To The Front
To the memory of the soldiers who fell before my eyes in The First Persian Gulf WarWe had already spent a week at the headquarters when we were assigned to different regiments and battalions. Some of us were to go to Sumar the same day; but most of us were quota of the battalions stationed in the south. A few men who had health problems were sent back to the garrison to serve. A very influential man, who was a graduate from an English university and his brother was an important person at Tehran radio-television station, was kept at the headquarters. Morteza was sent to the Military Police unit stationed somewhere between the warfronts and Karkheh Bridge. Daee Niakkee, Khavarzameenee, and I were the quota of the same battalion stationed in the south.
After a few days of drizzling the sky was blue and the sun of the south was shining brightly. The January air of Khuzestan was clean and delightful; a loud Azan was being broadcasted on the speakers of the mosque, calling believers to afternoon prayer. Moments of separation were moments of excitement and swift heart beating. Such a gathering of all thirteen of us under the same roof was out of the question. We kissed farewell with those who were to serve in different units and all three of us joined a first lieutenant named Jahanpour and drove westward on a paved road that had been named Montazeri Road after Khomeini’s would-be successor.
From the beginning of our trip we questioned Jahanpour about everything. Daee was still trying to find an escape and Khavarzameenee was quiet as usual. As an experienced officer, Jahanpour was giving vague responses to our mostly shallow questions without making any commitment or promise. Sometimes, he would respond: "you will see very soon"; sometimes he would reply: "I am not the battalion commander; he will tell you himself."
In the middle of the way Jahanpour left us by a few bunkers to do some bureaucratic works and we were registered with our battalion. The whole process took a few hours. It was evening when we resumed our westward trip in a truck carrying food for the battalion on an asphalted road. The asphalt ended when we reached a narrow valley. We passed through some rocky peaks named Moshtagh, none of them higher than a thousand meters. As we left the valley for the first time in my life I saw sand dunes that were making some hills in the right-hand side of the road. To stabilize the hills, the military had sprayed tar on them. Otherwise, they would have moved to the road and would have halted the traffic. The driver let us know that the road led to the Town of Bostan on the most western part of the border.
"In the beginning of the war Iraqi occupation forces captured and raped forty girls from the town’s teachers college,” the driver went on, “After keeping them for many sexual assaults and impregnation they massacred them. They are buried in a mass grave which we call the Martyr Sisters Grave."(18)
Turning to our right onto a bumpy graveled-road that violently shook the truck, we drove a few kilometers until we reached the gate of the battalion headquarters where a guard dropped a rope made with telephone wire and saluted us as we passed through. We passed a few bunkers made with sandbags and went toward three tamarisk trees at the western side of the headquarters and found the battalion’s commanding bunker built on the surface by the trees. The driver stopped and we disembarked.
A short bald captain with three full stars on his shoulders in loose military khaki blouse and pants was sitting on a coarse bench in the setting sun reading a thick book. Sighting us, the captain shut his book, stood up, and walked towards us with a big smile on his face as we saluted him.
"I-I-I-I am Captain Haghee," he stammered, reaching out his hand, "If I am not mistaken, you are our new conscript lieutenants! Gentlemen, you are very welcome to this battalion. Go in, please. I have a few letters to sign and will join you in a minute. Besides, a colleague of yours is in the bunker. He's been here in the past few days."
I had expected to face a nervous man ruined by the brutality of war; a shell-shocked man; but Haghee was very clean, calm, polite, and smiling.
A track paved with artillery shells led to a door loosely made with ammunition boxes boards. We took the track and passed an entrance to our left that was the bunker kitchen and entered the door that was facing the track. We untied our boots outside and before entering I heard Haghee.
"Have they taken me for a fool?"
He yelled at the secretary who had taken some letters to him to sign.
"Yes, I am a fool; but not so much as they have thought," Haghee continued.
His angry words were in contrast with his earlier calm and polite approach. I had never heard a high-ranking officer to say such things about himself before a soldier. For me high-ranking officers stood above those words and should not have put themselves down like that.
"Your surmise that everybody at the front is shell-shocked is correct," I reminded myself, "He is a nervous man. How are you going to deal with such a commander? A mad person in commanding position is the last thing you need. Prepare for big headaches."
