I have been thinking a lot about night patrols recently.
I think it’s because as I work on not only this blog but my next book, I have been pouring through all of the photographs and videos I have from both of my deployments – and there is a disproportionately small percentage of photos that I took at night.
Digital camera’s in 2004 sucked the big one in terms of megapixels and quality of course, but there is nothing I can do about that now, here in 2015.
And also part of me feels like at night, there just was no time to take a picture. If for the simple fact the flash is a dead-motherfuckin-giveaway, for the fact that all senses and energy went towards understanding the darkness and the void. It reminds me of back as a young’un when I first had to memorize and recite my general orders, attesting to “be especially watchful at night, and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons at or near my post.” [General Order 11]
Some night patrols were relatively pleasant; here we are talking with some folks making kebabs and shooting the shit while they hung out and drank tea, and smoked hookah. This night I remember specifically because it was in a heavily populated Shia part of Baghdad; at that time in the Surge we were pretty sure just about everybody Shia was sympathetic to the Jaish al-Mahdī if not a member and on their payroll. You stumble upon these guys – literally stumble – you come out of an empty and dark neighborhood and across the street and suddenly here are these guys just enjoying themselves in the relative quiet of the night; men bullshitting, an AK resting against a wall just out of sight but not really. Here we come, and now we’re all having a chat and for a second you feel like you’re in relative safety – because no one in their right mind who was waiting in the wings would attack you here in the light of these storefronts. Half the guys who probably would be shooting at you in the dark are sitting here for a falafel and kebab anyhow.
You relax your stance a bit, but still have security posted that is keeping a good watch out into the darkness – the rooftops, the alleyways, the streets. And you sometimes rest your hand on your sidearm while you chat, seeing how some of the men on the outskirts just standing around are looking at you. It is a very weird vibe. You know it – they know it – Everyone knows it, just no one wants to say it.
And then there are the times when it is just you, your patrol, the streets under your boots and the night. The sheer, black night. It’s creepy. It really is – here you are the American Soldier, with my night vision monocular letting me see in the darkness, a thin green haze of angles and corners – buildings and objects with good clarity (but slowly making that eye’s vision degrade I am sure). I have men deployed as security here and there. It isn’t like when you patrol through here in the day – there is no ‘smoking and joking’ where your sometimes lackadaisical demeanor is augmented by moments of heightened awareness. No.
Here you are all quiet, paying the utmost attention to the faintest of sounds – for at night they all seem amplified. All senses are amplified – heightened. Someone is out there. You cannot see them, you cannot hear them – but they are out there. You feel their presence around you as you make your every move. Perhaps it is your imagination. Perhaps it is Death himself, because you are always walking among him and his. Your moves are very regulated – thought out and planned. You are deliberate in what you do and how you do it because you want to reduce your footprint (that is, the sights and sounds your patrol are making). With night vision or your own two eyes adjusted to the moonless sky, you communicate in hand and arm signals and whispers. Block after block, after block. And then as you are making your way through they alleys and the streets doing your best to track everything going on around you – you lose track of time, and shit gets even more creepy.
Isha’a Salat calls the faithful to remind them and us that it is almost midnight. And if I am awake and hearing this then yes, there are others – and they are out there. Some not concerned with us in the least bit – but others very much so. And even if tonight they choose not to come calling, the simple fact of knowing that they are the masters of their own destiny, and can get the drop on us at any second, is enough for them to feel satisfied.
Not tonight Americans – not tonight, occupiers. But another night, perhaps…
Sorry the video quality isn’t the best but – that’s how it goes…