Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When I Was in Iraq: Part Nine - July 4th, 2004

The Fourth of July

I did not keep a diary in Iraq. I wish I had, because there are some details that have become cloudy as a combination of the fog of war and the passage of time.

I believe that the first mortar attack against our base, which I described in an earlier post, happened after the June 24 attacks and before the Fourth of July.

No matter. In the midst of working 90 consecutive 11 hour days, the Fourth of July arrived.

And when you are in a war zone, that means it's just another work day.

It was a Sunday. But it turned out that the people running our camp managed to make it a little bit of a party despite our conditions.

I got up that morning as I always did and completed my workout. We worked our 11 hour day as usual.

But when we were done, we learned that dinner that night was steak, burgers, and brats, cooked on the grill!

After days of eating various imaginations of lamb, this was a welcome treat!

Furthermore, this meal would be served by the pool. That's right, we had a pool on base. Our base had formerly been a well-to-do villa in [CITY NAME WITHHELD BY NSA CENSOR].  As my CIA colleague and I arrived to dinner, we learned that steaks and burgers were the least of the surprises of this July 4th party.

They had beer.

This was unexpected. Alcohol was forbidden to US warfighters in a war zone.

But our Allies didn't all share this sentiment. Our Australian counterparts, as I understood it, had plenty of Fosters to issue to their soldiers.

And our base administration had managed to buy a bunch of cans of Fosters from them to embellish our celebration.

It had been well over two weeks since I took a drink. (I drank wine in Jordan on the very night before I left for Iraq. I mean, why not?)

The rule was that we were not allowed to wear our sidearms and drink alcohol. Our base was secure. I had no problem taking off my belt holster and leaving my Glock in my living quarters for the time of the party.

As I cracked open a Fosters and sucked it down, I felt the sweet open-mouth wet-kiss of alcohol upon my brain.

Oh, how I had missed you!

But I was not going to let this opportunity completely derail my schedule. I ate a burger, loved it. I took a second can of Fosters. They had inflatable pool mats laying around. I took my second beer, and I laid down on the float. I pushed myself out, beer in hand, looking out into the night full of stars. I recall taking deep breaths, sipping that beer, and coming to terms with it all.

The night sky, floating on that pool, was peaceful. It was beautiful. That beer was delicious. The alcohol on my brain was an unexpected and welcome experience amidst all the danger and chaos.

Now, [CITY NAME WITHHELD BY CENSOR] is a pretty big city. Even so, there was no light pollution such as we experience it in the USA. As a result, the sky was a white swath of stars; I lay on a float on a pool with a beer, contemplating the Milky Way. 

 As you look out into the abyss, you feel so tiny in the big picture. But at the same time, I could not let go of the simple reality of my situation. I had a job to do. I was in a dangerous place. I had to maintain control.

And so, that had to be the end of it. I finished my second beer and I left the party. I went to bed, not knowing how alcohol-infused sleep would change my schedule the following day.

It didn't. I woke up at 4am. I drank coffee. I worked out.

In terms of work, July 5th was the same as July 4th.

But there had been a brief stop along the way. The memory of the party would sustain me for weeks to come. And there were many more weeks to come...

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