"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In the sun, in the dark

The routine, such as it is, has finally established itself here, with our guys in full control and our predecessors happily awaiting their bird home. I say "such as it is" because it's like no routine I've had since the good old days at TBS. 12-14 hour work days are the norm, and there's no weekend. We're like 7/11, open 24/7 including holidays. Add some of the longest flights I've been on into the mix, and you get a new definition of "assed out". I finally got my "cherry" flight out of the way, and a second one yesterday to boot. I don't want to say they were boring, because the learning curve out here is steep and there's a lot of absorb. There are plenty of FOBs and outposts to hit, and after awhile they blend together so you better know which pad or piece of dirt you're landing on. Some of these places are pretty confined, giving me another new definition, to "pucker factor". Back in Miramar, we'd practice CALs (confined area landings) in the desert, where you'd aim for a particular piece of dirt in the middle of a sea of dirt, and you'd try and hit the same place each time, but if you ended up somewhat out of position it was no big deal. Out here, if you're out of position that means you're landing on something or someone.

But in between the few seconds of sweating the landing, there's almost nothing. It's not completely barren, but pretty damn close. The amazing thing is seeing that people still try to scratch a living out here. Every now and then we'll see a cluster of tents or small structures near a dirt road that might go dozens of miles to the nearest highway, with a small sun-baked field that's just waiting for the rain in the winter to make something grow. Or there might not be a field, only tents. Some locals camp out by high tension towers that run through a hundred miles of desert to different towns, waiting for an opportunity to steal the wire and sell it for scrap. Though at least the towers are there, and construction crews are out in the sun repairing them to provide some infrastructure. Most of the roads in this AO seem to be in pretty good shape, with traffic - mostly commercial, it seems - running along it pretty regularly. There are few personal vehicles on those highways; on the other hand, they're in abundance in the towns, and it seems even the folks scrounging in the middle of nowhere somehow afford their own trucks and motorcycles. There are a number of railroad stations dotting the landscape, but apart from navigational reference, the only purpose they serve is to remind us that the Iraqis need a lot of help getting back on their feet. The stations have engines and cars sitting there in large numbers, but they haven't run in a decade. All the stock seems usable - desert air is great at preserving things - but Saddam wasn't terribly interested in making the trains run on time. As quiet as things are here, there are also many reminders that this was once a massive battlefield, or at least intended as one. There are countless burned-out tanks and abandoned Soviet-type aircraft in the immediate area; farther out in the desert, hundreds of tank revetments and fighting positions dot the landscape. I doubt any of them were ever used, and if they were I'm not sure how much good they would have done, since there was no tactical pattern in their arrangement that I could detect. God only knows what it cost to get construction teams way the hell out there to build them - probably could have better spent the money on irrigating the rich soil - but they stand as testaments to the priorities of the ancien regime.

There's been no moon the last week or so, which has opened my eyes (haha) to something else about this place: it's dark. I mean so dark that you can't see what's on the ground ten feet in front of you. If you don't wear a headlamp outside of the lighted work areas, you're guaranteed to take a tumble. Maybe I'm just an ignorant city kid used to a constant glow, but I've been to some pretty remote places before this and I'd like to think I know what it's like outside when the moon goes down. But this is dark like I've never seen it. I haven't flown at night yet, but I'm starting to understand what the guys who've been here before mean when they say it's "dark as s**t". We're used to SOME kind of cultural lighting to make our goggles work; outside of populated areas, there's absolutely nothing to look at. Not looking forward to that experience.

So, it's game on out here, and it's definitely a marathon, not a sprint. The "red" threat is so low to us as to be virtually non-existant; but the "blue" threat is all of the above: the empty terrain, the same long hours, a routine that continues without variation for seven months with no break. We'll have to pace ourselves and keep our heads on a swivel (especially at night with no moon out...). Today's an off-day, in that I only have six hours of duty and then another six of fixing computers before going home. Gotta enjoy this down-time while it lasts . . .

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