Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Take a Ride on the Baghdad...
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Take a Ride on the Baghdad Express

Nancy Sundstrom - May 15th, 2003
In the summer of 1990, writer Joel Turnipseed was adrift and aimless. He was homeless, and had been unceremoniously kicked out of a college philosophy program and dumped by his girlfriend. Being AWOL from his Marine Corps Reserve unit for more than three months and spending day after day hanging out in coffee shops were also on his list of dubious achievements.
Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Turnipseed found himself serving in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the Sixth Motor Transport Battalion of the United States Marine Corps - the legendary “Baghdad Express“ - during the Persian Gulf War. His experiences were documented in a 1997 article he wrote for GQ Magazine, and the response to the story was so overwhelming, that he expanded it into a book that he named in honor of the battalion.
“Baghdad Express“ is a candid war memoir that deftly alternates between being hilariously funny and introspective (think “Catch 22“ or Richard Hooker’s “M*A*S*H“ meets “Catcher in the Rye“). Reading it in the wake of the primary fighting have been completed in Operation Iraqi Freedom gives one insight into both the Gulf War and the 2003 skirmish into which it morphed. It is also a decidedly personal story, one of a young man whose own moral ambiguity was brought into sharp focus by war, and whose inner struggles mirrored the conflict around him.
Turnipseed’s voice is a unique one, and his perspective, honed from equal parts of philosophy and cynicism, is that of a wisecracking misfit. The irony was never lost on him that he was part of the greatest logistical operation in Marine Corps history, as the Baghdad Express hauled truckloads of explosives and ammunition across hundreds of miles of desert. The potential for peace in his surroundings seemed about on par with the potential for peace within himself, and he could not deny the absurdities of the situations he found himself in as he struggled for daily survival.
From the onset, one knows that this is not someone who was cut out to be a soldier. But a writer? There is no question about that. Sample the flavor of this excerpt from the “Getting Lost“ chapter:

“We had to clear Jubayl of all the ammunition so that the pullout could begin; so the ammunition could be surveyed and sold to the Kuwaitis and Saudi Arabians. During the war, we had always driven in convoys. Three or four trucks, depending on how many made it back from Mishab. But when I showed up at the warehouse down at the port this time, they told me to take the lone truck idling outside.
“You‘re going up to ASP-3 by yourself today,“ said Robin, who hadn‘t left the port the entire war. “You need a map?“ I must have driven up there a dozen times. “It‘s right off the Abu Hadriyah, but it‘s easy to miss. I think the guys said the turnoff was marked by some tires and a red flag or a Toyota or something.“
I scrounged around for some load straps, then headed out to the port in my truck. The sun was just rising as I filled up at the fuel farm. The guys at the front gate waved me through without looking at my trip ticket, and I was on the road with another truck full of artillery shells.
I was driving past the on-ramps to the two-laners that went out to the airport and refineries. It was odd to drive alone. The skies were filled with black smoke, 360 degrees on the horizon, dark like oncoming night. With the sun beating down on my truck it felt like I was driving dead center in the middle of the Twilight Zone. I was lost. I had missed the exit to the Abu Hadriyah. The first exit I came to after figuring out I had blown it was a cloverleaf that went nowhere. Fifteen minutes later I came to another exit, and turned right heading north on a freshly paved two-laner. After hitting eighth gear I lit a cigarette, but hadn‘t even flicked the first ash from it when I slammed on the brakes. The road came to an end. Bam. The End. No more road - nothing but a big pile of gravel in the sand. There were tire tracks leading off the end of the road, so I figured it was safe to drive on. I pulled slowly off the highway, then eased into second gear around the construction site. It was muddy, but I made it through -
Until I was stuck.
I didn‘t even know how to back up. When a Filipino driving a water tanker came rolling through the desert behind me, I felt simultaneously relieved and like a moron. He parked his truck behind me, then jumped out of his cab.
“Hey, you stuck?“
“I‘ll push, you drive out, okay?“
I put the truck in gear, then sat on the clutch. When I felt the tanker smash into my trailer, I let out the clutch and gave it hell. I was free. A quarter-mile up the highway I pulled off to the shoulder, waiting for the Filipino to come and give me directions. When I looked back, he‘d disappeared. Vanished. I gazed across the desert: a wide-open sea without a single landmark. How could he disappear? But he did.“

Profane, edgy, funny, sharply observed, inquisitive, and passionate, “Baghdad Express“ takes a familiar premise - war being an insane situation - and juxtaposes it with the technology of the day and its Middle East desert battleground setting. It has an enormous amount in common with Michael Herr’s Vietnam tome “Dispatches,“ but is very much its own work. And even though more than 10 years have passed since the events in the book took place, it doesn’t seem dated in the least. If anything, the slightly amusing sense of deja vu happening all over again (in light of recent events) gives the book a framework now that makes it seem even more relevant. In every regard, “Baghdad Express“ is a journey well worth taking.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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