Fall 2014

Edited by ANDREA SPOFFORD | BARRY KITTERMAN | AMY WRIGHT



Nonfiction

I thought you were in Afghanistan

Brandon Lingle


Years ago an invading army built a bridge across the Tigris out of Iraqi books. They turned the river red with ink.

When I retire, I’ll take what I learned in the military and dump it in the river. –Iraqi colonel

An alarm, then the giant voice: INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING!
Me: Dude … bunker?
Roommate scrambling to the floor: Nah, if it’s my time it’s my time.

We took a basket ’o rockets all over the country last night, so remember this is still a dangerous place, the enemy is active, be safe out there.

Keep your head down.

Don’t worry, be happy. –Iraqi general (Bobby McFerrin released “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in 1988, two years before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait)

These guys act like your friends, but don’t think for a second they wouldn’t kill you. –Interpreter on Iraqi military officers we often met

Saddam rumor: They hung people from those Crossed Swords.

An Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint outside the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office: Do you have an extra pair of boots for me? 
Me: I’m sorry, I don’t, here’s a bottle of water. 
He accepts, we pass.

We’re on a fool’s errand.

Big business around the world is watching how the Americans are being treated in Iraq. US Forces are a litmus test for trade and security.

NY Times writer describing his image of Dexter Filkins, long-time war correspondent and author of The Forever WarHey Dexter, I’ve got a great assignment for you. It’s in hell! 
Dexter: Sounds awesome! How do I get there?

Helicopters.

Our 16-year-old son: Where are you again?
Me: Iraq
Son: Oh, I thought you were in Afghanistan.

Saddam rumor: He gave fatherly advice to his guards while awaiting execution.

My son was shot in his face while working at the Ministry of the Interior. He was sent to the US and is recovering in Texas. –Iraqi general

I just enlisted in the Army, guaranteed a combat medic job. –Our 18-year-old son

We used to judge our days by the blood trail from the helicopter pad to the trauma bay doors. –US combat medic

Some poor bastard on emergency leave fumbles his wallet in the Black Hawk with doors open somewhere over Besmaya. A flurry of IDs, credit cards, kid pictures, and cash. People scramble to snatch poor kid’s identity whipping around the cabin before it flutters down to Ali’s front yard. Reminded me of snow.

A civilian contractor leaves this massive rolling duffle near the back of a CH-47. Crew doesn’t strap it in. We make this high-banking turn over Taji and the bag starts creeping toward the open ramp. The guy’s waving his hands and pointing as the bag slow-mo rolls off the edge. We watched it flip end over end as it fell. Either killed someone or made their day. Dude was bummed he lost his Playstation.

Moqi loves foosball and Playstation. –Iraqi general (Moqi is short for Muqtada al-Sadr)

We do not accept any kind of US presence in Iraq, whether it is military or not. If they stay in Iraq… we will consider them an occupation and we will resist them whatever the price will be. –Muqtada al-Sadr

Do they want us to stay, don’t they want us to stay? Do they want to get a minister of defense or don’t they want to get a minister of defense? Dammit, make a decision. –Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

Welcome to sovereignty. –Same NY Times writer describing a series of 12 Iraqi gate guard hassles at International Zone checkpoints

Last night a posse of Iraqi police got into a firefight with an Iraqi Army unit. It’s tribal.

We ride around in MRAPs and up-armored Humvees in helmets and vests. We carry weapons and dodge rockets. This is victory.

Saddam rumor: They used an underground human meat grinder not far from the Crossed Swords for getting rid of the bodies.

On an Iraqi TV in the background of a meeting: Libyan revolutionaries firing guns longer than the pickups they’re welded to.

Iraqi general: Eight of my colleagues have been assassinated in the last two weeks. US Lieutenant Colonel: Are you varying your routes and taking precautions?
Iraqi general: Yes, yes, don’t worry be happy my friend.

