Christmas in Iraq

Another report from TMW’s correspondent in Iraq. I’m skipping ahead chronologically to post this one while Christmas is still fresh in memory; I’ll be doubling back to finish posting the older stuff soon.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I apologize for the lateness of my yuletide greetings, but recently things over here have gotten, shall we say, “exciting” making the power supply on base even less reliable than usual. Nevertheless, Christmas perseveres even out here in Iraq under rather extreme circumstances. Yes, we have been nailing our camouflage stockings to the sandbag retaining walls and lighting up the inside of our tents with low-grade Pakistani Christmas lights that I am certain must meet or exceed fire safety codes. By the by, canvas isn’t flammable, is it?

Indeed, it has been quite the surreal Christmas experience out here in the desert. One would need look no further than the inside of our much-visited and much-reviled dining facility run by our good friends at KBR (sub-contractor to the stars!). Friends, you can rest easy knowing that your tax dollars are being well-spent on holiday decorations designed to bring a smile to every soldier and airmen who walks through the door. During Thanksgiving week, for example, the whole place was chock full of turkeys of every variety—tissue paper turkeys, cardboard cutout turkeys, and, of course, the processed frozen “turkeys” that we were served to eat. They even went the extra mile and saddled all of the local Iraqi servers with those shiny cardboard Puritan hats, and friends I have never felt sorrier for those guys. They had this look of bitter resignation in their eyes that reminded me of the look my dog used to give us when my mom would make him wear a sweater. It was a look that said “yes, we will wear your silly cardboard hats for now, but there will come a time when our people will rise up and throw of this yoke of oppression. Then it will be YOU who wear the silly hats…AND serve us chili mac…it’s quite tasty!”

With the onset of the Christmas holidays, our cafeteria managers went all out with so much arts and crafty decorations you had to wonder if the enemy hadn’t hit us with a couple of kindergarten classroom bombs. It was all good though because if there’s ever a time for excess, that time is Christmas. However, something about it just didn’t feel right. As I sat down to eat I found my stomach innately craving a margarita (more so than usual), and I kept expecting to detect a faint whiff of salsa in the air. Then, as I looked above my head, I realized what they had done. Absolutely everything, from the ribbons, streamers, and bunting to the tissue paper balls hanging from the ceiling, was colored red, green…and white. Apparently, Santa has gone south of the border because it’s a Cinco de Mayo Christmas here in Iraq. Of course, this minor faux pas pales in comparison to what one of our own did all in the service of Christmas cheer.

Our comm squadron here maintains a tall communications tower that they decided they would employ as part of the Christmas decorations for the base. Somehow, they managed to put an angel on the top of it and strung Christmas lights from the top of the tower all the way down to the base giving it the appearance of a rather large Christmas tree when lit up at night. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to some of you as you have no doubt seen this type of thing done back home. If you’re like me though, you question the wisdom of erecting a 500 feet tall glow-in-the-dark blinking Christian symbol in the middle of Muslim country whose people uh…let’s not mince words here, don’t much care for us. Do they really need a reason to launch another round of rockets at us? Do they really need a brightly blinking target mocking their faith that’s less than a hundred yards from my building?!? I honestly don’t know how this kind of stuff gets past the command staff. Although I imagine it probably went something like this. “Sirs, we’ve got something we’d like to run by you all for approval, but before we do that, would anyone care for some weed?”

So a couple of nights ago, I was kicking back in my office displayin’ some mad sudoku skills when I heard the loudest explosion I’ve ever heard. It was the kind of impact that you feel deep in your chest. The noise was so loud my head started buzzing, and I immediately felt high. Simultaneously, a spray of dirt and dust shot through every crack in the building I never knew was there, and I quickly scrambled for my body armor. We took about five more mortar rounds, but nothing as close as the first one. As it turns out, they didn’t hit the Jesus tower, but they did blow up the portable shitter right next to it. Divine intervention perhaps? Nevertheless, the base commander orders the comm squadron to unplug their “tree” and retrieve the angel from her lofty perch while I am left to marvel at the hubris of some of the men in charge here.

Oh the things I do for you people. In my never ending quest for good material, I put aside my high standards for musical talent and attended the Carrie Underwood concert here on base. I’m not really familiar with her or her work, but I understand she won a contest of some sort and is trying to parlay that thin success into something bigger. Anyway, the moment she steps out on stage you can literally hear the breath leaving hundreds of soldiers and airmen simultaneously as she is easily the prettiest girl any of us have seen since we arrived in Iraq. Clearly, many have come for reasons other than her charming brand of heartland pop music. So after opening with “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which I thought juuuuust a bit trite, she launches into any number of songs about small towns with one stoplight, vandalizing her cheatin’ boyfriend’s pickup truck, and how much she misses her momma now that she’s all growed up. Were I anywhere else, I could say it sucked, but the lack of live music in my life had me enjoying her show despite my natural predisposition to pass on such prefabricated pap. She even managed to pull off a cover version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. No, really.