Ship rolls left, cold water that has condensed on the ceiling coalesces into drops that fall onto my head to remind me again that I need to do something about the air conditioner. Slight swells in this part of the Persian Gulf push the gray steel mass from one side to the other in a series of undulations, light reflects off of the running lights in the Kaminski. Why the name was chosen I do not know, only that nearly a dozen ships sit stationary at anchor in the Bell. Waiting for one of the boats from this ship to nuzzle up to the side of the hull and dispatch a team of armed men and women to watch the crew for a twelve-hour stretch. The sounds of taxed electric motors whine through the space I am sitting in signaling the end of another day of watching. Everyone home, the RHIB is pulled back onto the ship and we turn off the few lights we had on to begin with. Tonight there will be no strobe on the tail of the helicopter when it comes in and leaves again for another round of sensor sweeps over the local area. No sense in broadcasting to everyone that can see that we're out and up flying. That and the red light plays hell with the night vision goggles the crews have perpetually mounted on the front of their helmets.
The early morning dawn starts with Fruit Loops on the flight deck, namely the crunching from my own jaw interspersed with sips from a Camelbak holding more than my fair share of ice-cold orange juice. Luxuries are few and far between here. You learn to become quite vicious in the face of those attempting to deny you Fruit Loops and O.J. when this is the last thing in which you take daily comfort. Watching them get ready to leave the ship is sickening. No prayer for the dying, just the soft click of rounds being pushed into magazines and the sound of water lapping against the hull. Somewhere forward of where everyone is standing the hoist from the rigid hull inflatable boat whines in an undulating song that resonates through walls. The boat hits the water with a solid thump as the motor coughs and then growls to life, soon it moves through the water in a slow circle to return to the back end of the ship for the first team to leave. I will not
leave with them or with either of the two other teams on the list for today. Part of what I do means that I stay here and go nowhere. There are only a limited number of the people that are fully aware of how to do this job in
this or any other part of the world; it isn't like I can just be replaced overnight. This does not aid in the improvement of my demeanor on the other hand. In a way I want to go, not to point guns at people or for the rush of
climbing around on some weird ship, just so that I can have faces to associate with whom it is we call the enemy.
They are the enemy, aren't they? This is whom we are supposed to be fighting against? A handful of smugglers attempting to carve out a living hauling the most expensive thing they can find at any given time? This is
the enemy, they have no face but these boats are apparently who I am supposed to hate with every fiber of my being. Devious, tricky, baby-eating boats that sneak around in the dead of night like insurgents trying to slip LSD into the water supply. I can't hate an inanimate object. It doesn't
make a damn bit of sense. This is a boat. Much like a gun, a cruise missile or a nuclear weapon they possess no innate quality of good or evil. They simply exist. Humanity assigns this moral value to the object
based on their perceptions, not based on some hidden inner truths of the material world. Saying a nuclear weapon is evil is essentially the same as saying that the Cadillac Coupe de Ville in your neighbor's driveway is in league with the devil. On the other hand the only thing that a nuclear weapon can be used for isn't a very good thing at all, then again the Caddy could certainly be abused as well. True, the warhead on the end of a Trident II isn't something that your kids could sleep in the back of on
the way home from the mall.
Still I have no concept of whom it is that I am not supposed to like here. The Iraqis? The Iranians? Anyone in this area of the world or can I pick any group/individual on the planet? Is there a list of
qualifications you have to meet in order to become an enemy of National Security and National Policy of the United States of America or is this a title the government simply bestows on random individuals every now and again? The ghosts of the Cole will never find any peace; there isn't
any for them to have here. I heard news broadcasts before I left flatly stating that the crewmembers of the Cole died for their country, that they died protecting freedom and democracy from all enemies foreign and domestic. They died in a hollow stupid war. They died eating lunch. They died for nothing. Now what?
Fuel hose mates with pressure fitting, this time with a minimum of the fiddling the device has been requiring over the course of the last week. (As I work I sing a stupid little song that goes something like this: "Fuel hose is connected to the fuel port, fuel port is connected to the kniffler pin, kniffler pin is connected to the warp drive, warp drive is connected to the phone machine...ad nauseum.") Every time we go to fuel
the airplane the fitting seemingly does not want to mate with the plane which requires whoever is handling the hose at the time to mess with it until the connector seats. I clip the grounding wire to one of the nuts on the 120-degree elbow and wave a single extended finger in the air to start the fuel pump. Darkness brings out the color of the fires on the horizon from oil wells belonging to the American consumer culture. Forty-foot balls of fire from vented natural gas burn as bright specks, painting the
underside of the thin haze over all of the wells a sickly yellow. Some of the others burn red, orange, and magenta, depending on where we are and the impurities blended into the mix not worth enough to be canned up and shipped
off. The fuel rushing through the hose I watch so attentively probably started here some time ago, a few million years before that I wasn't even alive but still prepared to die for the swamps blanketing this area. No,
not prepared to die. I volunteered with a different set of aspirations. I have no idea who it is that I am supposed to hate. There is no enemy. Yes, there is. I am the enemy.
