Wednesday, May 24, 2006

As The Front Gate Turns

As the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into countless convoys coming and going I spend my time figuring out ways to stay entertained at the front gate to my FOB. We have already exhausted the “icebox of death” game where we immerse our arms elbow deep in a cooler full of water and ice to see who can endure the freezing pain the longest. After a super soldier blew the previous record out of the water with a 30-minute submersion the elbow game took a back seat to the head submersion game. Unlike putting your arm in the water, doing so with your head provides some adverse results. Swollen head, throbbing eyes, and loss of balance are just a few of the side effects that result from placing your head in freezing water. So far no one can beat 31 seconds.

An old favorite of ours is the “How much would it take for you to…” or the “If you could-then…” game. This game can take various twists and turns. For example the other day I asked my buddy several questions including “How much would it take for you to lick both sides of the lock on the inside of the port-o-john door?” and “If you could punch a soldier of your choosing directly in the face but had to stay in Iraq for another month as a result of doing so, would you do it?” These questions oftentimes lead to hours of similar questions and are a great way to pass time while we sweat through the nametapes on our uniforms as I often do even though they have Velcro on the backside. If someone could seriously explain how I do this then I would be grateful.

The other day a convoy of British contract workers came up to the front gate and had to wait while I found out exactly where they needed to go. I got to talking to one of them and it turned out that we were at the same base during my first deployment. Apparently we hit it off well enough that he opened the back door to his truck and showed me his convoy essentials: One 20 inch television, one Xbox, and one black market Iraqi RPG. “There you go mate, I never leave home without them.” “Hmm” I thought to myself, “I bet this would be a great guy to hang out with.” So after finding where they were staying for the night I invited myself over and we ended up having a famous time together. Cheers mate!

The single best source of entertainment has and will remain to be the Iraqi army soldiers that we work with. Each day brings a few new soldiers to the front gate. Of course we have our regular “front-gaters” as I like to call them but the new soldiers are always the most fun to talk to. Just the other day we had an Iraqi soldier we called Creepy and for obvious reasons. One of the regular IA soldiers at the front gate described Creepy as schway mijnoon (a little crazy). Well after a spending a few hours with Creepy I came to realize that he was not simply a little crazy but as one of our interpreters said he was “officially crazy.” He talked on and on to us in Arabic and looked confused when we spoke English to him. He also took to meowing at one of my soldiers and if you were within close enough proximity to him you could bet your bottom dollar that you were going to get kissed.

My best Iraqi friend is a chubby 21-year-old sergeant named Ahmed. After spending hours wrestling, punching, and making fun of each other we settle down long enough to drink some chai before we go at it again. He is the type of kid that seems happy just to be alive. I have yet to see him without a smile on his face or a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I can never seem to get anything over on him either. Case in point: the other day he was going to open one of the gates to let a convoy out and had trouble getting the gate out of the broken latch. As I watched him struggle I said “Put some back into it fat boy!” thinking that he wouldn’t understand me. As soon as the words left my mouth he shot back “Oh you think me fat boy. Ok Sgt. Tim give me food. I fat I need food.”

Another IA friend of mine, Hamid, a self-described 32-year-old happily married man, is as funny as he is hairy. One day we were joking around about suicide bombers driving up to the gate and he said in the case of a suspicious vehicle he would search it for me so that it was he that would get blown up and not I. He said that it was his job and that he would gladly do it to save my life. I reminded him that it was also my job and that if he was going to die that I wanted to be there with him. I told him we could go to Allah together and continue to be friends in heaven. He agreed and we made it final with a hug.

