A couple of the guys from Romeo thought it would be a good idea to pose with the dead kids and their dismembered body parts for memento photographs. I don’t know why people do what they do, but I’ve got some ideas.
In Vietnam they made necklaces of ears and human teeth. These days people just take fucked up pictures.
You know, for Facebook.
I saw the photos on one of the guys’ laptops. We had been back from the battle for a few weeks and had already shipped out to our next assignment.
Romeo was going to give up a couple of their guys to augment my team for a mission we had coming, and we were all bunked together at a different FOB waiting for some equipment to get shipped to us from the States that had gotten stuck in the Suez Canal.
We mostly played cards and lifted weights to pass the time. I had been out with some contractors and came back to find the guys playing cards and listening to music. One guys’ laptop was playing a slideshow of pictures taken back in garrison and from earlier in our deployment.
A picture from some island somewhere all lush and green was replaced by the Marine posing with a child’s severed arm around his neck.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Shit, that’s nothing. Check this out.”
He reached over and cycled through more pictures. One showed Romeo team posing in front of one of the Humvees that had been used to carry the civilian casualties. Each of their uniforms was soaked in blood, and blood was pouring out of the doors and pooling on the ground beneath the truck.
Another showed a Marine holding a mostly intact human brain and pretending to eat it, gore squeezing out between his fingers. And so on.
When the fucks at Gitmo were asked why they joined the Jihad, a not-insignificant number said it was because of pictures they had seen of Abu Ghraib. That had been only a few months earlier, and Abu Ghraib looked like the Teacups at Disneyland by comparison.
“What the fuck is this?“
I turned them in.
It took me three days without sleep to make that call. Loyalty is perhaps the one thing in all of human life that matters most to me. I had known those guys for years.
I copied the pictures to a CD when no one was around and made an extra copy which I mailed to a friend in Canada. As soon as I was sure the mail had left, I hopped a convoy back to HQ and found my gunny.
“We gotta talk.”
I just gave him the disc.
“What the fuck is this?”
We walked back to his tent and he popped the disc in his laptop.
“They know you have this?”
“I can’t take this to the captain. He’ll fumblefuck it. Let me talk to the sergeant major.”
The gunny took the disc and left. He came back an hour later he told me that he had walked it into the sergeant major’s tent and told him what he had. Tossed the disc on his desk.
The sergeant major threw it in the trash without looking at it. His words were, “I don’t need anymore of this shit right now.”
The gunny came back and told me I’d better drop it.
I ran it up the flagpole anyway. Jumped the whole fucking chain of command. That’s when they relieved me as team leader. Transferred me out to a dusty FOB in the middle of nowhere.
They took my camera, my laptop, anything that could have a ghost of those images on it, and made me sign a sworn statement saying I hadn’t retained any of the photos, then threatened me with court-martial.
They shut down the outgoing mail service to the entire fucking Area of Operations for two weeks and turned off all the outbound phone lines and Internet, but I was pretty confident my package had already left.
I was also pretty confident that having it was going to keep me from spending the rest of my enlistment in the brig.
Somehow I had known it would come to this.
I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew it would happen. It’s what always happens with these kind of things.
I rotted out there in the desert without a team and without a mission. With nothing but all the time in the world to guess what they were going to do to me. My anger became all-consuming. I waited there for months. In the end they did nothing.
I got reassigned to shit details and writing reports.
A big offensive was planned in a another city a hundred miles away. The Marines had been pounding it with artillery for days, and the ground attack was about to kick off.
The night it was supposed to begin, I grabbed my kit and jumped on a helo that was headed that way. Gave them some bullshit story about meeting up with my unit. I had no unit. I had no team.
I was one guy with a bunch of bullets looking for an empty seat on the next train to Hell. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t care anymore.
The 46′s turbines spun up. We sat idle on the ground for a few minutes, and then the engines cut out.
I looked at the crew chief.
“Sandstorm. Nobody’s flying tonight.”
I walked back to my tent. I passed a guy I knew on the way.
“Where the hell are you going?” He asked, eyeballing the grenades on my chest.
They court-martialed the Marines in those photographs, but they were all allowed to finish out their contracts.
I don’t give a shit. War does fucked up things to people, and I don’t hold anything they did against them. It was foolish and horrible, but the context explains a lot.
When we got back to the States, more people got court-martialed. The gunny got processed out. The captain received a negative report in his record book, but he stayed in. On a detachment of thirty people, he was the only one that didn’t pop smoke and get the fuck out.
When I got back I had a year left until my End of Service. It was ample time to send me back to Iraq. I told the battalion commander that I just wanted to do what was left of my contract and get out. Asked him if I could have a desk job.
He obliged and took me out of the deployment rotation. Told me I was the only thing that wasn’t totally fucked up about my detachment.
I appreciated that.
My office was in a building that was empty. except for me. All of the people who used to occupy the other offices were deployed forward. I would open all the windows and doors in the building and let the breeze blow in off the ocean. I took my boots off and listened to David Bowie. No one bothered me.
It was fucking perfect.
After a few months, one of the Romeo guys showed up. He had been a high school football hero before he joined the Marines. The rank that had once been on his collar was gone, and despite his enormous physical build, he walked in like an abused dog.
“Uh, staff sergeant?”
“I need some help.”
The battalion was going to redeploy him and he’d begun having nightmares. Nightmares about the dead kids.
“I just can’t do this anymore.”
I asked the CO not to send him back out, and he agreed.
The world is a fucked up place. All the good and all the evil all rolling around together until you can’t tell the one from the other. Sometimes a little good comes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t come for a long, long time.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
But in the desert it doesn’t rain at all. And then, one day in the winter, it does and the whole fucking world floods. The ground is baked so hard that it won’t absorb the water anymore.
It didn’t use to be that way, in Babylon with the kings and their gardens.
Some things still grow out there after it rains. Tiny flowers. I’ve seen it. They sprout and grow and die in a single day.