The Retch Heard Round the AO

The command post is packed with the junior leadership teams from both Bravo companies.

That’s how the higher ups had decided to match them for the duration of the transition period, by their phonetic alphabet designators. So Alpha Company of this battalion matched with Alpha of that battalion, and so on and so forth, until the entire 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Infantry Division had counterparts with which they would learn from over the next four weeks.

Four weeks. Incredibly close and impossibly far. Now is when the nerves reemerge. He can see it, and if he can’t see it he can sense it amongst his men. His fellow platoon leader’s men. Everyone who had been on Forward Operating Base War Eagle for the last eleven months. Hell, he felt them. Four weeks left until their one year deployment was over. Thirty days and a wake up until they could catch that big, beautiful bitch (also known as a civilian airliner) home to the states. More specifically, home to Texas. The land of Shiner Bock. Twelve hour smoked brisket. All the blonde hair, blue eyed University of Texas coeds one could hope for packed onto a little strip of debauchery known as Austin’s Sixth Street. He can’t wait to get there. He also can’t stand the thought of buying the farm now when they are so close. It keeps him up almost every night, or at least on the nights that sheer exhaustion doesn’t force him to sleep. He lies awake praying, no begging God to let the men of Bandit Company, himself included, get home alive and unharmed. Just four weeks to go.


As for their relief, the men of 3rd ID are amped. Reinvigorated with a year’s worth of survivor fucking and binge alcohol carousing in the states. It’s all mixed with the hyper vigilance of soldiers who have been to combat before. Seen the dirty deed. Done worse. The combination is topped off with a heavy dosage of bad attitude for having to come back to this shithole so quickly after leaving it. So soon after they had returned home thinking that the War on Terror was done with them. He doesn’t blame them for the posture. How could he? He’d be pissed off too, deploying twice in a three year period. What they must be feeling right now. What their poor families must be feeling.

Unfortunately, he knows those are the breaks of the Army in today’s US of A. No longer were there the masses of men lining up around city blocks to enlist like their grandfathers in WWII. If the immediate aftermath of his generation’s Pearl Harbor didn’t catalyze the youth of America to service, then certainly being three and a half years removed from 9/11 wasn’t going to. And if it wasn’t the guys and gals his age scoffing at the services, it was the parents sheltering them. He’s sure at home most have already gone back to watching Desperate Housewives while bribing kids with even a modicum of interest to forget the whole, “military thing” with a new car instead of enlisting. Fresh with a, “Support the Troops” bumper sticker. After all, the military is always something for someone else’s kid to do. Never their own. They support the troops, so long as their son or daughter isn’t one of them. Thing is, when the majority of people back home think that way, the burden falls on the few families that don’t. The hypocrisy of it makes him sick.

“Bakersfield, snap out of it.”

Evan looks up from his green covered cargo pocket notebook to see more than a few in the room staring at him, namely his Executive Officer, Dan Weischfelder. All of the Company Commanders and Field Grades are up at the battalion TOC,

TOC = Tactical Operations Center

so Dan is conducting the briefing for the newcomers on the company’s area of operations. “Sorry, I missed that last part.”

“I asked you to put another pot up. We’re tapped out.”

Evan looks behind him at the small table where their coffee station sits. Apparently while he wasn’t paying attention the men in the room had drained the pot. Not surprising. That pot had been the last of their Starbucks Christmas Blend, sent by Rigby’s sweet (and drop dead gorgeous, seriously, like other guys were stealing his pictures for the port-a-john kinda gorgeous) girlfriend. In fact, that was the last of their Starbucks period. The support network back home knew they were redeploying soon. Given the anywhere from two to five weeks turnaround time for mail and packages to arrive, the soldiers of Bandit had been instructed to tell them to stop sending, seeing as it was probable the intended soldier wouldn’t be in country to receive it. The timing of it was leaving their pogue rations decidedly short.

