Omar was what polite society called a collaborator, what spooks called an informant, what Latino Marines called a snitch, and what some white Marines called a race traitor. Omar was a man of many titles, but only one utility, and I’d forgotten about him in the sweat and sleepless nights of Forward Operating Base Riviera’s breakdown.
When I woke for my last morning in the gutted FOB the lights didn’t turn on; the generator’s constant grumble absent for the first time. I went Condition One—grabbed my M-16A4 service rifle, inserted a magazine, and racked a round into the chamber. We hadn’t been briefed on what would happen during the deconstruction phase of FOB Riviera, and had just spent the night providing security for the engineers while they tore down the perimeter fences crowned with razor wire.
Ulrich was the next Marine to go Condition One. This was significant because normally it was a big no-no to go into the FOB with your weapon “hot,” or to go “weapons hot” inside the ring of wire that circled the FOB. Part of this had to do with weapons safety — it was easy in the close quarters of the FOB to let a rifle slide from its resting place against a wall and hit the floor — but it also had to do with how rounds in the chambers of weapons taken to the head could lead to a commitment to suicide, something the Corps wanted to nip in the attempt. I’d gone Condition One because the FOB might not be secure anymore. I wasn’t taking any chances. And neither was Ulrich.
Slowly, the rest of the squad went Condition One. Then we all geared up in our body armor and helmets. I checked around the FOB and found my suspicions of huge gaps in security to be accurate. A farmer was grazing his small herd of sheep in what had been the FOB’s parking lot just eight hours before; children ran deftly through the few strands of concertina wire that stood between what was left of the FOB and what was left of Iraq; only a few Marines manned a single post — a Humvee at the front of the FOB. The back of the FOB was unsecure. Meanwhile the rest of the Machine Guns squad learned from other follow-on forces that the lion’s share of Echo Company was gone. Some Marines said to Camp Hob — a dingy camp by a ville just three klicks SW over the Euphrates as the sparrow flew, and maybe 40 klicks east on the Main Supply Route to Fallujah as the dog runs, then through the city at a diagonal from NE to SW — but others said they’d heard Tac, across the Main Supply Route from Hob. Still others thought maybe we’d all end up at Camp Fallujah. The more Marines talked the more no one knew what was going on.
I grew bored of standing around the gutted FOB and talking about how we’d been left behind, and how maybe our extract would be any minute, or any day. Then I remembered Omar, remembered the crowd that had gathered at the FOB’s tertiary entrance — the post I’d briefly visited that existed so a Marine could sit in the turret behind a machine gun and point it at the group of men, women, and children at the gate weeping and wailing. As I rushed down the stairs I thought of how Omar had tried to storm onto the FOB one night while I’d been on Post Two, and how one more step was all that had stood between him and oblivion. I’d thought of sending him regardless, but the FOB’s resident spook wouldn’t have been happy.
I got out to the Humvee and climbed up to sit by the Marine behind the gun. We both laughed at Omar as he cried for us to save him. A man who had dined privately with Echo Company’s commanding officer and first sergeant. A man who had helped the U.S. as we’d unleashed hell on Iraq. A man who could be bought. His time would come. Retribution waited.
“Dead man walking!” We jeered.
He didn’t stop crying. And by then my heart was so hard I could have stoned him with it. That would have been merciful compared to his rendezvous with death.
Jason Arment served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Machine Gunner in the USMC. He’s earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Gulf Coast, Lunch Ticket, Chautauqua, Hippocampus, The Burrow Press Review (Push Cart nomination), Dirty Chai, Phoebe, Pithead Chapel, and War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities; anthologized in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volume 2 & 4; and is forthcoming in The Florida Review. Jason lives in Denver.
Photo by Frank Dina
Really honest writing,thank you.