Monday, July 12, 2004

Even at war he's still the same different guy

by Matt McNabb published Apr 28 2004
It’s 7:15 a.m. local time in Baghdad, and Jimmy Schaffer, an Army Reservist
stationed in Taji, a suburb of Iraq’s capital city, needs help.
“Hey, give me a name of a catchy sounding coffee shop,” he asks.
It’s only 10:15 p.m. in Paola, and it’s a Tuesday night, when he tells me
this, so I can’t be seeing things. Can I? Did my friend, in a war zone for
the last two months and three days at that point, just ask me to name a
Apparently, while he and I were talking via an Internet messaging service,
he was helping another stateside friend of his with an interior design
I feel halfway compelled to point out to him the fact that he is, in fact,
in a war zone, and shouldn’t he have more pressing issues on the brain?
Like, perhaps, not being shot at?
But I don’t. He did, after all, tell me that he was “gravy” when the
conversation began and I inquired as to his well-being, followed with no
fewer than three question marks.
“I can be all gravy because I don’t get out into the (stuff) of it all,” he
tells me.
Well, that’s a relief.
So, what is it that you’re doing, I ask? This is the first time I’ve spoken
with him since he was deployed, so I’m full of questions. Go figure, a
reporter with a lot of questions.
“I’m actually driving a shuttle bus for troops, but when I don’t do that I
am convoy security which means I’m in a gun truck,” he says. It’s at this
point that he inquires about my social life.
Hold on. You’re not out in the stuff of it all ... in a gun truck?
I guess if you’re not there, you don’t know.
The rest of the two-hour conversation goes, loosely, like this: One moment
it’s like talking to him when he was living near Wichita, where we met and
became friend while working at one of that city’s dining establishments.
The next moment, we’re talking presidential politics, how to boost morale,
and how to get people to re-enlist to pick up the pieces.
We talk sleeping attire. We talk culture. He tells me rockets shook the
windows in the building where he was playing UNO the day before. He tells me
he got a T-shirt from the Kuwaiti Camel Racing track.
He tells me he met Saddam Huissein — not the deposed leader, however, but a
member of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps of the same, unfortunate moniker.
“I want to play ultimate frisbee,” he remarks. By this point in the
conversation, I’m used to such seeming indifference to his surroundings.
“So get some boys together and have at it,” I suggest.
“I might just do that, even though we do have a war to worry with.”
Yeah, there is that. I was going to remind him, if he didn’t bring it up.
I shouldn’t have been as caught off guard as I was, I suppose. This is the
same guy who used to call me on his cell phone when he was delivering pizzas
- not just while he was driving to the house, but when he was actually at
the door - and I was working at a security desk on campus at Wichita State
Did I really think being activated and sent to Hell on earth would change
my friend?
Well, yeah, kinda.
We do get into some deeper things in the conversation. But I don’t ask him
if he’s had to shoot at anyone, mainly because, well, I forgot. Hey, I
didn’t prepare for this; I had no list of set questions.
I do ask him, though, if knowing everything he knows now, would he still
sign up for the Army Reserves?
Yes. I should have known. Why, I ask?
“Well, the way I see it, when I joined up I had no real sense of direction,
or real skills in general. Now I have a job that I take pride in, friends,
and even though I’m clear across the world doing a job I don’t find so
appealing, I’d still be here because I know it needs to be done. The people
of the world need to be free.”
This friend of mine, this man, this soldier ... I remember mopping floors,
doing dishes with him, stocking the salad bar, spilling drinks in the
kitchen. I never thought of him like I did right after I read what he said
right there.
About five minutes later, as we talk of coalition troops sticking to the
June 30 deadline — or not — he abruptly changes the subject to his plans to
cook breakfast for a friend of his while on a two-week R&R visit this
Ahh ... that’s more like it. See ya in July, Jimmy.

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