Saturday, July 20, 2013

War Games: The world's counterterrorism forces meet for a friendly shoot'em-up in the desert.


War Games: The world's counterterrorism forces meet for a friendly

shoot'em-up in the desert.


Published: July 19, 2013



The men of Team America were missing an assault rifle. “Everybody pulled a

rifle, right, guys?” Eric asked. A 38-year-old ex-Navy lieutenant, he had

blond hair to his shoulders and a few days’ worth of deployment stubble.

“We’re supposed to have eight,” Brian said. He and Eric worked SWAT

together in Virginia and sometimes hunted together, too.


Brandon, 33, had six 9-millimeter Glock pistols stuffed in his pockets. He

surveyed the room: “Two . . . four . . . six. . . . “


Carey, a sniper, tried to stifle a laugh. “Good thing they don’t have a

counting event.”


It was a spring Saturday at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training

Center (Kasotc) in Jordan. The members of Team America were in their

barracks after a morning at the range, cleaning their guns so the desert

sand wouldn’t jam the actions. Kasotc — it rhymes with aquatic — sits in the

blasted-out canyon of a rock quarry on Yajouz Road about 15 miles north of

Amman. It’s a state-of-the-art counterterrorism-training base, with 6,000

acres ringed by sentry towers and razor wire. The sound of gunfire echoed

off the limestone cliffs, spooking the sheep on nearby bluffs.


Team America were at Kasotc for the fifth-annual Warrior Competition in

which 32 teams from 17 countries and the Palestinian territories would

compete against one another on mock missions. Organizers have referred to it

as “the Olympics of counterterrorism”: over the next four days, the teams

would raid buildings, storm hijacked jets, rescue hostages and shoot targets

with live ammunition, all while being scored for speed and accuracy. It was

a stage-managed showcase for the 21st-century soldier — not the humble G.I.,

but the post-9/11 warrior, the superman in the shadows, keeping the world

safe from murky threats. Bill Patterson, a former U.S. Special Forces

soldier who oversees training at the base, said, “When you’re on that Black

Hawk at 2 in the morning, on your way to target, and the bad guy you’ve been

hunting for months is in that building, and there’s 25 guys with machine

guns and only 6 of you — that’s a thrill you’ll never forget.”


Around 11 a.m., two Boeing Little Bird attack helicopters roared overhead,

sending the base’s resident black tabby scurrying for cover. It was time for

the opening ceremony. As the teams gathered on the parade ground, they sized

one another up. The Swiss team, the Skorpions of the Zürich Stadtpolizei,

looked like off-duty ski instructors in their matching black jackets and

mirrored sunglasses. The Lebanese Black Panthers, the SWAT team for

Lebanon’s Internal Security Force, strutted in black hoodies and combat

boots. The Jordanian special ops team stood straight-backed in their red

berets, quietly confident in their home-field advantage. And the Russians, a

bunch of ex-Spetsnaz and K.G.B. members who now worked for a private

bodyguard service based in London and owned by an Iranian, showed off

Chechen bullet wounds and waved the flag of the Russian Airborne. Its motto:

“Nobody but Us.”


Everyone agreed that the Canadians would be tough. They were from Canada’s

Special Operations Regiment. Recently back from a tour in Afghanistan, they

sported combat beards, intimidating tattoos (Revelation 6:8, “And behold, a

pale horse: and its rider’s name was Death”) and the kind of burly frames

that come from carrying big guns over tall mountains for weeks at a time.

“They look like the dudes from ‘300,’ ” a member of one of four U.S. teams

said. Another said, “They look like werewolf lumberjacks.”


But most eyes were on the Chinese. China had two teams, both from the

Chinese People’s Armed Police Force. The Snow Leopards were the favorite:

formerly the Snow Wolf Commando unit, they were a counterterrorism squad

established ahead of the Beijing Olympics. There was a rumor going around

that they had been to eight more-specialized competitions and never finished

lower than second. (The Chinese maintained this was their first

competition.) They marched to the mess hall in formation and did push-ups

for fun. By comparison, the American teams — three Army and one Marine

Corps, who were at that moment posing for team pictures and smoking cigars —

looked like high-school kids on a field trip.

A Gathering of Warriors in the Desert


Team America, with their anonymous uniforms and nonregulation scruff, were

the competition’s wild cards. The Dutch marines were pretty sure they were

Deltas. The Canadians thought they were SEALs. During the ceremony, a Kasotc

representative accidentally introduced them as “American Special Forces,”

adding to the intrigue.