The best interactions with the IA ensue when I can get a female soldier to visit the front gate for a while. Iraqis, and I guess Arabs in general, do not have the social interaction with females as Americans do. They have limited contact with women before they marry them and cannot be anywhere as informal with Arab women as they can be with American soldiers. When a female comes within site of the front gate or calls on the radio it is a matter of seconds before I hear about it from the IA. “Sgt. Tim bring her here!” I have two options in this scenario, 1.) I can lie to them and tell them that she has something to do and cannot come over or 2.) I can lie to her and bring her up to the front gate on false pretenses where I act as kind of a pimp-like middleman. As soon as the female heeds my call and comes over the IA begin yelling for a camera, which of course only I have so then I take on the role of photographer. Of course I am not in any of these pictures, which leads to a reverse Freudian jealously on my part. “Hey guys, I am over here. Anyone want a picture with me? Anyone?”

Hamid is the best with the girls and often says things like “Tim I was going Special Forces in a month, but now I cannot.” “Why is that Hamid?” I say. “I have given my heart to her (points to the girl of the day) and it will break if I leave to go Special Forces.” He then takes to walking around all day telling people that he is tired and clutches his heart prompting others to ask him what is wrong. When they ask him what is wrong he feigns being sick and tells them that he can no longer go on with life unless the girl of the day will marry him. Of course all of this is a ruse but it is fun nonetheless. If you girls out there are lacking attention then join the military and come to Iraq because you will get all that you can take and more from the IA.

All in all I continue to be amused while working at the front gate to my FOB. The job is menial but important nonetheless. I have probably given my “Hey everyone is a cog in the wheel” speech ten times in three weeks on guard duty and I am beginning to think I might have to give it to myself soon. I wouldn’t trade the interaction I have with Iraqis for anything though, and hold the communication with them of utmost importance. If I am able to somehow bridge the divide between our cultures, and come to new understandings, then I know I will have accomplished something great.

As I sat the other night talking to one of our local interpreters I was describing the joys of America to him. “Just think about getting in my car and driving wherever we wanted to. We could go to New York and I would show you the city. Then we could go to Washington D.C. and perhaps visit the Iraqi ambassador. After that we could go to Miami and you could see the ocean for the very first time.” He responded as he looked off into the distance, “I think, I think this is a dream that will never come true.”

I have a feeling that it will come true sooner than he thinks.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think, Tim, you have intentionally or not, pointed out one of the differences in America and Iraq - -the freedom to dream great and wonderful dreams. Not that we should or do sit around dreaming all the time but that we can with the hope that we will not be stopped from making those dreams come true... The land of opportunity, the right to persue happiness... Thanks again for doing your part to keep it so. Your blog gave us the feeling that we were all sitting on our front porch eating watermelon or home made icecream listening to you tell of your travels and the people you met along the way. We enjoyed it. However, always a how ever, the reality of car bombs put us back to worrying about you all. Please be careful, Sgt. Tim. Safety first, and Boggs, don't get too close to the kissy bug- -please.
A

Elizabeth said...

Hey, if Boggs wants to get kissed by an Iraqi soldier--why not?

I'm not sure what to make of the masochistic games...I guess it's some macho thing...Eventually though someone will get hurt and it won't be so entertaining...

Sure the Iraqis could come visit you, if they could get a visa...I recently read that one of the actors from "United 93"--the Sept. 11 movie, couldn't get a visa to the U.S. Kind of ironic...but if you could get the U.S. government to grant them visas, and you paid for their plane tickets, I'm sure they'd love to come here and see the U.S.

The Ugly American said...

Great post tim. Anonymous touched on something that I wasn't thinking of while reading your post but definitely ties in to other Iraqi blogs I am reading.

Many Iraqis have this sense of fatalism, and very little belief that they can change anything.

My theory is that living for generations under the boot of a dictator does that to people. /shrug

I hope they learn from your optimism and realize they are the only ones who can make Iraq a better place.

