Sunday, August 24, 2008

Doing Time

The pile of gear that I've been putting off for days still stands out and demands attention, so I finally break down and stuff it all into buckets and a rucksack, heading to the laundry room with a scrub brush and a virgin bottle of Simple Green. Using audacious amounts of the cleaning elixir, I start attacking the pixelated pouches and whatnot, evicting as much residual Iraq filth as I can while my mind wanders.

I try to find a way to reframe the way I'm thinking, to make this stay of mine more bearable. To stop the self-pity. This low on the totem pole, a bad attitude is like termite damage and lots of it. I could let the higher elements of the totem to come down on me, but let's put pride aside for a minute. You can't fuck the Army nearly as hard as it can fuck you.

All I can think of, is "tread water". As long as you're only neck deep, you still have a chance.

Any old-timer right now would probably say, "Just do your time, quietly, and get out." Simple enough. You gotta be a yes-man almost everywhere you go.

So I guess I'll just do my time. The crime: enlistment. The sentence: 4 years, give or take a clause or two of a contract. Time remaining: less than one year, no chance of parole, may be released a month early on Good Behavior, provided the sacrifice of a Christmas.

I got four brick walls around me, painted white, housed in a federal building. Generic furnishings. Minimal personal effects that I've managed to acquire. No hollowed out Bibles, no sharpened toothbrushes. No harmonica, just a guitar (fair trade).

Gotta hang up the new calendar and start marking days. Maybe start folding paper cranes. Freedom birds. Put on the PTs, get some exercise in the yard. Put the standard issue uniform back on, be where you gotta be on time.

Wait for the warden to hand me my packet, wish me luck, and send me on my way. All the best. We got a saying though....

Too easy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


A soldier is expected to uphold standards, maintain a professional appearance and demeanor. To follow the rules and guidelines, perform expected tasks and ensure that the machine so to speak operates as smoothly as possible.

It all makes perfect sense. No reason why it shouldn't. Look good for the people you represent. Look good for your superiors so that they don't look bad in front of their superiors. Higher on up, no one worries too much about each individual Joe because there's too many of us. Bigger picture, people. But if we fuck up, it's a different story.

Not hard to grasp, right?

When you're tired or angry, fed up or sick and tired, dragged through the mud, Stop-Lossed, tour extended, recalled, or just at the end of your rope, it's not so easy. It's when you have to chew your lip. Chew it hard. Can't beat the Army by being rebellious. Can't beat the Army at all, really. This is your rock, and this is your hard place. Squeeze on in, buddy.

No one wants to hear you bitch, and if the wrong people hear you, then you're just up shit creek, and not in any way better off than had you just shut up. All for obvious and simple reasons. Fulfilling oaths and all the honorable things.

But what happens to the guys who don't get that excitement out of being a soldier anymore? The guys who aren't motivated by speeches or medals and awards, or by nothing at all? Someone asked me straight up if I was still proud to be a soldier, and I drew a blank. I'm not NOT proud. But no, I don't feel any sense of pride. I don't feel special. I don't feel heroic or important.

Just a 19 year old kid that's been in a time warp for nearly three and a half years.

Here's a biiiiig long sigh, and away we go, let me just put it out there: I don't feel emotionally scarred or somehow wronged in the greater scheme of things. I don't feel impressed by "our" accomplishments and I never once felt heroic. Every thank you, whether from someone who speaks Arabic, or someone stateside, felt closer to an odd compliment that an elderly person would give you. Not a bad thing, just weird. Weird like everything is. Weird like life is, my life, YOUR life, it's all just weird, for most of us. The ones who don't actually have it bad.

But the Army? It just isn't like the movies or the stories you hear. It can't work that way. Some of these guys claim to hate it, but they secretly love it. Some guys are on the fence. Some guys outwardly hate it, some guys just eat it all up. I've always had my qualms and disagreements with the Army, but for the most part is isn't bad. Put up with it and drive on, cash that paycheck and pass Go. The bummer is that the Monopoly board just repeats itself. Running in circles. I just don't want to do it anymore.

But until they let me go, it's Pass Go or Go To Jail. When you really narrow it down, that's all it is. I chose this game but I didn't get to choose the rules. Can't fold my hand, as much as I want to. Instead, I'm mumbling to you like I'm a quiet lunatic in a bar and you're the beer in front of me. Mumbling the same story every night.

On the plus side, I went swimming today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Waiting For The Worms

In the early throes of nicoteine withdrawal, I abandon my quest to inventory every last goddawful piece of clothing and equipment issued to me.

Inventory and account for. And clean. Spotless. Everything. Things I haven't touched in two years. Not to use, mind you, not to turn them in. Not to do anything with except to stuff em into a dark crevice and forget about em again. Let them collect dust.

My list is three pages long. Fuck my life.

Humidity, like being inside the mouth of a whale. Got a fan going at all hours of the day, to keep the stagnant air and barracks stink moving. Can't let it seep into your bones. Can't sit still for too long, can't afford to ruminate, grow angry and mouthy. Must stay preoccupied. Preoccupied and invisible. Maybe giving up vice isn't the best means of doing this.

I think about going to the gym after work. But I won't go. Can't be bothered to join the new culture of GNC supplement-gobbling weightlifting Mixed Martial Arts enthusiasts. Too many of them.

