Guns are every day objects here, this being a war zone and all. I see them all day, slung across the chests our Gurkha guards, dangling from belts, holstered at the waist, clasped in hand by men walking along the hallways. It’s inevitable of course, that I will have one put into my hands, eventually.
This is the only job I’ve had where it is a requirement to be familiar with guns. They give us classes on guns. We have Safety Day activities that demonstrate weapons handling, unloading, and dry-firing. The first class I had on weapons familiarization was taught by our lead gunner, a huge guy with a shiny bald head. He taught us how to dismantle, load/unload, and aim guns. I have broken down and put back together again an M4 and an M9, whatever good that skill will do me. My dad was thrilled to hear about the experience though, so it makes for an interesting story. I remember that class, I was the only female there and we were fumbling around with a pistol and a rifle. Those things are heavy, what can I say. There was a point in the class where we were told to get your rifles and lie down on the floor.
Of course I was the only one that asked, “Why?” The instructor explained that we should learn how to fire from a prone position. I couldn’t resist teasing him, I said, “But the floor is dirty, I don’t want to get myself all dusty.” He went red in the face, trying not to laugh and not to show any reaction. He said that we were all required to do it, the standard answer to everything. One of the guys in the class, my friend since high school who knew what trouble I could be, pleaded with me, “Just get down on the floor, please.” I did, after all, I’ve had my bit of fun.
They all do take their guns seriously here, I must point that out. As they should, these things take away life at the pull of a trigger.
There was a break-in once at the camp, a raggedly band of Taliban launched a rocket that hit right next door to us, rattling my office windows with such force the blinds shook off most of their dust. A few insurgents were able to breach the wall and the ground attack alarm was sounded. We all went into the bunkers to wait it out in relative safety. In a ground attack of such close proximity, everyone on camp that was authorized to carry a gun had to go into the armory to get one. Gunners and medics were patrolling the camp grounds constantly, most everyone had a weapon. Some of the guys that I am friends with dropped by my bunker to see how I was, telling me to stay inside. All of them had weapons, the glint of the metal reflecting the same glint in their eyes. I thought it was excitement, and it disturbed me somewhat.
My radio, in crackling bursts of static, sent out the announcement from the FOB manager that if anyone breached our camp gates and if that person was not recognized as one of us, they were to shoot on sight. Shoot on sight.
I listened to it, I listened as the message was repeated and I sat still, just sat there looking at the radio. That was the moment when it really became real to me that this is a place where people actually get killed, that a gun here was not just for show, it means death to those at the opposite end of the barrel. Most of all, I realized that here, those who hold a gun are ready to kill.
There are days when I do get to turn the tables on these guys, and then it’s pay back time!
We were outside the office, grouped in noisy clumps, trying our hand at socializing. One guy keeps interrupting me, teasing and making what he must think to be funny comments. Now, I can take more than my share of ribbing, and I do take a lot of abuse from these guys, but I also like to dish it out. I decide this is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
So I compose my face into a quiet, somewhat pained expression and interrupt him in the middle of a joke.
Using my formal, I-mean-business voice, I say “You know what, you shouldn’t say those things to me. I’m Asian, and you know we take loss of face very seriously.”
He is taken aback, and begins sputtering and stammering out a string of profuse apologies. I let him stew for a while, and then I was laughing so hard, I could hardly say, “I’m just messing with you, big guy.”
The look on his face was priceless–shock, disbelief, a momentary feeling of faintness, I think.
He blurts out,”Oh my god, you’re a mean, mean woman!”
I smile and get the last word in: “You’d do well to remember that.”
In yet another one of those politically incorrect, sexual harassment-fraught episodes that make my little life here so interesting, one of our gung ho guys comes into my office asking for help. After some Q & A and a bit of explaining, it turns out he wants me to do a creative interpretation of the rules so that he could buck the system, so to speak.
Me: No, Muscled Guy, you know I can’t do that. Against the rules. You’ll get me into trouble.
MG: Oh no, I wouldn’t get you into trouble, no Ma’am. I won’t mess with your work [pause]. But… let’s say I take you out on a date, then that’s when I’ll certainly get you into a whole lotta trouble [big grin].
Me: [Roll eyes. Shake head.] You should be so lucky.
MG: Oh, I wish [Shit-eating grin, all the way out the door].
All in a day’s work, my friends. All in a day’s work.
Here, there are times when even the most ordinary of days offers up a surprise. Case in point: I had a minor dalliance at the PX store today. I was standing in line along the candy aisle, waiting my turn at the cash register. A trooper walks in front of me, wanting to cut across the line so he could go to the next aisle. I step to one side, he does the same, I step back, and he steps back too. We do this two-step routine a couple of times, until finally, I stand still and motion for him to pass through.
He looks at me, smiles, and then says, “What? Oh, I thought we were dancing.”