You are doing exactly what is needed Tim. If another 100,000 or so of your brothers at arms are doing the same thing then its only a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,
Here's a good one I played with my brothers growing up. All you need is a bucket of water and an ant hill. We would all stand in the ant hill barefoot and see who could take it the longest without running and jumping in the water. The secret is being really still so they don't start stinging you for a while. Good times! It's not just a macho thing. I'm a girl and I love those kind of games. Elizabeth - you never get it do you. You can be a real downer. Keep up the great work Tim and thanks for this blog even though some people use anything for a political platform. Bummer!!
N of A&N

Jen Eureka said...

so how long were you able to keep your head in the ice water?

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, some of them might like to stay at home and help develop their own country into a fit place to live. Some people don't run from their problems but face them. Sounds like your crew are trying. I just read today that 5.5 million of our illegals in this country came on visas and when the visas expired they were nowhere to be found. Doesn't sound to me like it is so dificult to get a visa. And if it is I can understand why it is.

Courtney said...

Ant hills are nothing! When I was little my brother made me run between this row of trees in our backyard and he would use me for bb gun practice.

Just kidding- I don't think we've ever owned a gun.

I also don't necessarily think the things you guys do out of sheer boredom are masochistic. I mean if you look at the meaning of masochism it leans more toward sexual gratification from pain, or like a tendency to seek out gratification through pain. I don't really agree with the use of that word. I also agree with Neatie- I am the girliest girl you will ever find and I would probably participate with you guys if I were there.

Anyways- keep thinking up games, and enjoying yourself to the best of your ability.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes Courtney, thank you for bringing back the wonderful memories of my two brothers who actually did use BB guns on me and my sister. And there weren't many trees to hide behind in the Arizona desert. I actually had to dig a BB out of the corner of my eye with a teaspoon and my siblings all gathered around saying, "Neatie, please don't tell mom or we're all gonna get it!!" My weapon of choice was cholla cactus on the end of a long stick. Once it gets ahold of you it doesn't let go. I was the best at that game. Not to mention the occassional tarantula or horned toad on the pillow. Youth is Wonderful. We were never bored and one of my brothers became a great Marine! He had good aim.
Neatie

Antediluvia said...

Wow, you certainly lead an interesting life in Iraq, Tim. I haven't done many "how long can you do this" kind of games, mostly just seeing how long I could keep my hand on something hot, like a car or a frying pan. I didn't win many of those :-)

I concur with the first poster, so I won't repeat anything she said.

How often do you venture out of base now? I assume by what you said that you have gate/entrance duty. You mentioned that about last deployment; I seem to remember something about a sniper rife - are you trained to use one of those? That would be cool. Sorry, I'm off topic now...

Stay safe, keep up that friendly attitude. Aren't Brits great? I love their accents.

Courtney said...

Neatie,

OUCH! You are one tough cookie! I don't think I could ever dig a bb out of my eye with a teaspoon!!! And- horned toads and tarantulas- sounds like you had some good revenge tactics!

Those really were the good old days. Especially in the summer around here- I loved not having to go to bed at 9 because it was still light out. I felt like such a big girl!

Take Care,

Courtney

mamaworecombatboots said...

Hey Tim,

Unless you've been there it is hard to imagine how much nuthin' there cam be in a military day. I remember sitting around in the bus barn on hot summer days and swatting flies. We started putting them into a pile just to see how many we could collect. We had a little mountain about 3" high when one guy, our own "schway mijnoon" asked who would take bets that he would eat that pile of flies. No one wanted to bet with him because no one could believe anyone would do such a disgusting thing but he managed finally to find someone who bet him $5, double or nothing. Then, HE DID IT. That was definitely creepy, and no one had much to do with him after that..... Stay safe.

bmcworldcitizen said...

My goodness Tim that was a fantastic and moving post. You know how I feel about the "venture", so I hope that you appreciate how completely I mean it when I say :

You are a genuine inspiration, a glowing tribute to your country, the american military and humanity in general.

Stay safe:-)

Melinda said...

These are the types of stories you will never hear about from anywhere except those who are serving. That's why I truly love reading blogs like yours and others who relate everyday, passing the time kind of events.

