ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Twilight of the Green Zone - An Afghanistan Story

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The Green Zone is not at all what I expect. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I expect, but what I see isn’t it whatever it is. It’s not that I expect green streets and green buildings and green people. That's silly. I just expect something... different. Perhaps after six months I’ll be able to express this inexpressible difference, or it might mean I’ll have to travel to another war and visit another Green Zone to compare, but I know this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.

As we enter the Green Zone, the first thing I notice is the concrete. There’s more concrete in the walls and barricades of the Kabul Green Zone than the interstate stretch from Los Angeles to Barstow. Some indiscernible dust-covered trees line the streets. From the back seat of our armored up SUV, I notice an immediate change to street traffic. Gone are the throngs of folks going about their business. There are still a few street peddlers and beggars, but the number has been reduced ten-fold.  After the cacophony and furious energy of the drive from the airport, the Green Zone feels like a dusty street in an Old West town, the only thing missing, a pair of gunslingers, facing off, and someone whistling the theme song to a Clint Eastwood western.
Three soldiers hurry down the street, harried by children as if they are birds trying to get at some hidden food. Although the soldiers are in full body armor and carrying multiple weapons, their attitude towards the children is universal. They try politely to push them away, but the children will not be deterred. I know the problem right away. I’ve been to enough countries to know that even eye contact can gain their unwanted and furious attention. Let me emphasize, human compassion isn’t a mistake, but at certain times we can become victimized by it. Like these children, who have more professional sales acumen than a dozen Amway salesman, and more diligence than a friendly Fuller Brush man.

And like those old documentaries of wildebeests being chased by great cats on the Serengeti Plane, one soldier falls behind the other. I want to roll down the window and shout for him to watch out, but the windows are locked. So I’m forced to watch as two children on his right tug eagerly on his jacket as a third child, a beyond-cute young girl shoves her arm elbow deep into his other pocket, liberating whatever he has in there. She nods, and the children run off, laughing, just like any other children in the world, just like they hadn’t successfully robbed a fully armed soldier.
We drive on, now moving slightly faster than walking speed. The only other cars around are other up-armored SUVs, one or two local cars, and nothing else.  
Then I see the man with no legs. As I try and think up words to describe him I come up with fervent and angry, but then I think angry is an unfair term. Maybe then fervent and insistent. Yeah, that’s it. I’ve mistaken insistent for anger before, like when my drill sergeant was insistent that I do something, then he was angry about it. Yeah.  Insistent. But he seems angry too. I can’t get past that. But let me back up and describe what I see.
Our SUV is stopped in line waiting to pass through one of the many ‘gates,’ each one making an individual safer than the previous ‘gate.’ Outside my window is a man, scurrying about like a spider on a skateboard. His limbs are moving so fast, it’s not until he slows down that I notice he only has two limbs. It takes a few more seconds to figure out if they are arms, legs, or a combination of the two. When he finally halts his motion at the back bumper of the uparmored SUV in front of us, I see why I am so confused about his limbs. He wears canvas shoes on his hands, which he uses to both propel himself back and forth, and to slap the sides of the SUVs. His trunk rests on a flat wooden cart beneath a shawl of a blanket, where he somehow keeps his balance.
But this man is not handicapped. He might not have legs, but he has eyes and the power in those eyes is enough to close the gap between him and those unlucky enough to meet his gaze. I somehow know this right away. I try not to look directly at him, but every time my traitorous eyes look into his, he surges towards me with windmilling arms and his insistent-angry eyes. It’s as if he’s challenging the entire universe, but only you have the ability to speak on its behalf. His gaze makes you feel insignificant. After all, how can you speak for the universe?
He bangs his canvas shoe on the side of the SUV and it makes me jump. Scott and Crazy Eyes laugh at me as I meet the no-legged man’s gaze. It’s fueled with an inviolate authority, an incomprehensible demand for something I cannot give. Even if I gave him everything I have, I know it will not be enough for the moment. He is Afghanistan and I can’t help him.

Then as the SUV moves on, I feel grateful, and a little guilty.

It really is too much.
We creep forward and make a few turns. Several women have blankets laid out with charms and sundries. Now this I recognize. Outside every military compound since before Hannibal crossed the Alps sit women selling their wares—small trinkets of the conquered to be sent home as trophies. Ever as inconsequential and insubstantial as the piece may be, the prize of the item grows as the narrative increases.

One stands out. I only see her for a moment, hunched over her blanket, carefully arranging the pieces as if it were a game of capitalistic chess. Then she looks up. We see each other. She flashes a peace sigh and our gazes meet. Amidst her wrinkled dark skin and even darker hair, glowing from within the shadow of her scarf are bright blue eyes. It stops me for a moment and the world goes into slomo. I suddenly knew her. She is a child of the soviets. I think of our own American Asian kids spread across Vietnam, Korea, Okinawa, Thailand and the Philippines. I think about how they are treated-- outcasts with blue eyes, reminding everyone who sees them about a war just as soon forgotten. Beauty condemned. Much as my own blue eyes, myself a child of war a millennia removed, now accepted. Would it take them as long? Would it take her as long? Where does beauty start and the guilt of survival end?
Then we pass and time resumes to normal. A phantom image of her peace sign says with me.
Crazy-eyes catches my gaze in the mirror. “Not what you expected, is it?”
“I don’t know what I expected,” I say, not being entirely honest.
“Whatever it was,” he says, with the wisdom of Solomon, “It wasn’t this. That’s for damn sure.”
Soon we’re pulling through a last gate and I see military men and women from more than a dozen countries. Scott jumps out and ground guides us so we don’t run over anyone. I watch the people as they pass. The memory of the race from the airport, the children, the man with no legs, and the women with blue eyes fade as I begin to take in the details of my new home.
We pull to a stop. Scott opens my door.
“Get your shit together. I need to go find you a room.”

As I step outside and plant my feet on frienly ground, looking at my razor-wire twisted horizon, I take a deep breath.

Six months.
I have six months of this.
“You okay?” Scott asks.
I shake it off. “Yeah. Sure. Just taking it all in.”
“Don’t do it now or else you’ll have nothing to do for the next six months.”
In the back of my mind, Rod Serling and Bart Simpson compete for a comeback. But instead of saying anything, I grab my stuff and follow them, towards my new home.



(To keep up with all of my previous Afghanistan Stories, click on the following link - AFGHANISTAN)
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Check out my work online, or purchase them at your favorite bookstore.
Babylon Smiles is a brand new release-- an Iraqi War Heist Novel in the spirit of Three Kings and Kelly's Heroes. If you like SEAL Team 666 or any of my other work, you'll love this.

2 comments :

  1. An excellent article, Weston.

    "I think about how they are treated-- outcasts with blue eyes, reminding everyone who sees them about a war just as soon forgotten. Beauty condemned. Much as my own blue eyes, myself a child of war a millennia removed, now accepted. Would it take them as long? Would it take her as long? Where does beauty start and the guilt of survival end?" - Your insights are beautiful, your prose haunting.

    You bring a face to the men and women across the sea. Thank you for this beautiful piece. Come home safe, all of you.

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  2. THanks Draven. It was funny. Everything it took me two weeks to get down on paper, I thought in those few fleeting seconds. The whole thing was a series of surreal moments.

    ReplyDelete