The final shift
I haven’t slept in two days, and this kind of feels like a dream, as I write, trying to make sense of the words I type, so here goes…
Last night was my final guard shift – the all nighter. The only significant event was a car filled with people all holding AK-47s. They drove by so fast, and it was dark, so I couldn’t tell if they were enemies or allies. Needless to say, I didn’t shoot them. There were a couple explosions too, but nothing unordinary. A year ago, these things would have scared the crap out of me. Now, it’s just business as usual. I’ve had some pretty tense moments in the thick concrete tower. I’ll never forget my first shift… it was dark and cold and I was amazed at how bright the stars were. I had an interpreter and an Iraqi soldier with me. Somebody took a few pop shots at us, missing by a mile. Nevertheless, I about crapped my pants. I stayed hunkered down, shaking for a few minutes. The strangest thoughts went through my mind after my first enemy encounter, “Did I wear clean underwear? Will OSU make the Final Four? I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast.” I eventually calmed down and began to scan my sector again, but I’d been in Iraq for a week and was pretty scared. After awhile, guard duty was less frightening and just became a weekly routine.
By November, I had been with special forces a couple times and been on more than 20 large-scale operations. At this point, guard duty was a walk in the park compared to a lot of the other things I’d experienced. But there were still some pretty darn scary moments. Like this one time at Tower Duty, a truck load of dudes wearing red and white masks and black man dresses drove by just moments after we heard a report of nearly every police station in the city being overrun by people fitting this description. Again, they drove by so fast and were well hidden behind square buildings that we couldn’t get a shot in, but we reported it. Three or four explosions later, my battle buddy and I wanted to shoot some insurgents. “You ready to kill somebody,” said the most girly female soldier I’ve ever met.
Mostly though, tower duty is dull and painful, especially when you’re going on no sleep. Your muscles start twitching and your eye balls feel like they’re about to pop out. But, we always find a way to stay focused. I take a thermos of coffee every shift. I feel like that night-shift security guard at the bank in Milwaukee I see through the glass windows on Water Street, except I don’t fall asleep and I’m not 102. In fact, I’m probably a little too paranoid. People like to walk around in this country, and every person looks the same, like the enemy. Once I watched this man move rocks back and forth on his rooftop, which made for some good conversation. “What do you think he’s doing?” Well, he could be trying to distract us, but I bet he’s making a base for a rocket launcher. “Why would he do that?” Uh… let me think, maybe to kill us. Another time, four cars were broken down right in front of our tower. (Iraqis seem to have the worst luck with cars, which are always stranded on the roadside, but you can’t overlook ‘em.) “Looks like there are people getting out of the car.” Yeah, that’s what people do when they ride in cars, they eventually get out. “Could they be trying to plant a bomb?” Not unless, a spare tire and a jack can explode. “Could be a distraction, keep your eyes peeled.”
Of course, what would a guard tower be without graffiti? Some of the cleverest jokes can be found inside the walls of our towers and port-a-potties. Most are vile and perverted, so I won’t share ‘em, but I’ve never written a single line (you can get court marshaled for damaging government property and I’m a saint. Never touched a pen in the tower. Not once, I promise). The back wall reads, “turn around before you get shot in the back of the head.” Then, in perfect army graffiti form somebody wrote “why? So I can get shot in the face.” Only in Iraq is this funny.
Even though I’ve had some good laughs in this old tower, I won’t miss it one bit. In fact, I’m pretty darn glad that this was my final guard shift, because now I can get some sleep. Good night, or I guess good morning (if you’re in the states.) Me go sleepy.