“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
We were in Kuwait for about 3 weeks before following behind the 3rd Infantry Division in their one-sided battle for Iraq. We busied ourselves with drawing equipment and the supplies we would need, and with coordinating with the Army unit to which we were attached. There was busy work for us also. We were given a humanitarian mission to repatriate a young Iraqi male whom had been injured in an accident up in Iraq. Turns out he was underneath his family truck, making some repairs. He left the vehicle in park and it rolled over him, cracking his all-important pelvis in 4 spots.
So, after about a month in an Army field hospital, the “Iraqi Patient” was released into our custody. We organized a convoy to take him across the border to his people, an extended family of Bedouins. Just before Iraq, we met up with our guides/translators: 4 Kuwaiti Border Guards. At that time, they also pulled double-duty as Iraqi Border Guards because the Iraqis had gone on permanent vacation. These Kuwaitis were unlike any others I had seen before, as they were barrel-chested and looked mean as hell. Several of them were graduates of the U.S. Navy’s BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition School). You know, they eventually become SEALs. After what Saddam did to their country thirteen years ago, they were no longer playing around. What I took away from this meeting was: “Invade my homeland once, shame on me. After that, it’s open season on Iraqis.”
Across the border we went, our HUMVEES screaming through the village of Safwan, as we had learned our lesson long before about stopping there and playing with the kids.
As we drove past an Army base out in the pool table that was the Iraqi desert, we spotted a maroon Nissan 300ZX with tinted windows and wire-spoke wheels.
After convincing my driver, Batman that the Nissan did NOT qualify as war booty, we continued on until we came to several tents and dilapidated trucks. We parked our vehicles and helped the Iraqi Patient out. Instantly, more people than I thought could possibly fit in three medium tents came rushing forth. There were many tears of joy and a lot of man kissing.
The boy’s father invited us into the main tent and gestured for us to sit down. I plopped down next to a pile of rags, and the rest of our team followed suit. The Iraqis. Through our interpreters, told us to have a drink. I, not wanting to appear rude, drank out of the community water bowl. This turned out to be a gracious, but medically unsafe act on my part. I was violently ill for the next few days with Saddam’s Revenge.
It was announced that it was time for a celebratory dinner.
The elders, through the Kuwaiti translator, told us that dinner would be ready in about 2 hours. By this time, it was already 1400, or 2 PM. Because it was our first time in Iraq, and did not want to get caught out in the desert at night, and there was a war in progress, I respectfully declined.
I now refer to this as “Bad Idea Number 1”.
As my polite declination was translated, the Iraqis began shaking their heads and clucking their tongues, sort of the Arabic equivalent of “Tsk, tsk”. Being the sharp guy that I am, I knew instantly that I had failed my first Iraq field trip. There was serious danger of our no longer being “Flavor of the Month”.
One of the Bedouins pulled on a leash, and the pile of rags next to me stood up and bleated loudly in my face.
I can’t believe this! This kind of shit is only supposed to happen in The Bible… Now what?
The Iraqi Patient’s father then told us, not requested, that if we would not stay for dinner, then we would take dinner with us. The intensity in his dark eyes let me know that this was non-negotiable.
“Sure,” I replied weakly. Now, I knew that we would NEVER be allowed to bring livestock into a major military base. But right then did not seem a good time to say so. A plan began to germinate in my head. The first part was to shut my mouth… and smile.
The interpreter helped me stow the lamb in the back of our HUMVEE. I didn’t bother to tell my driver, Batman, because I knew he was somewhat of a hypochondriac. He would probably freak out knowing that a live sheep infested with parasites was in his vehicle.
After about 10 minutes of shaking hands and man kissing, we pulled away from the tents and headed back to Kuwait. It wasn’t too long before the poor lamb began to bleat.
Batman: “Sir, what was that?”
Me: “Oh, nothing…”
Batman: “Are you sure?!”
Me: “Uh, yeah, just keep going.”
Batman: “Bullshit, Sir! There’s something back there!”
Me: “Come on, Batman. I know that I’m an officer, but you will have to learn to trust me. Just keep driving.”
Back through the Kuwait border checkpoint we went. Looking in the side mirror, I could see 3 Kuwaiti Guards staring after our vehicle, all with the universal expression of “Huh?” on their faces.
“OK, here goes”, I thought. I grabbed the handset of the radio and yelled loudly enough to make myself heard over the engine noise. “Attention, all vehicles! We have a lamb on board my vehicle. There’s no way we can take it back to Arifjan. So,, when we see the first shepherd with a sizable flock, we will jettison the lamb. I will call out a codeword. It’s ‘Rosebud’. When you hear it, be prepared to stop.”
After 3 or 4 miles, I spotted my boy: A Kuwaiti shepherd with about 200 charges.
“Rosebud! Rosebud! Rosebud!”
The convoy halted and 2 of the soldiers pulled the lamb from the vehicle and walked toward the flock. They let Rosebud loose. The shepherd waved at us and simply turned away.
As we drove back to Arifjan, I could not help thinking that the guy probably started out with 4 or 5 sheep, and now had 200 courtesy of Americans like us.
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