Posts Tagged ‘ honor ’

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.


My children

This weekend we saw dragon boats, we made art and we ate delicious food.  My children are what keeps me going.  I miss them so much when they are with their mother but at the same time I know that she misses them just as much when they are with me.  My daughter is every bit as daring as I ever was, hell, she climbed a lamp-post when I had my back turned for a minute.  My son is sarcastic and intelligent as I remember being as a young pre-teen.  He can keep up with you in a discussion and his wit can often get him into a little trouble 😉
These are my children.  I love them, they are every bit a part of me as is my own arm.  I am proud of them and grateful to God for allowing someone such as myself to be able to have such wonderful children in my life.  I am a proud father, a man who wants to be the best he can be so that his children can one day grow up and remember me as a positive influence in their lives.  I love them.

Rough Weeks behind me…

It is odd what the world brings.  What life will deliver to you.  Odd how hard life can be.  Regardless of what you have on your plate as an adult you are never able to shirk your responsibility to your children.  Grin and bare it is what I do.  When you feel like life has raked you over the coals you don’t let the hurt show in your face as you hold your children.  They will learn soon enough on the grand scale that life is not fair, so in the meanwhile you spare them those hardships that keep you awake at night.

You can see broken people everyday, hell, I see one every time I look in the mirror but life goes on and you show your children that you love them every way you can.  I have gone through mediation with my ex and I am still alive and ticking, a little worse for wear but still up and walking.  On top of all that there will always be the ghosts of Iraq that seem to haunt me from my time in the Army.

I am not trying to bring any of you down, I am just speaking from my heart, telling you where my head is and my priorities.  Regardless of all that is said and done, your children are your priorities.  I will have mine this coming weekend and we will have a good time, a smile will be on my face and it will come naturally.  They will always make me smile, the best I do will never be good enough, but the love I have for my kids is genuine and in that I am content.

From Saturday at the Air Fest

I probably shouldn’t have gone considering how I feel now that it is Sunday night, but here are the pics:

Nevadog on Being a Single Father

What does being a father mean to me? I have spent my life as a professional soldier in the United States Military and continue to serve my country in other capacities since leaving, and for me, all my military accomplishments, all the honor and the glory I have seen in battle, in my 2 years deployed to Iraq, all my efforts.  They all pale in comparison to being a good father.  I strongly believe that even alone as a single male I am capable of raising my children to be healthy and to understand what a healthy relationship entails.

I strive to set goals for us as individuals but also as a family unit, goals like our fishing trips, the 5k we ran as a family team, visiting their great-grandfather (my grandpa), I set these goals and help accomplish them so that in time my children will have lasting memories of what a good and healthy childhood is.  In my time with them I push them farther than they realize they can accomplish, I do this by listing to NPR in the mornings, explaining to them what is going on in the world news and then asking them questions.  I am often astounded when they ask me more questions back.  They are INTERESTED when I give them data, when I give them problems to solve and when I create challenges for them to complete.  They are amazed when they create stuff, both in the kitchen and in the woods.  They love it when I tell my stories and make fiction for them to be immersed in.  Telling stories is such a rich and rewarding part of my days with my children, both for them and for me.

Not everything they do is without fault.  I have to play the bad guy at times too.  Allowing them to have consequences for their actions (both good and bad) and watch as they suffer through those consequences.  For instance, I have found that my son (who is 12) has such a better time reflecting on his actions when I ask him to write me a paper on respecting his family, or on treating his sister better (or whatever it happened to be) because it causes him to reflect and actually write from his heart rather than give his cop-out answers like, “I wasn’t paying attention,” or “I didn’t mean to”.  For my daughter letting her know (she is 8 ) that I am ashamed or hurt by her makes her realize just what she did was wrong.  Both of my children are very mature and very different emotionally in how they act and how they react and I love both of them for their individuality.

I write this not to brag, not to boast, simply to show that anyone (even a broken and at times lonely and sad army vet) can be a good and wonderful father.  You just need to pay attention and to show love.

Why do I like superheroes?

Why do I like superheroes?  I like superheroes, I like comic books, i like these stories of these people who can do these things that nobody else can do.  I like a hero, I like an anti-hero even better in some ways.  I can identify with them, no not with their extraordinary powers but with the wish to do be like them, and the idea of the protector.  Especially the anti-hero.  The kind that can’t make it, they have such problems.  I remember one of my first favorite comic book heroes was Wolverine.  He is a mess, he has so many issues.  Psychological issues, pain, trauma, the ruthlessness of his life; but he is powerful and he is a protector.  Somewhere in my head I want to see myself like that.  In spite of all that has happened to me and all that I have been through I still see myself as a protector.  That is why I joined the military and why I am in the career I’m currently in.  As a father I’m fiercely protective of my kids but not overprotective.  I want them to grew up and have a better skill set at dealing and coping with life.

I look at the Comedian from the “Watchmen”.  What a horrible person this guy was.  He found humor in humanity, even in the most horrible aspects of it.  He got it, he understood that life and humanity was that bad.  Instead of letting this understanding destroy him; instead of all allowing how mean and horrible people were to each other destroy him he just understood.  He decided to protect in the ways he knew how to.  In his own way he was a ruthless and bloody protector.  What a fascinating story that was.  Then there was Rorschach, this mess of a 150 pound guy but who could fight with all his heart for the things he thought were good.  The aspect I don’t identify with him was his fierce  judgment of anyone and everyone unworthy.

I love my heroes, I like to think that somewhere inside of me there is something good because sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.  I like knowing that I watch out and try to protect those I love and even strangers.  Whether that be to help someone out with a flat tire or trying to raise my kids with a better set of skills than I ever got.  Superheros were important to me.  They were the stories I read as a young kid that gave me an idea of what the ideal way to live is.  I know that I won’t be bitten by a radioactive spider or have adamantium claws, but in-spite of all their shortcomings they helped people.  The acts they did, they helped people.  I hope that I can do that.  When humanity and my children judge my life I hope that they will see their dad as someone who was always there to protect them and someone who taught them that others are worth protecting.

Thats all I have to say on my superheroes.

The Tampa VA Medical Center

Where do I begin? The VA is such a poorly run system for veterans, such paltry care with every air of indifference possible blatantly inferred upon us poor souls who seek care. It must be my fault, must be my fellow veteran’s faults for coming back from multiple tours of combat duty so broken both inside and out. I had a doctor tell me today that she didn’t have time for my scheduled appointment. This is the second time she has not shown up for a SCHEDULED appointment. Next I was seen for a second appointment and told that it was normal to have medical students sit in on my private sessions, what am I? Some teaching aid? No, I’m a soldier who has served his country with honor and who should be treated with honor. I don’t know if I will go back… Every time I go I am sick afterwards at the way the VA treats us. It is no wonder that my fellow veteran friends have only each other’s broken souls to lean on, because the VA simply doesn’t care…

Veterans Day

Happy veterans day! Thank you dad for your service in Vietnam and thank all of you who served with me during our Iraq tours.

Having a lunch beer in your honor!