Author’s Note – Operation RUBICON took place from 23-26 August 2006 in East Husaybah and Bidimnah, Al Anbar Province, Iraq. The Operation primarily involved Marines and sailors from Company K, 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5, supported by elements of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, tanks and amtracs. I was a 26-year old Fire Support Team leader (1stLt) attached to the Company command group on the first day of the Operation.
We entered the house quickly, crunching over broken glass on our way to the stairs. The Iraqi family shared anonymity with a thousand others as I brushed indifferently past a glaring old man. My foot was on the first step up to the roof when a flash of color in an adjacent room checked me mid-stride. Startled, I glimpsed a beautiful girl in her late teens or early twenties, staring at me with dark, coffee-colored eyes. My heart stopped. For a breathless moment I contemplated the dusky figure in maroon and pale blue, so out of place in a room of shattered windows and stinking men.
Her gaze dropped pointedly to my chest, where an M4 carbine was cradled loosely in my gloved hands. Flushing and feeling uncomfortably like a boy who has just delivered an awkward, one-liner to a group of haughty girls, I wanted to explain, to tell her I was sorry, that it wasn’t meant for her. But of course it was. It was meant for all of them. It had to be. Despite being smitten by the girl’s unexpected beauty, an impassable chasm of culture and circumstance stretched between us. Regaining my composure, I turned and stomped roughly up the stairs to catch up with the command group.
Emerging onto the blazing rooftop, I saw the captain pacing erratically, as was his habit when unsure, worried, or scared – that is to say, all the time. The practice struck me as unmanly and irritating. In this instance, the captain couldn’t raise any of his platoon commanders on the radio and he was alternately cursing, turning around like a diviner to gain better reception, and fiddling helplessly with the dials and knobs of his handheld.
After a few fruitless minutes, the 81mm mortar forward observer – a streetwise Corporal with an established reputation for competence – cast me a pleading glance before surrendering his larger, PRC-119 radio to the captain’s outstretched hands. The CO needn’t have bothered exchanging radios: his platoon commanders could hear him just fine, but had ordered their radio operators to ignore his worthless and sometimes dangerous orders.
Annoyed that I was stuck with the captain and remembering the beautiful girl downstairs, I walked slowly over to the opposite side of the roof and leaned against the baking mud wall. Ten feet below a fragrant vegetable garden sent vines creeping around green melons while enormous yellow sunflowers beamed cheerfully at the early morning sun. The cool, blue-shadowed trellis was softness and silence, compared to the rooftop’s hard glare. My head hurt and my sweat stained flak vest bit achingly into the muscles of my neck and shoulders. Hunching forward to shift some of the armor weight onto the crumbling brick wall running the length of the roof, I was startled by a sudden movement below. It was the girl. Gliding delicately in bare feet, she began to sweep the polished concrete walkway between the house and garden.
Without warning, I was seized by an immediate, intense longing to stop – to throw off my weapons and armor and responsibility – and for a moment, once again be a young man in a world apart from war. The garden, the flowers and the girl were intoxicating. Where enemy action over the course of two tours had failed to pierce my martial resolve, a pretty girl with a palm frond whisk stopped me in my tracks.
Fleetingly, it occurred to me that should I want to, I had the power to order her family into a room and be alone with the girl. The thought was easily dismissed. That would mar the purity of the moment and besides, for some irrational reason I wanted her to like me.
For a few moments I did not feel like an invader in an alien land. The girl’s light movements and quiet grace made my heart swell with memories of youth and beauty and peace. I wanted to kiss her.
The girl must have sensed she was being watched, because she suddenly straightened and looked up. For several heartbeats our eyes met and her features softened into an odd little half-smile. In that instant I was home. Then she shyly dropped her gaze and disappeared into the house.
Somewhere far off a pair of helicopter gunships stalked wickedly through the morning haze. The grinding, clanking roar of armored vehicles throbbed from a nearby road. My heart slowly beat down to its normal rate. Exhaling sharply, I pushed myself away from the wall and turned back to the command group. The Operation was just beginning.