by Roland Thompson

The first stop on our fact-finding mission was a prison in northern Iraq, eight kilometers from the Iranian border. Under Saddam’s regime the prisoners there were Kurdish and the guards were Sunni. Under the new regime the prisoners were Sunni and the guards were American.

The prison was a castle complete with towers, battlements, crenellations, and murder holes. Surrounding it were fields of wheat. One long road connected it to the rest of the world.

Our helicopter landed adjacent to the prison, on a hill, the top of which had been bulldozed flat and cauterized by tar. I got off behind the admiral and his executive assistant. Our security detachment had already fanned out and taken a knee.

A welcome party stood outside the radius of the decelerating rotor blades, smiling at us. We smiled back as the rotors cast zoetrope shadows upon us.

The warden, formerly the captain of a destroyer, approached us on a crooked line. He shouted greetings, but the helicopter’s vibrations had numbed my ears to his frequency. I could, however, read his lips.

Ahoy! the warden shouted.

“Ahoy!” the admiral returned.

The warden’s jowls trembled as he shook hands with the admiral. Then he led us off the LZ, motioning toward the ashen hulks of one five-ton truck and one Humvee.

Here is where we keep the wrecks, he gestured. Less than a week before our arrival, insurgents had attacked a resupply convoy on its way to the prison. The convoy had been carrying food, ammunition, and mail, most of which was destroyed in the attack. Three American soldiers had died.

News of that attack had been delivered to the admiral’s Pentagon office in a black courier pouch. Inside the pouch were pictures of the aftermath, which showed how the asphalt around the burned vehicles had turned white, and the dead had been incinerated.

The wrecks had been dragged to this spot near the LZ, where they’d gone inert. What must have reeked of burning oil and rubber now smelled no different than the sun on the wheat. The wind whistled through their mangled frames.

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Roland Thompson was born during the Tet offensive. Later he joined the navy, and has since served in various operations. His column, “Nutrition Is a Force Multiplier,” is a partial record of the nutrients he has consumed in support of those operations, and the forces they have exerted upon him. Email Roland at

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