The truth was, Team America wasn’t actually called Team America. It was a

nickname they chose for themselves, after the movie by the “South Park”

creators — a sendup of patriotism that they knowingly repurposed as actual

patriotism. Their official name was Team I.D.S., for International Defense

Systems — a military supplier that specialized in tactical equipment and

ballistics gear. In keeping with the corporate outsourcing of war, I.D.S.

was a sponsor of the competition. The team was here not to represent the

United States, but to promote the brand.


“Our guys are SEALs, S.R.T.” — special-response teams — “SWAT, ex-Secret

Service,” Sebastian Van Duin, a consultant for I.D.S., said. He was a former

intelligence specialist from the French Foreign Legion, who knew the team’s

leader, Fred, from a job overseas. (What kind of job? They would rather not

say.) A former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, Fred

had chased boats in the Caribbean, drug traffickers through Peru, a sniper

in post-Katrina New Orleans and gunrunners in Iraq. For the Warrior

Competition, he assembled a crew of guys he knew from his time as an S.R.T.

commander in Washington, D.C. Most were ex-military: Brian, 35, had served

in an elite Coast Guard unit, and Carey, 35, was an antiterrorism sniper in

the Marines. Because they still worked in law enforcement, some undercover,

they asked to be identified by their first names. One of them, A., did

sensitive work for the government and asked to be identified only by a

middle initial. Most of the other teams also requested anonymity for their

members for security reasons.


These were self-proclaimed “regular guys” who chewed tobacco, talked camo

patterns and sometimes educated one another in the ways of the world.

(“Dude,” Brandon said one afternoon, “I just saw two Jordanian guys holding

hands! They do that?” “Dude!” A. said. “That’s how you know that’s your

bro!”) In idle moments, they would cast themselves in the kind of action

movies that celebrate the soldiers they want to be: Brandon was Kevin Bacon.

Fred was Bruce Willis. Carey, the “funny, fat guy,” was Jason Statham, “plus

40 pounds.” And A. was Matt Damon — the trained killer.


After some speeches by the Jordanian brass, the teams watched a

demonstration by Jordan’s renowned counterterrorism unit, the 71st. A dozen

commandos in black balaclavas stormed an Airbus A-300, while a dog named

Nero apprehended a bad guy in a bite suit. The finale was a big gun battle

that lasted five minutes and involved about $10,000 worth of live

ammunition; but, for safety reasons, the spectacle unfolded on a shooting

range that no one in the stands could see. It sounded very impressive.


Afterward there was a reception with tea and carrot cake, and the soldiers

mingled with diplomats and military attachés. Over in a corner, Team America

plotted how to smuggle a bottle of whiskey onto the base. “Hey, look,” Eric

said, “they’re giving out free Cokes.” He walked over and stuffed a few in

his pockets, to use as mixers later.


The Kingdom of Jordan is shaped like a holstered gun, which isn’t a bad

metaphor for the country as a whole. A constitutional monarchy with a

well-trained military and a relatively secular population, it is — for now —

one of the most stable countries in a very volatile neighborhood: Syria to

the north, Israel to the west, Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the east.

Jordan’s intelligence agency, the G.I.D., is a close partner of the C.I.A.

in the Arab world, and over the past five years, the United States has given

Jordan more than $3.3 billion in aid and pledged an additional $200 million

to help cope with the refugees who have poured over the Syrian border since



Kasotc was aid of a kind, too. The base was built by a U.S. construction

firm on land donated by the king and paid for by a Defense Department

program that provides weapons and infrastructure to friendly foreign

governments. In the opening-day speech, Frank Toney, a retired U.S.

brigadier general and commander of the Army Special Forces, who now works as

Kasotc’s director, said, “We believe that if your partners are strong, then

you will be strong.”


Training at the base is handled by the Jordanian armed forces and the

ViaGlobal Group, a military contractor based in Annapolis, Md., and the base

is staffed by ex-Army Rangers, Deltas and SEALs. (They don’t like to talk

about it, but they helped teach the actors playing SEALs in the movie “Zero

Dark Thirty.”) A week of training at the for-profit Kasotc can cost up to

$250,000, including lodging, meals and ammunition; the Warrior Competition,

however, was free to any team that could get there. “This is a marketing

tool for Kasotc,” Patterson said. “We’re advertising our capabilities.”