This makes sense. This works in the absence of any other rational explanation. This is the end to the means of my existing in this particular place and time. I am the enemy. I am the defiler of temples, the destroyer of women and children, the abuser of the weak. I am beyond
redemption, salvation or forgiveness. I am the embodiment of all that it is evil and wrong with the world. I am the disease with no cure. I am hatred, pain and sadness given flesh and sent to run rampant over the face of the earth. I am the drunk, the rapist, the pedophile, the murderer, the serial killer, the sadist and the masochist. I am the
monopolist with a chokehold on entire national economies. I shoot endangered species for fun and amusement. I am the Roman nailing Christ to the cross, I am the Nazi gassing Jews, I am the Stalin slaughtering millions of my own, I am the McCarthy persecuting shadows, I am the Khmer Rouge guerrilla shooting peasants in the head. I am the racist spitting epithets at anyone who is not my carbon copy; I am the Farrakhan and the Duke. I am the Imperialist subjugating millions and then lining my own
museums with their identity, taking what they own and calling it mine. I am the arbitrary invasion of other countries, I am the puppet government, I am the democracy, the fascism, the communism, the
dictatorship, the monarchy, the republic and the anarchy. I am the intolerable roommate, the absentee father, the senile mother, and the cruel stepsister. I am everything that is wrong with the world. I am
cable television price hikes, gas prices, hanging chad on presidential election ballots, western devaluation of native culture, McDonald's, the Bible and the Koran. I am the antichrist, the infidel. I am Godzilla. I am the enemy.
Sighing, I disconnect the fuel hose from the side of the aircraft and smack the protective cover over the receptacle so it isn't damaged while we're dragging it across the deck. The hose always has about twenty to
thirty gallons of fuel left in it after the pump stops so moving it around without damaging the end is a bit of a challenge. Karin yawns widely causing Trent to laugh. With the bird silent on the deck the characteristic
squeak at the end of her yawn bleats softly through the night air in a momentary testament to strange quirks of biology. Karin and Trent are both shoes, meaning that they are part of the ship's crew versus part of the helo
detachment. Not being a part of the detachment means they sleep in on Sundays, don't put up with phase maintenance and work on the world's most mediocre equipment. Our not being a part of the crew means no permanent home, suspicion of decisions we make that are critical of the ship, and we're not able to sleep in on Sundays. There is a good-natured rivalry between the two sides, they send us people looking for the keys to the helicopter or rotor wash and we send them people looking to ask the MAA
to blow the JOOD. Since the JP-5 that the plane needs is a ship thing and we aren't exactly on an aircraft carrier, the shoes handle the dispensing of fuel and so forth. At least they run the pumps, filters, storage tanks and everything short of dragging the hose around on the deck and hooking it to the side of the plane. Two in the morning, both of them have a full day tomorrow and I have managed to interrupt sleep in the name of refined petroleum byproducts. Karin smiles and makes a quip about not messing with her at this hour. I lay the business end of the fuel line down near the hose reel and meander toward the hanger. Couple more hours until dawn,
and another morning of Fruit Loops and orange juice.
"Trent, you know why we're out here?" The question comes in an offhand manner, the flippant tone is probably not the best I could have chosen.
"Nope." He climbs out of the fueling station where Karin is muscling the fitting back onto the mirror image of the port on the side of the helicopter, the pump starts a few seconds later and the trapped fuel drains back into the tanks. "No idea."
"I've been trying to figure it out for the last couple of days, that and who the enemy is."
"Hmm. Dunno man." Trent watches Karin gather up the last of the equipment used to take fuel samples, ground the hose and talk to the pump room several decks below. Eventually she steps up and out of the large rectangular and topless box set into the flight deck housing all of the
"I mean, near as I can figure, we're the enemy."
"How so?" Karin asks, coiling the ground wire back into a state resembling a diagram of electron orbits. Some time ago the grounding wire was not put back right which is a condition that has persisted over the life of the wire. It now refuses to sit flat and instead flops into a wiry
yellow ball despite any effort to the contrary.
"Think about it, we're the only fuckers out here really doing anything to Hussein. We're s'posed to be out here stopping him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but he's going to do it anyway. So really we're either
doing nothing more than spending a whole pile of money on gas or we're here just because." Silence, or at least what passes for silence on a ship at sea falls for a few seconds.
"Dunno Yurei. I mean the way I look at it we're here because someone told us to go." Trent looks over at the dormant aircraft and shakes his head. "I can think of a few other places I'd rather be though."
"We're here because we're here. A.A. Milne, wrote a poem about world war one with the same title." I laugh at the usual deadpan humor and the futile nature of arguing with the current set of circumstances.
"I don't think we're the enemy though." Karin says lightly. "We're just people."
"I suppose. But I still have no good damn idea why we're here."
"I know. Admiral got bored."
"Might be on to something there Trent."