Fear and Loathing in Iraq: August 8, 2004

female soldier

Hello everyone! I am writing this week’s newsletter at 12:30 at night because for the last week I have been on the night shift. I switched with the evil sergeant I hate because she wanted to get back to days and I wanted to work nights so I could be left alone and not have to witness so many stupid people making dumb decisions for selfish reasons. It has been really making me upset lately, all the wrong things that are done in this company, and that little voice in my head that tells me to speak up and say something has been screaming like a banshee for the last month. Maybe it’s my distaste for being in the Army and not doing some thing more productive with my life like become a panhandler or a drug dealer, but so many bad ideas and wrong events happen in this company, and even though most don’t affect me, I am the only person who will stand up and say something. This, in turn, has made me sort of a pariah around here, but then again, I-gives-less-than-A-damn!

I never totally fit into the Army in the first place, I am too much of a free thinker and I enjoy my personal freedom. (So what the fuck am I doing here!) I can do everything they ask, and some of it is fun as Hell! I love to shoot shit and blow things up. I love to drive Humvees in and out of ditches until they fall apart. So I can do what is required, and I can adapt to my surroundings, but it is not me, my heart is not in it.

I am here, but I am not part of the boys club. I don’t “dip” or smoke or screw other soldier’s wives or show up to work drunk or steal or treat soldiers like crap. And that’s what it takes to truly fit in. Case in point: remember Gen. Wesley Clark? He is an extremely bright, tough, thought provoking man and he pushed for intervention in Bosnia until Clinton finally gave in and sent in the troops. Clark was telling everyone that real genocide was going on, that we should use our vast military for situations just like this and do some real good for the world. He pushed and pushed because he felt in his heart what was happening was wrong. He lost a lot of friends and when the operation was over was he thanked? Was he held up as a hero? Ticker tapes and all that? No, he was fired. He later said that he never fit in with your standard Army crowd. He didn’t drink much; he didn’t spit tobacco or smoke cigarettes. He was not part of the boys club. He was an educated man who made educated decisions that were well planned out and used logical precision. (No U.S. soldier was killed during the war in Bosnia.) He said he joined the Army because he believed in public service, but he didn’t join just to kick ass and kill. So for all his promotions and the outstanding performance he gave at each position he held, he never truly fit in with the Army culture of old. Now I am no Wesley Clark—I am more like Beetle Bailey—but you get the idea.

Most of the soldiers here are young an they are making young mistakes, and many of the leadership are ¾ retarded and making decisions that fall on the dumb side of stupid. Well I don’t plan to see most if these self-serving halfwits when I get out of the Army, and I will never stay in, so I have no ladder to climb or agenda to fill, so I don’t care what people think—I speak out about what I feel is wrong.

When we first got here we were told over and over and over what was expected of us. We were pulled aside from the female soldiers and told not to touch, feel, handle, brush up against, look, gander, stare, gawk, ogle, leer, smile, smirk, wink, speak to, whisper, or make any kind remarks to any of the females. And the women were told the same thing. Their greatest fear was that someone was going to get pregnant or divorced, or both. They said we were not allowed to drink, imbibe, swig, knock back, taste, nip any alcoholic beverages. We were told all pornographic material was banned and that we could not have any Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, Jugg’s, Swank, or Tattooed Mommas magazines. And video porn was off limits as well. There was to be no fraternization: if any female was in a C-hut with a male the door had to be open.

It was to be like to the dorm rooms of the 50’s, where Billy in his sport coat and bow tie sat on the couch with Sally and her poodle skirt drinking Cokes and listening to 45’s with the door wide open so the headmaster could keep Billy’s wolf paws off Sally’s purity. There was to be no use of drugs—no pot, hashish, coke, heroin, ecstasy, uppers, downers, glue, sniffers, huffers, acid, PCP, and no spinning around in circles until you were dizzy.

We were told that if any of these offenses were to take place there would severe consequences — counseling statements, corrective training, Article 15’s, loss of rank, money, extra duty, thrown out of the military, castration, and worse. Now here is the problem: all the things we were told not to do — I am a big proponent of them! I am all for it. The Army has taken away all the things that soldiers need to relax and get their mind off of when they’re in a war zone! Hell, the only thing they have left to ban is masturbation and I am sure someone has looked into it. Next thing you know the military will be performing clitorectomies on the female soldiers and handing out chastity belts for the men’s uniforms. But what gets me is that all the people who yelled and threatened and investigated and hid in the shadows ARE THE ONES NOW DOING ALL OF THOSE THINGS WE WERE TOLD NOT TO DO!