Most countries send their elite teams to the Warrior Competition — the

Malaysian special forces, the French Commandos Parachutistes de l’Air — but

the United States often sends infantry regulars. Several Special Ops

veterans said they wouldn’t risk tipping their capabilities. “Even when we

train guys, you never teach them all the tricks,” one said. “Who knows? We

might be back fighting them in a couple of years.”


There was another U.S. presence at Kasotc, this one more subdued: a couple

hundred Army troops in combat fatigues, who spent their days lifting weights

and smoking cigarettes and trying not to be noticed. They had come to Jordan

to plan for a possible spillover of the Syrian conflict. The troops did most

of their work in an aluminum-sided building with blacked-out windows and

satellite dishes on the roof, separated from the rest of the base by

concrete barriers and barbed wire. An Army M.P. stood guard nearby,

shouting, “Don’t look over the wall!” at anyone who got too close.


One afternoon, on the patio outside the base’s store, two of these American

soldiers sat at a table, drinking Red Bulls and snacking on Doritos. A

Kasotc promotional video was playing on a video screen, and they watched it

with interest. In one scene, a group of trainees practiced evasive maneuvers

on the driving track. In another, they shot their way down a mock city block

while explosions went off around them.


“Dude,” one said, “I want to do that!”


The other nodded glumly. “All this cool stuff, and we can’t do any of it.”

Members of “Team America,” from left: Matthew, Fred, Sebastian

and Brian.

Luca Locatelli for The New York Times


Members of “Team America,” from left: Matthew, Fred, Sebastian and Brian.


The next morning, the Chinese jumped out to an early lead, winning the first

three events. They were well on their way to winning the overall trophy.

Watching them conquer an event called Method of Entry — breaking down three

doors, scaling the side of a building, shooting a series of steel targets

and sprinting back to the start — was simultaneously impressive and

terrifying. Team America, who spent the previous night in their barracks

drinking contraband rum, had trouble getting inside: they wasted five

minutes trying to open the door the wrong way and finished near the middle

of the pack.


At 12:45, the call to prayer sounded over the loudspeaker, and the teams

went off to have lunch. A sign on the mess hall read, “Reminder: no weapons

inside the dining facility.” When the Canadians learned they had placed

second in a shooting event, sandwiched between the two Chinese teams, they

joked that the third-place team was off somewhere getting 30 lashes. (They

were actually doing wind sprints.)


That afternoon, during their downtime, the teams checked out the event’s

vendors. Part of the draw for sponsors at the Warrior Competition is that

they can show off their products to their target audience. The competitors

play soldiers while on break from playing soldiers while on leave from being

soldiers. If someone wanted to shoot a SIG716 rifle or knock a door off its

hinges with a tactical breaching ram, he could do that. If he wanted to fly

a small, unarmed drone that fit inside a suitcase and retailed for $200,000,

he could do that, too. And if he wanted to try his hand at the AA-12 — a

fully automatic 12-gauge shotgun (tag line: “Don’t Fight Fair”) capable of

firing 300 rounds a minute — he could do that, too. Unless he was a member

of the one of the Chinese teams, in which case it would be a violation of

the U.S. State Department’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations.


Brian wanted to try the shotgun. “Let’s go shoot that shotty!” he said. He

squeezed off five rounds and grinned. “That’d be hell on a whitetail.”


That night, everyone loaded onto buses for a team mixer at the

Intercontinental Hotel. “I hope they have karaoke,” Carey said. He turned to

A. in the seat behind him. “How do you say ‘Call Me Maybe’ in Arabic?”


“Ismeh robbama?” A. said. It meant, literally, “My name is Maybe.”


When they arrived, the reception was in full swing. The Malaysians were on

the patio, drinking juice. The Russians were at the bar, definitely not

drinking juice. There was tuna carpaccio and crudités and little ceramic

bowls of gourmet potato chips. Outside, Sgt. Shkendije Demiri and Capt.

Brittney Ray stood chatting in their uniforms. Demiri and Ray, both in the

U.S. Army, are the first two women in the history of the competition. The

Arab teams, in particular, seemed to love them. “They all want to take

photos with us,” Ray said. “It’s like seeing a unicorn.”


