‘I believe in the war, but being here sucks’

Here are some things I’ve been told, or have overheard, during my time with American soldiers in Iraq, writes David Smith.

”I want to die at a fucking ripe old age, not as some twentysomething kid.”

”I did two tours of Afghanistan and I had my doubts about why we were in Iraq. But now I’m here I can see the point of it. It’s better than I thought.”

”I don’t know what we are doing here. It’s what, over four years now, and we’ve still never been told.”

”This is my second tour of Iraq. The first time it felt like an adventure. This time it just feels like a job.”

”There are lots of different reasons why people join the army. There are guys who were in the military in the 80s who are coming back out of patriotism. I wanted to pay off my student debt. I discovered a fraternity I hadn’t known since the college sports team, so I’m sticking with it.”

”I joined the army at 19 and if I stay the course I’ll be 39 when I get out. But I’m not going to re-enlist next time. There are other things I want to do with my life.

”I want to go to Africa and do a fucking safari and see rhinos and giraffes and elephants. I want to go to Australia and hang out with kangaroos. I want to live on an island. I want to swim with sea turtles.

”And I don’t want to raise a family in the army. My dad gave us everything except what we wanted most — him being home.”

”I left the army and joined the National Guard so I could still blow things up at weekends. But I missed it too much, so I came back. It’s what I do. It’s not for the money: I could be earning $60 000 more as a civilian.”

”I enlisted after 9/11. Being in the army meant something different then. I don’t have any regrets. I’m here to serve my country and I think we’re making progress.”

”It’s a volunteer army, but it’s not really. In a lot of towns there are no other jobs, so what are you gonna do? Join the army.”

”John Kerry made a speech where he described the army in Iraq as uneducated. That didn’t go down well with the troops. It ignores that fact that some people choose to be here. Some are here out of patriotism and because they believe in what we’re doing.”

”We’re still taught to fight as if it’s Vietnam, clearing trenches and stuff like that. It’s an old doctrine. The doctrine doesn’t tell you how to talk to someone who’s lost a colleague. The doctrine doesn’t have anything on Iraq. It’s Cold War.”

”I’m grateful for technology that allows me to see something 60 metres away as if it’s in front of my face, but no technology can save you from an IED [improvised explosive device] beneath you. You either spot it or you don’t. Someone tells you about it or they don’t.”

”I was in the smoking room and asked a guy why he was leaving early. I expected him to say his uncle had died. He said his sister had died in Iraq. He was offered the chance to go back with the coffin but he couldn’t face it.”

”When I get back home they’ll give us help on how to behave in civilian life. But if I meet someone and they say ‘Fuck the troops’ then someone will have to stop me hitting them. For me that would be like pissing on the graves of our men who’ve died here. Have some respect.”

”Last time I went home someone said, ‘I don’t think we should be over there killing people’. I just flipped. I had to go outside and smoke three cigarettes. People who haven’t been here just don’t know.”

”I can see parallels between us and the Roman empire. I think they were more brutal than us but there are similarities. The country I really worry about is China. They stay quiet, they stay out of things, but their technology is five years ahead of us. Our air force hasn’t seen combat since World War II.”

”I’ve seen a big improvement since the time we hit the ground. I’ve even heard some generals say that we’re at a tipping point right now where we might be able to turn the corner. I’ve seen evidence of store owners coming back to work, heard stories of locals’ tips helping soldiers find explosive devices and roadside bombs. In the three years since I first came to Iraq, I’ve seen a lot of changes for the better.’

”In America a woman can be raped and if she has no health insurance then she can’t get help. That’s fucking ridiculous. So what are we doing here telling the rest of the world how to live? We have enough problems to sort out at home.”

”I believe in the war, but being here sucks.” – Guardian Unlimited Â

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