Archive for the ‘ Completely Random ’ Category

Time to write again

Something that I believe I’ve never appreciated when I was younger was the concept of simplistic and understandable communication.  While in school (especially middle school and high school) I believed that more was better.  Rather than boiling my ideas or concepts into their most fundamental and basic structure I would use complicated and unnecessary language to appear to have a LOT to say about something which often was very simple.


While communicating clearly is a valuable tool, the ability to make something beautiful can complement an important message as long as you choose to use techniques (be they written words, powerful quotes, or interesting videos) to make your message more impactful.  When I was in the military my words carried their own gravitas.  This was, in my opinion, because of the historic time of my writing, as well as the emotion I was conveying.  Since then, I have not felt the same motivation to write and communicate on a personal level.  Part of this is due to my own struggle with what happened to as a soldier and what Iraq represented for me.  Having some distance from that time and from the complicated and nuanced mental (and physical) luggage I was encumbered by, I now have greater appreciation for what I went through when I was such a young man.


Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m writing this (ironically over-complicated) message.  I am also asking myself why I am writing, and I believe I have my answer.  I am writing simply to write.  Over the last decade or so I’ve written quite a bit, but post Iraq most of my writing has been for work or college.  Writing for myself was one of the most cathartic things I have ever done, but we (I’m using the royal we when I really mean I here) often make excuses to do those things which are good for us.  The same holds true for working out (for me).  Speaking of working out, I’ve begun swimming 1000 meters about 2 times a week.  Never have I liked running so swimming is a great mental compromise for my cardio health.


Perhaps you have enjoyed my writing in the past (and maybe you are even enjoying this rambling piece), while I do write for your sake I want to make it clear that on a much deeper and meaningful level I actually write for myself and my own sake.  My children have even enjoyed a bit of my fiction writing and have asked me to finish the story I once began for them.  Perhaps with that too, I will find my motivation and finish it, or who knows, I could begin a new story and see where such a story takes me.  If you have made it this far then you may be wondering where my simple and concise message is.  Perhaps someday I will get to such a message, but for today you will have to accept this instead.

Monster Sandwich


Why do we write?

Why do we write?  Why do we care?  My life and my goals are always present but at times I don’t know how to reconcile the two.  Those I hold close go away and those who I tell myself cares about me are liars just as I am a liar.  The need is always present, for me to rescue, for me to save, to make this a better place for anyone but myself.

It is odd how just a few life events can shape an entire existence.  How they can determine my choices, both good and bad.  The light brings all my discretions to air, brings them about for others to see, for them to judge.  You may ask what my preoccupation with justice is, why I care, and yet I judge myself so harshly.  It is to the point that those who once cared about me can even use my own sense of justice against me.  I become a target for those who want to lash out, for those who want to hurt, and I absorb this and allow it inside my head.  These thoughts are as welcome as my own self-doubt, my indiscretions as a father, as a lover, as a soul.

Part of me wants to go back, to go to whichever war needs fighting, and to lose myself in the destruction, perhaps over there I can save someone, for I am already lost.  My soul is the one untouchable thing that I cannot destroy, it can be cracked and torn, filthy and unwanted by all around, but it is something that nobody can take from me.  My only true possessions are the thoughts in my head and my soul.  I’m good at finding things, at breaking things, and at learning.  My skillset travels with me as I journey through this life.  My goals are still unmet and I will not leave this earth without reaching at least part of those, if not all.

As I was saying before, like others, my life is shaped by a few events which have affected me, events that I want to control and which end up controlling me in their own way.  I want to be loved and to love, to have life and to live.  I will find these things eventually and perhaps someday it will be said that I was a good father, if nothing else in this life I want that…

Just some pics I have been taking…

This space is Iraq, this space is my memories.

This space is Iraq, this space is the US Army, this space is my life, this space is the Government of America, this space is a country, this space is freedom, this space is occupation, this space is my life.