Ray was an M.P. and platoon leader who graduated from the Virginia Military

Institute and qualified for one of the Army teams by being a top pistol

shot. She had also trained as a sniper and spent the previous afternoon

teaching several Jordanians how to shoot. Demiri was a reservist who worked

as a firefighter in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She had been in the country a few

months, doing joint training with the Jordanians, and said she had an

enjoyable conversation with the Palestinians. “I’m trying to get them to

bring a woman next year,” she said.


Back inside, Team America was talking hockey with the Russian Spetsnaz

members. A. finished his second glass of red wine and looked across the

room. “I’ll see you later,” he said. “I’m gonna go talk some Arabic with my

Iraqi brothers.”


A. never called his unit by name. They were “the program” or “the

community.” You would not have picked him out of a lineup. About 5-foot-10

and a little thick in the middle, he had a permanent look of pensive

amusement. If you didn’t know better, you would think he was just Fred’s

buddy who tagged along — which, in a way, he was.


A. grew up on the East Coast — “upper-middle-class, white, Mayberry.” He

went to college and got a white-collar job, but after Sept. 11 he was

compelled to enlist. “I didn’t want my grandkids to learn about 9/11 in

history class and come home and say, ‘Hey, Granddad, what did you do when

those savages flew planes into our buildings?’ and be like, ‘Nothing,’ ” he

said. “I wanted to get my jihad on.”


A. served two tours in Iraq. The first was at the time of the surge, and

there was a lot to do. He would go on two or three raids a night, targeting

bomb makers, I.E.D. experts and money men. A. was an assaulter: he and his

teammates would blow open a door with a strip of C4 then cover one another

while they cleared the room. The missions were always capture or kill, he

said. It was a tossup which way it would go. A. enjoyed his first tour in

Iraq. He learned Arabic, fell in love with the people and the food. But by

the second, he grew frustrated. “We used to hit a house like, boom,” he

said. “Get the dude, grab anything that looks important and we’re out.” But

now, he said, there were so many regulations that they couldn’t do their

jobs. Sometimes he couldn’t even use his sledgehammer. “We actually had to

do a soft knock on the door, instead of assaulting it,” he said



A. left his unit when his commitment was up the following year, then spent

some time in Afghanistan as an unarmed contractor before coming home. He

said he didn’t miss it much. Granted, the nighttime raids were “pretty

awesome.” “But you gotta remember,” he said, “your opportunity to do that is

really small. Everyone got spoiled, because we had an unprecedented decade

of two wars.” A. said he had a hard time relating to the average American,

especially armchair patriots who didn’t join the fight when they had the

chance. He said he felt more kinship with the Iraqis. He also drew a

distinction between Special Ops guys who joined up when he did and those who

enlisted during peacetime. “Pre-9/11, there were probably guys who didn’t

even want to go to war — they just wanted to go on cool trips,” he said.

“It’s just a different mind-set when you join up knowing you’re gonna get it



A. was the kind of soldier even soldiers looked up to. Fred called him “the

ghost” and “the invisible man” and their “special friend.” Sometimes A.

played along, telling tales about blood-splattered Iraqi swimming pools and

war-zone pranks that inevitably began, “So there I was. . . .” But more

often than not, he seemed uncomfortable with the attention. “These are just

competition teams,” Brian sniffed one afternoon. “A.'s not a competitor —

he’s a killer.” A. gave a halfhearted smile and looked away.


On the third day, the Warrior Competition staged a pair of night events. A

full moon hung low over the mountains, and the parade ground was illuminated

by spotlights. Team America waited its turn at an event called Hostage

Rescue, outside a big, Abbottabad-like compound in the center of the base.

The objective was to blow a door with an explosive charge, rush inside,

shoot some targets and escape with the hostage; basically what A. had done

in Iraq.


A. was lying in the dirt with his eyes closed, using his helmet as a pillow.

I asked if being here felt surreal — the desert compound, the moonlight, all

the shooting. “Nah,” he said. “This is theater. It’s totally contrived.”

Then he told a story from his time in Iraq. Members of his unit were hunting

one of Saddam’s executioners, and an Iraqi civilian they were working with

offered to help. A. said the Iraqi told him: “I know this guy. Give me a gun

and a car, and I will kill him!” A. said he responded: “Dude, I hear you.

And it sounds like a good idea to me on so many levels. But my government

will put me in jail.”