So far, in ’11, the number of murders in Baghdad is about the same as New York City or Washington DC. However, all of these killings are targeted assassinations. Imagine if 3,000 judges, Congressmen, and military leaders were kidnapped and assassinated in the US by one extremist group, then the US would act. We need to motivate the Iraqis to take action. –US Army intelligence officer

The Fraud of War –US contracting officer’s proposed title of the book he’d like to write.

State Department civilian at the Embassy: Ever come over for karaoke night at the bar?
US Captain: Never.

So we’re on a base in the middle of Baghdad and we’re paying guys to cut the grass with scissors and hose down the tile sidewalks?

Don’t forget about Salsa night and Yoga class.

The best all-inclusive rehab resort money can buy … A gated community in the International Zone featuring 24-hour armed security and friendly staff with free amenities like bottled water, wardrobe, all-you-can eat buffet 4x a day, armored transportation, recreation, entertainment, 24-hour fitness facility, medical care, laundry. Don’t miss the fine shopping at the Blue Dome Bazaar and our two world-class salons.

On an Iraqi TV in the background of a meeting: soccer.

Never let your morale be tied to your job –US general’s aid

I’m not going to kill myself today. –US private

The diesel hammer of bus-sized generators.

I’ve seen my friends beheaded on TV and then helped pick up their bodies. –Interpreter

Want to see Chemical Ali’s torture chambers?

What the hell is an ‘Iraqi thought influencer’? Sounds like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” –US general reacting to a line in a slide presentation

I’m such a badass at Powerpoint because I was an art major in college. –US Lieutenant Colonel

We’ve hired a French artist to paint a mural of the Babylon ruins.

Saddam rumor: He had those fish genetically engineered for aggressiveness. He had the scientist executed because the fish weren’t big enough. They used to feed them the bodies. They still eat meat. We call them Saddam fish.

The SO WHAT is what’s important to me! –US general

Today’s terrorist attacks failed. –Iraqi Ministry of the Interior spokesman (Local hospitals reported at least 14 civilians killed and dozens injured.)

When things were really bad, I spent whole days picking up bodies. –Interpreter

You should have been here a couple years ago! –Security contractor from Northern Ireland

Saddam rumor: His staff cooked every meal every day at every one of his 80 palaces just in case.

Ba’ath party big wigs used to live in these rooms. Now the Ugandan guards do.

US Navy Petty Officer named Coward explains fate and fortune by way Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

My birthday was great. –Our nine-year-old daughter

Someone turned a bunch of AT4s in to the amnesty box. (AT4s: anti-tank missiles)

Don’t even think about buying one of those cheap Iraqi shoulder holsters where the muzzle points straight back. There’s nothing worse than standing behind some fuck with his pistol aimed at your forehead.

Interpreter: You know there are still bodies underneath those floors?
Me: Yes, I’m pretty sure a friend of mine dropped the JDAM that collapsed them. (JDAM: Joint Direct Attack Mission . . . smart bomb.)

You can smell the ghosts.

Maybe we want it worse than they do, and our pockets are deeper. We need to be okay with ‘Iraqi good enough.’

Keep our hands on the handlebars and the training wheels on the Iraqis until we leave. –US general

We need to be ready to take our hands off the handlebars. We need to let them scuff their knees. –Senior US DoD civilian

The Bedouins say ‘if someone twists your hand, kiss it and pray for God to cut it off.’

It’s a strategic loss for us if Iraq fails. People will ask what we’ve been doing here for eight years if they can’t even fuel their own airplanes.

Thanks for your service.

The right path is too hard and cruel so there are very few who take it. –Iraqi general

We like the cars, the cars that go BOOM. –L’Trimm’s 1988 jam blasting from a convoy rolling off Camp Liberty

Does anyone know where we can get some light body work, paint, and upholstery done on an up-armored SUV?

I had to break into my up-armored Suburban!

Gear up, clear your weapons, strap in, and follow our instructions. If anything happens we’ll press through. If we lose a vehicle we’ll offload to the next. No pictures. –Idaho National Guard staff sergeant serving as convoy commander

That motherfucker ringing the siren does two things … he pisses all the locals off who are trying to sleep, and he lets the bad guys know we’re coming. One of these days they’ll hit this route. –US lieutenant colonel, on his fourth Iraq tour, riding a MRAP convoying across Baghdad at 6 a.m. (Two weeks later an EFP hit those Idaho Guardsmen 600 yards outside the largest US base in Iraq killing 2 and taking another’s legs).

