After Action Classic: Independence Day 2004

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Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, "Big Red One," go against the Iraqi police at a July 4, 2004, volleyball game in Bayji, Iraq.

Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, "Big Red One," go against the Iraqi police at a July 4, 2004, volleyball game in Bayji, Iraq. (Photo by Gina Cavallaro)

A little blast from the past here — FOB Summerall in Bayji, Iraq on July 4, 2004. It was hot as hell. The wind was blowing, but it didn’t cool anyone down because it was hot wind filled with sand, which later stuck to all the food at the barbecue.

The devilish weather didn’t keep the scheduled sports activities from taking place, though. For a while, I watched the Iraqi police with their high-waisted athletic pants and knee socks play enthusiastically against soldiers from 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, the boys and girls from the Big Red One.

But the sun was baking my head so I stepped into the nearest shelter and saw two soldiers smoking cigarettes while quietly playing chess with a handmade set.

The pieces were made of all the little tools of the mechanics’ trade like castle nuts, hex bolts and spacers and the board was a piece of plywood edged in duct tape, marked off with a Sharpie and stained into little chess board squares (see pictures).

Soldiers with 1-7 Field Artillery play a quiet game of chess on Independence Day at FOB Summerall, Bayji, Iraq, 2004. (Photo by Gina Cavallaro)

Soldiers with 1-7 Field Artillery play a quiet game of chess on Independence Day at FOB Summerall, Bayji, Iraq, 2004. (Photo by Gina Cavallaro)

Check out the chess pieces

Check out the chess pieces

The Iraqis easily beat the Americans in soccer, but I didn’t take any pictures of that rout.

That night I found myself at FOB Danger in Tikrit where a song co-written and being performed by an Iraqi poet and the 1st Infantry Division chaplain was interrupted by the cracking sounds of a firefight on the other side of the wall. Some people turned around to look, pretty much unconcerned, and the little concert kept going.

A fireworks¬† display on a bluff over looking the Tigris River was beautiful and patriotic, at least for the American GIs, but, safety standards for such activities apparently being more lax in a war zone, didn’t keep a tree from catching fire and causing a giant ball of flames. I wondered if the Iraqis in surrounding towns thought it was just another battle.

On the way out to an idling Humvee that would take me back to my hooch up the road at Summerall, I overheard the division commander and one of his brigade commanders making a joke about “a burning bush on the Tigris.”

A fun-filled day of sports and fire.

And that’s a wrap.

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