View Full Version : Iraq Journal: With the Marines: Truth be told, it's hot out there

06-21-05, 10:46 AM
Iraq Journal: With the marines: Truth be told, it's hot out there
Posted 6/21/05
By Julian E. Barnes

Lake Tharthar, Iraq–The desert is a scorching 110 degrees, and everyone is lying. Everyone except "Coco," the translator.

Two Marine platoons from Bravo Company are walking across the desert in a line searching for insurgent weapons caches. A combat dump truck and front loader follow them, waiting to dig at any sign of disturbed ground–any place insurgents may have hidden bomb-making supplies.

It is so hot that a marine carrying a 60-pound load of ammo and a flak vest will sweat through a half-liter bottle of water in 30 minutes. An out-of-shape reporter with a 30-pound load will do the same. The only relief is the slight breeze carrying off from Lake Tharthar a few kilometers to the west.

Capt. Rob Hancock, the company commander, walks the line of marines, making a few checks for weapons caches himself–although truth be told, there are not many obvious places to look. He calls the engineers to check a concrete slab in the middle of the desert–the remnants of a Republican Guard training area. The metal detectors find nothing. Hancock comes to a piece of metal on the desert. Insurgents have been known to hide weapons under metal plates. Hancock flips the metal over with his foot.

"Boom," says his radioman, Lance Cpl. Chris Thompson.

Hancock grunts in acknowledgment. "Yeah, I am pretty stupid like that," he says. One ought to be careful in Iraq. There are booby traps everywhere–but not here. Here there is just sand.

But Hancock's real mission is to check on how his marines are doing during their desert search. He is checking their spirits and making sure they are drinking water. Here is where the lying comes in. They all do it. Army soldiers. Marines. All the grunts. Whenever a commanding officer comes by and asks how it is going, they lie. This is what they call discipline. And the United States military, with some exceptions, is a well-disciplined bunch. Doesn't matter if it is a four-star general or a company commander, when you ask troops in the middle of an operation how they are doing, the answer is always "Good." Except for that reservist who asked Donald Rumsfeld about the uparmored humvees. But reservists are different.

"You guys all right?" Hancock asks a private. "Doing great, sir," the soldier responds.

"You have enough water, any cold water?" Hancock says to a lance corporal. "Yes, sir."

This is definitely a lie. Maybe, maybe there was a bottle of water on his amphibious assault vehicle that was still somewhat cool. But in 110-degree heat, the moment you take that water out of the cooler, it warms up. As Hancock makes his way down the line, he comes to a sergeant, one of the senior NCOs. "I don't know how these guys do it," Hancock says. "They don't run out of energy, or they put on a good show for the boss."

They are putting on a show for the boss, trust me. They are hot and tired, just too professional to show it. But then Hancock comes to the translator, or as Bravo Company puts it, "the terp." Most of the terps do not use their real name, and this guy goes by "Coco."

"Coco, how are you?" Hancock says.

"I am [expletive] tired, sir," Coco says.

At last, a truth teller.

Hancock chuckles and continues down the line. The marines still have a bit more walking to do.