Saturday, December 23, 2006


In Northern Iraq, so north that you can see the green farms of Turkey across a valley, we used to stay in what we called the Marble Palace. It looks like a state capital government office building. It's certainly the only one of its kind in the more rural urbans of Iraq.

We slept on the second floor. The Kurdish soldiers who stood guard in the area stayed on the first floor. Outside the bunk bed bays on the first floor there were always worn black leather boots lined up next to the doors.

I have watched the boots of the foreign soldiers around me. I have understood better the status symbol significance of shoes. Neither the Kurdish soldiers in Northern Iraq nor the Albanian soldiers in Mosul wear matching boots. Each soldier has a different type of black leather boot. Some very worn, almost the hand downs from a father who once served in the military. Some made of facade leather, more plastic than leather. Others wear very nice boots with good soles, the leather soft and polished.

The shoes are lined up very neatly outside the doors.

During the summer time the air conditioning turns the building to the temperature of a refrigerator. The place is four stories. Each floor forms a wraparound balcony around the center, like a shopping mall a little bit. There are two elevators with exposed pulley and cables. Only the soldiers that live there permanantly are allowed to use the elevators. We used them anyway. Until they got pissed at us and started making threats, then we stopped.

Everywhere we go there are a thousand rules. There are always a few with higher rank standing around watching to make sure you don't go outside without a reflector belt on, or without your cover (cap) on, and they must have been watching for elevator users too I guess.

When I went to hear Mr. Rumsfeld speak, and got to sit in the front row because I have two freakin purple hearts, I was standing around afterwards out in a foyer with my hands in my pockets. A staff sergeant looked me in the eyes long enough for me to realize he was trying to get me to understand something. I didn't pay very much attention. Then I heard him say, "Hey Sarge, there is far too much rank walking around here for you to be standing with your hands in your pockets."

"I apologize Staff Sergeant. Normally I wouldn't, but I was trying make sure that this little BIRDIE that I have in my pocket didn't get out."

That's how I wish I could have responded. "Yes, SERGEANT." That's what I did say, with more than a hint of sarcastic willingness to comply, but taking my hands out nicely.

I don't mean to condone insubordination, and maybe I do work behind a desk now, and maybe I am a good Christian white boy who feels sinful if anyone at all doesn't completely approve of me, and YES! I'm still a virgin, but damn it, I'm a soldier too and sometimes I just don't give a damn about not having my hands in my pockets around the Secretary of Defense after nearly getting killed twice by IEDs out there. There really are more important things to be worrying about.

So, yeah, they stopped us from using the elevator and we had to walk up the stairs every time to get from the second floor bays to the fourth floor chow area.

The chow in that place was horrible. That left very few reasons for using the stairs. Instead we often walked out behind the building where there is a small Turkish restaurant with a sign outside that states simply "Rest." It serves food to all the local nationals and particularly to the hundreds of drivers that drive the trucks in the convoys.

Because Kurdistan makes up most of Northern Iraq we were able to interact much more loosely with the people there, which is very different from the fortified walls and gate guards of Mosul. In Mosul the truck drivers are not allowed at all onto the main area of the FOB (forward operating base).

The trucks and drivers we escorted in our convoys were a rough bunch. A smelly bunch, rough-shaven, sleeping in their trucks and driving back and forth from Turkey into Iraq, passing from one FOB to the next and then back to Turkey. There's no need to worry about having your hands in your pockets around them. They played soccer sometimes on the concrete of the parking lot where we used to line up our trucks before leaving, played with bare feet or flapping sandals, their middle aged bellies showing, hanging over their belts a little. They are a rough, fun loving bunch.

I miss it.


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