The XO tries to go on but Evan interrupts him. “That was the last of our Starbucks.”

Dan looks annoyed. “I don’t care, make something else.”

“How about Dunkin? You got any of that?” This comes from a Staff Sergeant with the 3rd ID fellas. He’s tall and thick, with a ripe beer gut hanging over his belt, evident even underneath his DCU blouse. He looked a lot like the guy Champ from Anchorman, just with thick ass BCG’s. There’s no way in hell the guy was getting laid wearing those charming Army issued bifocals. Evan doesn’t see a ring on his finger either.

XO = Executive Officer/ DCU = Desert Combat Uniform/ BCG = Birth Control Glasses

“Ran out of Dunkin’ last week. Think all we have now is that Folgers shit.”

“Whatever Bakersfield, just make it. Okay?” Dan interjects.

Evan shrugs as he stands and turns to put the pot up. Truth be told, he makes shit coffee. He never learned how to portion it out properly, seeing that he doesn’t drink it. Who in the hell wants to drink heated, muddy bean water? Revolting. Yet, since he holds the title of Fucking New Guy, (FNG for short – the officer with the least amount of time in the battalion) such menial tasks fall to him. As he shoves a filter in and fills the machine from water bottles taken from the pallet out back, he tries to listen to Dan but it’s hard to do so.

Evan is feeling it more and more. The drain. The toil. Groundhog Day. The dreaded onset of complacency. He’s getting burnt out. Too many trips outside the wire. Too many instances of feeling like he was never going to get back inside it. Too many close calls. Too many fucking mortars dropped on their tiny speck of a FOB,

FOB = Forward Operating Base/ DFAC = Dining Facility

erasing any notion that you are safe back inside the walls. Nowhere is safe. Six months ago he was eating some fucking Frosted Flakes and then wham, he got blown across the DFAC when a mortar landed right outside the tent. Thank God no one had been hurt seriously, basically scrapes from flying gravel and burst eardrums, including his. The hadjis had their FOB dialed in and because it’s so small, unless you could make it to one of the few hardened buildings your chances were Vegas baby. Hell, they couldn’t even space out the fuelers properly. A round hit there not long ago. It blew up one of the trucks but the firestorm ignited two others. The things burned for days.

Dan is right. He needs to snap out of it. Whining is for pussies. Everyone is in the same shit together. Complacency can get men killed, and he won’t let that happen with his platoon. At one time dubbed the “Island of Misfit Toys,” his men had turned into a precision instrument. A truly cohesive unit that carried themselves with pride. He owes them everything he has left in his tank and beyond to see that they get home to kiss their wives and kids.

Dan continues with his briefing, going on for the better part of forty five minutes now. He highlights key locations in the sectors broken down by platoon. Possible ambush points. Previous areas of IED

IED = Improvised Explosive Device

“Sir… Sir. Let me just stop you right here.” Evan turns around, eyebrows skyrocketing. The Champ sergeant is speaking again, his right arm wrapped over the top of his gut while he four finger points with his left hand. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here. We all do. But I think everyone in this room will best be served if you just skip the stuff involving combat ops. We’ve got that. Ain’t nothing we’re gonna hear from you that we ain’t already seen and done. So I suggest we move on to the…”

And then the man actually chuckles a bit.

“…to the things y’all have been doing. Passing out school supplies and the sort. Fill us in on that crap. Excuse me Sir. Stuff. Although why the Army sent us here to do that, I can’t never understand. Am I right fellas?” he finishes with another chuckle, elbowing the E-5 standing next to him.

E-5 = Pay Grade for a Sergeant

Well that wakes the room right up.