Welcome everyone to Iraq, today’s temperature is a cool 119 degrees so make sure you drink lots of water on today’s walking tour.  I will be your guide and let me tell you that you are very lucky indeed, for this tour is based on much that I have seen and done.  My name is Zachary Scott-Singley and I will show you the day that changed my life.

First lets get some small necessaries out of our way.  Your Happy Tour ballistic protection vest is only rated for impacts of 9mm rounds and while I know they are heavy folks, but I wouldn’t say it if it isn’t important, must wear your small arms protection inserts.  Or as those of us who have been around here a while your “SAPI” plates.  The ones you have are the latest greatest and are rated for armored piercing AK-47 rounds, that’s right, 7.62mm of full automatic fun.  Last thing, you must wear your Kevlar helmet at all times as well.

Saddam was fond of his AK-47s, of all his riffles actually.  This is a country which was once a totalitarian state one dominated by a man who used brutality to keep the peace between the Sunni and Shi’ite people.  Two factions of Islam which currently are awash in sectarian violence.  I had a Shi’ite friend of mine tell me once while deployed in combat that Islam quit being about Allah the minute the Prophet Mohammad died, once he died it was all politics.  We aren’t so different as a culture, just look at our good old southern boys.  The strong Christian ones who always vote Republican and who wave their Confederate flags with pride.  Just like Joyce Carol Oats writes in her novel “I lock My Door Upon Myself” there are things that are proper and things that are not.  A white woman with a black man in the early 1900’s was a scandal worthy of being murdered over and the same can be said over here in Iraq about Sunnis and Shi’ites in some tribes, about men being seen with women as well.  I digress however and we must be moving along, the day is hot and the hour is not…

The city we will be walking through is Abu Ghraib.  One little fact that some are not aware of is that the prison where the infamous scandal of prisoner abuse occurred was called Abu Ghraib but was actually named after this city.  Unfortunately that is not where we will be going today, our tour will be a simple one, we are already getting close.  Let us stop here a moment, I want to point something out to you that one doesn’t get to bear witness to while watching events unfold on the news from the safety of their homes.  Does anyone smell anything?  You do?  That mixture of burning trash and human excrement.  That is the smell of war.  That distinct scent can bring the memories back in a snap.  To me it is amazing how many third world countries share that exact smell.  Iraq was not always like this, not until Saddam got his hands on this country did things turn so far south.  He squandered the riches of this oil soaked country.  Mesopotamia, the birthplace of civilization, this is Iraq.  In Iraq I have personally been inside of the second oldest Christian church in the entire world, it is near Tikrit.  I have lived in the palaces of Saddam, have swam in his artificial lakes and have shot his soldiers as they fought me.  Such clashing of ideas, of power between the various classes, the rich and the poor.  Where under Saddam the Bath party was the privileged, the elite with the privileges of power but also the trappings of politics while the poor were the stepping stones for them to denigrate themselves unto Saddam.  He was like Stalin in his own way, Saddam was.  Kenez stated that “Stalin came to be isolated from Soviet reality.  He formed an imaginary picture of the world around him, largely on the basis of movies and newsreels made for him.” (173)  Saddam did this as well, he did this so well in fact that on August 2, 1990 he convinced himself that his sovereign neighbor Kuwait belonged to him and invaded thus sparking off Operation Desert Storm, also called the first Gulf War.

Of all the places I have been, of all the ghettos I have seen they all have this distinct reminder that brings us to where we are.  You see, we are in Iraq, but we could just as well be in the ghetto in DC in the summer or perhaps Baltimore, MD.  You might even have a better chance here than you do there.  Last time I was here in uniform I was under President Bush’s Stop Loss plan.  I was one of the many soldiers who had served my time in this space, in the Army, in the Military of the United States and in Iraq.  Even though it was the end of my enlistment I was involuntary extended (stop lossed).  I had killed enough people, not like a video game, but like life and death where nobody comes back with another life except maybe Dick Chaney.  I didn’t know at that time that my future life was going to include the divorce of my wife or that I would be a single father, I didn’t know that in the space and time of Iraq I would change from a boy to a man, celebrating my 22nd and 25th birthdays here.  I also didn’t know that Iraq would change, from when I invaded in 2003 to the civil unrest and deaths of 2005-2006 and then came 2009 when we handed their country back to the Iraqis.  I was still in this war zone and yet it would change so drastically during these deployments.  I was young and naïve, we all are…

