A Personal Account during the War with Iraq
The water came to a rolling boil in the aluminum canteen cup as the sergeant began pouring coffee, sugar, powered cream and cocoa beverage powder into it. The sergeant snickered through the shadow of a three-day beard. 115 degrees and I’m drinking fucking coffee. After much practice he had mastered the balance of instant coffee and the other ingredients to make the perfect caf?-mocha. He removed the drink from a small camp stove that had been rigged to run on diesel fuel and took a sip. A smile graced his lips. Damn, it was good.
He stood next to one of two humm-v’s perched on the very crest of the southern bridge across the river Euphrates in a town called An Nasiriyah. The truck in which he rode had a .50 caliber machinegun mounted on top of it. The other vehicle on the bridge under his command was mounted by a TOW missile system, a powerful anti-tank missile with advanced thermal imagery capabilities. It was nice to have a cup of coffee; there had been no shooting all day from the banks.
Across the river, on the north bank, sat a taxi. It was painted in the typical Iraqi taxi scheme with the front and rear panels painted orange and the rest of the vehicle white. It sat lifeless among the palm trees and bushes that followed the river, but this one was different. The windshield and left and right windows were stained a solid red, remnants of what had once been the driver. The sergeant marveled at the scenery. Desert? Everything here is green. I know those bastards at the deuce knew we were coming here, why the fuck did we paint everything tan? The taxi had been there for three days, and the sergeant was tired of looking at it. Still, the lethality of his weapons was something to be admired and never forgotten.
“Sergeant!! I got something!” Yelled the tow-gunner behind his optics.
“What’s that Rheame?”
“Two personnel, walking south towards us on the main road about twenty five hundred meters out!”
The sergeant called to his machinegunner, “Stavros- do you got an eye on ’em?”
The sergeant looked through his binoculars, and even through their eight-power magnification the people were specks. Those TOW’s don’t miss a thing. I’d be fuckin’ blind without ’em. “Rheame- let me know when they’re within seventeen hundred meters.”
After a few minutes the machinegunner shouted, “I got ’em sergeant. Want me to take ’em??
“Wait one. Rheame! What are they doing???”
“Uhh, they’re walking with their arms around each other?.. They don’t look armed from here-” Stavros interrupted, “I got a fucking hell of shot- lets put these fuckers down!!”
“Goddamnit Stavros- wait!!!” I should just vaporize those fuckers? This is a free-fire zone. If they come towards us- Good on ’em. If they turn down a street I’ll be pissed for not shooting them.
“Sergeant!! They’re fucking kids?.. Goddamn, they’re ballsy I’ll give ’em that.” Rheame cried, his eyes glued to his sight.
“Are they fucking armed or not??”
“Uhh, that’s?. a? negative.”
The kids were close, about two minutes from the foot of the bridge. The sergeant could see them clearly in his binoculars. The oldest of the boys was about ten or eleven years old and the other was closer to seven or eight. Each one had an arm around the other and were walking straight up the bridge.
“Rheame! Johnson! Come with me if these kids try to cross the bridge. Stavros- keep your eyes on the road, not on us. Desimone- you’re behind the TOW. Fuck the road- keep a continuous 180 on the banks, make sure these kids aren’t some sort of distraction.”
The children did not miss a step in crossing onto the bridge. They had a look on their faces the sergeant knew all too well. It was a strange look, one that spoke of pain, apathy and desperation. A few of his men carried that same look and the sergeant realized it had been a long time since he himself had looked in the mirror and he wondered what expression he bore.
Rheame and Johnson walked along the left and right sides of bridge respectively and the sergeant walked straight up the center about fifty meters behind the other two. Rheame and Johnson both had their rifles drawn to the ready position, sighting in on the children.
“QIF!!” Rheame yelled in shoddy Arabic, meaning stop.
“Ish Ta!! Ish-Ta!!” Johnson yelled, Arabic for ‘go away’.
“Ib-ta id!” Rheame shouted.
The children’s expressions did not change. They stopped their forward movement and calmly raised their arms above their heads. The oldest began speaking rapidly in Arabic. The two Marines stepped closer to them and continued to yell with their broken Arabic for the children to leave. The rifles were still sighted on the children, yet the children did not budge.
“Sergeant! They ain’t movin'” Rheame yelled.
Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with these people?? Can’t they see we have guns? The sergeant walked towards the children and stopped only few paces shy of them. The oldest commenced to speak to sergeant. The sergeant could not understand.
