As the day began, Captain Jorge Melendez and 1st Sgt. William Mitchell quickly spread the vehicles among the berms and along the riverfront. The S.A.W. and two 40-Bravo heavy machine gunners took positions at the end of the bridge, pointing into town. But Charlie Rock has been driving all night through the desert, there's traffic on the horizon, and it's only a few minutes before the men are lying in the sun and "Rock Doc", the medic Track, is filling the air with R&B.
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The day is filled with all the little things that allow soldiers to feel human again. Making cups of coffee mixed with cocoa on illicit propane stoves. Washing and changing socks for the first time since Kuwait. Swapping girlie magazines. Smoking, eating, sleeping. Down on the riverbank, among egrets and kingfishes, I take a swim and a bath, watching a tortoise the size of a dustbin lid push itself lazily down stream. And realize I'm washing by the Rivers of Babylon, a few score miles to the North.
It doesn't take long for the war to interrupt our reverie. At dusk, gunfire erupts from Al Shifaniyah as a Black Hawk flies low overhead. An hour later, Staff Sgt. Scott Fountain snaps open the company radio. "Rock 6, Rock 6. Two men walking across the bridge, something in their hands." Illuminated rounds are sent up, the two men hit the ground and don't move. After watching them for half an hour on his Bradley's thermal scanner, Captain Melendez orders several bursts of rounds over their heads to scare them off. It works. The men slink off down the opposite riverbank. But the Bradley crews know that they will be on watch all night. And a few minutes later, comes the order from Brigade Headquarters that after a sleepless night, Charlie Rock will be moving out further North in the morning, right into the fire zone.
But there's still the night. Laughter and more music are still bouncing out of Rock Doc's Track. First Sgt. Mitchell fires up the laptop in his Track and settles in to watch "Deep Impact," for what must be the 20th time since he deployed in early January. And up above, sprayed across the roof under the 50-caliber machine gun and the stars above, comes the whale wheezes of Private 1st Class Jonah Bishop's snoring. War is 99 percent waiting, and every now and then that's the best thing about it.