The things you learn about each other through "what if" and "can you" games can open doors to so much understanding and lead to even more channels through which you can communicate.

It's interesting to me that those who choose to use this as their political podium suddenly become dense when you are being so profound in your simplicity. Always pushing for a deeper meaning and yet, when it is there right in front of their faces (her face?), it is conveniently lost in feigned disgust over gender issues.

If your friends ever do visit, be sure to plan a stop in the heartland. We'd be happy to treat all of you to a backyard barbecue and you can use our jumbo cooler if you want. :)

Heralder said...

A cactus at the end of a stick Neatie? Yikes! We used ot have horse chestnut fights as kids, they have a spikey outer shell and are quite weighty...a less painful version of the game involved crab apples.

t.f., I second a previous poster, how long did you hold your head under water?

Anonymous said...

Mock Orange and Chinaberries work good too. Expecially if you had a sling shot. Getting any ideas from the old folks here Tim? Oh yeah! Palm fronds can rip you to pieces. You have to utilize what's availabe I guess. Next you'll be writing about the MPs confiscating your palm fronds and ice chests.

Elizabeth said...

Well, I'm sorry if I sounded like a wet blanket, but the biggest wet blankets in my opinion are people who drone on in cliches such as:

"the freedom to dream great and wonderful dreams... The land of opportunity, the right to persue(sic) happiness..."

For some reason listening to cliches annoys me...is it really that difficult to come up with some original thoughts?

Melinda said...

Some of these fun games (physcial abuses?! LOL) are ones I know I've heard of from my own parents and my older cousins...one of whom convinced me as a preschooler that EVERYONE eats Reese's cups with the papers on. We had miniature ones, thank God or I'd have probably choked!

I am NOT going to let my girls anywhere near this comment section! All they could dream up this summer!!!

I'm left shaking my head once again, however, that someone who deals in annoying cliches doesn't recognize the tendency in herself. Contrariness doesn't make you original.

Anonymous said...

Yes the old cliches and phrases we learn in a civilized society - like yes sir, thank you, I'm sorry, he's as good as his word, I have a dream, stick closer than a brother, all for one and one for all, we're in this together, life is what you make of it, I will never let you down, my country- sweet land of liberty - -those phrases and cliches stick because they have real meaning. They would mean nothing to one who has nothing but disgust and contempt for others. We are making comments here and not writing disertations. Some of us are not so self centered that our origianl thoughts are the most important thing to present - -always. Some of us learn from the blogs we read. Some of us comment because we love and respect our Military men for various reasons. Some of us feel compelled to give everything we have in support of them and our great country. Some of us give even when our talents are few and perhaps our formal training is not great. Some have heart, Elizabeth. You are not one of those and you will always find contempt for the rest of us out here who don't agree with your original thought - -which upon examination is not original at all but had been around forever. Why don't you start living, instead of dispising those of us who chose to live with kinder hearts than yours. You make me sick, Elizabeth. That is an old saying but says exactly what I feel. Here is another word I am sure you do not relate to, Elizabeth the naysayer, - - -AMEN Melinda!
Annie & Neatie

T. F. Boggs said...

I could only hold my head under water for about 15 seconds. It is a lot different then warm water because as you go under your brain starts freezing. You can actually feel your head throbbing and when the water goes in your ears and up your nose it is all over. I have no plans to beat that time but as it gets hotter I cannot make any promises.

Anonymous said...

Not to be a wet blanket Boggs, but I think you can burst a blood vessel that way. Just stick the ice down your pants instead of seeing who can hold their head under the longest. You will eleminate brain freeze and can keep up the great blogs this way. In the words of the great Billy Joel, You May Be right I May Be Crazy
Tom Canterbury

Courtney said...

I think Elizabeth is one of those people who you pass on the street, smile at them, and they don't smile back.

earles said...

just wanted to say hey...sorry its been such a long time..hope all is well and tell everyone hi for me...ttyl!

mamaworecombatboots said...

