Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Love My Rifle More Then You (more)

A couple more extracts from Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army by Kayla Williams.

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Jimmy the Ice man is a real character. I love this guy. And he provides some memorable moments.

Like the time he brings us Osama bin lighters. Picture this. A butane lighter with the image of Osama bin Laden and the Twin Towers in New York City. And there's a plane flying into the Twin Towers. And a little red light. When you press down, the light glows red. It's an instant classic. Every soldier wants one. It is gruesome and morbid, but it also reminds us of where we are - and why. (Or at least what our fearless leaders wanted us to think about why we are here: we all knew there was no connection between the war in Iraq and 9/11. We talked about it all the time.) Or how about the lighter shaped like a heart? And it has the faces of both George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. And the top of the lighter is a fighter plane. Very strange. (Made in China. What's up with that?)

I loved this about Jimmy. that he does this. Capitalism in its purest form.

Sometimes, though, Jimmy's entrepreneurial spirit goes a little too far, and we have to set some boundaries. Or at least I do.

"No, Jimmy," I'm telling him for the umpteenth time, "I do not need dresses. I do not need skirts."

"Skirts for you," Jimmy says in surprisingly good English, pushing a stack of fabrics closer to make sure I am not misunderstanding that this is a special deal he wishes to make. "No one else. You."

"No, Jimmy," I say. "Thank you for ....um...your interest. Thank you., But no."

"But who else?" he smiles.but he is also disappointed; I can tell. "Who else will wear such things here?" He gestures to all the guys at this site. I am the only woman.

"I don't know," I say. But I haven't asked you to bring me clothes!

"Look, Jimmy," I try to explain. "Thank you for your interest. And the effort. But I am not allowed to wear anything but my uniform." I point to my uniform. I try to make this the point, as if I too am disappointed that I am not going to be able to model these clothes which are, in fact, beyond hideous. Their bright array of mismatched colours defies easy characterization.

Jimmy is not easily dissuaded. He relents, but the next time he taxis up to us, he tries again. Same dresses. Same skirts.

On another occasion Jimmy wants to know how much we make as soldiers here in Iraq, working for the U.S. military. This is not a simple matter to explain to a man who must consider the fifty dollars he might make on a good day selling ice and soda to twenty Americans in the Sinjar mountains a small fortune. So I try to make it make sense in a way I hope he can grasp.

"Two thousand dollars a month," I begin, and I see his eyes grow large with wonder. "But - but there are lots of costs involved."

"Costs?"

"Expenses. Back home. We have many things for which we must continue to pay. Even though we are living here. Like, for example, I own a house in America. And I have a mortgage. That's six hundred dollars a month right there. For the next thirty years. And I own a new car. That's three hundred dollars a month for the next five years."

Jimmy is quiet, calculating these expenses. And it's all true: I am underpaid. Soldiers of my rank and below with dependents qualify for food stamps. But I'm hardly done.

"And there are other things. Heat for the winter. And electricity, And home insurance and car insurance."

Jimmy is looking increasingly somber, studying me carefully as I itemize the costs of an ordinary american life.

"I just want you to understand - it's expensive." I'm on a roll. I'm almost convincing myself. "We make a lot of money - by the standards here. But - it's expensive. And there's more - "

"Food, telephone - " he interrupts.

"Yes, yes," I say. He gets it.

"Take it, please." He is holding a can of soda out to me.

"For you. Please. No cost. Free soda. It's on me."

Jimmy the Ice Man, whose impoverished people have suffered for centuries at the hands of one oppressor or another, has taken pity on my small salary.

He insists, pressing the soda gently into my hands.

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And here is Specialist Williams on the U.S. Army's shameful treatment of wounded vets.

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Even after several operations, Shane still has shrapnel in his head. His traumatic brain injury causes him severe headaches and wicked depressions. He has trouble with his memory, and the medications haven't helped much. At Campbell no one could provide him the care or treatment he really needed. They threw pills at him, but nothing worked. Everything was fucked up. Finally, in the late fall of 2004, he moved back to Walter Reed so he could receive better medical care. But there are still tons of problems; the bureaucracy he has to negotiate to get therapy programs has been horrible. This is a man who almost made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Now he has to fight for everything. What is going to happen to Shane? Does the Army expect a man with a traumatic brain injury to advocate on his own behalf for the care and treatment he deserves? There are days he can barely get out of bed in the morning, the pain is so intense. Watching how shabbily the Army treats Shane - not to mention so many other seriously wounded veterans of this war - has been the deepest disillusionment for me.

Copyright (c) 2005 by Kayla Williams and Michael E Staub

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