Talking to FNGs
When you walk around with a camera strapped to your left and an M-16 to your right and you work with seven females, you tend to get a lot of weird questions. “My, that’s a big camera you have there.” “So, that’s all you do is take pictures?” “You work with girls? Wow, I want your job.” “How do I get your job?” “You’re that guy off of Full Metal Jacket aren’t you?”
I’ve been asked about my military job more times than Charlie Sheen’s smoked weed, so I’m used to giving out the traditional answer of “well, I’m sent all over Iraq to tell the soldier’s story and to document combat operations.” Those words come out of my mouth like a pre-recorded message these days.
Today, I’m taking a shower and there are a few new kids in shower trailer number two. Being the neighborly fellow I am, I introduced myself and welcomed them to Iraq. Yes, I wore a towel.
I should have just kept my mouth shut, because all they wanted to do was ask questions when I was in no mood to talk.
“How long have you been here?”
“Wow, so have you killed anybody?”
At this point, their title changed from new guys to FNGs (F#@king New Guys). I didn’t answer, but they continued to dig just like a reporter… “so you ever seen action?”
I felt like saying, no, none at all… I’ve been here a year, hidden from all the mortars, grenades, snipers and car bombs. In fact, you see that cave over there? That’s where I live… I never leave, especially when a colonel tells me to go cover a firefight at a mosque. Of course, I didn’t say that. I told them the truth: Yes.
“So, what’s it like?”
Good God, these FNGs never shut up. If you’re the new guy, there’s an unspoken rule: you don’t talk to the “seasoned” soldier about this stuff unless he volunteers it. It’s kind of like asking somebody how much money they make; it’s just personal. I was cornered, and I thought they might actually learn something from me, so I answered.
Well, for days, sometimes weeks, it will be quiet as you roam the city, but in just a split second, you’ll here the whistle of a mortar, the crack of an AK or feel the heat of an RPG whizzing by. It all happens so fast, you have no idea what’s going on. The only thing you have is the guy on your left and right, your training, gut instinct, and most importantly, your weapon. I say a short prayer every time I leave the wire. The only time I didn’t, I almost lost my life.
From their reaction, I could tell I just prompted another damn question.
“Really? Did you get a Purple Heart?”
“What do you do?”
I think since I was the one being interviewed here, I was thrown off guard by the question. Not to mention, I just stepped out of the shower and just wanted to brush my teeth. Needless to say, my typical one liner was gone from the memory bank, probably blocked by the frustrations this conversation was causing.
I'm an Army journalist. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Full….”
“Wait, you’re a journalist. Do you work with that red head ‘with the big camera’ who was with the general yesterday? Do ahh, you know, could you hook me up?”
I wanted to kick his scrawny ass! That girl is my soldier! She saved my life a couple years ago when I came down with Lyme Disease! She’s like my little sister. I think he saw my nice demeanor turn sour. He rephrased the question.
“I meant, I saw her the other day. She really seems like a nice girl. She you’re soldier?”
Yup. She’s a good soldier. Stay away from her. I’ll cut your balls off if you touch her.
Perhaps, I went a little too far, but I’m extremely protective of my female soldiers. There’s one girl per 100 males, and every one of them is considered a beauty queen. While they may enjoy the attention, I certainly worry.
“Oh, I didn’t mean. I mean, uhh, I didn’t mean I’d try anything.”
I smiled and started brushing my teeth. They left. Finally, I had some peace and quiet. Then another new guy walked in.
“How’s it going?”
Good, as I walked out the door. The FNG may have found it rude, but in a year, he’ll understand.