Posted by lex, on September 11, 2006
Or from the the front’s support echelon anyway: Occasional correspondent Zane checks in –
We observed one minute of silence today, at 1246Z, which is 0846 EST for you non-military time types. In my shop we sat at our desks, mightily relieved that the Seabees had restored power to our A/C, but our metal desktops were still hot to the touch, after just a half-hour of no A/C. At each workstation, someone was working quietly to shorten the active career of some murderous muj somewhere in the world, but we were silent just the sameIn Iraq, local time is four hours ahead of Zulu time, so when the A/C died, it died at the hottest time of the day. Normally, we get to work in an air-conditioned environment, but all of us are conscious that the men we send in harm’s way with our work do not get that blessing. For such a mixed group, which included numerous civilians and Air Force, it’s notable that no one complains. Strip off a layer of uniform, keep moving. The token Marine (although there are usually more) laughs. “We like power failures like this, because then the rest of you can partake of the crappy conditions we normally work in. Team, meet Crappy Conditions!” Soon it was actually cooler to go outside and stand in the sun. It topped off at 100 when the A/C mysteriously popped back on.
All our base support comes from the Seabees, God bless ‘em. They get dumped with a foreign base, no maps of the power grid, relentlessly increasing requirements, and yet they still come across 95% of the time. They do runway maintenance, construction of buildings, keep the electrical running, repair our rotting tin hooches, take old Iraqi facilities and make them usable–all the things that make operating here tolerable. Even better, they don’t pace off the distances between buildings and pass that on to the muj outside the fenceline. They’re on our side, all the way, even if they do refer to the forces they are supporting as “sneaky squirrels.”
Not that if they passed grid coordinates to the muj, the muj could hit anything. Around here, touch wood, they’ve been notoriously inaccurate over the past year. No walking the rounds in, no spotters. The average muj fire consists of a round from the back of a moving pickup truck, or from a mortar thrown on the ground and pointed in the general direction. It’s adequate to either earn them their “muj stripes,” for having actually fired something in the general direction of the occupying infidel, or to earn their $300 bucks. A lot of the random fire comes from someone being paid to take the risk by someone else who knows better. Not a lot of money for the risk that comes with the counter-fire batteries we have, or the helos that can light on them so fast they never know what hit them. They aren’t always inaccurate, though. Four soldiers died two years ago when a round landed smack in front of the PX. I’ve heard shrapnel tinkle across our metal roofs. If nothing else, we always have to respect the possibility.
This isn’t the first moment of silence we’ve had out here, either. In three rotations, we’ve held memorial services in formation for well over a dozen of our troops, and as many Brits. We form up by our sections, the Seabees in the rear. The fallen are honored for who they were, and for how they fell–engaging the enemy and not backing down. Often, the ceremony concludes with a roll call. The Sergeant Major calls out the first two names, names of the living. Present. Then he calls out the name of the fallen.
“Fallen,” he will call. No response.
“Staff Sergeant Fallen,” he calls again. Again, no response.
“Staff Sergeant John R. Fallen,” he calls again.
This time, a response. “Sir, Staff sergeant fell in battle with the enemy, 11 September, 2006.”
And so the fallen soldier makes his last roll call, and we are dismissed to carry on the fight.
And since we’re on the topic, here’s a very stirring photo tribute to the day that opened our eyes. It’ll take a while to get through. It ought to.
It finishes by quoting that Miami Herald op-ed that everyone was reading over the next few days:
THE STEEL IN US
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don’t know us well. On this day, the family’s bickering is put on hold. As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that’s the case, consider the message received.
And take this message in exchange:
-You don’t know my people.
-You don’t know what we’re capable of.
-You don’t know what you just started.
But you’re about to learn.