Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Corporal "Kurtz's" Dry Jungle

The character referred to as “The Bandito” is a real person. The following is a factual story, EXCLUDING THE LAST PARAGRAPH, which is a day dream.

I had not talked to my friend, The Bandito, in five years. The last time that I saw The Bandito, he pinned his medal on my chest and walked into the sunset. I thought as a military man and knew that I would cross paths again with my war mentor. I had just turned twenty when he left. In a week I will be twenty five. Years fly and come back quickly and the memories are clearer than yesterday. I met The Bandito on the first day that I had arrived to my duty station on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. My roommate and I stood at the position of parade-rest as he entered our room for the first time. He spoke English with a very calm and thick Mexican accent. Due to the low volume of his speech, he could raise the hair on the back of your neck.

The Bandito was our first look at a real Marine as official Marines who had most recently graduated boot camp and The Marine Corps School of Infantry. He was an immigrant from Mexico and participated in brutal iron man styled marathons for fun. My roommate and I were now professional infantrymen, our company’s mission statement was a bit more eccentric than your average realty firm, the mission of the Marine Corps Rifle Squad is…”To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and to repel the enemy’s counter attack by fire and close quarters combat.” If you break it down, our mission is to meet the enemy and close the distance between us. All new infantrymen memorized this passage through the guidance of the more senior Marines. The guidance we received from such Marines started hard and stayed that way for a year, in my platoon, if you forgot the passage or another of the thousands of Marine Corps knowledge passages, they… (Senior Marines) would sick themselves on us… (Boots), a nickname handed down to the new guys from the old guys who have retired their boot status upon our arrival. Now they get to dish out the pain that was their boot life and so the process has operated for 234 years.

The Bandito was more than meeting a real Marine, he was our first look at what our life in the platoon would be like, which we were nervously anticipating as nothing in the journey had been any less than the most difficult day of my life stuck on repeat. I stood my parade rest as stiff as I could force the position, demonstrating extreme obedience to the scariest looking human being I will have ever seen enter a battlefield. A real life killing machine, he looked like an angel of revenge flying around with a sword and armor on a religious candle, a lean muscular build, fair skin and soft empathizing eyes that he would look at you with after making a mistake, as if he would weep with you after slitting your throat. I was eighteen years old and full of bravado, which led to me volunteering to carry a burden across a desert some call a radio, others call a PRC 119F. The Bandito told me before our first training operation in Hawaii, that I was going to lose five pounds in sweat and that I would get tired and hand off my radio. I was eighteen years young and I looked him in the eye and told him that I would never hand off my radio. I went another two and a half years before I did once in the mountains of Afghanistan because my feet were melting off, I wanted to cry when I thought about failing The Bandito who had since disappeared into the sunset.

The combat veteran thinks differently than the non. There were people who would really die for you, the world we had known had become distant and unreal, as if it had never happened. He stood there, before we were combat veterans, when we were his students, and he said, “My name is Corporal… It is good that you are standing at parade rest because if you were not, that would not be good.”He wept after slitting our mind throats and I had my answer; the Marine Corps was going to continue to be the most difficult trial to endure seven days a week and twenty four a day. Our unit reached Kuwait before we had even considered a deployment to Iraq as we had been on ships that were supposed to be bound for the Philippines but the ships had taken a detour and there we were. On the ship The Bandito taught me the basics of knife fighting, an art that he had learned on the streets of Mexico. His brother had raised The Bandito to be a great warrior. He spoke often of Mexico, he had crossed illegally when he was young, and he prepared himself for his big brother’s prophesized destiny as we grew closer to the “Second Battle of Fallujah”. The Bandito explained his life outlook to me once, “If God wants to strike me down, he will take me, I can walk into a hail of gunfire and if it is not my time, I will not die.”
I watched The Bandito enter a hail of gunfire. I had seen him shot before and the second time there was no armor, only bone, and a bullet had broken his leg. Another Marine was dead in the house and The Bandito howled as the Marines carried him to the street corner. There were flies in Fallujah, big black ones that carried off less fortunate children. The Bandito held a video camera on his face and read his last rights to his parents on the ride to Bravo Surgical. Still on scene I picked up The Bandito’s helmet, stuck inside I found a prayer picture of The Virgin Mary. The Bandito was a devout Catholic and I a devout atheist; I stuck the prayer picture in my helmet to remember my teacher.

The Bandito survived his hails of gunfire and left The Marine Corps to walk into the sunset with a cane. I had heard that he had returned to Mexico. We breathed war and it burns to exhale, some of us never leave. He called me for the first time in five years, we spoke over a weak line and he told me his story. He said that he was attending University but that the violence was getting to him. He said that it was worse than Fallujah and that children were being murdered and women raped. He said that there is no justice in his land. I could hear a crying baby in the background. My heart sank for the good hearted Bandito who could have remained in the United States after completing the citizenship process…post having taken a bullet for the country. He asked about the book I am working on and wanted to know if I remembered our first fire-fight together? I asked him to refresh me. The following situation is covered in more detail in a future publication.