He pointed at each of the children and motioned for them to turn around. The oldest spoke again, this time obviously frustrated and pleaded with the Marine for passage. The sergeant looked at the Marines to his left and right. Both of them were large men in stature and hand thus far performed marvelously under fire on several occasions, but for the first time they looked slightly scared and confused. Fuck. We aren’t trained for this shit. I hope I don’t have to shoot these kids.
The sergeant grabbed his two-way radio, which was strapped to his body armor.
“Mohawk 6, this is Scarlet, over.” After a few seconds the radio chirped back.
“Scarlet. This is Mohawk, send your traffic, over”
“Is this actual?”
“Wait one.” After about twenty seconds the radio came to life. The voice was recognized as the commanding officer.
“Scarlet, this is Mohawk actual, over”
The sergeant replied, “Be advised, we have two children here on the top of the bridge, break?? They are unarmed, break?.. and are obviously seeking some sort of asylum, break?.. where is the nearest DC center I can send them? Over”
“Uhh Scarlet, that’s a negative on DC center- that’s not starting for several days over.”
“Well, what about CAG? Where’d they go?”
“CAG left three days ago- the place was too hot for them.”
“So what do you want me to do with these fucking kids???”
“Send them back into the city- Civilians are low pro right now, over”
“Can we take them to the EPW site? Over?”
“Negative Scarlet! Get those fucking kids off the bridge now! How copy over.”
The sergeant let out a sigh and replied, “Solid copy- Scarlet out.”
The sergeant looked at the children and shook his head from side to side, “La, ib-ta id.”
The oldest child began pleading again speaking very quickly and was painfully desperate. “LA!!!” Interjected the sergeant, using the Arabic ‘no’. “ISH TA!! ISH TA!!” The Marine was obviously angry. For the love of god, get off the fucking bridge. How hard is that to understand?? Just fucking leave! A heavy look of sadness descended upon the children as the realization dawned that they would not cross into the dearly wanted sanctity of American care. The oldest child took a step back and placed both his hands on the shoulders of the younger. There was no mistaking these two were brothers. The older child whispered into the ear of the other and the young boy began walking toward the Marine.
“LA!!! IB TA’ID!!!” Screamed the sergeant, utterly frustrated.
The oldest stepped forward and embraced his little brother. A dumbfounded look crossed his face. Then, for the first time, he appeared as a child and began begging. The sergeant didn’t need a translator.
“Please, please- just take my brother. I’ll go back to the city, but save him.”
The Marine looked around, it was a gorgeous day with a light breeze that made the unbearable heat tolerable. He could see palm trees swaying on the north bank amongst buildings missing walls. On the banks the river Euphrates swept along banks coated with ash past Iraqi fighting positions that had lain silent for days, but still smoked a pitch black. Damnit, this would have been a lot easier if these kids had shot at us.
Calmly, the sergeant said, “La.” He then motioned with his hands for the children to leave. The two Iraqi boys’ expressions once again appeared as they did when they first arrived. It was the pained expression grossly unfit for that of children. The oldest then began speaking, very loudly and frantically in protest. This ignited something in the sergeant. He drew his pistol from its holster and uncocked the safety.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!!! Get off the fucking bridge now!! NOW!! I will shoot both of you dead and throw your little bodies into the fucking river if you don’t leave NOW!!!!” The children did not need a translator.
The youngest of the boys recoiled in terror into the arms of his older brother. The older child’s eyes squinted and passed a look of rage.
“NOW!!!” Screamed the sergeant as he cocked back the hammer of his nine millimeter pistol which was now pointed about five feet from the oldest boys head. As smoothly as they entered, the children turned around began slowly walking north, back into the city. Once they were about fifty meters away the sergeant holstered his pistol and turned around.
“Rheame, Johnson- back to the trucks, same alert status”
“Roger,” replied Johnson.
The sergeant glanced over his shoulder to see the oldest of the boys looking towards him. The child’s face spoke novels. It was a look that said ‘I will never forget this day.’ It was a look the Marine knew all too well. It was a look of hate. The children did not miss a stride as they disappeared back in the city carrying each other, and with them went some of the Marine’s humanity.
Rheame then said, “Hey, that’s kind of fucked up- don’t ya think sergeant??”
“That they ain’t got no place for kids like that.”
“Eh, Fuck em. They’re alive right???” Goddamn, this is supposed to be war. I shouldn’t deal with kids? My coffee better still be fucking hot or I’m going to be pissed.