Vodka, IVs, and Iraq

The floor of our barracks room in a commandeered Iraqi building on Camp Taji had a scrap of ancient brown carpet that resembled sand paper more so than it resembled carpet. It now looked like we had just sacrificed a small animal on it.

So let me back this up just a little.

Soldiers will always find ways to occupy their minds and capitalize on any little bit of free time. This is still true even in the austere conditions in which we live while deployed. Some activities are harmless or even beneficial. A pick-up game of basketball, working out frustrations at the gym, constructing a grill out of whatever is available so we can enjoy something we’ve charred as a community, or any number of things often taken for granted back home. Then there are the odd things one could reasonably expect not to see. My buddy and roommate, Trohizzle (name slightly altered) and I once witnessed medics engage in batting practice with expired IV bags. Other times we will find mischief because it just feels good to get away with something. We don’t always get away with things though. Trohizzle and I were forced to dismantle our potato mortar that we’d planned to mount to the rood of our living accommodations. The idea was to lob rotting produce into the area in which our battery’s vehicles were parked when the crews were prepping for mission. We could have even hit the First Sergeant in his smoking area and never be seen. It would have been brilliant! Thanks a lot, Chief. It was a good design. For me, the ultimate in “getting away with things” happened when Trohizzle and I scored a bottle of vodka. I then went to the dining facility and secured as many boxes of cranberry and orange juice as could fit in my uniform pants cargo pockets.

If you aren’t familiar with modern combat zones, there is this little thing called General Order One. It’s just a fancy way of saying that US Soldiers aren’t allowed to consume alcohol and are instead forced to look on while the Italians enjoyed wines, the Macedonians swilled Rakija, the Australian guzzled beer, or the South Africans imbibed on any one of the thousands of drink types they stockpiled. The South Africans really like to drink. A lot. Seriously. They had a bar in their maintenance bay that was better stocked than any I’ve ever seen.

1

(Young Frankenstein 1974)

I’m pretty sure I looked like Igor in the image above when returning to my room with pilfered juice laden pockets. Coincidently, I made the same face after seeing the South African bar as well. And the first time I saw my wife. Pretty much every time I see something that catches my eye. I’m positive that this is why my wife can read me so well. I make this face often.

It had to be winter because we were still working days (we worked nights in the summer to avoid the worst of the heat) which was good because it would have seemed over-the-top wrong to get off work at seven in the morning and debauch myself with hot fruity vodka drinks. Everybody knows hot fruity contraband is best consumed under the cover of darkness. So we did. And it was awful and glorious and we felt a little bit like men again.

2

(The Shawshank Redemption 1994)

We’d gotten away with it despite a Lieutenant losing his weapon and inducing a mass formation at 2 A.M. in which the whole battery had to account for weapons. This is how I found myself inebriated in the middle of the war in Iraq, wobbling at the back of a formation while holding an M16 and 210 rounds of ammo. I’ve never felt more redneck in my life.

The next morning was as one might expect after splitting nearly two liters of vodka between two guys. We were miserable, but it was worth it. We also had a plan of action to correct our misery. We’d convinced the medics at batting practice to spare two bags of normal saline and we’d both been through the combat life saver’s course in which Soldiers are taught how to start an IV. Voila! Instant hangover cure! Trohizzle applied the tourniquet and deftly inserted the needle. He popped the tourniquet off and stood to admire his handy work. It was then that he realized he’d failed to free the catheter from the needle or even hook up tubing. He stood bent over with his hands cupped and rapidly filling with my blood.

“What are you going to do? Put it back?” I asked while laughing.

With that he opened his hands and stood.

I never did get my bag of saline.

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