September 17, 2010
One of my favorite stories from my time in Iraq was talking to one of my Army compatriots about taking a convoy down into the Green Zone. You see, I was not in the Green (or International) Zone of Baghdad. I was located out near the Baghdad International Airport. That is where Saddam had his “Summer” Palace. That is also where we set up the major operating base for the U.S. Military. The Green Zone was more for the diplomats, celebrities and politicians. Also known as “The Tourists”. I am sure this location was chosen because they could envelope a few hotels and some of the existing government facilities all inside their “wire”.
When I arrived at Camp Victory, I was told that we had to make occasional runs down to the Green Zone for various reasons. Sometimes they just needed extra bodies to ride security. Sometimes we would actually need to perform some sort of computer maintenance. Either way, the Air Force folks were informed that we would get tasked for these convoys just like the Army guys do. So be it. I was here to do a job, and this was part of that job. I decided I would not volunteer to go, but certainly would not balk if asked (or told) to go.
So, the day came that my boss pulled me aside and informed me that my turn had come. The next day there was to be a convoy to the Republican Palace in the Green Zone. They needed bodies, and I was a body. I nodded and asked if there was anything I needed to do to prepare. Just as I get the words out of my mouth, my Army colleague interrupts. He looks me right in the eyes and, with a look that you would get from someone asking a huge favor, asks me, “Hey man. Do you think I could take your place?”. Now, I was a little shocked. Taken aback you might say. I reassured him that I was fine with taking this one. After all, we all had to do our part. And that is when he really floored me. He said,”They have a really good sandwich in the restaurant there”. And then he added, “They also have a great pool and a gift shop. I want to get something for my son”.
Now, this guy has been in Baghdad for about 13 months at this point. His unit already knows that they will be heading back to Germany within the next 8 weeks. He has made it this long and is willing to risk his life for a “I ♥ Baghdad” t-shirt or teddy bear, a deli sandwich and a dip in the pool? Mind you, the road that leads to the Green Zone is called Route Irish. It was, at that time, the most dangerous road in the world. Convoys were getting blown up nearly every day. Military vehicles were getting shot at in the hopes that a random bullet might get a soldier. I am baffled! But I absolutely let him take my spot. He wants it, he can have it.
So today I finally sit down to watch the movie “The Green Zone”. In the film, Matt Damon is requested to meet a contact poolside at the Republican Palace. As he and his team enter the compound, they see a very different world. They live outside the wire. They operate in the dirt, the wreckage and the rubble that is left from the many battles. But poolside at the palace is another world. This is the hang out. Women are wearing bikinis and sarongs…with a weapon slung over their shoulder. “Tourists” drink beer and lounge in the sun, seemingly oblivious to the carnage just a few hundred yards outside the walls. This must just be the “Hollywood” version, you may be saying. But this is the scene as described by the soldiers I knew that had been there. This is what made a dangerous trip appear to be worth it. They could not have a drink (that is forbidden for all military members in Iraq under General Order #1). But they could throw on some trunks, order a decent meal and mingle with the journalists while playing Marco Polo.
Would I risk so much for what seems to be so little? I don’t think so. But I do need to say that I was only there for 5 months. Tack another 9 or 10 on there and I may feel different. Maybe that would be the best roast beef sandwich to ever grace my tongue. And I am sure a dip in the clean, clear water would be a welcome reprieve. And after seeing women in only camouflage (or occasionally a t-shirt and baggy work-out shorts), I am sure you would not have to twist my arm to throw on some shades and try to look nonchalant while sneaking a peak of a few scantily clad “warrior” princesses. I will just chalk this all up to one more very good reason I did not join the Army! But had they put this scene in the brochure……..nah! Still wouldn’t have done it.