Butts the Mangy Mutt

Photography by Jayel Aheram.

Before actually experiencing it first-hand, I too had this same question in my mind: how do you go about sending a company of armed Marines (sometimes dual-armed with both the M16A4 service rifle and the M9 pistol) into a combat zone? Well, it starts with a long bus ride…

Then a very long 28-hour plane ride (chartered from the nice folks of RyanAir) with fuel-stops in Indiana, Iceland, Germany (I asked a German lady if she calls “German Pretzels” just “pretzels”), before ending up in Kuwait. In Kuwait, a very tense bus ride from the airport to an Army base with a chow hall better than any the Marine Corps has to offer. We stayed there for a few days before making yet another tense bus ride back to the airport. From there, a C-130 rolled down the strip with Marines on board. It ended up in Al-Asad, yet another awesome Army base with a chow hall three times better than the one in Kuwait. It also has a Burger King and a Pizza Hut and a place that sells stereos for your car. Yes, car stereos in Iraq. You might be dodging IEDs, but at least you will be pimping with the latest in audio technology. All of these places staffed by smiling Iraqi nationals (but then you wonder if they are really fantasizing about slitting your throat as they serve you yet another serving of filthy, unclean pork). But we were only there for a few days before we finally shuffled, Marine Corps shuffled into a large helicopter and landed in our area of operations. The helicopter ride was surprisingly… smooth. I thought I was going to feel every bob and dip, but I did not even feel the take-off! Next thing I knew, we were in the air. I fell asleep instantly… That is how smooth it was.

I have heard of Butts even before I met her. She had the reputation of being equally the most ugliest and the most sweetest dog you will ever meet. She came to the Marines and sailors on this base at her most pitiful. There are wild dogs that roam the desert around this base and apparently, she had an unfortunate encounter with a few of them. The Marines and sailors on this base pampered her and nursed her back to health. They gave her the name “Butts” for her tendency to snack on cigarette butts left around by the nicotine-addicted Marines on their very frequent and unhealthy cigarette breaks. I finally met Butts the first time I was posted guard in Post 1, which was located between the Iraqi Army compound and the main American military compound. She had the mangiest fur I have ever seen on a dog. Post 1 was a bit different from the other posts in such that it was only manned by a single Marine. That night, I volunteered for that post, thinking I will have the chance to practice my Arabic. It was silly, of course. There would not be many chances for me to “practice my Arabic” as I had hoped in the 2100 to 0500 shift that I had. Being alone, it was a struggle to keep awake, but fortunately I had Butts to help me along. She sat next to me or near me the entire time I was on post. I would scratch her behind the ears or rub her tummy. As post companion, she was perfect. She remained vigilant, if not a bit too enthusiastic in her role as guard. She would occassionally cross the wire and harass the Iraqi soldiers by barking at them if they get too close to my post.

We moved in to a new tent since the unit we were relieving just left. I was fortunate enough to have snagged extremely prime cot space. I have two sides of a wall, a mattress on my cot, and it is right next to an air-conditioner in an extremely hot tent. My cot space is equivalent to a penthouse, basically. The better tents were taken by the NCOs and staff NCOs (they have working air-conditioners, TVs, refrigerator). I suppose since they spend most of their times in these tents anyway, better to let them have it.