Stay safe.

We’ve lost the security gains Petraeus made in ’08 and ’09.

An alarm, then the giant voice: INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING!
Interpreters: Holy shit, stop the car!
Me: laughing as we pile out of the Explorer … one interpreter nearly steamrolls me, while the other trips on a curb, spins like Barry Sanders, and careens toward a bunker unfazed.

Alarm was going, I was hauling ass, and this fat ass wobbles from a blind corner. Nearly took her and her lunch tray out. Would’ve have destroyed her. Instead, I juke, trip on the curb and slip a disc.

Be polite, be professional, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet –US general

If you live with psychos, you need to learn to live with them. –Iraqi general

US captain to a civilian contractor at the dining facility: Hey, you forgot to wash your hands.
Contractor: I just got out of the shower.
Captain: I don’t give a fuck! Wash your hands.

Saddam rumor: He loved Doritos.

Paleo.

The Sri Lankan sandwich maker puts hate in my tuna sandwich.

Chattering third-country nationals in blue jumpsuits.

When I worked in PsyOps we played Drowning Pool, Metallica, or Disturbed over loud speakers every morning at 4 a.m. for months. –Interpreter

It’s only going to get worse.

Realistically optimistic!

This is the Alamo.

The Iranians have no interest in Iraq or America succeeding.

The Iranians are using the Americans to control Afghanistan. –Iraqi general

That’s an Iranian ice cream shop outside the US Embassy checkpoint. I’m serious, Iranians! –Interpreter

Do not give the Ugandan guards Rip-Its. They don’t drink enough water in the towers, and they get dehydrated. 3 have died in the last week. (Rip Its: Canned energy drinks available at military dining facilities with the motto, “energy fuel at a price you can swallow.”)

Shredding Velcro.

I’ll ride my horse until it dies then I’ll get another horse … inshallah. –Iraqi colonel on preventative maintenance

The giant voice: “Attention on the FOB, remain in a hardened building until 2300.”

You can see the Styrofoam in those T-walls. (T-walls: concrete barriers ringing bases and buildings to protect against blast damage. Iraqi contractors sometimes mixed Styrofoam into the concrete decreasing T-wall effectiveness.)

I’m not interested in embedding an artist who wants to make a photo book of T-wall paintings and tattoos. –US lieutenant colonel

Maybe you should get a memorial tattoo if it bothers you so much.

We’ve invested a lot of blood and treasure, and we need to honor that legacy.

We need to kick more doors down. They’re lobbing mortars, testing us, and finding out we’re not kicking down any doors like we used to do.

When the lob bombs started, the captain told his men to hit the bunker. They’d just woken up, running with their toothbrushes, in flip flops and shorts. He saw his last man make it to the bunker, and the next rocket slammed the bunker entry gap. Killed ’em all except the captain.

The Ugandan guards in the tower 500 yards from where the lob bomb bongo truck parked didn’t do anything until after the first rocket launched.

Every bomb or attack is a strategic thing in the battle of narrative.

Tell him he needs to take the rocket damage photos off Facebook.

Wanna see where Saddam was tried?

“Boom” by Snoop Dogg featuring T-Pain on Freedom Radio, Armed Forces Network-Iraq

Congrats to the winners of the Biggest Loser weight-loss challenge. You know the teams lost 600 pounds last week … that’s like redeploying 3 people home.

I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to die stupid.

We’re in the third string war.

You are in Iraq … the king country of lying. –Iraqi captain

Subtract two when it comes to Iraqi rank. An Iraqi 1-star usually equals a US lieutenant colonel and an Iraqi captain equals a US second lieutenant … a second lieutenant with 10 years of combat experience.

The Titanic theme song, “My Heart Will Go On,” on the radio in an Iraqi military building.