Waiting for a couple weeks before the attempt at online courses begins. Vocabulary class, and another to remain untold for now. Anything to stay busy, stay distracted, to keep my sorry ass out of trouble.

On occasion, I can feel the hounds closing in, sniffing, patrolling. Gnarled teeth dripping with acidic saliva. Fire of hell burning in their eyes. Pretty sure they're sniffing out the short-timers. Some days you can smell the stink on us from the other side of the parking lot. The shitty attitudes, I mean. God help you if the wrong higher-up catches you running your mouth. Guess that's why I'm hiding in my barracks room, scribbling incoHeresy into a diary, like that little Jewish girl, Helen Keller. If any of you know the secret to invisibility, let me know.


Just caught a glimpse of something vomit-inducing on FauxNews. The soap opera "All My Dipshit Children" is having an open casting call for Iraq vets, to play the role of a wounded soldier. Fucking leeches.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Short-Timing Ain't Easy

You can define "short" in at least a couple different ways. Could be someone that's very close to getting out, going on R&R leave, getting out of Iraq, getting out of the unit, out of the Army, out of that desk job, whatever.

For me though, it's a state of mind. A method of prioritizing. It's knowing that I'm not staying in. Knowing that I made good on the little oath I made on the inside, and now I'm required to make good on the oath that was put on paper.

Let me tell ya, it isn't easy being Short. On some days, it's downright painful.

The formations. Ceremonies. Details. Everything seems asinine and redundant. None of it seems like it should apply to you, because dammit, you're short. Don't these people get it?

Then you see one of your buddies walking down the sidewalk with a neat package of papers, gleefully jumping through the hoops of seperation. Turns out you aren't as short as you thought. Atleast not on the outside.

I'd never really been one to get homesick, ever. But this time around, I know I'd much rather be there than here. Home, with all the simplicity. Familiarity, predictability. Relaxed. I sure as hell belong there a lot more than I belong here, doing jack shit.

And the funny thing about this "home" thing, is that some things come full circle, some things change completely, some things you didn't understand became much more clear, and you realize that some of the people you knew are completely full of shit, and others aren't ever going to make anything of themselves.

Those awkward encounters you have with people you never cared to see again, but for some ungodly reason you both talk to each other, briefly, out of some skewed sense of obligation, even though both of you want nothing more than to get the hell out of there. And half the people you run into didn't even know you were gone, let alone staking a claim in Baghdad.

But hey, the good news? Who gives a shit in the first place? HAH!

After seeing how things changed around town, how other things remained exactly the same, and soaking it all in, knowing you have to leave, it's almost a kick in the sack to return to something that there isn't much else to gain from, when you KNOW that there are better and brighter things you could be doing. Thanks to contractual obligation, everything has to wait, still on hold.

Every day I ask myself why the hell I didn't just do a three year contract. I'd be rabbitting to and fro getting paperwork taken care of and equipment turned in, clawing my way out of this bitch.

I raise my hand in formation, like a schoolkid. "What's the earliest that one can begin the clearing process?"

Pushups. Some things don't change.

Doesn't matter though. Like I said, I've taken inventory of what matters to me and what doesn't. Garrison life in the Army is just a puppet show. Still going along to get along, but I tell ya what, I'd much rather be home, scratching my dog's ass and catching up with everyone, cuz, now, between you and me....


But hey, no big deal, I got ten of em to go, give or take terminal leave. Fuck it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Off Season

Morning. Back on post.

My generic-looking Nikes are pounding pavement. Forehead covered in a sheen of sweat. Out of breath, plodding forward, muscles still sore from the previous day.

I have a bit of a gut from all the beer I've been drinking since being back. This is the most I've ever weighed, but at least its not the fattest I've been.

I keep running, around the airfield, feeling the need to get back in shape. Running. Swimming. Lots of cardio. Take my lazy ass to the gym, put on a little more weight.

I picture cases upon cases of Budweiser, laid to waste at my hands. Irish Car Bombs and tequila shots happily downed without a second thought. Gallons of Gatorade chasing hangovers like lethargic and disinterested guard dogs.

Vacation's over. Getting everything back in order now, making it all Army Strong-like. Trimming the fat off the vets. You know us, you can see us in movies like Stop-Loss. Digging foxholes in our underwear. Because we dug lots of foxholes in Iraq...


Funny you bring up Iraq though. It's almost as if...

I was never even there.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back In Gray

A couple hundred dudes who all had their own identities just a few days ago showed up to work in uniform to be in-ranks inspected and jawjack while waiting in tidy ACU uniforms and berets. After a month of not giving a single bleeding shit about anything, of boozing and partying and golfing or fishing, swimming, bowling, cruising, doing nothing or doing it all, we're back to the beginning.

Except its different now. We got that Iraq thing out of the way. Guess we were stupid enough to think that when that was over, it would all be over, even though we knew better, we probably just didn't want to accept it. So now all there is to do is go about it the same way you always did: not putting too much thought into it, going along to get along.

Choke on your complaints, choke em down and swallow hard. Smile through teeth gritted so hard that they crack.

Me? I just keep telling myself that I did what I signed up to do. Went to Iraq. Supported the troops in the fullest way. Became one of 'em. And now that that's over with, something's gotta tie me over, keep me in line, keep me from growing irritated and sick of another job, keep me from walking away, whistling and throwing the uniform on the ground.

Didja hear about the new GI Bill? Cuz I sure did.