I’ve almost hit the end of my war journal, but I realize there were about three months that I didn’t write a thing about in it, so I’ve decided that some of those stories should be shared. Some are funny, some aren’t so funny, but they’re all stuff I want to remember a long time from now, so I’ll put them in here and maybe one day when my memory’s fading I can actually find the url and read them again. Here’s the first one.
Sometime in May 2003
After the 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarters and aviation brigade settled in at Baghdad International Airport, I spent a number of weeks still attached to the aviation brigade and living in the former corporate headquarters of Iraqi Airways with the brigade’s troops. A number of specialists and sergeants lucked out and got a room on the fourth floor, which was the level on which you could find the balcony.
At the time, the building was known by two nicknames. The first, “Khobar Towers,” came when a major whose name I’ve forgotten pointed out what a great target the building would be for Iraqi RPGs in those days when we were still fighting regular Iraqi forces. You may recall that the Khobar Towers were building in Saudi Arabia that were attacked by terrorists in 1996, when a truck bomb killed 19 U.S. airmen and injured nearly 500 other people. It was an unlucky nickname.
The second, the “Hotel California,” has an origin lost to time, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that we all checked in whenever we wanted and had no idea when we would actually leave. At one point, there was actually a banner proclaiming this nickname. When I returned to Iraq in 2006, “Hotel California” referred to another part of the massive Victory Base Complex that surrounded Baghdad International Airport. I’m still uncertain what went on there, but it couldn’t have been as great as whatever we got up to after missions.
We had it good there, especially the handful of us who ended up in a room on the balcony. We could sit out on folding chairs at night, drink water and watch Iraqi antiaircraft fire futilely try to reach up for American aircraft, only to get knocked out by that aircraft in the the Baath regime’s waning days. From the fourth floor, we commanded a pretty good view of the huge loop that brought ground vehicles to the airfield, and when we got tired of that we could hook a laptop up to a generator and watch whatever movie we were missing back home on a pirated disc someone acquired somehow.
One night, I don’t really recall when, we were all sitting out on the balcony, drinking apricot brandy (that’s what I’m told it was) and telling stories. I was sitting near the door back into the room, which was also near this huge, metal sign that depicted Saddam Hussein with a rifle that dominated the front of the building. Naturally, it also shaded a good portion of our balcony. I was telling a story about something that I don’t recall, and I got to the line “And then she said …”
There was a loud thunk on the Saddam sign. something landed on my lap. I looked down and finished my sentence.
“HOLY SHIT! A BAT!”
Now before you think I go around telling stories about beautiful women and bats, let me assure you this was not where the story was going. I looked down to the sight of a bat laying on my crotch, looking up at me. I instantly sprang into the air, throwing both hands down in an effort to remove this foul creature from my man parts. Everybody to a man looked and ran into the door. In hindsight, there are few things funnier than a bunch of men and women who just went through an actual all-out war running indoors at the sight of a bat.
Once we got back in the building, we looked at to see that the winged rodent had hurt itself on its inbound flight to my desert-camouflaged crotch. Its wings were flapping, but it was having a hard time getting off the linoleum. It was quickly decided that we should put it out of its misery, but who would go back on the balcony and do the deed? Obviously, it was the fault of the guy who’d had a bat land on him, and he should finish the beast off. The only problem? I didn’t want to go out on the balcony, and I really felt bad about the idea of stepping on a poor dumb bat.
“I ain’t going back out there.”
“Yeah you are. You have to do it. He landed on you.”
Much as I hated to admit it, the logic made sense, but I still didn’t know how to wrap my brain around euthanizing a bat. A paper towel! I cracked the door, leaned out and looked at the creature. Then I dropped the paper towel and promptly closed the door. Step 1 was complete.
I steeled myself for the next part, which I thought at the time would be the worst. Again I cracked the door and slid out there. The paper towel was pitifully bouncing across the tiled balcony. It was obvious this critter wasn’t flying any time soon, and for all the stories I’ve heard of people nursing things back to health, I’ve never heard of anyone taking the time to bring a bat back. It had to be done. I walked over with my near-worn-out combat boots, raised my right leg over the barely moving paper towel, and dropped judgment on the beast. Without getting too graphic, it was kind of crunchy, and I felt pretty awful about the whole affair. That thing didn’t mean to land where it had.
Then I went back inside. I’d done the deed and decreed that someone else should dispose of the remains. There were no volunteers. Again a plan. I grabbed a broom and went back outside, sweeping the now-dead creature of nightmares toward the edge. The only problem was at that edge there was a bump, and sweeping him over was a chore. Finally I reached down, picking up the remains while ensuring my fingers touched nothing but paper towel – it could have been rabid for all I know – and lifted the carcass. I tossed it lightly over the concrete railing. I watched it spin for a minute before it landed with a thunk on top of one of the communications trucks four stories below. The beast had been vanquished.
I slept well that night.