Monday, December 29, 2008

art of the mundane...

I wake up earlier than my soldiers, who tend to stay awake entirely too long watching bad British action movies. I prefer to work when others are eating breakfast and lunch and dinner...the office is less crowded, the Internet is faster and there's no wait for the phone.The added bonus is, when I eat, I can then eat quickly and alone instead of making small talk with people. When you live with people and work with people, eating with them becomes an awkward exercise in pretending there's something to talk about other than work, or just an extention of work. So, I eat alone, and try to avoid rolling my eye sat what is showing on television (which has, lately, been a TV show about a tattoo parlor. Who knew how emotional getting a tattoo of a dog in a lotus blossom could be if played over the right soundtrack?)

Soldiers, when they eat, tend to talk about sex, or work or call each other gay. In fact, that's what most of them talk about most of the time. When they work out, or eat, or work...but I guess that's all there really is when you're living in an area the size of a football field for 15 months surrounded by walls so high you can't see over them...when the horizon is the same color as the floor, and often the sky, there's not much to think about or enjoy.

Working out has become my solitary high point in life. Who would have guessed? Sometimes I even go twice, because there's not much else to do. The Filipinos who work in the messhall made Ponset the other day...mine is better.

We were working the other night, comparing mustaches and laughing when the big screen in front told us that there had been an IED. A soldier had been killed. There was a pause...a stunned silence...while we waited to see which unit it was. Everyone in the building had soldiers who it could have been and the initial reaction, despite what one would hope the reaction would be, was "I hope it's not one of mine..."

Phones began to ring, soldiers started moving and running...a lot of orders, "call him" "find out" "go see..." and a lot of questions...Who? Where? When? Why? and more orders...find out....
My guys were safe, I quickly found out, and the unit goes into blackout. No phone calls, no contact. The army wants to ensure that the first person to tell the soldier's family is the Army and not a wall post on myspace or a rumor that got home faster than official channels. My guys and I waited, and worked out. What does one do?

I didn't know the soldier. I still don't know who he was, where he was from and, sadly, my life goes on as it did before. Somehow,however, his life has not. His mother (father? sister? I don't know)is crying and wondering why...wanting answers to the questions we all asked in the moments immediately afterwards.

Last night, there was an explosion. After the soldier had died, I was on higher alert than I usually am (as Vivian said, complacency is the biggest enemy sometimes). It was close, and most of my guys seemed rattled. I got my weapon and ran to where my female soldiers lived to ensure they were OK. One of them answered the door, hair in her face and sleep in her eyes, seemingly unfazed...She told me it was a controlled detonation, an explosion that our unit caused to demolish something or another, but that I hadn't heard the announcement. I felt a little foolish, but at least I knew I was safer than I thought I had been...

Today, I met with some Iraqis to talk about how we would all work together. We drank Chai, we laughed, we got angry...

I found my guys...we worked out...we ate...such is life.

The title of this post comes from what my Commander wrote me when I asked permission to post this...she said I had "made art of the mundane." It's a strange world where this is the mundane, but it's the world most soldiers live in. I wonder what I'd think of that were I not a soldier.


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