Monday, December 26, 2005

The Dog Barks, But the Caravan Moves On

*Double clicking on images will enlarge them

Light Armored Vehicle in front of forward operating base (FOB)

LCpl Justin D. Summers wearing a patch in remembrance of a fallen pal

Studies of Marines pitching horseshoes

Looking south from 60mm mortar pits towards Hit proper

Patrol heading across freshly plowed field into a palm grove

Patrol returning down "Route Mavericks" towards FOB

LCpl Seth V. Seppala reading a book in the FOB's courtyard

LCpl Justin R. Mayfield

LCpl Julio Guzman performing security check on election day

Iraqi voters awaiting security check

Game of touch football behind FOB

LCpl Shawn W. Studzinski performing security check on election day

Here's a set of sketches from my time in Hit, Iraq with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment. This company, along with the rest of their battalion, spent the better part of mid-October to mid-December in the field at the tip of the proverbial spear. These Marines stood toe to toe trading punches with the insurgency while standing eyeball to eyeball with the Iraqi man in the street. The insurgents were mostly foreign and, at this writing, mostly dead after squaring off with the Marines. The Iraqi citizens they interacted with during their daily forays through the streets of Hit slowly warmed to the weary often unwashed mugs of the affable Marines. At the end of the day the world of these good-hearted Iraqis was changed forever. Whether there were weapons of mass destruction or layers upon layers of conspiritorial subterfuge behind this war's beginnings mattered little to either the jarheads or the Iraqis. History is moving them together further down the road than they ever imagined they would go. There is a wonderful, though at first reading obtuse, Arab proverb that says it all, "the dog barks, but the caravan moves on". We Marines in the field, given the opportunity from time to time to watch the main stream media via satellite TV, find ourselves, as we cross over another far line of dunes, hearing in the distance behind us the irritating sound of dogs.

These drawings also capture the sundry and assorted activities swirling in and around a forward operating base (FOB). A typical FOB is short on creature comforts and big on physical security. All the exterior windows are tightly sandbagged creating a cave like interior. On each corner of the roof machine gun positions with carefully contrived interlocking fields of fire are manned 24/7. Marines move about the place in various states of dress; some are all geared up ready to go on patrol, while others lounge in the main common area in watch caps and green sweat shirts watching satellite TV. Showers are non-existent and laundry a forgotten memory. Taking their place are boxes of baby wipes addressing the former and noses long past caring to deal with the latter. Basic bodily functions are taken care of either by using plastic PVC tubes hammered into the ground at a slight angle, or by sitting in gutted port-o-johns set over the lower third of a 50 gallon drum doused in diesel fuel. Hot chow is served for both breakfast and dinner. The food, though palatable, falls into what I call the yellow food groups. Dropping food on your uniform only enhances the effect of the camouflage. Lunch is left to MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), which quite frankly are mostly very good, excepting a much despised mystery meal called Country Captain's Chicken. Off duty time can be spent trying to catch up on sleep, reading a book, shooting the breeze with buddies, and even in a game of horseshoes or touch football. Chess was one pastime that Iraqi soldiers and Marines could share beyond the limitations of language. The Iraqis were generally much better than the Marines. Mail call comes every couple days, and after it arrives the guys fall silent sitting on their cots, or on the stairs leading to the second floor bent over letters from home. During the day there are intermittent moments of pandemonium when the reaction force is activated to support a patrol in contact outside the wire. Ears perk up and heads turn in the direction of the sound of gunfire, or towards the distant WHUUMP of an IED. Marines from the FOB dash out the door pulling on flak jackets and helmets while radios crackle and orders are barked out. Late at night the FOB quiets somewhat. The sound of snoring and of sleeping Marines adjusting themselves on squeaky drum tight cots punctuates the darkness. A lone figure or two can be found sitting close to the television, its sound turned way down, in the common room. Out from the command operations center (COC) comes the reassuring sound of muffled radio checks keeping tabs on those standing watch in the dark. As dawn approaches the number of crowing roosters and barking dogs rises with each minute and ray of sunlight, and culminates in the muezzin's tremeloed voice singing the first call to prayer in a mournful minor key from the mosque directly behind the FOB.


Beth* A. said...

Neat (and informative)sensory vignette of the activities at a FOB; it really gives a clear picture of the 'everyday'. (the extremely dubious rep of the infamous Country Captain Chicken has preceded it even here; although I do know one Marine who thinks it 'tastes okay' - lol!)

Seems like you got a major body of artwork in during the last few weeks! Lots of detail, and what a wonderful historical event to represent with your sketches.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your service. I enjoyed your comments and and was glad to see you post your sketches.

Cheryl said...

I'm a new fan, just reading you for the first time today. Not only are you one of the finest but a gifted artist and writer, as well.

God bless you for your service to our country. Stay safe, please.

Anonymous said...

You have not mentioned the Mississippi Army National Guard battalion that was at HIT from 30 September through 7 December. Some of them were even at HIT to assist the Marines on election day, 15 December. The Marines were highly complimentary of the work of the citizen soldiers who held HIT so that Marines could be free to conduct Operations Steel Curtain, Mountaineer, and Rivergate.

whit said...

Thanks for the description of FOB and the barking dog. I'll be back.

Landry Fan said...

I followed a link from Gunn Nutt's blog. Your artwork is amazing. Thank you for your service.

Donna said...

Thanks to Gunnutt, I was introduced to you tonight. What a treasure you are, in your drawings and your words! Thank you for your service.
Semper gratus!
Los Osos, CA

Becky Van Hout said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful glimpse into our Marines and their lives while deployed.
My son is also with 2nd Plt and it has been an amazing gift to see his life through your beautiful art.
I found your story about the FOB fascinating to read.

Albion Wilde said...

These are beautiful and evocative drawings, recommended by Gunn Nutt. Thanks so much for sharing a look into the lives of our brave troops in Iraq. Love the one of the soldier frisking an Iraqi voter, and your comments that the voters accepted this security measure calmly.

Louder said...

Yes, we here at home are aware and disgusted by the barking dogs, and we know who they are. Excellent quote; I predict that in a short time the REAL Americans will begin using it, thanks to you.

Your site maks me mist up a little.... thank you and the United States Military.

Dinner on me if you & your pals ever get to Montana!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fay, I am the father of one of the young Marines you show in your drawings. Thank you for your efforts and you talents. It is important to see what they lived through in Iraq. However as you know 9 of this group did not live through the experience. We will try to keep these young mens lives in mind as a memory of what may have been. Whenever we see an old man of 80 we will wonder what if, when we see that a baby was born to proud parents we will wonder what the world is missing.