Day in, day out, the choppers came. There was more blood. More gore. More expectants [those expected to die]. More death. The nature of combat is living with highs and lows. One day we might get one or two wounded, then the next we’d get six or eight. When casualties came in, everyone gave 110 percent, but on quieter days, you could see people’s exhaustion: the adrenaline had left their bodies and they walked around in a daze.
I was still wrestling through things when I walked past the back of the dining facilities (DFAC). Two burly Alabama National Guardsmen were hanging out on a coffee break. The Guardsmen were charged with running the DFAC. I must have glanced in their direction and held my gaze just a little too long.
“Hey, buzz off,” said one, a sergeant. He pointed to a sign beside the outside door that read, “Go away.” He had a huge walrus mustache and thick hairy arms.
I stopped and stared at him coolly. “Buzz off yourself,” I said back.
Slowly “Sergeant Walrus” grinned in my direction. I could tell his bark was worse than his bite. “Hey, you’re all right, you know that,” he said. “We don’t get too many colonels behind the mess tent. Whaddya want anyway?”
“I don’t know. Whaddya got?”
“Whadda we got?” He turned to the other sergeant and laughed. “She wants to know what we got.” They both snorted. He turned to me. “Whadda you got—that’s the real question.”
“How’s about a box full of HBO videos?” I said. “I got the Sopranos, HBO World Championship Boxing, Deadwood, Sex and the City, and about five copies of Band of Brothers. Interested?”
“Interested?” He glanced either way, then added under his breath, “Meet us back here in half an hour with a Humvee.”
My mind was really rolling now. I headed over to the PX and bought a grill, the biggest one I could find, then lugged it back to my CHU. I rounded up a Humvee and headed back over to the sergeants at the DFAC.
“You got the stuff?” said Sergeant Walrus.
“Yeah,” I said. “You got the goods?”
“Out of the way,” he said. “We’ll load ’em up for you.”
That night I assembled the grill in front of my CHU and fired it up. The warm, smoky smell of a backyard cookout filled the nighttime air. Anytime anyone got off shift, he or she had to pass by the grill on the way back to the CHUs. It didn’t take long for word to spread. Soon, all around me were smiles and laughter. From the stash provided by the sergeants, I piled the grill with fresh hot dogs and flaming cheeseburgers—as many as anyone could eat. The sergeants had provided it all for us—meat, cheese, buns, ketchup, relish, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. If it was going to be as hot as Daytona Beach in Al Asad, then we were going to have a barbecue! Things almost felt normal again, if only for a little while.
Excerpt from The Nightingale of Mosul: A Nurse’s Journey of Service, Struggle, and War (Kaplan Publishing; 2010) by Susan Luz. Read an interview with Susan Luz.