Iraq: Tuna a la Easy Mac

You know you’re not eating well when Pop Tarts are a healthy choice. (My favorite: the ones in the green wrapper that have a serving of whole wheat.  The green means it’s healthy! … right?)

After a while, the layers of grease, tray after tray of fried something or other, and overall depressing state of culinary affairs leads to desperate measures.

Enter my homemade-ish tuna casserole.  The ingredients are simple: Easy Mac and a can of Starkist Chunk Lite. Two-thirds cup of water, four minutes in the microwave, a minute of furious stirring, and voila!  A hot, presumably healthy meal that is tasty to boot.


-Breakfast:  Coffee and any Cheerios or Special K I hoarded from the table that functions as our mess hall.  Maybe milk if my supplies of skim/lowfat aren’t depleted.  Usually the only options are “full cream,” “strawberry,” or “banana.”  Wrong answer.

-Lunch:  See: Breakfast, above.

-Dinner:  Tuna a la Easy Mac con Pop Tart.

We started hearing gunfire tonight just as I was finishing my Pop-Tart.  It was a lot of gun fire.  A couple shots are a given every now and then, but this was quite excessive.  The pace quickly picked up to a couple hundred rounds a minute, ringing out all around our base.  (NOTE: Our base is a tiny little army post in the middle of Baghdad. Think two football fields in a thick urban neighborhood with plenty of tall buildings preferred by snipers.  And a gate that was blown wide open by a car bomb a month before I got here.)  I chambered a round in my pistol and moved to the door to assess things.

I categorize these moments by the two questions that wander into my head:

1. Do I need my big gun?

2. Should I be wearing a helmet and body armor right now?

In this case, the Iraqi national soccer team tied Oman, which means they advance to the next round of whatever. To answer my internal questions:

1. No, no I do not need my big gun.

2. Probably.  What goes up…

The question that I haven’t been able to answer: how do so many Iraqis have serious automatic weapons?  I’m not talking about AK-47s- I’m pretty sure that’s the de rigueur bar mitzvah gift around here.  It’s the heavy automatic weapons, anti-aircraft artillery, and other assorted serious killing gear that people just seem to have in their back closet in case their team wins.  Or ties, in this case.

Part of our job here is fingerprinting the bad guys who get arrested.  Which means I get to sit face to face with hardened terrorists.  The first time I saw a detainee was exhilarating!  For about five seconds.  The remaining millions of seconds I have spent with these detainees has been incredibly underwhelming.  For every hard core dude caught red-handed with a mien of complete ennui there are a hundred young, scared kids who only stop crying after I give them a snack.  “It’s okay buddy.  You made a mistake, probably shouldn’t have been smuggling those artillery rounds, but whatever.  Here’s a Pop Tart.  What kind of Fanta you want?  Orange?  Strawberry?”  No need to recruit more terrorists.  Maybe a smile and some empty calories can turn their view around.

Not that I am optimistic.  I attended a conference recently where I was introduced to a new phrase, which has become my favorite thing since Neil Patrick Harris’ appearance on Glee: “expectation management.”  It basically means: “Listen, you tried.  You tried really hard.  A lot of cigarettes, a lot of burning the candle at both ends.  And now it’s up to the Iraqis.  Which means a lot of cigarettes, and not so much candle burning.  Do what you can.  We won’t blame you.”

The shirts of the unit that just left this week had the phrase “We tried!” superimposed on the image of a US soldier trying to budge a stubborn mule.  Expectation management.

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