Friday, September 30, 2005


The Lord’s Fingers

Stepping out into the dawn, a strange and pungent smell greeted me, and it took a minute of reflection to realize just what it was. Rain. It had rained the night before, and as I scanned the area out by the road, I noticed the puddles still in evidence around the building. The winter rains made an early visit, and I started to remember those first days here in January.

For six or seven long months, we didn’t see any evidence of rain, as everything got hotter, and drier, and more brown. I have described the sand or dust storms (really silt storms), it’s clear that months and months of no rain, coupled with a very old and decayed sedimentary type rock, makes everything pulverize to a fine dust, which the wind then whips into sand blasting blizzards.

Rain in Iraq is a furtive phenomenon. Most often, any rain holds off until all observable life had finally surrendered to slumber, when, unobserved, surprising quantities of the stuff falls in great sheets. By midday, the heat has dried off any remnant, until no trace of its fleeting visit remains.

Taking a walk around the FOB this morning, it was almost possible to imagine a greener, more temperate world. A damp, almost clamminess hung long into the morning, even cold, and not until I had gone a half mile or so did my own temperature chase away the chill.

What a brilliant and stirring morning though! This is the second morning in a row, that what we call back home, The Lord’s fingers stretched out in radiance from a sun hidden behind clouds. Clouds! What a remarkable natural display. Never would I have guessed that the very sign of a cloud would bring such a rush of excitement.

It comes at just the right time. We have just finished packing up the core of our equipment. We have packed for shipment that which will return with us, that which will be left for any gaining unit, and that which can and must be left for the Iraqi government. It may not be widely known or appreciated, but the US Army has come in possession of a great deal of physical, material property that is, rightfully, the property of the Iraqi people. All these palaces of Saddam, even the ones to be used by the 3rd deputy assistant security officer (some distant cousin one would guess), needed furniture and accoutrements, of course. Most often, these are big garish hunks of chair or divan, with ornate flourishes that would be at home in some B Grade Swashbuckler.

All this stuff must be collected, gathered and secured for eventual disposition to the Iraqis, collectivity, rather than hauled off by Amir and the boys to be divied up for resale or refurnishing some sheik’s second wife’s home. That’s not at all as easy as one might think, but that’s for another post, not one that started so brightly in cool and sunshine.

One more digression, while I’m still on the tangent, about connexes. We pack them, they are big giant sea-going transport containers, the big boxed ones that you may see on the back of a flatbed, stacked two high on a freight train, or piled 4 or 5 or who knows how high on a colossal container vessel out to sea.

And nothing leaves country for the States without a custom’s inspection, conducted by very serious minded and specially trained Military Police (MPs). They had no trouble at all with us, we’re a pretty tame lot, without much temptation to secret war trophies or booty or forbidden contraband of any kind. One of our early shipments, we had a couple of Soldiers try to bring back a piece of marble and some kind of carved stone, but these are considered of potential cultural significance, and must be pulled out and left behind.

Oddly, the search coming back is much more stringent than coming over. Clearly, the intentional or accidental import of organic material, insects or vermin is of biggest, agricultural concern. But the MPs are also on the lookout for any ammunition, weapons, cultural artifacts, and even pornography, which is kind of strange, because such things are forbidden here but quite readily available in the US.

As the go through the very mundane task of looking through every box, container, and bag (all set out by our soldiers for display ahead of time), the MPs regale us with humorous tales of some of what they’ve found. The funniest we heard, was of a unit stationed out in a very remote, mountainous area, in one of whose boxes was pulled out a garbage bag with a ram’s head inside. A big, mountain ram’s head, properly prepared for taxidermy. It seems these guys had bagged a ram out there in that remote region, and somebody wanted that trophy home bad. Of course, when the MPs found it, they were treated to, “Hey, how’d that get in there? That’s not mine, who put that in there?”

And now, we’re all packed. Oh, we still have a minimal configuration for day to day until we leave, and our Intel and HQ folks have all of the essentials, equipment wise, that will be either boxed up last or transferred to a follow-on unit upon departure. So we really are down to the last, this is the beginning of the end.

With the continued Grace and protection of the merciful God, we will complete our days and return as one, in one piece, to our homes and families.

With cooler mornings, with a sun that still shines, and heat that still spreads a drier warmth by the time one starts thinking about lunch, things are looking up and onward.

I step back into my room this evening with hope and expectation of another morning, knowing that there are only so many we are given in this life, on this earth, in Iraq or elsewhere, and there is only just so much time. May I wake to see the fingers of the Lord again tomorrow.

Links: Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Outside the Beltway, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville

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