Sunday, February 25, 2007

second guessing

Once you have lived in the army long enough you begin to see people according to the heirarchy of rank. A subtle judgement settles between all of us, subtle implications about how well one of us will sweep a floor, or how well another will organize enough people to sweep a company area for trash, or how scrupulous a person will be about making sure his soldiers bring every piece of gear they will need, etc.

There is room for personal assesment, and certainly we talk as if rank means nothing, but the awareness of it, like a stamp of greater or less approval from an authority as vague and commanding as God, seeps into the undercurrents of our social interactions.

It is strange to wake up from this influence of rank for a second and recognize the marks of authority that used to mean something in our disappeared civilian lives: things like age, or a bad ass attitude, or being married, or having kids, or having money. All these things mean very little in terms of who is in charge here.

I am a fairly young sergeant. I often see myself directing others to do things when they have ten or more years of life experience to them. I often think there is a vast potential that the army does not access because of the aspect of superficiality that is in rank.

One specialist in particular I have had the pleasure to sit with for ten hours a day in the small cab of a truck sitting on a security detail just outside the walls of our FOB.

He's in his late thirties. A diesel mechanic by trade. Short stubby fingers, smokes more than a pack every day, drinks Full Throttle or Red Bull or any energy drink like... he doesn't drink anything else, so there's nothing to compare it to. He's a short man with a face that is just starting to show signs of middle age. He has squinting eyes.

Eventually, because sitting in an idling truck ten hours a day will bring you to it, we talked about the war. He hates Bush and hates the fact that we are in this war.

He was very educated on the subject. Some of the things he said shook down my idealist sentiments about this war and left me needing more of the facts. He sparked in me an interest to understand what we know about things like the connection between Al Quiada and Iraq (before our invasion and now after), what mistaken reasons we had to believe Saddam had WMD, who the research panels have been that have looked into these sorts of questions and what methods did they use to find things out, I realized I don't understand the relationship between Al Quiada and the Taliban, and finally what did the oppression look like during Saddam's reign vs. the violence that Iraqis now face.

Even the simple formulation of my questions embarrasses me. I have such a distrust of the media's dissemination of information that I lose any drive to keep up on such things as the preceding questions when they are taking place.

It makes me wonder how definitive the answers will be that I will find. But I feel I've come finally to a place, after seven months in Iraq, where I must find out how much we actually know about why we are here.

It would hurt me to give up all moral reason for being here. I know that.


Blogger Andrew the O said...


5:41 PM  
Blogger james t nath said...

Forward Operating Base.

There's a technical definition involving what level of support operations are conducted on the base that qualifies it. Technically I'm on an LSA (Logistical Support Area, more advanced than a FOB) because we have an airstrip and our primary mission is supporting convoys carrying supplies, but a FOB is used as a generic term for base.

I assume that it became a generic term for base when we began fighting in wars where our forward position, or front line, was everywhere.

2:15 PM  

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