I had a long gaurd shift through the night and got a short nap before I had to take my rig out on a patrol. The specifics of the patrol will have to be kept secret, but suffice to say that it was cake and was of a friendly nature.
The sun was out and it was warm (compared to spending all night out in the cold, the day feels great) and I would have an opportunity to pass out some of the toys that have been sent to me. I’ve received three packages of toys from friends and friends of friends and I’ve been giddy with the thought of passing them out. Unfortunately I’ve been doing combat style patrols for a while and security comes before pleasure in a combat zone. Today, however, I would have an opportunity, I would be a camo Santa Clause!
There were only a few kids looking at me, as usual, saying hello and looking for signs that I am a nice G.I. who will give them something. They are always poised on the curbs, waiting for the slightest signal and then they rush you like a pack of zombies in a B movie… only much faster!
I spotted a charming little girl with big brown eyes and curly hair. I am partial to the little girls because more often than not they will stand in the background and be silent while the little boys, many are little terrors and shits (ha) will bum rush you. Anyway, I spotted a cute little girl, perhaps 5 or 6, and I walked around my rig (we were pulling rear security) and I pulled out a large cardboard box. The kids all drew nearer, they knew. I pulled out a fluffy stuffed animal and handed it to the little girl. She smiled… and then it was a feeding frenzy.
Sharks circling a wounded seal in the ocean do not have the energy of a bunch of Iraqi kids when they see that they stand a chance of getting something… particularly if it is a toy or chocolate (chakalaka). I was being climbed like a tree. The few pics that I have of my passing out the toys were from the beginning, before they started climbing the rig and myself to get to the box of toys. I tried, in the beginning to pass out toys to the less obnoxious kids, the quiet ones, boys and girls alike, who looked at me with those big eyes. But it became so rough that I gave up and I started to toss the toys, pens, and paper pads (they love and need school supplies also) up in the air. I would see a kid in the back, behind the mob, and I’d try my best Elway imitation and throw one like a rocket to the kid, hoping to get it past the darting hands.
It was rough and I was nearly torn apart. I was having a blast. I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if I had more toys, and if I did not have lots of explosive ordanance (you should not try to climb up a guy with many loaded magazines, grenades, smoke grenades, a loaded weapon, etc… on his person) and I was always keeping half of my attention on where my grenades were (at my waist, little kid level and of a very big concern for me whenever kids get near).
I managed to get away with my life, and I loved it! It was time to move our rigs to a new spot down an alley. Again, I directed my rig, with a .50 cal mounted on it, to a position to provide security. I was to simply maintain security while the mission was being completed. Some kids came and started talking to me. I had no more toys, but I had fun with them all the same.
Now I suppose I should relate a joke that I’ve been having fun with for some time. The kids love to know your name and I’ve been saying the American school yard saying of “poon tain”. You know, “what’s your name? Poon tain, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same”. Now these kids were asking my name and I’ll say “poon tain” and they’ll say “I love you poon tain”. Just for the record, whenever I am asked my gunner’s name, his name is “me so horny” (from the movie “Full Metal Jacket”). Some of the kids asked me to write my name on a piece of paper, or their palms, with one of the pens I had passed out around the corner. It was kinda funny to be writing “poon” on pieces of paper. Perhaps this makes me a bad person… but I found it slightly amusing.
I had a blast with the kids. I made animal sounds with them and it was a hoot when all of us were howling like coyotes and dogs. The kids loved it. I started a mini dance to the common Iraqi kid chant of “hey hey mister”. The kids would grab a piece of my equipment, like my gloves, my radios, my grenades, whatever and say “give me”. They always ask for chakalaka. A couple of times I got so flustered that I was tempted to fire a shot into the air to clear the kids back a little. These aren’t kids that stand near and are loud, these are kids that push and pull and and poke you in the face, lift the groin protection, touch your rifle, pull on your grenades… and it gets very tiring. But 90% of the time I was smiling and joking with the kids. Everyone else loses patience, and I do a lot of times also, but today I really enjoyed the kids.
There have been new mortar attacks and reports of things happening around, but when I went out on the street today I saw the continued expanse of business and I saw sidewalk cafes open. The streets seemed more vibrant than I’ve ever seen them. Baghdad, even in the midst of continued bombing and attacks, seems to be healing itself.
And my day to return to my sweetheart grows nearer.