As we stepped in, some board made screeching sound under our feet indicating that the floor had been covered with empty ammunition boxes to keep off the humidity. A soldier welcomed us to the bunker. At the same time we were happy to see the conscript lieutenant whose name I have forgotten and I call him Taghee. During our training in Tehran Taghee used to be in my company and sometimes I used to call him “my fellow-citizen: Hamshahree” as he was coming from my Province of Khorassan. Upon distribution for advanced training, Taghee who was an electronic engineer was sent to a communications unit somewhere in Tehran while we had been dispatched to Shiraz. Taghee had reached the battalion headquarters a few days ahead of us. We shook hands and laughed at the small world that had made us tolerate one another once again in the same unit; though as the person in charge of the battalion communications, Taghee would have stayed as far from the front lines as the battalion headquarters.
While Khavarzameenee and Daee Niakee were talking to Taghee, I put my bag in a corner and left the bunker to see my surroundings better. In the darkening evening the plain was bleak and eerily silent except for the movements of some soldiers who were going somewhere. Some desert rats were still moving in and out of the tunnels they had dug around the bunkers in search of food. Some black birds with yellow beaks among many sparrows were picking their last seeds of the day as some were noisily perching on bushes. Smell of fresh air had permeated the area. Big and small dunes had encompassed the headquarters from west and south. The highest height in the region was, still, the Moshtagh to the southeast of the headquarters. Several scattered bunkers held about eighty men for defending the headquarters and making the reserve forces to support the front line in cases of emergency. There was no sign of Iraqi forces that I thought should have been somewhere nearby. Our own front line was not in sight either. Where was the front line? I only asked myself, afraid to put the question to anyone lest I displayed my fear and impatience. With these concerns in mind I returned to the bunker.
A few minutes after my return an electricity generator was turned on, electric lamps came on, and Haghee welcomed us again. Shortly, he begged our pardon and left the bunker to wash his hands and face for the evening prayer. This made me evaluate the man as a fanatic pro-government Moslem. A nervous club-wielding commander could be a problem for non-praying subordinates like me.
“Damned it!” I growled searching for religious excuses to escape the prayer, “Even at the front lines mandatory prayer is not going to leave me alone."
Minutes later Haghee had arrived and had begun praying that did not last too long. At the conclusion, unexpectedly, he said nothing to us about praying. Question was still with me. Was praying compulsory at the front lines or not? I wanted to be clear and as soon as Jahanpour joined us I asked Haghee if compulsory prayer was being held in the battlefield, too.
"No.” Haghee responded clearly with a smile that showed his pleasure after praying, “Right in this bunker Lieutenant Jahanpour doesn't pray; but I pray; and I love to pray. Your praying or not praying has nothing to do with me. What I expect from you is that your military tasks are done properly and meticulously."
His answer relieved me; but Haghee did not let us go.
"Well, gentlemen;” he redirected the course of the conversation with another smile, “Now you are in the Chazzabeh Strait."
The name made my hair stand up. This was the name I had heard from the media hundreds of times. Even in Friday Prayers Rafsanjani had mentioned the name while he was referring to Iranian troops’ fighting and sacrifice. Those speeches always used to be broadcasted on the government radio and television. Most importantly, this very place was the scene of my friend’s bitter experience. I took for granted that a fate similar to Hassan’s was going to be mine right in the place that he had received a bullet in his chest. I took a furtive look at the grey-haired man: Kahvarzameenee, who was listening attentively without blinking.
"Now it is the matter of nineteen months in Chazzabeh Strait."
I told myself, in my imagination bridging the distance between Hassan’s experience and Khavarzameenee’s prediction in the bus.
"This strait ends to the marshes of Hoor-ol Hoveizeh in the south and some sand dunes to the north," Haghee went on interrupting my thoughts, "These two areas bind a narrow but fatally important terrain because one side is marshland where tanks cannot penetrate and another side is covered by dune where armored vehicles cannot move in. As a result, the narrow area is the only path that tanks can move to our territories or to that of the Iraqis and that is the reason it has been called a strait. This terrain has been exchanged several times so far. Two sandy hills constitute the strategically key positions in the whole area. Fortunately, they are in our hand at the moment and one is being defended by a brave conscript lieutenant like yourselves."
Haghee stressed on the word “brave” with a smile as I took it as sarcasm. A strategically important hill to be defended by a conscript lieutenant could mean the most difficult tasks were levied on disposable conscript lieutenants. We were not employees of the army and there were plenty of us at the army’s disposal to waste as many as it desired.
