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Play Nice

We are staying in a quad of ten-man tents. There are four rows of ten tents. Between each tent is either a concrete barrier wall or a concrete mortar bunker. The ground outside the tents is loose gravel. I have given up drinking anything after dinner because the port-a-johns are at least 50 yards from the tent. One is a straight dash down the gravel road, gravel that will roll your ankle if you get ahead of yourself. The closer port-a-john is through the maze of concrete barriers, not fun if you take a wrong turn and it is chilly out. There are also no lights in the port-a-johns. I wake up in the morning between 5 and 6 a.m. and work out. It is barely light enough out to see in the mornings. After my workout, I receive the morning reports from the platoon leaders and take a shower. The water here is recycled. They basically filter the gray water and put it back in the tanks. So we brush our teeth with Listerine or bottled water. After that, I eat breakfast and spend the morning evaluating the platoon training, coordinate supplies and equipment, and run errands around the camp. In the evening it gets pitch black, and we do night training and attend the brigade and battalion briefings.

We have many foreign nationals working at our camp. They sell odds and ends, do our laundry, work the dining hall, and clean the port-a-johns and shower trailers. Some of the Muslims still practice the old ways, like the left hand is better than toilet paper, "Men are for pleasure; women are for making babies." Things like that. They have special badges and are always supervised by a U.S. soldier or contractor. I understand: we are trying to play nice together.

As far as other little things that make this different from home, we carry our weapons everywhere and have to re-clear them before entering the chow hall, then we wash our hands. We also use the alcohol hand sanitizer after using the port-a-johns. The problem with washing and sanitizing is the dust. I still always feel like my hands are dirty or dry. We also don't go anywhere without our sunglasses, mostly for the dust. (They're not only ballistic sunglasses; they also look cool.)

Lip balm is another challenge with the dust. My lips are either dry and chapped or the lip balm catches the dust and I taste dirt all day. We also have a mouse in our tent, and we are trying to catch it before we attract snakes.

On our ride in, we saw fruit stands along the road. Tomatoes everywhere. I wonder how supply and demand works with stands every 25 feet and nothing but tomatoes. They look good, these big, bright red tomatoes, but they don't have adequate plumbing here, so the tomato fields are fertilized by raw sewage.

Nothing like the smell of burning plastic to wake up to. On the other hand, the detonated captured munitions provide an acoustic fireworks show on the evenings the explosive ordinance disposals (EODs) ignite small arms and mortars. It reminds me of the scenes from Mary Poppins . In the middle of our conversations, the tents shake and things become crooked. We fix them without missing a beat during our conversation.

A group of guys from our company is manning a detention center, and I watched them process one of the guys a patrol brought in for questioning. The rest of the guys are on security and other details inside the camp when we are not patrolling. The way it works is much like a town or condo association. Although there are several companies here with different tactical missions and their own chain of command, we all have to work together to support the community by performing various duties. Soldiers get tasked out for everything, from guarding a tower to watching the Internet cafés.

We are getting used to the test firing of the patrol's machine guns as they leave the gate for their patrol. Our company has the bad luck of being close to the landing zone (LZ), and whenever air comes, it makes it difficult for us huddled around laptops to hear the DVDs we are trying to watch. We try to time it right during the war movies to get the real surround-sound effect.


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