you need them for: absorb blood.”
The nurses knew. Awww, man, oh, man, the nurses. We’d have routine physicals, make sure we were healthy enough to possibly be shot and killed. Or blown up. “Anything hurt?”
“Everything feels fine.”
“Let’s just be sure. Okay, strip.”
Over my three tours so many females saw my dick (and the rest of me) that it lost its sexual innuendo. It’s just a body part. No big deal . . . those aren’t the best words to use . . . I mean there’s nothing erotic about it.
Sure as shit weren’t nothing erotic about an embed with Playboy who showed up at the F.O.B. one afternoon and was first seen by me when I heard my lieutenant yell, “Playboy?!” I looked over, saw him standing with this skinny fella decked in civvies, a flak jacket and a helmet too big for his head or maybe his head was too small for the helmet, either way, he talked with the lieutenant for a few minutes and, though I couldn’t hear them, I knew they were discussing with which unit he’d be embedded. Please don’t call me, please don’t call me, please don’t call me, please don’t . . . . “Hey, W_____!” Shit. “This is Sergeant W_____, senior NCO of _th platoon. You’ll be with his unit.”
Hand offered for a shake, “Nice to meet you, sir.”
Seeing him up close I was mad, Christ, this kid come here straight from college, fresh with his journalism degree? He wasn’t a fella or a guy, but a kid, how the hell did he get this assignment? His daddy on the Playboy board of directors? His sissy one of Mr. Hefner’s favorite bunnies?
Hand shook, accompanied by a nod, “C’mon, I’ll introduce you to the guys.”
The guys overwhelmed with questions: Hey, man, what’d Playboy send you over here for? We get to meet some bunnies for bein’ in your story? You want a story? You bring some centerfolds over here with you? Wanna see a picture of my girlfriend, man? Now she could be a playmate of the month. Can you give Miss June my contact information? Just give her everything that’s on my dog tags. Kid didn’t say much. Mostly smiled and laughed, I’ll do what I can, and stuck to me like a fucking fly on a turd. Found it was because the lieutenant, before calling me over, told him that if our unit came under fire he should look for the senior NCO and do what he does. Never mind the officers. Follow the sergeants. They know what to do. For my part, I told my men to watch the corporals, do what they do. Everyone was watching everyone else. The first time that embed kid watched us dead-checking the muj he looked like a little boy who walked in on his mom and dad fucking, What’s daddy doing to mommy? Typically, we muzzle thumped a body in the eye and if there was a response the last thing that eye saw was a muzzle flash. Sometimes we thumped not the eye but, yep, you guessed it, the dick. Guess the kid thought a response would be followed by a call for the medic. Not a fatal bullet. That kid must’ve thought a shitload of things: we were really decent guy just doing our jobs, not the kind of guys to thump the wounded in their eyes and dicks. We were professional, serious guys, not the sort talk casually about impending violence.
An FAC (forward air controller) told be over the radio, “See that ville just to the east of the river?” – Euphrates – “just off my left wing?”
“Roger, ville east of the river.”
“That’s your target.”
“The west side is the border, don’t go past the buildings on the west side. If you make a left-hand pattern you’ll have to make it tight into the ville with a tight break. Stay at least a couple of clicks away from the border. Roger?”
“Okay. It’s all yours then. Happy hunting.”
Casual. We might as well have said –
“See that table just to the east of the bar?”
“Roger, table east of the bar.”
“That’s your table.”
“The west side is reserved for private parties, reservations only. Stay at least a couple of feet away from that side of the bar. Roger?”
“Okay. It’s all yours then. Happy dining.”
Dining away from the F.O.B. was M.R.E. Tasty. We shared with the kid embed but he hardly ate anything. Just stayed by me and took a few bites. Stared at nothing. His filthy glasses, his skinniness, he seemed like a geek out of place and uncomfortable among a bunch of jocks, afraid to shower with them, afraid we might see that . . . his dick was smaller than ours . . . he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He decided he damn sure wasn’t doing anymore of this embedded war correspondent shit when we got back to the F.O.B. and he got a tour of the various facilities courtesy of a specialist he chanced to meet while I showered. The meeting, from what I gathered later, went something like this:
Spec-4, “You a reporter?”
Kid Embed, “Yes, I’m . . . ” he thought better of mentioning the publication “. . . . here on assignment.”
“Okay. What’re you writing about?”
“Haven’t decided on the story yet, probably something about combat.”
He must’ve noticed that the specialist didn’t have the sun tan, the complexion of a soldier who’s been out under Nature’s heat tab, in the big sandbox, outside in the elements. He must’ve noticed that the specialist was pale. And maybe, if he was paying really close attention, he noticed that the specialist’s uniform had no identifying unit patch. Maybe.
“Have you seen much combat?”
“Not strictly combat, but a part of it.”
“The after part. When the fighting’s over.”
“Do you mean you help take care of the wounded?”
“Yeah. I do.”
Probably the kid embed took out a notepad, a pen, maybe a recorder, asked if the specialist minded having his words recorded. Or maybe he just listened. Stared at nothng through his filthy glasses and listened.
Spec-4, “I help get them ready for home.”
Kid Embed, “How?”
“You know, clean em up, bathe em, put em clean uniforms. They look beautiful when we’re done.”
“You and your unit?” – whatever the hell that is.
“Yes, sir, all of us. We work really hard to make sure they look good. Nice and clean. Dignified.”
They clean everthing: hair, nails, ears, dick.
“What do you call yourselves? Your unit, I mean.”
He might have immediately regretted the question.
The specialist might have decided he didn’t want himself or his unit to end up a story. Maybe both of them decided to excuse themselves so’s to scratch their itcy balls in private. Who knows? All I know for sure is my lieutenant told me that the kid embed was leaving, going back stateside because he had another assignment. “Saw him talking to mort.” Story told. That was the begninning, middle and end. Mort was Mortuary Affairs. They take care of the dead. Guess that was enough for him. The paleness, the cleaning, the getting em ready for home; the kid embed had put it all together right after he asked about the specialist’s unit and he decided that his new assignment