The looks on some of the faces of the 3rd ID guys are pained. Sure many of them were probably thinking the same, but to have it delivered so callously? Bandit company’s sergeants and fellow lieutenants look on with disbelief. Evan perks up, the briefing having taken a sudden, dramatic turn. He looks to his XO with eager anticipation but Dan is a smooth operator. He probably has politics in his future so he gives a political answer.
“I can appreciate where you’re coming from Sergeant…”
“Scibbons, Sir.”
“Sergeant Scibbons. Certainly we’re not trying to reinstruct you on combat, you guys having been part of the invasion and all, but this is important intel. The fight has shifted. Battling an insurgency is a lot different from toe-to-toe. These fuckers will put an IED right under your wheel well and you’ll never even know it if you’re not careful.”

Staff Sergeant Scibbons shrugs. “Combat is combat Sir. We here have had buckets of it. You want to know how to stop IEDs from getting planted? Go out and kill the bastards digging up the roads. That’s what we should be here for anyway. Our bosses say we gotta win hearts and minds, so be it, but it’s a damn waste if you ask me. So like I suggested, if we could spend less on this and more on the food delivery and propane distribution. Things we’re not versed in that you are. That would be a lot more beneficial.”

Evan can’t believe it. Dan is pissed. He rarely wears his emotions on his shirtsleeve, but despite turning red he powers through politically. “I’ll take your suggestion into consideration Sergeant. I was about to finish up with the patrol sectors anyway. Then we’ll transition to the major construction and humanitarian aid missions in the AO.

AO = Area of Operations

Scibbons shrugs again. “Your briefing Sir. Please go on,” but when the XO isn’t looking the portly sergeant turns to the man he elbowed and rolls his eyes so far into the back of his head that Evan is sure he stares straight into his own asshole. The rest of the briefing goes on without incident. Dan speeds through the remainder given how agitated he is. Once he opens it for questions there are none, so he dismisses the group. The 3rd ID guys quickly retreat to their racks on the opposite side of the building. The two companies had consolidated into the rooms in the west and east corridors, space barely big enough to hold one. Evan had disagreed with the move. Quadrupling the occupancy of already tiny living quarters with their men, who were at the end of their frayed ropes, seemed like just the kind of burden that could push some over the edge. At the same time, once it was articulated to him by his company commander, he realized there was nothing else they could do. Everyone was going to have to dig a little deeper for the last few weeks. Hopefully this would be the final sacrifice in a long line of them that would solidify their plane ticket home.

Evan meets with his Platoon and Section Sergeants, issuing out one of the standard warnos

WARNO = Warning Order

he uses in anticipation of a 0800 patrol. More than likely propane distribution duty again. His sergeants are worth every penny and know the routine like they do their own mothers. They quickly set out issuing the necessary orders for vehicle preparations and pre-combat inspections of gear and weapons. All will be readied tonight so that they can get max sleep before the early departure time. This way he and his leadership team will only have to do a few spot checks before issuing out the patrol brief in the morning. It saves time and increases rest, every bit of which is needed but his men refuse to take. If Evan doesn’t watch them closely they stay up all night playing Halo or watching porn and then they’re useless for the A.M. missions.

He checks his watch, seeing that it’s nearly 2330. As soon as he puts his arm down his Captain comes back into the building, yelling down the hall for his lieutenants to join him. Tired, Evan drags on his way back to the CP,

CP = Command Post

hoping that above all else their patrol orders will be expeditiously issued. The furthest away from the room at the center of the hall, he is the last to arrive. “How did it go?” their Company Commander, sitting on the edge of the table, asks Dan as soon as Evan walks in.

“Fine, straight forward. Gave them the overlay. No questions.”
“Pfft, yeah that’s how it went,” interjects Tom, third platoon’s Lieutenant.
Captain Addler, Greg to Dan, stretches his neck to the right and rubs the left side with his hand. He does so every time he is tired or stressed, which is a lot these days. Evan doesn’t envy him, being in command the entire deployment. Squat with thinning hair, no doubt from both the nerves and the helmet, he’s also a Pointer. Hence the familiarity with Dan. “God, what now? Do I really want to know?”

