When our replacements arrived to spearhead OIF III, our medical unit in Kirkuk decided to hold a clinic-to-ramp mortuary affairs practice. I’m sure, in the TOC, it sounded like a very prudent idea. My NCO came over and told me I was volunteering for something. Having been on call in the lab the night before, I was exhausted, and the only thing I cared about was the fact that he said I could take a nap during the detail. I was immediately suspicious, but the promise of a nap, even in the middle of the duty day and even in full rattle, outweighed my concerns. I was to report to the LT, who told me to don my ABE and Kevlar with all my magazines and lie down on the litter in the expectant area. I had just tilted my K-pot to cover my eyes and began my little desert siesta when a flock of medics, new troops and seasoned vets, crowded to the area. My doc, a Major, began the lesson by demonstrating how to pronounce death in the sanctioned Army fashion (which, oddly, included very few acronyms).
He found my ID tags and began filling out the necessary paperwork. It had my actual information written on it. That completed, I was hoisted and loaded into the FLA feet first (after 15 years in the civilian EMS world, that was more significant than almost anything else that happened that day). The medics checked me and removed all my UXO, and decided I was Episcopal (I’m not, but it was probably because the battalion chaplain was both Episcopal and present). She got about 6 words into the Last Rites, and I sat up. “Chaplain,” I said, “We’re training. Can’t you just say blahblahblah, amen? Seriously.” She laughed (I didn’t) and said, with all the solemnity she could muster, “Blah, blah, blah, amen.”
I rode with a medic to the Guest House, which was (conveniently) across the street from the Chapel, and was transferred to an odd sort of table with deep channels running down either side. My ‘ick’ factor was kicking into overdrive. This is the part where the MA enlisted got to train. They very carefully and precisely logged all my pocket contents (6 LifeSavers candies, colored 2 red, 3 pineapple, and 1 green- I’m not kidding) and put everything into a ziploc baggie at my feet. Then one E-2 started filling out the toe tag. Because he used the paperwork that accompanied me, and because my Major had used my dogtags to fill it out, the toe tag had my info on it. I shut my eyes to pray or something, anything to warn off the WAY bad juju, when the crack-head tied it to my boot and walked away. I LOST IT. I started screaming for the E-6 in charge, and when he arrived I grabbed him by his lapels and told him he’d better get that f-ing tag off my f-ing boot, and other choice words that I fortunately didn’t get in trouble for. I had just begun to calm down again when I heard the transfer case opening up behind my head. I leapt off the ‘yucky table,’ swore at everyone, yelled “train like you fight, my ASS,” practically flew out of the Guest House, and smoked an entire pack of local cigarettes (NOT the smooth American kind) in about 20 minutes, all while hysterical and barely coherent. I didn’t speak to anyone for days. I don’t know whose idea that was, but I was only 3 weeks from going home. With all of that bad juju floating around, I never wanted to leave the heavily-reinforced clinic. I was braced for something to call in that jinx all the way to Kuwait.