A Day in the Field – Month 8

Friday the 13th, April 2007

Another Friday the 13th and 13 hours of Alamo Road labor for me, instead of everyone else’s half day off. Black Friday. Feeling frustrated and sorry for myself, compensation was measured by the PSD team that drew my mission: Falcon 10, always good company.

George is driving, the only American on the team. A goofy little guy, his saving grace is his lack of the typically American competitive machismo. Riding shotgun: Grant, master of the understatement, with a delivery so dry if you aren’t on your toes you’ll miss the best chance you’ll ever get to fall down laughing. Rhys and Sean are leading the convoy, leaving Conor, Jimmy and Matt eating dust in the gun truck. The team has chosen the route that takes us under the powerline pylons, a winding river of dust through flat sand, sky a big bowl of pounding hot nothing.

An hour into silence, everyone in our truck painfully bored, the radio crackles to life:

Sean: “It’s the day the Knights Templar got it.”

George: “What are you talking about?”

Rhys: “You don’t remember your history, George?”

 George: “The things you try to pretend you don’t know when you’re young are the things you wish you knew now.”

Sean: “The Templars were wiped out, George … Friday the 13th. Black Friday. What do they teach you in history class?”

(George, grinning in an aside to me: “Not that!”) 

Someone answers Sean with a riff of a rock and roll song, coming through scratchy but solid.

Someone replies to that with a riff of some snaky song reeking of gutters and guns, lyrics lost in the static.

Sean ups the ante with a riff of Winston Churchill’s speech. … “…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets …”   

Grant snags the cd from Sean when we stop to hand off bottles of water to the small children in that ramshackle shack by the line. We listen to it as we careen around powerline pylons, sliding on sand as slick as ice: 

 “I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

“At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government – every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France,

we shall fight on the seas and oceans,

we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,

we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,

we shall fight on the beaches,

we shall fight on the landing grounds,

we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;

we shall never surrender …

“… And even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

It’s quite moving, really, that speech. I’d read it, but never heard it spoken by Churchill.

Just another excruciating day in the field with Falcon 10. (Thank god …)

***

2009 …

Though we were supposed to get a half day off work every Friday, I never did and I whined about it. In reality, aside from three or four long months working on the aggravating Alamo Road project, the fact that I had too much work to do to be taking Fridays off was mostly my own fault: I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to work insane hours just to learn what I should already have known when I was hired for the job.

But that doesn’t apply to April, one of the three or four months that the cosmically cursed, breath-takingly absurd, officer-ridden, extremely high profile Alamo Road project dictated the shape of my entire existence. PSD teams drove me two hours out to Alamo every single day of the week on bombed out, dusty, terminally boring dirt tracks, then stood around in the searing sun while I harangued the Alamo project manager in his air-conditioned office (or as I sat comfortably in that same office, leisurely trading laughs with the lone westerner on site after the project manager ran away). The teams walked beside me the entire ninety-six kilometers of Alamo Road more than once over the months, one kilometer at a time under a brutal sun and weighted down with fifty, sixty, seventy pounds of body armor and weapons. Then they drove me home.

I got to know some of the men fairly well during this time, spending six or eight hours a day with them, and they treated me more familiarly than they did other clients because I was on the road as much or more than any one of the teams (‘on the road’ as in traveling on the dirt tracks and highways, in this case – not ‘on the road’ as in ‘on Alamo Road’). I became more comfortable with them than I was with my co-workers at the office. I shared more laughs, more impassioned rants, and more weird adventures with them than I did with anyone after Corviday redeployed. They, in turn, often ran on open mic and often let me in on the teams’ private business: personality clashes within the team, their beefs with other clients, and their frustrating power struggles with the colonel.

Five teams rotated the Alamo Road missions, so any one team drove me no more than once or twice a week, but I think they all hated that project even more than I did. Often being kept on hand for the colonel’s useless missions into the city, Falcon 10 rarely drew a rotation to the Alamo project. I considered it a magical day if I found them waiting for me in front of the office. The scowls on their unhappy Alamo-day faces were memorable, matched only by the ferocity of the grin on my own.

The story above can’t stand as an example of the intellectual level of all the PSD teams – Falcon 10 was special. Rhys is blessed with a sharp and curious mind, and I suspect that he built and cultivated a team that provided him with the mental stimulation he needed. Sean and I discussed EU immigration policy and political implications of Darfur. Paul was an opera singer. Grant and I compared real estate prices in the Baltic States. Rhys and I shared our saddest eyes when passing by children begging on the side of the road. Falcon 10 offered not only excellent personal security protection, but the intellectual companionship which was not always available from colleagues and which I craved. Engineers can be extremely intelligent, but many of the ones we had were not the brightest bulbs when detached from their engineer’s power source. As often as possible, I was an Falcon 10 pilot fish, feeding off the slipstream of the brilliantly vivid creation of Rhys’s – a creation that positively shone in the de-intellectualized, Mission-oriented, macho-militarized American reconstruction effort. I took advantage of the mental stimulation as often as possible, often wishing that I could be a legitimate part of its witty brotherhood.

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