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thedrifter
07-02-06, 08:39 AM
July 2, 2006
Suddenly, Sand Bags and Potshots at Post 1
By DEXTER FILKINS

RAMADI, Iraq, July 1 — It is a lonely night on the rooftop of the government center in this rubble-strewn town, and Lance Cpl. Joseph Hamlin is talking about his life.

"I'm 19; I'll be 20 in September," he says, his face shrouded in the darkness. "I'm from western Georgia, on the Alabama line. LaGrange. They say it's the biggest little city in Georgia. It means 'the farm' in French. Lafayette was there."

Corporal Hamlin is at Post 1, overlooking downtown Ramadi from the northwest corner of the government center. His post is a concrete-block hut covered in sand bags. It has just enough room for two people.

"This is my first time ever," he says. "I joined in May '05. Right after I graduated high school. Graduated high school on Friday, showed up for boot camp on Monday. Didn't take any time off."

He laughs. The streets below are mostly invisible in the darkness. Even at 11 p.m., the temperature here hovers at well over 100 degrees. Every few minutes or so, Corporal Hamlin picks up his night-vision scope and peers down the alley that juts out directly north from his post.

A volley of shots ring out, but they are too far away to cause worry.

"Over yonder there," he says, pointing with a slow roll of his hand.

"Jeff Foxworthy, he bought some land in LaGrange," Corporal Hamlin says. "You know him, they call him a country comedian. 'You must be a redneck,' stuff like that. He bought some land down there to hunt on. It's good hunting."

He peers into the scope of his rifle.

"I'm a decent shot. Pretty good," he says. "Not like the snipers."

Another shot echoes in the distance. "What do I hunt? Whatever is in season: deer, squirrel, turkey, dove. I love to hunt. If could have a job where money didn't matter, I'd be a hunter."

Corporal Hamlin has laid out four weapons: an M-240 belt-fed machine gun, an M-16 rifle, an M-79 grenade launcher and a rifle called a Sam-R that he especially likes.

"It's like my .308 Remington — it's got a free-floating barrel, too," he says. "That's my favorite."

"I joined the Marines. I'm hoping to go to college. When I'm in, I'll do what I can for my country. Do something to help this country."

Cradling the Sam-R, he looks into the blackness. "Here it's more difficult," he says. "It's not like all you have to do is be quiet and still and just shoot whatever comes by. Like a duck blind. These guys will play. A turkey don't play. A turkey don't shoot back. He just turns around and runs. They shoot back."

The night wears on. Because of the lack of electricity here, most of Ramadi is dark. What light there is comes from the stars, which are arrayed in their particular way from horizon to horizon.

"I wish they had some police out here," he says. "You know, the gangs. We have gangs in places like New York City. They wouldn't stand a chance here. They would have their heads cut off. These are the real gangs here."

"People say this is the worst place in the world. But it isn't bad. They need to fight for themselves," he says of the Iraqis. "Everybody has a civil war. We had ours. We got stronger. Maybe they need to have theirs and get it over with."

Midnight nears. Corporal Hamlin turns back to his favorite subject. "Oh yeah, they got pigs down there. They like to play. You shoot one of them with a .357 right in the head and they keep running. My dad got gored by one of them once. That's some cool hunting.

"I want to kill some bear. I want to go with a bow. A long bow. Not even a compound bow," he says. "You know the difference? A compound bow has the pulleys. Long bow is just the bow. I want to go with a long bow. Kill a big-ass bear."

"My dad lived in China," Corporal Hamlin says. "He ran the Duracell plant there. I lived there. I learned martial arts. Aikido, which is Japanese. Tae kwon do, which is Korean. I'm a second-degree black belt."

"If I had a choice between this, martial arts and hunting, I'd take hunting easy. No alcohol, womens or anything like that, like some guys."

Three nights before, the government center came under attack by about 20 guerrillas. The firefight lasted two hours. The marines fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition, dropped bombs and artillery. Corporal Hamlin was asleep in his bunk, but he has seen his share of fighting.

"I shot a couple of guys," he says. "When you're young, seeing movies and everything, you're brought up to think killing is wrong. That's what people do in gangs. Weird. You just shoot. They attack you. Either you are going to shoot and go back to your family or they are going to kill you and keep on killing everyone else. I don't really know what to think of it."

"If I shoot, I get to go back to my family, my girl," he says.

He scans the streets through his rifle scope. "I'm a Christian. East Vernon Baptist Church."

Corporal Hamlin is silent for a time. "I asked other people before what it was like to kill somebody. I wasn't sure I could kill somebody. I didn't know what it would be like. Now, I don't know if I feel that much."

The talk turns to love.

"I did have a girlfriend until two days ago. We were together for five years." It happened in a telephone conversation, he says.

"She doesn't handle my being gone. She says it's hard. I think whatever I'm going through here is harder. Whatever problems she's having at the house, she doesn't have R.P.G.'s being shot at her."

The telephone conversation with his girlfriend, Corporal Hamlin says, has left him feeling a little down. The couple had planned to marry, he says. "Yes, I was wanting to. We were going to get an apartment."

He considers the possibility that she has another boyfriend back in LaGrange. "Absolutely. She probably does. She might be lying. She told me she did."

"She is a full-blooded Indian. Mohawk. I'm just a pale-skinned white boy."

"I'll get with her when I get back, talk to her," he says. "See if I can work things out. It'll be O.K."

Another young voice enters from outside Post 1. It is Corporal Hamlin's relief. He's been six hours on post. It's midnight, time for bed.

"Good talking to you," he says.

The corporal picks up his rifle and walks downstairs.

Ellie