I want to ensure that while I give you my point of view I want you all to draw your own conclusions, for we are all our own people.  So with that being said we will continue our tour.  Looking over to that point our right hand side we have one of the main roads, Hwy 11 which will take you right to Al Anbar province and all the way to Jordan if you keep going.  It is a tough ride though because every little hole, every bit of roadkill, pile of garbage, or some bit of debris is possibly being used to conceal an improvised explosive device or IED.  Some of the deadliest ones involve parked or broken down cars because they can hold so much more explosives.  Ah, the IED.  My old friend, my old enemy.  The improvised explosive device has taken friends from me, has stole them right out of the space of the living.  It is nothing like the movie “The Hurt Locker” where lone EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams run all over Iraq doing whatever they want to, leaving the base at night and drinking all the time.  Space is governed over there.  Space is maintained by both sides, by the insurgents of which there are many, Al Qaeda, the Sunnis, the Shiites, foreign fighters of all sorts and sizes, the Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Army, and of course by the US forces.

We speak of spaces here, we speak of time and of awareness of this time and yet we do no real justice for those who occupy that moment.  There are eons of time to be had if the Bureaucrats in DC would only slow down and come visit us in Iraq or Afghanistan for a few days.  Those moments when we see death, when we meet him and know that we are going to die.  Those moments are lifetimes long.  And yet the bell on the NYSE must still ring on time.  My kids grow up while my friends die, and this whole time the Tea Party members are screaming for Muslims to reform or for worse.  Nobody really gets it.  Just like in New York City, only those who lived there can really judge or understand what it means to experience the changes of a city like that.  Those of us in combat are the same, but it still feels like every time I turn on the news or read the news on the internet, I am told how to feel as a soldier, as a vet and as a Federal employee.  The civilians are different too, Iraqis are aware that life is cheap, not because they don’t value their lives or those they love, but because of the constant danger they live in.  The kind of danger that a Washington bureaucrat will never know.  Kunstler speaks of American civilians, of American children, listen to the difference in the spaces they occupy: “Suburbia. Sprawl. Overdevelopment. Conurbation (Mumford’s term). Megalopolis. A professor at Penn State dubbed it the “galactic metropolis.”  It is where most American children grow up.” (15)  In Iraq we simply have the impoverished living in hovels, in small apartments and those well off who can afford better.  Those who can afford some level of protection albeit not much when things as a whole are so violent.  What you own is within your steel and concrete gate, anything outside and anything else is anyones to take or destroy.

Ah, here we are, please excuse my wandering mind…  Now folks, you are probably asking yourselves why this spot, this busy roadside spot on the dirt next to what is the outskirts of the city of Abu Ghraib and in one of the deadliest places for Americans let alone Iraqis to be.  Let me show you.  You see that house?  Doesn’t look like much does it, but you remember how I was talking of the difference between American and Iraqi civilians?  The difference between soldiers and bureaucrats?  Soon you will see this difference very clearly.  Lets focus on the metal front gate connecting to the sand colored concrete gate surrounding the property, you see that home?  It was at that spot in the summer of 2003 that I was also standing, like you, wearing all this heavy equipment, carrying in my hands my weapons, and paying attention to every little detail as best I could.  I was inside of that gate questioning the residents about a rocket attack we had been hit by near this area the day before when I heard automatic gunfire.  We are fighting a war here so while that is not uncommon at all, the proximity of it was alarming.  As you can see from the inside of the gate you can no longer view the road or the pathways leading to this house so I took cover right there at the corner of this gate.