Dan shoots Tom a look which doesn’t even register on Tom’s radar. Quite frankly, even if it had Tom wouldn’t give a shit. “It was nothing. We got the briefing done.”
Addler turns to Evan. “Will you please tell me what the hell is happening?”
Evan exchanges glances with both Tom and Dan. He adds his spin, trying to placate both by not holding back while not making a big deal of things. “One of the guys was a bit of a prick. Pretty much told us that we’re nothing but street sweepers and lunch ladies. It wasn’t a huge deal. Just a little surprising is all. Dan shut it down.”

“Yeah, well…” The Captain takes another pause, looking off to the side vacantly for a moment. “Anyway. We’re bound to have a bit of that. These guys can’t be happy to be back here. They did see more than their fair share of action last time. Ignore it. I don’t want our guys getting into it with theirs, you hear me? Square your people away. The light is at the end of the tunnel. We show 3rd ID what to do. That’s our job. They don’t want to listen, that’s on them. Let’s finish this and get the fuck out. Clear?”

They all nod in affirmation. “Clear,” adds Eric, the tall triathlete from Pennsylvania. He’s ROTC out of Shippensburg University and runs their second platoon. He also rarely speaks unless it’s in the course of duty.
“Right then…” Another neck rub. “We start right seat rides tomorrow.

Left seat, right seat operations occur when a few members of an incoming unit observe an outgoing unit while they conduct a mission. Left seat is the term used to describe the unit that is conducting the mission while the right seat describes the observers.

First run on this, so you’ll only be taking out the leadership of each platoon. Leave four of your boys back here. I suggest you give the extra time to the ones that are behind on their packing.”
“Or sleep,” Evan throws out.
The Captain looks at him and shrugs. “Whatever you want LT. I’m not gonna tell you how to suck an egg.” He inclines his head at Tom. “Third is out at 1200. Conduct a recon of your sector and then pick up the pump trucks. Show them the ropes of the mission.”

Evan is happy for that, even though it confirms his platoon will be going out at 0800. The pump truck mission is never an easy one. The sewer pipes in Sadr City are small and were never meant to handle the population that lives within it. Back when Saddam was in power he packed all of the criminals, homosexuals, people with birth defects, basically anyone he didn’t want walking around as part of mainstream Baghdad into the neighborhood. Located in the northeast section of the capitol city, it’s laid out in a tight grid pattern, supposedly so the former dictator could easily roll his tanks in there if the residents of Sadr ever decided to revolt. Intel at the beginning of their deployment estimated that anywhere between two and two and a half million people lived in an area that was roughly five square miles, making it one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world. The place is a festering slum of the unemployed and ignorant. A perfect place to start an insurgency.

As a result of the neglect by the former ruler, and certainly helped along by the disruption of services resulting from the invasion, the sewage pipes are constantly bursting, backing up, and ultimately, overflowing. Bandit company’s entire AO is covered in massive lakes of liquid shit. So much so that it’s necessary to take groups of pump trucks, giant storage canisters on wheels with a vacuum attached, around to suck up the sewage. Once full they drive over and dump the contents into the nearby lake, which is actually more like a canal. Except the Iraqis manning the trucks hate being escorted by the U.S. troops. Their whole existence depends on being free to ride around the city and price gouge the shit out of anyone that needs their house or street pumped. While they’re with Bandit they’re held to an honest day’s work. They only earn the wages their company pays them. You have to keep your eye on them. When you aren’t looking the drivers will cut their own hoses, say they can no longer contribute, and leave. From there it’s a quick drive to the garage to pick up a new hose and go back out on their own to rob another family blind. That’s how things work in Iraq. Everything is corrupt. Everyone gets over on everyone else. No one seems to mind. To Americans it’s baffling behavior.

Captain Addler nods to Eric next. “Second stays in for the morning. You remain on QRF

QRF = Quick Reaction Force/ BC = Battalion Commander