Sunday, April 01, 2007

Report from Baghdad: MREs, swift-boating & Kevlar

I had planned to finally catch up on my sleep last night. That didn’t happen. So after staring at my eyelids for about four hours with no luck, I finally gave up trying, turned on my flashlight and read murder mysteries until it was time for breakfast -- which reminds me of food.

“Have you tried one of these MREs yet?” I asked my bunkmate. MRE is short for “Meal Ready-to-Eat, Individual”. They come in thick plastic packages the color of chocolate pudding and are around eight inches long, four inches wide and three inches deep. I was considering eating Menu No. 6 – the chicken fajitas.

“Actually,” replied the bunkmate, “some of them aren’t all that bad. I like Menu No. 8 – the hamburger patties. They smell like dog food at first but are really quite good. But avoid the Thai chicken and the Country Captain chicken. Ghastly. Really bad.” Okay.

There was a pile of MREs stacked next to the wall in the transit room, offering all kinds of varieties to choose from. I was thinking they would be just boring new versions of C-rations but no. You had a choice of jambalaya, chicken tetrazzini, beef ravioli, grilled beef steak with mushrooms, beef enchiladas, vegetarian pasta penne, cheese and veggie omelets, pork ribs and sausage with beans and rice.

And apparently they come with their own flameless heating units and powdered grape juice and a cookie. Cookies are good.

I was supposed to be interviewed by CNN today. We had a time all set up and everything. I was totally excited! I was gonna wave to all my friends and everything! But just three hours before I was supposed to go on, CNN called up and canceled. I was really disappointed. I felt like the proverbial nerdy girl in high school who had been asked to the prom by the popular guy only to get stood up at the last minute. No corsage for me.

“Why did they do that?” I asked one of the reporters here.

“Because of what Michael Ware said at the McCain press conference yesterday.”

“But Ware didn’t SAY anything.”

“Yes, but McCain apparently thinks that Ware snickered when McCain stated that he had been safe on the streets of Baghdad.” Huh? I had been at that press conference myself. I didn’t hear Michael Ware snicker. I heard EVERYONE snicker. You can’t hardly even walk safely around the Green Zone right now let alone walk around Baghdad. Even McCain did his stroll wearing body armor and escorted by Humvees and troops. What’s the big deal?

“The big deal is that Michael Ware was trashed by the right-wingers. He got swift-boated. He got Howard-Deaned. And now it looks like CNN is refusing to go up against the swift-boaters and is backing down – and that includes not having you on their show, especially since you were the one who had actually asked McCain a question.” So I lose my 15 minutes of fame because Ware got swift-boated and CNN got scared? That’s so unfair! And I was all set to warn a worried nation about the Kevlar crisis too!

So that is the reason, America, that you are going to read about the Kevlar crisis here first instead of seeing it on CNN.

Everyone wears Kevlar over here. I've borrowed some from the Army supply depot until I get a chance to order some of my own off of eBay. Does eBay ship to Baghdad? Do UPS trucks deliver stuff to the Green Zone? I’m about to find out.

"Kevlar" originally was a brand name for bullet-proof vest material but now it is used as a generic term for any kind of protective helmet and body armor. Currently, the military body armor used here is camouflage-colored and comes with pockets which contain porcelain plates that shatter if a bullet hits you. A “Kevlar” vest-and-helmet matching set weighs approximately 40 pounds and makes you look like the Pillsbury dough-boy.

I have a plan about Kevlar – which I was going to reveal to a grateful world over CNN (before I got swift-boated that is). Here’s my plan: American taxpayers now spend hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars for missile systems that are obsolete even before they hit the drawing board. In a time of asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare, Cold War technology like that is pretty much a waste. So why not take some of the war-profiteering “pork fat” (you never hear Bush complaining about that!) and use it to develop some freaking body armor that weighs less than two hard-drives and a DVD player combined? If we can finally develop body armor that only weighs ten or 15 pounds and doesn’t get in the way, modern warfare as we know it will finally be brought up to date.

I asked a bunch of troops about this idea and they liked it. “After a few months you get used to packing Kevlar," they said. "Then it’s not so bad. It’s sort of like pumping iron all day long. It keeps you in shape.”

“Yes, but what if it wasn’t so cumbersome and weighed 70% less?”

“Oh yeah!”

So. Let’s do this, America. Let's develop light-weight Kevlar. Do it for the troops. Do it for ME!

PS: I finally got outside of the Army press office tonight. Some reporters took me for a brief tour of the Green Zone, which apparently is built over what used to be the Capitol area of Baghdad. It probably used to look pretty much like Washington DC -- with wide avenues, statues and monuments, museums and government buildings. We watched a beautiful orange-colored full moon rise over the Ministry of Interior. The air was clean and clear and warm, with a hint of a cool breeze. And off in the distance we could hear a car bomb explode.