Baghdad Notebook: Making Small Talk in a War Zone
U.S. Newsreporter Alex Kingsbury recently spent time in the Iraqi capital and areas south of Baghdad for a series of reports on the war. His reporting focused on infrastructure reconstruction and the 2-3 Stryker battalion. You can find videos and stories from his trip at www.usnews.com/stryker.
What do soldiers talk about when they are going into battle? Clint Eastwood tattoos, for starters, and the joys of being shot in the rear end.
En route to one mission late at night, the troops in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team talked about the drinks that they'd order when they got home. Never mind that some of the soldiers are not old enough to legally consume alcohol in the United States; after carrying a gun in Iraq, they say, soldiers have earned it.
"When I got home last time, the bartender wouldn't let me pay for a single beer all night," says one rifleman.
Sitting in the back of their armored vehicle and watching goats scurry across the road ahead through the thermal gun sight, the soldiers fantasize about their bar tabs.
"I'm gonna drink Long Island Iced Teas until I fall off the stool," says one.
"I had a buddy who went home on leave and was so drunk that he fell asleep at the airport on the way home. He woke up sleeping on a cheeseburger," says another soldier. "Thank God he wasn't in uniform at the time or the USO would have busted him."
The military, needless to say, frowns on passing out drunk and waking up with your head on a cheeseburger. If a soldier is in uniform, however, it's a far more serious offense.
"When I get home, I'm going to go to the T.G.I. Friday's downtown and drink Grey Goose on the rocks," continues another soldier.
"I knew a guy in basic training who drank vodka one night and woke up with a tattoo of Clint Eastwood," says one. "He had always wanted to get it."
Chatter also turns to the bizarre and tragic.
They talk about one of the men in the battalion who was quietly sent home a few nights earlier after police arrested a man at a library back home for molesting the soldier's young daughter. "Wish we had this .50-caliber to get that guy."
They talk about the lucky so-and-so who got the million-dollar wound: a cleanly broken pinky finger that sent him out of "the suck"as they call Iraqto a cushy hospital stateside.
They talk about the other million-dollar wound that no one wants to get: one of their fellows who took a .50-caliber bullet fragment in the buttocks.
"Maybe I'd get shot with a .22 in the ass if it sent me home, but not a .50 cal. Christ, that must have hurt."