The Ghost of Iraq

As Samawah train station, April 2003. We just got out B-Bags.

As Samawah train station, April 2003. We just got out B-Bags.

I know I’m particularly biased, but it seems hard to understate the cultural effect the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent first year of occupation (OIF 1) has on the current Army. Many – if not most – of the field grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers I’ve met came of age during “the invasion.” They were there and have stories. They likely joined the Army before 9/11 and were pulled into the GWOT from a different Army. When a war story comes out from that period of time, faces glow and it’s talked about with a hard nostalgia. Shitty field or deployment situations are always compared to the dismal conditions of OIF 1. Often, they’ll pause and reflect on some of the crazy things we did during that invasion and wonder if we could ever do that or experience it again. The consensus is no, but I’m not so sure.

On the other hand, most company grade officers, to include commanders, and junior non-commissioned officers came of age during either the surge in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are more likely to have joined after 9/11, fully knowing that they were getting themselves into a near-certain deployment.

The point of this post isn’t to compare the two, only that as more officers and NCOs who cut their teeth during OIF 1 move into positions of authority, I wonder what – if any – effect this will have on the force.

video games

Front Towards Gamer


I’m writing for Front Towards Gamer, a military/veteran-themed gaming site associated with Operation Supply Drop – a charity that sends video games to deployed troops. They are breathing new life into a lot of my older gaming-related pieces, which I know are interesting to only a small portion the readership here. From now on, I plan on trying to push my gaming related pieces to Front Towards Gamer.

They led off with a Press X to Pay Respects, my piece on the strange funeral scene from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Yesterday they ran a piece I wrote while playing Life Is Strange. I was feeling unsatisfied with explaining away everyone’s shortcomings as a symptom of some other fault; poverty, mental illness, chance, etc. It is comforting, in a strange way, to allow for the existence of evil. If every terrible thing that is done is done as a result of something else, some victimhood, then where is the revenge, the retribution? It’s unsatisfying, and I only started unpacking that idea in the piece.

The title “Front Towards Gamer” is an homage to the US claymore mine, which famously reads “FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY” on the side that is supposed to be faced towards, well, the enemy.


middle east

Some new Middle East blogs, and the Return of the King

jazz-out-abu-baghdadiEarlier this month the Arabist posted a link to the new blog Towards a better worldI’ve been following the blog for the past few weeks and there’s been a lot of good original stuff, links, and analysis for anyone interested in the Middle East.

For those interested in Iraq, check out Niqash, which has been posting more frequently. Their pieces are Iraq-centric and cover things outside of the norm.

I had an old blog called Iraq The Model in my reader and last week a post popped in announcing a new blog. It’s called Today in Mesopotamia and while I’ve haven’t read much into it, it looks promising for Iraq watchers.

Lastly, KABOBfest has made a long-awaited triumphant return. I learned about KABOBfest while studying the Middle East in college. KABOBfest describes itself as “The irreverent, activist, often-inappropriate Arab-American (and others) blog.” It’s a good counter-weight to a lot of the nonsense that gets written about anyone in or around the Middle East/Arab/Muslim world, by mostly non-Middle East/Arab/Muslim people (myself included). They’ve been mostly dormant for the past few years, which is a shame, but I can’t really think of a better time for them to have re-emerged.



“Do you know what a DUSTWUN is?”

I finally began listening to DUSTWUN on season 2 of Serial. I didn’t know about Serial until a couple of weeks ago when everyone in my social media started talking about it and acting very surprised that it was going to cover the Bowe Bergdahl saga – a topic I’ve purposely avoided writing about here.

Serial, for the uninitiated, is a series that premiered last year that tells a non-fiction story over a number of weeks, diving in deep for detail and drawing back wide for perspective. I only recently learned about it, but many of my friends seem obsessed with it in the way that some people grew obsessed with This American Life.

The cursory impression that I got is that the fact that Serial was going to cover this was weird because this is a military thing and that was outside of the supposed purview of Serial. I don’t know if this is true or not, it’s just the vibe I was picking up from reading all of the posts.

Part of the reason I’ve purposely avoided writing about Bowe Bergdahl is because 1) he’s still in the Army, and 2) the arena is loud an venomous. Havok Journal recently ran a short piece that summed it up pretty nicely.

But with the excitement surrounding the new season of Serial, I decided to give it a try and I listened to the first episode.

The crux of episode 1 revolves around a series of interviews conducted by Mark Boal. Mark Boal is the journalist/screenwriter wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. He also wrote the expose about the Afghanistan “kill team” for Rolling Stone. I’ve always been a little put off by his style because, as I wrote a few years ago:

“Maybe I am off here, but there is something that rubs me the wrong way about a journalist who on one hand writes a story that needed to be written – The Kill Team in Afghanistan exposé – and then on the other hand writes a couple of films that tell a caricatured version of war that is marketed as the authentic story. Wearing the serious journalist hat in the morning, exposing atrocities of the Army, and then wearing the Hollywood screenwriter hat in the evening, making big money telling hooah stories about war.”

The host of Serial, Sarah Koenig, addresses the non-chalance of Boal’s interview style, and it does make sense, as the interviews were conducted at length, over the phone, over multiple days. The interviews were not intended to be used in a radio program, but instead were to serve as source material for a film Boal is writing on the subject.

There comes a point in one of the interviews where Bergdahl is trying to explain his rationale for walking away from his post, essentially to cause a stir due to his absence in order to get an audience with a General so that he could explain in person how bad his unit’s command was. Before he begins, he needs to make sure Boal understands the context and terminology. The back and forth between them stops and Bergdahl asks “Do you know what a DUSTWUN is?”

There is a short silence. I can almost hear Boal stopping, suddenly more interested in what Bergdahl is about to say.

Again, from a couple of years ago.

“But this is the crux of what bothers me about Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s work. They take something mysterious to the public, like a piece of jargon, and then sell it to the public to satisfy that craving for something authentic. A piece of the war that a tiny few actually experienced. The title is just the icing. The film is the cake. It feels like they are taking something inside, controversial, and complicated, producing it for general consumption with beautiful stars and effects, and packaging it as the legit, authoritative experience.”

I’ve since listened to episode 2, and the series is well-produced and interesting. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about what happened without the noise of the internet.

Also, Task & Purpose is covering the series in their own podcast. It features Lauren Katzenberg of T&P, James Weirick, a former USMC JAG, and Nate Bethea, a former Army infantry officer whose writing (and thinking) I admire. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I think it might be an interesting thing to put on after an episode.



“Why is a girl in front of you!?”

During PT yesterday, I overheard a young NCO shout back at his soldiers who were straggling behind “Why is a girl in front of you?” It was shouted in that incredulous staccato that slowly gets perfected by good NCOs over time, annoyed with other soldiers’ inability to do what needs to happen.

In this situation, there was a female soldier in front of the soldiers struggling. I don’t know if she was part of his formation, or just a female soldier running on her own.