“I’m glad these guys are on our side,” I think to myself. “They look and sound totally badass!”
I’m attending a briefing being given by a group of Navy SEALs. Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past 10 years, you know about these guys. That’s why I won’t bore you with a detailed history of these warriors. Having met them in person, I will say is that you don’t mess with them; these gentlemen will ruin your day.
Their briefing is about convoy security and reacting to vehicle ambushes. This is timely, in that some of our troops have already been subjected to such an attack. We know all too well the consequences of inadequate security. But getting schooled by Navy SEALs on how to avoid an attack on your convoy-and how to react and survive if it’s unavoidable-I think we can all agree that it’s a great idea.
When the SEALs drive up in their up-armored HUMVEEs, we know instantly why they are the penultimate instructors on this subject: weapons and armor plate everywhere inside and outside the vehicles. In addition to a turret fitted with a machine gun on top like most “gun trucks”, I notice a weapon covering an arc at the back.
You got it: these guys have a tail gunner. The SEALs are determined to survive and unleash fury on anyone who tries to keep them from doing that.
I’m not too sure about Navy ranks and uniform insignia, but I’m sure the briefer is a Chief Petty Officer. That means less to me than the fact that he has muscles on top of muscles. Wide back, huge biceps, and a barrel-shaped chest. But I suppose that’s unavoidable when you’re made to do push-ups in the surf, as I’ve heard they are forced to do in training. I’m instantly wary of pissing him off. But I manage to do that, anyway.
On a cord around my neck dangles a tiny cell phone, like what a Ken Doll would carry if he were updated to the 21st Century. These phones have been issued to most individuals in leadership positions. They’re meant to supplement, but not replace, military radios throughout Iraq. Many times, the radios don’t have the range needed in case of an emergency, or to call another unit miles away.
There is no existing cell phone network in Iraq (we blew up the towers. Duh!), so the Pentagon has come up with an ingenious scheme: a cell phone company has been hired to set up the military’s own service. They’ve done this by using numbers with the area code 914, which normally covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York State. They are able to configure the communications switches on the ground in such a way that, to the satellites, they are processing calls in that area code. The scheme is so good, that when I call the States, people back there think I’m in Poughkeepsie. Chuh! As if!
If I need to call somebody at some base miles away, I can.
If I need to call for air support in case of an attack, I can do that.
If I’m forced to call for artillery, guess what? I can.
The only thing I can’t use it for is to order pizza, but there’s none in Iraq anyway.
These phones give us a very secure feeling. But one thing no one has not bothered to tell us, is that if somebody really, REALLY needs to contact you, a special emergency signal can be sent to the phone, and it’ll turn on. Even if it’s off. Mine is, but that’s about to change.
Anyone in the military or in Corporate America will tell you that an unpardonable sin is to be in a briefing or meeting with your cell phone left on. It should at least be in “silent” mode. It’s annoying to everyone around you if it goes off. I make it a point to leave my phone behind if I’m going into a meeting. If I can’t, I take the battery out. This hasn’t been done this time because I’m stupid enough to trust people.
The SEAL Chief Petty Officer is halfway through his briefing on the topic of protecting your soldiers outside the base, when from under my uniform jacket, there comes a piercing shriek. It’s not a ringtone like anything I’ve ever heard before. I’m both bewildered and scared shitless. I want to stand up and run, but I’m rooted to my chair. The eyes of everybody in the classroom are on me. It doesn’t matter to them that I’m innocent. I’ve embarrassed my soldiers and probably dishonored my ancestors, too.
Finally, I silence the phone, after wanting to hurl it against the floor (they’re probably expensive as all get out, so I don’t). The phone isn’t the only thing that’s gone quiet: the briefing has stopped.
Because of me.
I haven’t done anything wrong, but that’s beside the point.
Slowly, my eyes move up to the Navy SEAL. He says not a word, but no words are necessary. I know EXACTLY what he’s thinking.
I could kill you many times over, and totally make up the reason why I did it…
By now, I have doubts they will ever find my seat cushion.
As it turns out, the call is not an emergency after all. Someone from the personnel section at our higher headquarters has been calling me for the past hour. But only because I need to sign a form.
A signature on a piece of paper? For that, I’ve pissed off one of my childhood heroes? Are you freaking kidding me?!