You should see this place. Everyone is screwing each other. People are playing musical C-huts in the middle of the night. I mean EVERYONE is screwing out here! Even the damn Sergeant Major, the highest ranking NCO in the battalion is banging a chick that works in our dining facility. Someone in his own battalion! The sergeant major is the one who makes all the rules, sets the tone, he enforces the standards and punishes people for not following the rules, and he is breaking the very rules he put out. I go into people’s C-huts all the time and there are women lying under the sheets, guys sitting in a chair in their underwear. No doors are left open. Everyone is drinking out here. Not just a little bit here and there, I mean boozing!

There was a party given for a soldier here a couple of weeks ago, everyone was drinking and when I got off work to say hello, you know who was the most drunk of all? Our First Sergeant! The NCO that runs our company! The very man who creates and enforces our company rules! And he borrows dirty movies from us all the time! He is always grabbing the female soldiers and making lewd comments and such. There are people at battalion — the very organization that runs this company and three others like it — who light up joints at night to relax and sleep with each other. The rate of infidelity here is astounding! Astounding!! I can name at least 20 women I know who are married and sleeping with male soldiers — many of whom are married themselves. I know of at least 15 males who are married and sleeping around. And the ones that have fiancées or boyfriends: please! They are all running around. (It’s ironic that we are in the country where Sodom and Gomorrah was located.)

And the worst part of all is the self-involved, selfish, agenda having politicians here in our company that fuck over soldiers and put us all at risk for personal gain. Remember how our company commander signed us up to help out on the trucking convoys? Well, get this: last week he looks at our board that has all the convoys listed and says to me, “What about the 498th? They usually have convoys tomorrow, call them up and see if they have anything for us. And then call the 25th and the 1058th; I’m sure we can get a convoy to Mosul.” It is bad enough we got involved with these trucking companies in the first place, and to have them call us when they have convoys that need support, that I can stomach, but this damn commander is SEEKING MORE CONVOYS OUT! He is not letting the companies come to us, he wants us to go to them and go on more of them! He is putting our lives in danger so he can increase the number of miles driven on his NCOER report. He is adding to the number of missions completed so that he can get a Silver Star and secure his promotion to major. This piece of shit is looking for danger to put us all in for personal gain. That I cannot stomach. That is just plain evil.

We have NCOs, who mistreat their soldiers, abuse them mentally, and degrade them all the time while they act like they are morally superior and the ethical standard. “Follow the rules, follow the Army standard and you won’t get in trouble. Now you continue to do push ups, I’m going to go cheat on my wife and smoke a joint.” This double standard just makes me want to scream.

Now is the time were are putting soldiers up for medals. We have to have the paperwork in soon and so everyone is running around making reports. Now everyone is going to get an ARCOM (Army Commendation Medal), but that is not enough for our leadership. They want certain people to get Bronze Stars! Fucking bronze stars! What the hell has anyone in this company done to deserve a bronze star? We are allowed up to 8, I think, so you know who the commander put up for them? Himself, the first sergeant, Lt. Clapper (the chick that sits on the computer chatting all day long), all the platoon sergeants, all the other worthless lieutenants, and even that evil bitch on wheels I work next to that is back on days; the one that screwing the guy in the C-hut in front of mine, whose wife I am sure has no idea. It is insanity.

There are people who dragged wounded buddies through a firefight that deserve bronze stars. How about the one who ran out of ammo and charged Iraqis with a knife to protect a dying patient, or the one who fought with no food or water for days in the middle of a sandstorm? Those are bronze star worthy. But showing up to work with a hangover and shopping on Victoria’s Secret Online all day is not. Our first sergeant, who is a world class chicken shit and has only left the base four times in 8 months, is getting put up for a bronze star. The lieutenants who are sleeping around on other bases and spend the whole day chatting in Yahoo! chat rooms and shopping on Amazon all day, they are up for bronze stars.

