I often joked after my 12 months “In Country” that I was on the brink of diabetes, after a few months of back to back meetings with the Iraqi Army (IA), and IP’s. Fortunately, that was not the case; despite many a cup of chai quickly downed during the aforementioned meetings.
During one particular meeting at night, we were offered a cup much smaller than the conventional chai ones; and porcelain as opposed to glass. There was an unspoken consensus that a fight could easily break out in the event we all politely declined. As the lieutenant’s right hand man, and “Radio Telephone Operator” (RTO), it was me up to bat this time as well. The beverage was dark and in a sparse amount. I quickly claimed the task out of love for my “Battle Buddies” (Brothers, Sisters, “Battles”), and the fear of potentially explaining the foreseen combat, resulting from blatant disrespect (i.e. refusal to drink). The taste was remarkably bland and absent of the presumed bitterness.
The presumption held by us Americans was that an individual so unaccustomed to coffee as I was, would all but immediately get the jitters and become a physical manifestation of hyperness. The actuality of the matter could not have been farther from what we presumed, though (if memory serves me right). The rest of the mission went off without a hitch. We had more trouble from a stray dog on another mission, than the IPs and their random coffee. Truth be told, I was certain that I would have to go amoral on the pup due to its apparent vitriol at one of my “Battles.” We actually had to cover each other from “Mr. McGruff” as the two of us retreated back to the rest of the platoon. It came as a complete shock to me that “Sgt. Z” felt fear. Come to think of it, he had actually been the one to initially put the fear of God in me when I first came to “The Big Army” (after Basic & AIT [Advanced Individual Training]/OSUT [One Station Unit Training]). I will never forget his short and stout frame taking long drags of a menthol in the middle of the night; as he gave random advice and admonishments, with such a thin veil of soft-spokenness.
At any rate, after bouncing around in the unit a bit, I found myself under his tutelage once more as we bounded back towards the trucks together. All I could think of at the time was the perplexity of the advice he’d given me a couple of years prior, “It’s cruel and unusual to make a man smoke alone.” On the one hand, I get it; “No man left behind.” However, conversely, had he not been foolish/wise enough to make that particular “bunk” for himself? I wasn’t sure what, or if, “Sgt. Z” had done anything to deserve the undying ire of the pooch; but I distinctly remember the most intelligent individual I’ve ever met, “Sgt. F,” tell me that his entire reasoning behind picking up the “cancer sticks” was based on the propensity of nicotine addicts to get smoke breaks; regardless of the progress (or lack there of) achieved in the most grueling/mundane “details” (i.e. commander sanctioned tasks).
Whenever the call went out, “I need four ‘Joes’ [soldiers with a junior enlisted rank (below Sgt)] for this detail!” The chainsmokers would likely be the last to get “volunt-told” (told that they had just volunteered themselves). Come to think of it, the first and last lit “Jack” (cigarette) that lay in my grasp was due to a fellow Joe at the time, who had fouled up on a detail; but dare not put out his fag on the way to make the minor correction.
After a moment of becoming incensed, I simply laid it on the ground outside; secretly hoping that someone would run by and stomp out its suicidal flame. In any event, as all of this flashed through my mind that night in the IP’s station, I cannot help but remember thinking that the perceived ultimatum before us was definitely worth the trouble of being a “Dismount,” as opposed to a “Trucks Guy” (driver/VC [Vehicle Commander]). To this day, I wonder if that experience has anything to do with my extreme aversion to coffee and espresso shots; despite the constant temptation and a few slip ups since then. “Father Time” will tell...