(Written October 24)
With darkness falling, it was time to prepare my vehicle in the manner I saw fit for the long drive ahead. I had sandbags piled in the back (stolen from a pallet on the other side of the camp), a quarter-inch steel plate behind my head, and a half-inch one under my seat. Four of us set to work under the white glare and diesel drone of the generator-powered lights, and as we did, a pair standing in the darkness nearby struck up a tune – on bagpipes. First they ran through a scale, then started in on various songs, including (of course) Amazing Grace.
As SGT P and I hucked sandbags in the bed of the truck (a ten-passenger humvee is little more than a giant pickup), he stopped and looked up at me. “You know, they’re practicing in case they have to play for real…at a funeral.” The thought hadn’t occurred to me and the realization stopped both of us for a moment. We laughed at the surreality of the moment – we might be listening to the rehearsal for our own funeral dirge! – and continued working.
Sandbags and steel to deflect bullets and fragments, floodlamps throwing hard white light, a can of Moutain Dew, all set to the wail of bagpipes – vignettes like these are what life in the desert are made of.