As the men checked their helmets and body armor and loaded magazines into

their M4s, Fred called them together to outline a battle plan. Moments

later, Eric shouted, “Fire in the hole!” and blew the door. They moved

through the building, clearing each room by firing two rounds into

3-inch-by-5-inch paper targets. From outside, you could track their progress

up to the second floor by the steady pop of rifle fire.


A. grabbed the hostage — a 180-pound dummy — and the team raced back

downstairs. Outside, in the glow of the spotlights, they whooped and

high-fived over their score: zero misses in just over three minutes, the

fastest time so far. Someone joked that they should change their name to the

International Death Squad. Their daring night raid had been a success; all

that was missing was the film crew.


In the van on the way back to the armory, A. struck up a conversation with

the Jordanian driver. It turned out that he had worked with the Americans in

Iraq. A. asked where.


“Ramadi,” he said. “2003 to 2006.”


“Oh, man,” A. said. “You were getting it on! Did you go out with them?”


“Sometimes,” the driver said. He didn’t elaborate, and A. didn’t ask.

The ‘‘urban area’’ at the King Abdullah II Special

Operations Training Center in Jordan.

Luca Locatelli for The New York Times


The ‘‘urban area’’ at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training

Center in Jordan.


For the first few days of the competition, friendships formed along

geopolitical lines. The Americans hung out with the Canadians. The Russians

hung out with the Kazakhs. The French kept to themselves, and the Chinese

really kept to themselves. But as the days went on, people started to loosen

up. The Greeks and the Palestinians played soccer together. The Americans

and the Iraqis talked about Tupac. The Arab teams started rooting for each

other, cheering, “Yalla, yalla!” — Let’s go, let’s go! The Canadians,

inspired, added their own twist: “Yolo! Yolo!” (which is slang for “you only

live once”).


One afternoon, the Swiss Skorpions were basking in the sun, sipping hot

chocolate from a paper cup. “Not bad,” one said. He checked the back of the

packet and smiled. “Nestlé. It’s Swiss.”


A few tables over, Brian swapped his American flag patch for a Canadian one.

“We’re gonna need ‘em when the North Koreans come,” he said. Next to him,

Carey was showing off pictures on his iPad: there he was with his Marine

unit in Nairobi after the 1998 embassy bombing (“We were hunting Bin Laden

before he was Bin Laden”), and there were his three kids dressed up for

Halloween (one as a soldier). “Hey, want to see a picture of me and the

president?” he asked. He swiped to a photo of President Obama and the first

lady at an event in Virginia. “So there’s the president,” he said, then

zoomed in on a tiny black dot standing on a rooftop, “and there’s me!”


Sitting nearby was an officer named Mohammed, who described himself as a

commander in the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force. He was bald underneath his

black beret, and his eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. On his arm

was a patch bearing the unit’s symbol: an eagle perched on a skull. He

joined Saddam’s army as an M.P. when he was 17 and stayed until the second

Iraq war. He enlisted again in 2004, after the regime’s collapse and now was

fighting groups hostile to the Americans and to the new Iraqi government.


The I.C.T.F. is based in Baghdad, where there were more than a dozen

bombings in the previous month alone. A wave of attacks on the 10th

anniversary of the American invasion had left 60 people dead in the week

before the I.C.T.F. team came to Kasotc. “It’s a dangerous job,” Mohammed

said. “But the pay is very good. And what we have faced before is much more

difficult.” He said they wanted to win the competition like everyone else.

But mostly they were here to learn new tactics. “This is not a vacation for

us, like it is for some of the other teams,” he said, gesturing vaguely

toward the Swiss.


Mohammed said he had seen friends die, but he stayed in the army to provide

his wife and children with a good life. He had four children; the oldest, a

boy, was 15. I asked if he hoped his son would join the army someday. “No,”

he said. “I lived the life of a soldier. I know how hard it is.” Instead he

hoped his son would grow up to be a pharmacist or an engineer.


The last morning of the competition dawned cloudy and cool. As a few teams

were finishing up the final event, word began to circulate that King

Abdullah was on his way. Abdullah commanded the Royal Jordanian Special

Forces before he was king, and the military is still close to his heart. A

certified pilot, diver and parachutist, he frequently travels the country in

a helicopter he pilots himself. He often visits his namesake base. “This is

his baby,” Patterson said of Kasotc. “I’m not gonna say he’s just like

George Bush, because some people would be offended — but he’s very proud of

his country, and he loves his men.”


