After spending a slow morning at COP Guerro -- playing solitaire, filing stories and sneaking around avoiding angry dogs -- we are now leaving to go out on patrol again in our Bradley tank.
"We'll be going to Cedar Street," said the COP commander. "That location used to be so violent that we tried to avoid it whenever possible. That's where a Bradley was attacked last year and four men burned to death. Special groups criminals," which is what the military calls the local mafia-type gangs, "used to hang out there because they knew that we were hesitant to go in. It's in the same area where you went the day before yesterday."
Really? That place where all the kids were so nice? Go figure.
So we all popped into the rattlely old Bradley and went off to give out some mini-grants again. Heat and dust. Heat and dust -- and camaraderie among the soldiers. The guys at this COP get along really well. And all the guys in our Bradley were dressed to the nines in combat gear and totally locked and loaded.
And just sitting there doing nothing but chatting with the soldiers, I still managed to lose yet another pen. My friend Aprille had just e-mailed me, giving me good pen-retention advice. "Jane, always keep an extra pen in your bra." You mean the one that is completely inaccessible due to my flak jacket? Oh well. I like to think that, somewhere in Iraq, there are deserving souls out there using my pens.
Then me and the guys all took photos of ourselves jammed inside the Bradley with sweat on our faces. "After about three or four hours in this gear," said one guy, "I start to get a little bit hot." Three or four hours? I wouldn't last inside 100 pounds of gear in this weather for three or four minutes!
Then we stopped on Cedar Street, popped out of the Bradley, talked to one car-repair shop owner and then popped back into the tank. "Didn't he want the mini-grant?" I asked. The soldiers just shrugged.
Now I know why the women in the Middle East wear headscarves. It keeps the sweat out of their eyes.
When we arrived at that first shop, I had just leisurely strolled down the gangplank of the tank. Not so with the soldiers. The second the hatch swung down, they were on total alert -- like me with the dogs back at the COP. Our sharpshooter/lookout specialist instantly went down on one (padded) knee and set up shop with his M-16. The rest of the platoon fanned out.
Speaking of platoons, earlier today I watched a part of that old movie "Platoon" on TV in the storage room back at the COP -- the scene of the firefight in the jungle in Vietnam back before Charlie Sheen became an aging playboy on a popular sit-com. It was an ironic thing to be watching a movie about Vietnam here in Iraq.
"I just found out that the guy back at the last shop already had a grant."
"What are we doing now?"
"Just driving around." Then we got out again and this time I was more in high dog-alert mode. Those dogs had really educated me good.
"This is a bakery," I was told. Brick oven, open fire pit, hot bread, more paperwork. Then back into the Bradley. We cruised around some more in our sardine can. The warning sign next to me read, "Turret movement can crush you."