Go away Elizabeth--you have your own blog to post your opinions. If you want to engage in a discussion, I'm sure any and all ideas are welcome. It's not the contrasting viewpoint that bothers--it's the cynical, sneering tone. If you're looking to enlighten, perhaps you could lighten up on the bludgeoning. Good for you Boggs-you are hanging onto your humanity and remaining a thinking human being in a place where that is hard to do.

tanksis said...

What great memories you are making for yourself over there, Sgt. Seizing an opportunity to "brideg a divide", and teach and learn. You could be just miserable (with good reason), yet you CHOOSE to make the most out of it. Good for you, good for the Iraqis, good for your readers.

It's always a treat to hear what's going on in your world--brain freeze and all.

Lighten up Elizabeth--life's too short.

God bless you, Sgt. Thinking of you all and those who've gone before you on this Memorial Day.

proud fan said...

Tim - wonderful post. You have excellent writing skills and I could picture things as you were describing them... Creepy gave me the heebie jeebies! :)

Take care of yourself and know that you are supported!

BUCK SARGENT said...

Hmm, let's see... a few months ago my SAW gunner downed an entire bottle of Buffalo Bob's spicy barbeque sauce in one continuous gulp on a bet.

Then he threw up. A lot.

Got it all on film too. There's one for the grandkids...

BUCK SARGENT said...

Hmm, let's see... a few months ago my SAW gunner downed an entire bottle of Buffalo Bob's spicy barbeque sauce in one continuous gulp on a bet.

Then he threw up. A lot.

Got it all on film too. There's one for the grandkids.

BUCK SARGENT said...

Arggh, I HATE blogger and it's stupid double-posting BS!

So here's a completely frivolous third post to point out the obvious and complain about it.

You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

We 4 kids used to challenge each other to see who could wolf down the most jalapeno peppers. Your mouth and lips went numb after the initial burning was over and you sweat profusely. Then a few hours later you were in big trouble. We called it "my B**t holes on fire game. We are not to be outdone by you, Buck Sargent, or by Sgt. Boggs!!!
You guys stay safe. Especially from yourselves!

Gypsy said...

LOL this was a great post t.f.! I love reading your stories and also hearing about some of the IA Soldiers you interact with, funny and poignant. Sharing with them some of the things you/we all do back in the US, well maybe it gives them hope that they too will someday get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

As far as Elizabeth is concerned, if she doesn't like our "cliches" or what she reads here...she can go somewhere else. She obviously has difficulty coming up with original thoughts herself.

Take good care t.f, as always you have my thanks for all you do for our Country and for your fellow Soldiers. Oh gee darn, there's another cliche, don't read that one either Elizabeth.

Praguetwin said...

Boggs,

Happy Memorial Day, and thanks.

PT

Bag Blog said...

I use to like to throw rocks at electrical lines to kill time. It is really not all that difficult to hit a wire, but being a girl it was pretty impressive to pick up a rock and zing it at a high-wire and hit it. Boys were awed. Twenty Questions sounds sort of boring, but safer that the head in ice water thing. A paratrooper friend told us they played a game where one person names a movie and the next person has to name an actor/actress from the movie; next person names a different movie that the actor/actress also played in and so on. Simple, but time consuming. Stay safe.

Charles Hallsman said...

Dear Segreant:

Thank God for you and your brothers and sisters in service. My service as a Naval Aviator was during the peace time years (the mid "50's) so I cannot begin to appreciate what you are enduring.

You do have my enduring gratitude, and I have canceled my subscription to the Left Angeles Times.

Charles Hallsman

Anonymous said...

Here's a good one I played with my brothers growing up. All you need is a bucket of water and an ant hill. We would all stand in the ant hill barefoot and see who could take it the longest without running and jumping in the water. softmod Wii | how to softmod Wii