Two camouflaged Black Hawk helicopters circled overhead, followed by the

arrival of the royal motorcade, six black Lexus S.U.V.'s with identical

license plates. The king popped out and shook hands for a few minutes, a

Jordanian TV crew trailing him. He tried his hand at the pistol range and

hit every target.


That afternoon, A. went to say goodbye to the Iraqis. They were staying in a

dorm at the end of a dusty gravel road. Issa, the sniper, greeted him at the

door with a big hug: “Welcome, welcome.” The Iraqis had just finished

showering, and they were in various states of undress: briefs and towels and

shower shoes. The room smelled of sweat and cologne.


Issa sat down on a bunk next to A. and gave him some gifts: an Iraqi Army

watch and a small I.C.T.F. flag. “Thank you,” A. said, bowing. “Shukran.”

Then he opened his backpack and passed out his gifts: a combat knife for

everyone, along with his extra shirts, pants and other gear.


“It’s too much!” Issa told him. “It’s too much, man.”


A. shook his head. “I don’t need it anymore,” he said. “I’d rather see you

have it.”


A. and the Iraqis traded Facebook info and promised to keep in touch. Back

at Team America’s barracks, the guys were playing spades and drinking

screwdrivers. “Where you been?” Carey asked. A. told them, and they said

they wanted to donate their gear, too. Only Brandon seemed unsure: “They’re

not going to use it on Americans, are they?”


A. said these were the good guys. Brandon nodded. “If you’re good with it,

then so am I.”


At 6 p.m. sharp, the teams boarded buses to go to the Four Seasons for the

awards banquet. While they waited, some of the U.S. Army personnel were

pushing tires around the soccer field. “Look at these ding-dongs,” Brian

said. “What are they doing, Jazzercise?”


“Army guys are so weird,” Eric said.


On the way into the city was a slaughterhouse, which was reputed to have

some of the freshest shawarma in town. Just as the bus drove by, one of the

slaughterhouse employees walked over and shot a sheep in the head. “Did you

see that?” Carey asked, his eyes wide.


A. smiled. “That was awesome.”


On stage at the hotel’s grand ballroom, two dozen trophies were laid out:

500 pounds of custom bronze, cast in the shape of Spartan helmets, crests

and all. “Pretty pimp, huh?” Bill Patterson said to Fred.


“Really pimp,” Fred said. First there was an all-you-could-eat buffet, and

then a slide show with a soundtrack by Linkin Park. When the awards started,

the Snow Leopards were the big winners: they had taken first in 5 of the 12

events. They spent almost as much time on the stage as the master of

ceremonies. When Team America finally broke the Chinese winning streak and

collected a trophy for Hostage Rescue, the other teams let out a relieved

cheer: “U-S-A! U-S-A!”


When the Snow Leopards got back up to accept their award as the overall

winners, the room went quiet. Gracious in victory, the Chinese team handed

out gifts: T-shirts and gym shorts stamped with the logo of the People’s

Armed Police Force. In the lobby, Brian checked the tags. “Ha,” he said. "

‘Made in China."’

The Snow Leopard unit of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force

celebrates its win at the awards ceremony.

Luca Locatelli for The New York Times


The Snow Leopard unit of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force celebrates

its win at the awards ceremony.


After the banquet, the Canadians, an Army team and Team America headed

across town for a nightcap. In the taxi, A. tipped $5 on a $5 fare. (“That’s

why they love us,” he said.) There was a bar in the basement of the Grand

Hyatt, called JJs, that was supposedly pretty nice. Inside, everyone had to

pass through a metal detector — the legacy of a 2005 suicide bombing in

which a terrorist under the direction of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi blew himself

up in the Hyatt’s lobby, part of a synchronized assault on three Amman

hotels that killed 57 people.


Rounds were bought, stories were swapped. As the party wound down, one of

the Army men came up to A. He was 38, a major; he had never seen combat. The

front of his blue shirt was dark and wet where someone had spilled a whiskey

and Coke. The major asked A. which branch he was in, and A. said had been in

the Navy. They chatted for a few minutes about the week, about the

competition. The major said he had the time of his life. “I gotta tell you,”

he said. “I’ve been in the Army for 14 years, and I think this may be the

highlight of my career.”


If A. had any thoughts about armchair warriors or guys who just wanted to go

to cool places, he kept them to himself. Instead, he raised his glass of

Amstel and smiled. “That’s awesome, man.”



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