Here's David's latest. David Hardt is a Stryker from Fort Lewis serving in Iraq.
One summer day while on my way to college the highway traffic suddenly got heavy and the sea of red headlights brightened the already sunny day. It was nothing abnormal. This kind of thing usually happens when someone gets into a fender bender, because the rubberneckers parading by slow things up. As time passed, I became more agitated. I glanced down at my old watch that had never failed since junior high school. “Dang it, I’m going to be late.” I hit the steering wheel of my ’95 Jeep Wrangler. Even though I had the top off and the fresh air was hitting me, a film of sweat surfaced. I had 20 minutes to make it five exits, and at this rate, I would get there just in time to watch the custodial crew lock the door. I finally made my way up to where all the traffic had been stopping and going more consistently. I glanced over to my left to see what was going on. I had to squint just to make sure I was seeing things right. What I saw blew my mind. There stood nine men with yellow vests on and hard hats in a half-moon circle while a man on the ground on his knees bent over with a paintbrush of some sort and painted in an arrow in a stencil. I laughed and said to myself, “Go figure, nine guys watch as one guy works. That’s Cal Trans for you.”
Years later in the darkness of the streets of Haifa, we meet at the truck and go through our normal patrol preparation. After everything is done, the squad sits down and relaxes and awaits the brief from Staff Sgt. Rine.
As I sat there, my buddy Daniel and I discussed how things have changed on this deployment. “We go from getting shot at every day and getting to shoot our guns as well as having one of our trucks get blown up to now the Haifa Project,” I said with a laugh. Standing beside me puffing on a cigarette, Daniel replied, “Next thing you know we will be in our overalls painting the Haifa apartments red and white.” Everyone just started laughing. He was referring to the colors of the Cav unit we are under. They are all about making sure red and white are everywhere the eye can see, so it’s an infantry joke. Daniel flicked his cigarette butt, stepped on it with a look of disgust and then walked away with his head down. Davie, who had been sitting nearby, got up and came over. “Wait, Iraq doesn’t even have traffic laws, so what’s our arrow exactly supposed to do. They’re still going to drive on the wrong side of the street.” I shook my head in agreement and finished off, “Instead of combat patrols, we’ll throw some sirens on the Stryker and start handing out traffic tickets.”
Before we loaded the truck, Staff Sgt. Rine gave us the brief and the plan. “OK, Delfeld, you’re going to paint the arrow on the street while we pull security. Try to make it quick. No one wants to get sniped painting the ground.” Everyone had straight faces agreeing on that issue completely. Staff Sgt. Rine looked around at us waiting for the smiles to break, and sure enough, I couldn’t hold it anymore. “We are really doing this?” Staff Sgt. Rine laughed and then replied, “Yes, we are.” Then he turned around and went into the truck. It was weird; everyone was silent. It was like everyone was trying to process the situation.
We made our way out the gate into the darkness of Iraq. Delfeld, our attachment for the night, was the workhorse of the program. Being a new guy, he was obviously nervous. I had to remind him that it was dark and that having his NODS on would help a lot. Usually Daniel would accompany us, but tonight he was driving because Delfeld hadn’t done all of his Stryker training yet.
As we hit the road that we would be painting, everyone started shaking their heads in disbelief. Davie was a little cranky and spouted out, “I can’t believe we are in Iraq and we are painting the roads.” We laughed halfheartedly. Staff Sgt. Rine jumped down from the hatch and said, “OK, guys, let’s go freaking paint some streets.” We jumped out of the Stryker and started to make our way to our position.
As I was walking to my spot, I saw in my NODS that Delfeld was looking down at the ground. “Hey, do you see something down there, buddy?” I asked as I flipped my NODS up. He replied, “Uh, I dropped the paint.” I took another look on the ground. “Yep, that doesn’t belong there.” During our short conversation Staff Sgt. Rine came over. I looked at Delfeld and shook my head. “Delfeld, what the freak happened?” I could tell Staff Sgt. Rine was a little bothered, but at the same time it looked like he was about to laugh. The word spread about what happened, and everyone just started cracking up. Staff Sgt. Rine came over, threw down the stencil, and said, “Looks like that’s where the arrow is going. Get it done, Michael Angelo.”
The night progressed, and Delfeld painted seven or eight more arrows. The last arrow was by far the funniest scene. There in the middle of the street were nine Iraqi guys standing in a half-moon circle while Delfeld was on his knees with sweat coming down his brow and paint all over his hands going at the last arrow. I said to myself, “Why don’t we just give the guys watching brushes and five buckets so they can paint their own street.” Just a note to my readers: I don’t answer when I talk to myself. OK, sometimes I do.
The night ended, and we made our way back to the truck. I took a look at Delfeld, and he looked just a mess. “Good job, Delfeld. Now every day you drive down these streets you will look down and know that you did that.” He looked at me and smirked. I wish I would have taken some pictures that night, because it would have won some awards.
Well, we drove down that road the other day, and guess what? Every single arrow is gone. Was it a waste of time? No, we got a good laugh out of it, and everyone came home safe.
The weeks are passing, getting us closer and closer to going home. Just to breathe the fresh air and sit by the lake with my dog, Grace, will be something so rewarding I can’t wait. As for the men of C Company, they are standing strong and keeping their resolve every day — even while painting the city.