It was just a gate, and looking back at ourselves we can see that we all have our hypothetical gates up.  The Iraqis would pool their trash just outside their property gates, anything outside of their living area was not theirs, all their trash, rotting, burning… This is the smell.  On one side of the gate the house and family would make believe like life was safe and ok while on the other the harsh reality bit into their very olfactory glands and visual cues as they opened their gates.  Life was real.  This protected space is not a thing, the rest of the world still exists and you are a part of it.  Hell, I am here, a soldier knocking down your door because you shot rockets at me and mine last night.  How real is that?  I won’t shoot you, but I will question you and find the truth.  As I digress I want to mention bullets.  Bullets which are fired.  They shoot and are gone, nobody thinks of the consequences…

I had no need to be so concerned though, it turns out that one of the soldiers who was on that raid with me had opened fire.  He shot up a black truck over there, by those corn and grass fields just east of us about 300 meters away.  I didn’t know this soldier, he was from a different unit but since I was the only Arabic linguist it was now me and him and a couple other guys who were sent to investigate this truck he had shot.  The soldier who had opened fire said he saw the truck drive by a couple times and that he saw someone with an AK-47 in the back of it.  Yeah, the same kind of weapon that your vests are rated for stopping.  That day we ran over almost to the fields but today, since this is a walking tour I think we shall walk.  As we got closer, right to about this spot, we stopped.  There were two .50 caliber gun-trucks (you know them, they are the Humvees with the machine gun turret on the top) that had driven up to this spot behind us as well.  Walking towards us were four Iraqis.  One of them was carrying something in his arms, some kind of burden.  It is a dead boy, they were screaming at us in Arabic, asking us why we did this.  The soldier who had shot the boy is screaming too.  Screaming for a medic.  I see the child’s broken skull, see his shattered head.  No medic can fix this.  The man holding the body of the child I later find out is the boy’s uncle.  He was a carpenter who was watching the boy for his brother who had gone to the market.  His shirt is both pristine white and a mess of crimson red, both wet and sticky with his nephew’s life blood.


The child is dead


The huge hole in his head is there, I see this from above the whole scene watching myself and everyone else play out their parts.  For a few seconds this happens and then I am back in my body.  It will be my first and my last out of body experience.  The space and time I occupy was what the military would call a Joint Environment in that instance.  I was there, present for the child, for the uncle and also watching it from an ethereal sense.  Come on up, see what I saw.  You are a father you believe in Christ and you see this child murdered but also see that his killer has mad a horrible mistake.  You break yourself apart, leave one piece always there on that roadside.  Move on and leave the other shattered pieces of your soul along the way to help you remember the burden you must bear.

“I am sorry.” I say in Arabic.  It is at this time that I feel I am outside of my body.  I’m watching all of this unfold, watching even myself who is still speaking in Arabic to the boy’s uncle.  Watching the soldier who had shot and killed this child call for a medic to fix it, but there is no fixing.  When I close my eyes to this day I still see those beautiful pieces of the child’s scull glistening on the man’s shirt and face.  The bone was so startling white like the boy I imagine that they were pure.  Pure and so very wrong because they are broken.  Broken like I am now, broken like the soldier who had shot the boy was.  So very broken.  The uncle, his once immaculate white shirt is now crimson red.  This is the blood of life that pumps for this boys head, for thoughts he will never have.


Again, in Arabic, “I am sorry, it was an accident.”


“How do you accidentally shoot a boy.  I am a carpenter.  I have wood in my truck.  You can search my truck, I have nothing.”


Feeling guilty because the Officer in Charge wants me exactly to do this and here he is holding his dead nephew, I say, “ thank you, we were wrong.  I am sorry.  I’m so sorry.  This shouldn’t have happened.  How old was he?”’


He answered me now with his age, but with, “His father needed to go to the market, I was to keep him safe.  I am his father’s brother.”


It feels like it is just the two of us now even though the commotion is all around us.  “Please know that I am sorry.”


The boy’s mother now walks up and her sorrow is fresh.  “Sorry?  Sorry won’t bring his life back.  Your sorry won’t bring him alive.  You being sorry?  That is what you are?  You shoot my boy and you are sorry?  You come in with your guns, your tanks and you kill.  And now you are sorry?  Where is my son?  Why can’t he live?

