Friday, December 15, 2006

combat perfection

After nearly five months of combat logistical patrol, my convoy clip has been stood down and dispersed. Really, combat logistical patrol just means we make sure semi-trucks full of supplies don't get ambushed on their way from one military base to another. My company had two convoy clips, about thirty soldiers each: enough for ten three-man gun truck teams. Now there will be only one clip. Some of us will go work in a supply office, or in the motor pool shop or welding shop or pulling gate guard somewhere on the FOB. I'll be left alone at my CQ desk. No one's really tearing or scratching for my position.

A range of rumors floats in the sub-cultural stratosphere for why we were the ones to be stood down, and why not clip 2, the slower guys, the guys who stop when they think they've spotted an IED ahead, the guys that obey all the rules all the time, the guys who never challenge authority, who have never shot mistakenly at a friendly foreign-national semi-truck because we kicked him out of our convoy and then he decided to follow us from behind but we didn't realize it. We realized it, but not until we got close enough to see the poor Turkish man's wide-eyed face about twelve inches to the right of a bullet hole in his windshield from a 5.56mm M-16 round.

Despite the alleged habit of all soldiers and LAPD cops, we dutifully reported the mishap. The investigation concluded that probably after we kicked him out of our convoy the wide-eyed man should not have followed us across the Northern half of a country known for trying to blow us up with car bombs--or worse, semi-truck bombs. They concluded that definitely the guy should have stopped encroaching on our convoy after we flashed him repeatedly with our spot light and fired a warning shot.

We may be troublemakers but we know the steps of our escalation of force.

But I don't really think our positive attributes are what did us in, even if they also did not recommend us highly to some of our higher leadership. I think the real reason we were stood down had to do with the political unrest on our clip.

You would think among thirty people there could not be such a grand thing as political unrest. And you would be wrong.

The problem with putting a bunch of strong-willed, independent, and work-aholic soldiers together is that they will never be satisfied with the guy who tries to take charge. Very few of us on that clip could ever be a follower for more than eight to ten minutes at a time. And not even that long unless we were muttering epithets under our breath.

The way combat changes people is incredible. I watched as one soldier in particular slowly transformed from being likable, flexible and understanding, to being obsessively driven by combat perfectionism, rigid, vaguely cold, and a smoker of smokers.

Oh, cigarettes. You can track half the soldiers' stress levels here by noticing how many more or less cigarettes they are smoking compared to a day ago or a week or what have you.

My aunt sent me an email about three months back. She pleaded with me to please not become a smoker. Almost everyone here has become a smoker.

There's no such thing as combat perfection. I'm convinced of that. To chase such a whimsical fantasy will only make you an insomniac. Or I should say, more of insomniac. Insomnia is not like smoking. No one here escapes at least bouts of near insomnia. I'm in the middle of my second stretch of it, but for me it comes much more mild. And at the CQ desk, if I start getting tired from sleeping only restlessly the night before, well, then I just go to the back, turn off the lights and lie down on the green canvas cot we have. The first time it was worse. And even worse worse because I was still able-bodied on convoys and we were in the middle of nearly a month of back to back to back trips. I digress.

We've been through three or four convoy commanders in the last five months. Each time the overthrow rises up secretly in the underlying resentments of a select few and then they slowly start undermining his command, quietly, and then once he has been provoked sufficiently they begin the overt phase: overt confrontation, overt questioning, and finally, overt complaints to the first sergeant and commander. It's sneaky and I hate it. Not one of our convoy commanders was doing a half bad job. But everyone needs someone to vent their frustrations on for an unrealized combat perfection.

But you can't. Perfectionism often will slowly become the greatest of your imperfections, if you can call being crazy and on meds and delirious, either from lack of sleep or an excess of nicotine or both, an imperfection.

And the media would do well to take note. It is war after all folks. So, yep, someone might get hurt if we're not perfect. And we can't be.


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