Every day new troops arrive at Camp Liberty, wearing their new ACUs, clean new boots, and jet-black rifles with all the latest cool gear dangling off of them. They travel in huge packs, great globs of digitized gray-green swarming over the streets and into the DFAC and the PX and the laundry and the internet shack.
It’s not just their new uniforms and weapons that set them apart as newcomers; it’s their attitude, their bearing that makes it obvious to crusty old-timers like me. Those of us who have been here for ten months walk with heads down, just plodding forward – nothing to see here, move along. The new soldiers’ heads are rotating Exorcist-style, taking in all the sandy scenery that’s new to them, trying to find the aformentioned essential locations among the maze of concrete barriers. (There was a lot less concrete around when I arrived here so it was much easier to navigate. Now, everything’s hidden behind protective walls.)
It’s strange to think that this National Guard pogue is now a salty veteran and these active duty guys from the 10th Mountain Division are the newbies. I guess that’s always how it goes, though, no matter where you started – the old-timers think they’re so smart and superior because they’ve “been there,” and laugh at the doe-eyed innocence and childlike wonder of their replacements, while simultaneously recalling the time when they themselves were the newcomers. Meanwhile, the new guys are amazed by everything, and want to pump their seniors for information; but they also laugh at the old-timers’ cynicism and hidebound adherence to habit and routine, and are convinced they’re smart and superior because they’re going to do things differently.
A question that I’ve been asked a few times is “how has it been for you?”, which I have a difficult time answering because my gut reaction is to just start laughing. The question is generally asked with some gravity and a little hesitance, for fear of revealing some terrifying story of death and blood; I know the expected response is something like, “well, it was ok; except for that time down by Mahmudiyah when we got ambushed by 17 Syrian midget clowns and they ate the liver out of my .50-cal gunner after flipping my truck with a whoopee-cushion IED.” I just tell the truth – it was easy, it was boring, it was hot, and I watched a lot of movies and played a lot of video games. I wonder if they believe me, if they think I’m hiding some ugly truth; honestly I’m not, but how to convey it? I could hand them the address to this blog, I suppose.