You all are with me as the black lieutenant arrives.  He has an Army Ranger combat patch on his right arm which makes me feel reassured and nervous at the same time.  At this point I was pulled away from the forming scene to go and look in the truck and field for the weapon that the soldier may have seen.  On one side is Corn and the other is tall grass.  This very corn and grass we are now standing near.  Here is where the truck was.  There were so many bullet holes but only one of them mattered, the one that took the boys life.  Walk with me now, you see, this corn is part of my memories as well, can you feel the blades of the husks on your sweaty skin?  The way it sounds as it swishes against you in this too hot time and place?  Like we are standing now, that soldier and I stood.  Right here in this spot.  He keeps looking at the truck with the holes in it and at his hands and over to the body of the boy he had just killed.  There was no weapon.  He had just thought he had saw one.

Take a moment and sit here.  You can hear the cars, feel this unbearable heat and the weight of all this armor, drink from your canteen I ask of you and imagine back to that day.  It was at this spot in the corn field that I offered him a drink of my water.  He looked at me, I had not ever spoken to him before that day, before that raid, and I did not see him after, but in that moment his eyes looked lost and distant.  He was so grateful for that water and I could see that he was to be haunted, I did not know that I was going to be haunted as well, or for so long.  He looked me in the eye and whispered thank you.  I think he was surprised that anyone could love him or even offer him something.  What he had done was an accident.

I will walk with you all back to the tour bus now, but as we walk let me say this.  People ask me about war, ask me if I have killed and what it is like.  War has broken many many things, it has cost me much and others even more.

Lets speak of spaces, where once a life was, I had occupied it, and now I may still occupy this space but life and soul no longer occupy what you have left.  I am here, as I have always been, tough, and strong, and tenacious but always alone.  It is funny how things happen, but I have seen the blind and the dead, seen life end right in front of me.  I have seen love and anger; I have seen the hurt and the whole.  The only difference I can discern about all of it is that some want life more than others.  It has nothing to do with intelligence or with time, but rather with a hard headed will.  I have committed violence and while that is not my first response to situations I feel that it may be a suitable response to some.  You still smell that smell?  The smell of war, the places on this planet where broken things are, war zones are junkyards for broken souls but those broken souls have more heart than many civilians I have seen back home.  Iraqi civilians I have known have shown more compassion than the people I call my kin at times.  Monsters are real, they exist in all the dark places and they will destroy you and leave you still standing with the things you see and do.  Where once one soul existed I now have a broken spirit, and myself like those who enlisted with me are resolved to take this to the end.  I love those I have lost and I love those I have served with.  Iraq has been the venue for the quilt of my service and for that I am grateful.  I want all of you to enjoy the rest of your day, I hope you take my words as you hear them, listen with your hearts and whatever rings true keep.


Works Cited

Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York UP, 1999. Print.

The Hurt Locker. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Perf. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. Voltage Pictures, 2008. DVD.

Kenez, Peter. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. New York: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print.

Kunstler, James Howard. The Geography of Nowhere: the Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print.

Oates, Joyce Carol. I Lock My Door upon Myself. New York: Ecco, 1990. Print.

Uncle Saddam. Dir. Joel Soler. Perf. Qusay Hussein, Saddam Hussein, and Uday Hussein. Rive Gauche International Television, 2000. DVD.


Life is adventure, and fear…

Days blend to weeks and weeks to years.  We often find ourselves feeling spent and done with.  I feel that way lately, stressed about school, about work, and about the finalizing of my divorce.  Not to mention bills and such.  Then I look at life, look at those around me, the strangers I see pass me by.  They too are living life.  This stressful world we live in is wonderful, difficult, and absurd all at the same time.

The things that happen to us, part of me believes that there is a reason for everything, but the other side of that coin is that there must be some level of chaos, of unpredictability.  I get lost in it all, but I also think that is the point of life as well.  People talk of thriving, of never having a care in the world.  I am content right now to keep my head afloat, and in a few weeks or months I will be sailing again on the choppy and wonderfully unpredictable sea of life.

