Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Gotta Smoke?

March 6th, 2007 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

The smuggling tip came in through the usual network of low paid informants and lowlife that exists in every society. But in Iraq, having thousands of years graft and greed built into its culture, there seems to be more of it. In this particular case, a certain Iraqi high-ranking Shia military General Officer who has pictures of Muqtada al-Sadr proudly displayed on his office wall is part of problem there. He makes a lot of money on captured black market goods that come into Iraq and then find their way to the back streets of Baghdad.

In this case, part due to good intel, and part damn good luck, a Marine Cobra flight, coming back off a sector patrol, spotted a heavily loaded truck in the middle of the desert with a tent set up next to it. The Marines circled the site, and reported back to the TAC (Tactical Air Command), who in turn dispatched three battle-hardened Humvees and crews to check out this suspicious group sitting all by themselves and hidden amongst some dunes.

When the team arrived, they formed a tactical wedge on the high ground overlooking the Iraqis below. With two Humvees and their crews providing security, the young, newly promoted Captain who was on his second tour, approached the MAMS (military-age male suspects, AKA bad guys) in the third Humvee.

The MAMS came out of their tent slowly with all the firepower pointed down at them. “Hank,” the Iraqi translator, started firing off questions that went along these lines,
“What are you doing here?”
“What is your cargo?”
“Not your truck?”
“Whose is it?”
“If not your truck, then what are you doing way out here?”
“Who dropped you off?”

You can see where this is going. They were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and not a damn thing they can do about it. Their story finally emerged. They didn’t know what was in the back of the truck; the drivers took off to meet some other guys, and they were just the strong back, weak-minded labor that would do anything for a buck.
The young Captain inspected the back of the truck and found it was loaded with boxes of Camels, Marlboro Lights, Newports, and, of all things, Luck Strike cigarettes. There must have been over 1.5 million smokes in the back of this truck. The Captain knew these bastards were lying about owning all this black market stuff so he called his guys down from their offensive positions overlooking the area. He turned to “Hank” and said, “Ask them if they care what we do with this load of illegal black-market stuff?” Hank asked, and of course, the answer was, “Oh no, we don’t care at all what you do with the cigarettes since they don’t belong to us.” (Oh yeah, as if they didn’t know what was there.)

The Captain turned to his men, “Ok, you smokers, grab a carton of smokes and, then I want them all dumped off the back of this truck into a big pile over there.” Pointing to the other side of the truck, all this downwind from the tent.

“Jonesey” The radio operator turned to face the Captain. “You don’t even smoke, where are you going?” Jonesey just smiled and replied “Sir, I don’t smoke when I have to pay for them, but free, hell I can’t pass that up. I’ll grab you some Sir, don’t worry.” The Captain shook his head and then turned to watch the three Iraqis as his men made a huge pile of boxes. He then slowly opened a pack of Marlboro Lights and put one in his mouth. Reaching into his left sleeve pocket, he retrieved a gas-operated cigar lighter that John, one of his supporters from the Metropolitan Society (A very private cigar club in Jersey), sent him. He then lit the cigarette in his mouth. Reaching down, he picked up one of the empty boxes, and torched the end in seconds with the intense heat this beast produced. Placing this box on the edge of the pile, it didn’t take long before a raging inferno engulfed the pyre of smokes. It reminded him of the bon fire they used to have down at his old College of Texas A & M.

When the fire consumed all the smokes, he loaded his men and gear into their Humvees and headed back to base. That night, an Iraqi Major showed up with his men to collect the cigarettes on behalf of the General waiting in his Black SUV. He caught up with the Marine who was taking a break outside the Command Post with his First Sergeant. Smiling broadly, he said, “Captain, I have heard that you found a large shipment of illegal black-market goods. I have come to collect it from you.”

The Captain pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights, slowly lighting one as he looked him in the eye and replied, “I’m sorry, Sir, but there was just too much of it to bring back so we burned it in place.” The stuttering and foul language could be heard in the bunker next door as the Iraqi realized this Marine had destroyed his Boss’s tidy profit for that month. He left in a huff, and the First Sergeant turned to his Officer with a gleam of pride said, “Sir, you have some big brass balls because you know you’re going to catch some crap from the Colonel for this, but I like it!!

The Captain just shook his head, took a draw on his cigarette, and calmly replied, “All in the days work. Life is tough, tougher when you’re an Iraqi on the take. Besides, what are they going to do, shave my head and send me to Iraq??.”