The gunfire erupted. We were breaking into empty houses, this had become our life. Kick in the front door, move in, search the residence and repeat the process until every building in the city of Fallujah had been cleared. As the ambush unfolded, the Marines caught in the front yard of the hostile house fell back to the house next door to consolidate and seek cover. The Bandito watched an enemy wearing black, sight in on two Marines and rake their legs with fire from an AK-47. One Marine remained on his feet and continued wounded to the house next door. The other fell to the ground and held his hand up for help. The Bandito said that he had frozen up for a second. I asked why he continued on? He replied that as he saw the Marine hold his hand up, The Bandito thought of the Marine’s parents and of his own family, he saw his probable death rescuing the fallen Marine as an honorable death. The Bandito recalled dumping two thirty round magazines from his M-16 but not the seven others he had found empty after the fight.

I watched The Bandito deliver the wounded Marine to the fall back house. Next he had a gun fight with thirty one terrorists and lived to tell the tale. His kill count was a platoon high score. The nineties west coast rap scene had nothing on third platoon. Those of us who survived Fallujah deserve a safe life at the least. Not for the Bandito, he said he returned to Mexico to help build it.

It was a dream, I flew into Mexico City, and a driver met me at the airport holding a sign with my name on it for the first time. We drive into the mountains; I see things I have never seen. The Bandito and I catch up and we get to important matters. He tells me about the murdered children, and the raped women, he explains to me how destiny has not given him a break since he went to war. Maybe it was before that and that was why he had returned to Mexico after discharge from the Marines as a combat wounded infantryman. He hands me the gun, tells me to load the first round slow, to think of the children who had been murdered. That night we drank beer and posed with guns, cleaned our guns, remembered our guns and our old young lives as professionals of arms. In the morning we found them all, unloaded magazines, the smell of hot gun oil and smoking barrel’s symphony as we shot our way to peace and for the rest of time, everything became alright and that was the dream and we never hurt again.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Trying to capture one’s past is always a futile effort because once the time is gone… As the wise time traveling philosopher Kurt Vonnegut used to say and says again…”So it goes.” After catching an NPR interview about the final season of the television show “24”, I finally decided to partake in the real time set drama I somehow missed over the past nine years. I am on the first season, shot in 2001 and am watching the main character “Jack Bauer”, or the mentally unshakeable star of 1986’s mullet-vampire period piece “The Lost Boys” Kiefer Sutherland, attempt to figure out what this bullshit is. So far I have nailed the nail biting suspense scenes before they happen. Slap on the back for me. All I have to do is ask myself, “What is the worst possible outcome while still preserving a continuing story,” and there it is…If you are hiding a phone from a captor, the phone is going to run out of battery and compromise you, if someone you don’t know is coming to save you, they are not coming to save you, they are coming to kill you. Nine years later and I relish in being a guy who writes. To watch a television show shot in 2001, I have to send myself back in time, to a sixteen year old kid who was waiting to see what happened. The worst case scenario was becoming the drive for the United Sates in Jack Bauer’s freshman year as a television star. As we explore the character, we explore mainstream opinion of the time, which I find to be much different than the opinion of today. There are many writers on a television show, they sit on panels and discuss outcomes, discuss popular opinion and manipulate your senses until ten writers figure out how to make you want more. So it is fantasy! Not real, created by people who have a magnificent ability to narrate their wildest dreams. Compared to myself and a fair number of my closest friends, Kiefer Sutherland has more than likely never been shot at, nor has he had anything more serious than a pile of money to deal with for, who knows how long? But in America, who knows what how? Maybe there was a divorce, maybe his father beat him in ways mine never did, maybe I’ll do some more research at the lab here and get back to you. Either way, compared to some poor Iraqi born within the past seven years, I’ll put money that Mr. Sutherland has done alright for a lifetime and good for him because he is a hell of an actor.
These days, America is not the shining beacon of hope it was when my immigrant relatives crossed Ellis Island. That is of course, unless you are a hungry, poor and tired Mexican crossing the border again because fascist Arizona doctrine really separated you from your wife and kids. This would be a foreign concept to Mr. Sutherland and not to Mr. Bauer, who is a fairy tale. In the first season Jack protects the first black presidential candidate. The more I watch what ten writers write the more I understand that our 2010 time has become prophecy. The white racists are going to make Obama look like a fool. They will twist his character until he ceases to be the future and we can say hello again to real politics. The 1990’s of my youth are a distant memory, some clouded vision returns to me, something about an intern sitting on a President’s face and there was an impeachment hearing. The next President marched off to an illegal war, and no impeachment hearing.
Nine years ago becomes today and we have gone too far forward to make it out clean. Two wars and many good dead men the majority of the American public knows nothing about and cares not to research. So where are we in the land of Jack Bauer? Ten writers could have never predicted naked Muslim prisoner piles of Abu Ghraib. I had this dream the other night, a cold sweat drenched, violent winner of my emotions. We had drilled into the center of the earth on accident and it rained oil.