One last thing… something my father once told me.  There are always choices.  You can do anything you want to.  You just need to do it.  People travel the world on less money than I have, they build wonders and write of their adventures.  There are very few real excuses to be made.  Me?  I will take life one day at a time, but with my eye on my goals.  I never want to lose sight of my dreams entirely.  So next time the waves cover my head, I will remember that the surface is above me, all I need to do is swim back up to it.  Sometimes easier said than done, but that is indeed life.

So, we made some art







Here are the works of art my kids and I have made

Last weekend Photos

Stuck in an Elevator

Today my daughter got stuck in an elevator.  It was in the Urban Outfitters at Ybor city in Tampa florida.  I knew she had kind of snuck off to go use the elevator to go to the first story of this shop.  I let her go because it was a small store and I had used the elevator myself quite a few times during my visits there so I knew it would be no big deal.  that was until I heard her little voice yelling for me.  I thought at first that it was a game, that she wanted me to know where she was so she was yelling at me from the inside of the elevator but then I heard the panic.  I heard the panic and I saw that this wasn’t right. How could she be yelling at me from the 2nd story of this store but not have the doors open shortly after she spoke?
She wasn’t playing a game, she was stuck in an elevator.  I have read about people who have had this happens to, but never had someone I know actually been stuck in an elevator.  Hey honey, it’s me, daddy, I’m here.  Dad?  I can’t get out, the doors won’t open (the tears were close).  You’re doing really good lov.  She calmed down and as we spoke I asked her to try pushing the door open button as well as the other floor buttons.  Nothing was working.  I alerted the store and they called some elevator repair number as I stood outside of the elevator door and talked to my brave daughter.  I asked her if she saw the phone in the elevator.  She did and I talked her through the call process.
We both were frightened when the phone got really loud and stated: There is an ELEVATOR EMERGENCY at URBAN OUTFITTERS! and then rang the rescue service.  The whole process lasted about 30 to 40 minutes and the whole while I never left the door but I also didn’t get scared.  My daughter was so brave, but I knew that if I didn’t give her other things to think about the fear would return.  In the end the elevator guy arrived and stuck some long metal rod into a hole at the top of the door and it unlatched it and the elevator door opened.  My daughter was there smiling.  I took a picture of her with her rescuer.  We went on to lunch and had a good rest of the day.  I shook her hand and told her when she got out that I had never met anyone who had been stuck in an elevator so I wanted to shake her hand.
It is a little blurry but here it is:


I remember jumping off of a cliff.  The cliff was in Washington, it was about 100 feet up and I was in high school.  A couple of kids had died there from falling off the waterfall but if you jumped out far enough the story was that you’d make it just fine.  I remember watching the water cascade off the edge from the top of the falls.  There was a winding path that you could take if you wanted to walk down to the bottom where the water crashed down with a thundering roar.

I squatted there looking over the edge.  I didn’t know what it would be like.  I was told that if you crossed your arms across your chest and kept your legs closed you’d be just fine.  Looking over the edge I remember thinking that I couldn’t do it.  then the next thing I know my legs are bending and my muscles are tensing for the jump.  I can’t do this my mind screamed.  I am going to die.  I won’t make it.  No matter how long those brief seconds felt like they lasted hours in my own head.  I was tensing and squatting for the jump.  I was alive and invincible.  I was scared and going to die.  I was jumping.

I landed in the bottom of the falls.  I was alive and never had I felt such a feeling.  Fear won’t stop me I decided that day.  I would jump off the cliff about once every 2 weeks all summer long, just to know that I could still do it, that I wasn’t afraid.  I don’t remember ever being scared of dying to the point where I couldn’t move or react, I had tested my limits and found that I could surpass them.  That is my story, that is what I have felt in war when I entered Iraq in 2003 at the beginning of the war and that is how I felt every time I pulled the trigger to protect my life or the life of my fellow soldiers.