RAMADI, IRAQ – Now that major combat operations are finished almost everywhere in Iraq’s Anbar Province, the United States Army and Marine Corps are more like a United Nations peacekeeping force with rules of engagement that allow them to kill if they have to. “We’re like the Peace Corps with muscles,” is how one soldier put it when I left with his unit at 4:00 in the morning to deliver food stuffs and toys to needy families in the countryside on the edge of the desert.
Actually, we did not leave at 4:00. We were supposed to leave at 4:00, when the weather outside wasn’t a blast furnace, but we were late leaving the base. I waited in front of my trailer to be picked up from 3:55 in the morning until 5:00 before a small convoy of Humvees finally showed up to get me.
Good morning, sir,” said Lieutenant Evan Davies from Rochester, New York, as climbed out of his truck to shake my hand. “Let’s go roust the CAG out of bed.” The CAG, Civil Affairs Group, was still in bed? We were supposed to leave an hour ago. Our humanitarian aid drop was scheduled before dawn for good reason. We were suffering a heat wave in Iraq – in August no less – and hoped to finish the mission before the molten sun finished us off.
I grudgingly dragged my sorry ass out of bed at 3:30 like I was supposed to, but there I was, an hour and a half later, being told to go wake up the CAG. We drove a few minutes and stopped next to a cluster of spartan trailers. “I think the CAG is over here somewhere,” Lieutenant Davies said. He and I poked around in the dark trying to figure out where the rest of the men were. “Hmm,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure where they are.” He knocked on the door of a darkened trailer.
An Asian man with long black hair opened the door and squinted at us. “We’re looking for the CAG,” Lieutenant Davies said. “Aren’t they supposed to be around here somewhere?” “Nah, man,” said the young man we had just rousted from bed. “We’re State Department here. The CAG is…I don’t know, they moved somewhere else a while ago.” He shut the door. We walked to another bunch of trailers. Lieutenant Davies rapped on one of the doors. A grizzled and bald 60 year old Arab man came to the door. “Good morning, sir,” Lieutenant Davies said. “We’re looking for the CAG.” “They aren’t here,” said the man kindly. “Come, come, I will show you.”
He was an Iraqi who worked as a cultural and political advisor for the United States military and didn’t seem to mind in the least being dragged out of bed before sunrise. The Civil Affairs Group was just around the corner and he showed us where to go. “Sorry for waking you up,” I said. “It is no problem,” he said and smiled as he put his hand on his heart. The Civil Affairs guys woke up on command and were ready to leave almost instantly. “We just need to load the food in the trucks and we’ll be ready to go,” said the lieutenant.
The shipping container that held the foodstuffs for needy Iraqis was locked. No one knew the combination needed to unlock it, so someone went to fetch bolt cutters and returned a few minutes later. “Let's hope this is the right container,” he said and busted open the padlock.
The container was empty. “Somebody's going to be pissed in the morning,” Lieutenant Davies said. “Woo hoo!” one of the soldiers yelled in the dark. “Another fucked up adventure in the United States Army. I love it!” The lieutenant introduced me to our Iraq interpreter. “How do you like working with Americans?” I said. “That's a hard question to answer,” he said. “Ah, come on,” I said. “There's no wrong answer and I won't quote you by name.” “Well,” he said. “Sometimes I get really irritated.”
Yeeeeaaaahhhhhh!” bellowed a young soldier in his best imitation of a frat boy yell as another shipping container was busted open with bolt cutters. “We got it now!” Apparently they found the food. “But I just keep reminding myself,” our interpreter said, “that they're here to help our army and police.” Iraqi police officers showed up in large pickup trucks given to them by the United States Army. They loaded up the trucks with food and toys as the first light of false dawn appeared in the east.