You see what I mean? How can I be a part of this culture? Why would I want to be part of this culture? You know why I can’t be part of this culture? Two reasons: Dignity and Self-respect. I am all for booze, drugs, porn, and excess, they are some of the reasons WHY we want to live, but when you threaten soldiers about doing those things, punish soldiers when they caught, and the whole time you are doing the same thing—that is just plain wrong. That is the lowest level of double standard bullshit I have ever seen. I think it is fine if people want to drink, have sex (not cheat, though!), and have fun out here because it really sucks out here, but the level of injustice that is here instead is crazy! One of our soldier’s in Al-Asad was caught in middle of performing fellatio in the back of an ambulance and was punished by a first sergeant that is getting drunk and sleeping with his own soldiers here in the company! A soldier got mouthy to an NCO and got an Article 15 and was punished by a platoon sergeant that is screwing around on her husband and by the commander who is putting soldiers in the direct path of harm all for selfish reasons.

There are many other examples of crap that is going on here and I hate to sit here during the day and watch it all unfold. I can’t watch it anymore. The politics, the power plays, the backstabbing, the double standards, etc. I complain to my platoon sergeant and my section sergeant (both of whom are great people, very honest) and they say, Hey, what can ya do? That’s life, that’s the way it is in the Army.

I have been in the Army long enough now to see how the game is played, and I don’t like the game. Infidelity is so high in the Army I am surprised they don’t make it a requirement with our contracts. People joke about it. They say that the minute a spouse leaves for duty the other is at the club that very night. And they tell stories about it. From just my battalion alone I figure somewhere around 60% are unfaithful. And I am not talking about a once in a lifetime thing, I am talking every training mission, every exercise, every call to duty. It is rampant.

The number of DUIs is very high; the numbers of alcoholics, drug users, and people who can barely read and laugh about it are very high. The number of young parents whose kids have no where to hang out except the PX and Burger King and get fat and rebellious are high. The level of ignorance is so high it is touching the late ionosphere! All of it, I can’t stand all of it. It is just not a culture I want to be part of and I can’t wait to wash myself clean of it. I cannot be part of this boys club, I don’t fit in and I don’t like it. I know that military doesn’t take in the cream of the crop, I understand that, but when I am knee deep in with them and I am the one who is the rebellious one because I will not break the rules and fuck up like they are, that I can’t take. I have the unique position of having been in the civilian world before I came in the military, many have not. So I know what life is like outside of the military and I gotta tell you: it is better. It is just better. Yeah there are infidelities and drug users and all that shit in the civilian world, but per capita it is much, much lower than in the military and it is not a culture that feeds off itself and practically promotes it.

You know, I enjoy a drink every now and again, and I hope to smoke weed a couple of times a year when I get out, and I will sneak a peek at a porn movie and check out who is the playmate of the month, but at least I am honest about it and I don’t hide behind a curtain of bullshit and throw the first stone. I am an educated man and I enjoy learning and I am ashamed at the very people who are uneducated and illiterate and make fun of those that are not.

People that have been the military a long time have told that the military is not like it used to be. It is too soft, too regulated and strict. Too much paperwork and bullshit attitudes walking around. Soldiers have all the rights now because they learned to play the legal game and now the NCOs and officers can’t touch them. So now they don’t care, the soldiers don’t care, and everyone is now out for themselves and screws everyone else. No wonder the rate of people leaving the military is high and the suicide rates are high. This culture sucks!

Okay, enough of my ranting and raving. I feel better to have gotten it off my chest. So what happened this week? Not much. Friday and Saturday nights were rocket from hell nights. We had over ten rockets hit the base in those two nights and we were all on edge. I don’t know what crawled up their asses this weekend but they were trying to kill everything.

I got word I will be most likely going on R&R in early September and I am gearing up for my Africa trip. I bought some clothes because I have none and started gathering the necessary paperwork I will need. I think it may actually happen this time.

I ended up with an A+ in my legal class, which was amazing considering I hated the class and told the professor that he was one of the worst I have ever had. Go figure.

This night shift agrees with me. I have not felt sleepy; I am getting more things done than ever before and I enjoy the peace and quiet. So maybe by next week’s newsletter I will be more relaxed and write about nicer things and have a better attitude. Maybe I will even calm down enough to pick up the paint and canvas I bought and try painting again to lower my blood pressure and try and get some moments of Zen.

Well thanks for reading my nonsensical ramblings, it felt good to write. I am off to finish writing the award letter for why my soldier deserves an ARCOM. It is going to be quite a work of fiction, let me tell ya!

--Chris Sachs