"This is my lesson for tonight,” Haghee concluded, “ Jahanpour; show the area to these gentlemen."
Jahanpour unveiled a big yellowish greenish chart hanging from the ceiling and pointed at some points that I did not understand anything of. Thus, the night dragged on until nine when we ate a very bad-tasting supper filled with sheep bones and fat. What was served in the army headquarters was not served here. We had heard the cooks who prepared the food for the headquarters had been trained in Israel at the time of the Shah and their expertise was dedicated to the brass only. Certainly, inexperienced soldiers had prepared the food that we had just finished. This much difference in the army that was supposed to eliminate discrimination against the lower ranks was alarming. I believed if soldiers had eaten the food at the army headquarters and compared it to the food in the battalion, they would have lost every motive to fight for a discriminating system.
At around nine Haghee called his commanders in the front line receiving some reports and giving some orders. Half an hour later the generator was turned off and in absolute darkness we went to our beds of three blankets on boards: one blanket to go under, the other to go on top, and the third to serve as pillow.
Within minutes I fell asleep anxious and fearful. I did not know how long I had slept that the telephone rang aloud, making me jump. Haghee started to talk to some one somewhere at the front line and as he was still talking I fell asleep again. Suddenly, a deafening explosion made me jump again. For the first time I was hearing a bang so loud and so close in the middle of the night that made me sweat with fear. Without moving I thought an Iraqi shell had aimed at the bunker, but Haghee’s words indicated a nearby Iranian cannon had just launched a shell on the Iraqi positions. Before I fell back to sleep I heard Haghee asking someone to look for identity plates in the nearby dune.
The next day after a breakfast of white cheese, jam, and bread, Haghee taught us his second lesson.
"You know; fighting is, in fact, playing with flames,” he said, “Willingly or unwillingly we play with fire now. You should remember the peril of being burnt is always there. It's my policy to keep every newcomer in the headquarters for a few days to get him used to both heat and the blaze."
He implied that there was no room for us at that headquarters. I decided, fear as a precaution against hazard was wisdom; but now I was in the heart of the fire and fearing was meaningless. Mowlavee: Rumi, came to my assistance again:
All our fear was because of the pending catastrophe
Now what are we to fear that we are in the very heart of the catastrophe?
I repeated this few times and remembered as long as I was stranded in the heart of calamities in the war fronts.
"By the way,” Haghee called our attentions, “Last night Lieutenant Ghezzee, the acting-commander of one of our companies, has found two corpses. On your visit to his company see the bodies as well."
Hearing this made me sick. I stopped eating and Daee renewed his request to be kept in the headquarters as the officer in charge of personnel “morale and welfare: Rooheeyyeh Va Refah” under my heavy gaze.
“What are you insinuating Daee?” asked Haghee with a sly smile.
“This is not insinuation,” Daee would respond, “There is a position in the battalion called the officer in charge of the personnel’s morale and welfare. I want to become that officer. I promise I will buy gums, biscuits, candies, and everything your personnel need to lift their spirits. I keep them amused with my jokes.”
Haghee looked at the young man and then moved his gaze to us.
“There is not such a position in the battalion,” he went on, “Who has told you about such a position?” Haghee asked with laughter.
“It was in our training books,” Daee responded.
"If you know how to sing a lullaby,” Haghee said in stinging tone, “why don't you fall asleep yourself? Forget what you have read between those covers. There is not much welfare in the war fronts to require an officer with the rank of second lieutenant specially of the conscript kind to command it."
This was a harsh response and Daee never renewed his request.
After breakfast Haghee sent us to the front line in his commanding jeep. The area was so quiet that I construed we must have been very far from the front; however, within a dozen of minutes we found ourselves in Assadi's company where we met Ghezzee acting for Assadi who was on leave. Ghezzee accompanied us to observe his defense line.
From the first observation post we took a quick look at the area under the Iraqi control. There was no movement there. We looked through binoculars and saw a few short dune hills with some trenches that looked like observation posts. Then, we moved to another position and toiled the sand up the Martyrs Hill: one of the two key positions. With about one hundred meters of height, the hill gave an excellent observation on the other side and so ferocious battles had been fought on it and had changed hands many times, every time taking many casualties and hence came the title of Martyrs Hill. Again we looked at the Iraqi side with powerful artillery field glasses and found no moving soul and no other important landmark except a far shadow of the Town of Bostan located in the extreme corner of the southwest of the area looking like a large dark spot of trees.