Sharing is important—a key to relationships, but classified material makes sharing much harder. –Iraqi counter-terrorism official

Happy 10th anniversary! – My wife

An alarm, then the giant voice: INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING!
My wife via Skype: What’s that?
Me via Skype: Nothing, just a drill … gotta go.

We got lucky, 40 rockets completely missed Garry Owen. (Garry Owen was a small US base outside Amarra.)

Adhan (call to prayer) from the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque during the base’s “Spiritual Fitness 5K” as the chaplain led his flock with a black flag emblazoned with a white cross.

Adhan during the Toby Keith USO concert.

We had to hunker in the bunker ’til all clear. –Toby Keith

On an Iraqi TV in the background of a meeting: White-clad figures circling the Kaaba during the Hajj in Mecca and an Iraqi soap opera.

The click of Iraqi officers fondling prayer beads

Maliki was a sidewalk bead seller when he was young. –Iraqi general (Nouri al-Maliki was Iraq’s prime minister)

The U.S. can’t stop Iraqi corruption.

If I were to give the Minister of Defense pure water, my boss would drop ink into it. –Iraqi general

Where is the Iraqi buy in? We’re a generous people and our good ideas may not be the right ones, and they may not buy in.

The last time I deployed I was a guard at Camp Bucca, the prison outside Basra. We caught a young soldier getting screwed through the chain-link fence by a detainee. It was a prison, now it’s a hotel.

There’s good bongo music in Basra. You can’t resist it. It makes everyone dance. –Iraqi general

The little girl asked her mother ‘Why is Abbas here, he’s Muslim?’ Then Abbas gave the little girl a piece of candy and patted her head. Two minutes later he shot the little girl in the head and detonated his bomb. –Witness at a Christian church bombing

Our 7-year-old son: When are you coming home?
Me: Soon, a few more weeks.
Son: I don’t believe you.

The clank of Iraqi chai glasses.

On an Iraqi TV in the background of a meeting: Syrian tanks rolling, militants tossing mutilated bodies from bridges, and Iraqi news anchors droning.

Iraqis wonder why the UN hasn’t imposed harsher sanctions on Syria. –Iraqi general

Sit in the back of the MRAP on the driver’s side, because lately the dudes in the front of the MRAPs on the passenger side are the one’s killed by the molten metal slugs from the EFPs.

Clemenceau said war was too important to be left to the generals. Fifty years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow them to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. 
–US general paraphrasing Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack Ripper

Saddam rumor from an Iraqi counter-terrorism official: Before the Gulf War, there were 1,000 species and more than 20 million date trees in Iraq. Saddam cut many down after the war to punish the people.

During my last deployment, I was a guard a Gitmo. I shot one in the shoulder with a rubber bullet. He spun around twice and fell. Funniest thing I ever saw.

Remember, no magazines in your weapons on this base.

I roll with one in the chamber everywhere I go. –US Special Forces sergeant first class

Foxes fear dogs. During the harvest, if a dog is good, the fox will not sleep in the grass. –Iraqi colonel

We use a pack of dogs to chase down wild boar and then the hunters spear the beast. –Fijian security contractor

He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man – Avenged Sevenfold song in memory of Hunter S. Thompson who quoted Samuel Johnson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

On an Iraqi TV in the background of a meeting: A crowd beating a bloodied Gaddafi.

Give me fluff stories to show the Iraqis don’t need us!

I’m more afraid of an AK-47 than I am of a car bomb. –Iraqi general

Wanna see old Iranian helmets with bullet holes in them?

Saddam rumor: He had the entire Qur’an written in his blood, and he wrote four novels.

Iraq needs a king. Monarchy works in Iraq. –Iraqi captain

Allahu akbar, inshallah, inshallah … –Iraqi colonel clicked his lips upon receiving a call his close friend from Basra had just been assassinated.

Remember Saigon?

There’s an old Iraqi saying… when you reach a dead end, the result will come, good or bad, regardless. Don’t worry be happy. – An Iraqi general

Someday I will live in Texas. –Interpreter




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