Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve in Fallujah

It’s Christmas Eve in Iraq and I’m sitting here in my “office” the converted bathroom 7000 miles from home. Right now, Nancy and the kids are all at my mom’s house in New Melle for her annual open house. I can hear the wind rustling the dead leaves in the trees and the kids playing. If Mike hadn’t run over the basketball backboard this summer, they’d be playing basketball. I see Mike sleeping on the couch and getting up to stoke the fire in the fireplace. I can smell the tamales that were made yesterday and served steaming hot. I can see the fruit cake that my mom still makes only because I ask her to make it every year that reminds me so much of my childhood. Tonight, they will play “rob your neighbor” that in true Lozano-style includes smack talking. I see my wife with her seven babies home together again. AJ has been driving Nancy crazy asking her if Santa has “gotten here yet?” Tonight she will not get much sleep.

Here life has slowed down for a couple of days. Last night I went to a variety show because someone asked me. It was cornier than hell and not many people were there but I enjoyed myself. We were entertained by the “Camp Fallujah Brass Quintet (rein)(SOC)”, which meant they had six people. We had people sing a capella and a very fine saxophonist. But, the highlight was a “band” made up of rugged recon Marines, who brought their recon buddies to cheer them on as they banged out an excellent version of “Broken” by Evanescence on barely audible instruments meant for church. The song was dedicated to their buddies no longer with them. The evening ended with singing some carols.

Today we were on a holiday routine which meant I sat and worked in my sweats, then changed into my uniform around 11. This afternoon the Executive Officer, a burly former college football star I call “Hammer” hosted an “open house”. The officers of the regiment were beckoned to come down for mandatory socializing. Never mind we eat, sleep and work with each other seven days a week. It was held in his office and featured such delicacies as sliced up Slim Jims and cheese from the chow hall. I did contribute my venison sausage which went fast. I also noticed that Hammer was at his desk working on something not even paying attention to what we were doing. So I said, “Nice party, I bet your wife does all the entertaining at home” and everyone died laughing.

So, now I will go to my room and put on Holiday Inn, a Christmas Eve tradition Nancy and I have shared with each other for around twenty years. I’ve also saved two presents my mom sent me wrapped so I’d have something to open tomorrow. Then I’ll go to Mass and spend the day in my office doing some work and watching a movie or two. I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas to my wife, my kids, family and friends. Thank you for praying for and supporting me. I hope this is the last Christmas I spend away from home. Nancy says I’m grounded from war.

Cigars and Mortars

Life in Camp Fallujah isn’t difficult by most standards. I have a decent bed to sleep in, my own bathroom, hot water, decent food and my own internet connection. Not having to walk in cold mud to take a shower is heaven. Heck, close to where I work is a pond with geese. But, it’s still Iraq and this is still Al Anbar province, so it can be deceptively and suddenly dangerous. Our principle danger on base is indirect fire, or “IDF” in Marine lingo; mortars and rockets. The insurgents aren’t good shots, but they are persistent and the sudden scream of the base alarm system blaring “Incoming! Incoming!” is a fairly regular event.

Now, there are very few things that bring me pleasure in Iraq. The first is getting to “chat” daily via the internet with my wife Nancy and the second is the occasional cigar I get to smoke. Cigars are an indulgence in a place where indulgences are mostly non-existent. So, twice a week I climb on the roof of my building with two other Marines on the staff and pull up cheap plastic chairs for a smoke. For an hour we talk about everything from home to life after the Corps to cigars themselves. It’s pure relaxation…most of the time.

Last week “Top” (a master sergeant) and I climbed up on the roof and quickly decided it was too cold and too windy to stay up on the roof. So, we climbed down and sat in a couple of chairs on the ground nearby and lit up.

The chairs we sat down in are up next to some concrete barriers designed to protect buildings from blasts, as long as the blasts are on the right side. I had just started to draw deep on the cigar when the incoming siren began to scream. The warning system is phenomenal and gives us about twenty seconds advance notice of an attack. I stood up disgustedly and said “I am NOT wasting a good cigar” and rather than ditching my cigar to run into the building, I walked a few feet and stood between two nearby blast barriers that are at least 8 feet tall and 4 foot thick at the bottom.

I turned to Top and said “if it gets us it’s just our time” and we both laughed. Then ‘WHUMP!” the distinctive sound of incoming impacting nearby. “Damn, that was close” Top said matter-of-factly, followed a few seconds later by two more impacts that appeared to be a bit further away. Knowing that insurgents never launch more than a few rounds before they run we waited a few minutes then sat back down and finished our cigars. The first round impacted about 100 yards from where stood, but plenty of protective barriers stood between us and it so we were never in danger.