We were no longer allowed to call them “presence patrols,” of course. From now on, each patrol had to – imagine that! – have a specific mission, a purpose, something, you know, worth dying for. The army, mind you, is traditionally masterful at bending language to its tactically fashionable whims. So, while the nomenclature changed, the nature of the actual patrols themselves remained remarkably consistent. From the perspective of my young privates and sergeants – laying their lives on the line for some $30,000 annually – nothing changed…not a lick.
I hadn’t wanted to roll out my platoon that night, and had told my obtuse captain so in no uncertain terms. He was, unsurprisingly I’d found, just another mediocre careerist, a “company man,” and could hardly spell Iraq. In that sense, he had much in common with our shared commander-in-chief, George W. Bush (the lesser), who’d reportedly been unaware of the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims just two months prior to America’s ill-fated invasion.
My hesitancy that night stemmed from basic logic, not some (as of yet) advanced knowledge of Iraq or the Arab World. It was simple. The U.S. military kept civilian foot traffic, and more importantly, vehicles, off the roads in Baghdad after dark. Which meant, in my part of town, that the vaguely Iranian-backed Shia militiamen could emplace their new, advanced explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) – a lethal form of IED, then the bane of our existence – replete with a passive infrared (PIR) detonation triggers all over their end of the city without fear of causing civilian casualties.