Descending the hill, we met the conscript lieutenant whose long beard and hair seemed rather strange in the army, but showed his firm belief as well as practical commitment to Islam. Maybe, the war was holy for him as it was for the Bassijis and because of that he had shown the bravery that once Haghee had hinted at. Perhaps, that was the reason he was serving in the front line for a long time. That day was the last time we saw that man. Apparently, he had served long enough in the war fronts to be sent back to the garrison to spend the rest of his military service. After the introductory handshakes, the lieutenant directed us to the corpses a few hundred paces to the east of the Martyrs Hill.
Nobody could say how many men had been chopped to pieces in that spot; but one thing was clear: more than one person had died there. No identity plate had been found. Pieces of bones, military boots, a crooked helmet, a small piece of human skull, and Iranian special-forces pants and a blouse faded in the sun, were crammed in a small area. These fragments had been hurriedly buried in the dune in one of many skirmishes and as the sand had been blown away by seasonal wind they had been exposed to the soldiers who defended the area.
This scene of human butchery revived Hassan’s story again, especially the road that led to the front was very close to the killing scene. Was this road the very spot that Hassan had exploded the ammunitions trucks? Was this spot where his fellow soldiers had protected him against advancing Iraqi troops? Perhaps, he had fought and been wounded in the very spot we had put foot. Maybe, these bones belonged to his fallen colleagues whose bodies nobody had the chance to vacate and thus had decayed among the dunes and had moved from west to east and east to west. Perhaps, they belonged to the Bassijis who had shot him and later had fallen to others’ bullets. They were victims of what bullet, what bomb? I looked around to find a sign of my friend’s “warm blood on the cold dune” of Chazzabeh. It was nowhere to be found. His blood and how many others’ had been devoured by the very sands on which I was standing? When was it going to be saturated? My share of this land and Hassan’s story was a grief deep within my chest. An insane feeling was impelling me to look for a long-shed warm blood in the cold dune. Should I have told my companions about Hassan’s experience and relieved my soul from that grief? My feelings were so precious that I did not them to leave me; I did not want to share them with anyone. I wanted them to remain part of me and to stay with me like my own grief-stricken soul in my own body.
We left the third lieutenant Ghezzee for the next company where a bronze-skinned bearded young third lieutenant received us in a serious manner:
"I am Lieutenant Neekvarz,” he introduced himself, “Our commander, Lieutenant Zeerakee, is on leave at the moment and I am the commander in field of this company. There is one long dune hill with two jutted hillocks and its surroundings that we are defending in the time being. We have an artillery observation post on one of the hillocks and a 120mm mortar observation post on the other. In general, the area is well defended by heavy weapons and infantry forces of my company."
Neekvarz put on his rubber boots without showing happiness at receiving us and led us up the hill on the western flank of his defense line to the mortar observation post. We looked around through the field glasses as Neekvarz was insisting we had to cut short our observation because enemy was aware of that position and could launch their mortar or tank shells on us. We did not see any movement in the vast stretch of land that was spread westward and scurried down the soft sand of the hill after Neekvarz to the bottom of the hill where a few soldiers were around a water-well washing their clothes and welcoming us with “Slam”. We exchanged a few words with the soldiers while Neekvarz told them to disperse in case the enemy shelled the place.
We left Neekvarz and drove to the northernmost company whose commander was a second lieutenant whose name I have forgotten and I call him Mahdi. He was the only commander in the forefront that day. The area he defended was basically a flat land with a few short dune knolls scattered around the defense line. Here, almost nothing was said about the enemy. We ate lunch with Mahdi and at about three o’clock in the afternoon started to drive back to the battalion headquarters. All along the way I thought about the calm that ruled the two front lines and the fact that according to military rules none of the lieutenants was to command a company. Regulations said they were to command a platoon instead of a company. To command a company, an officer with the rank of major or captain was required: someone with Haghee’s rank and above. We had not seen Iraqi forces and had not heard any explosion. Soldiers were doing ordinary works with no combat engagement. I thought what I had heard about everyday engagement in combat zones had been greatly exaggerated. Another thought was telling me the flame that Haghee had warned us against did not burn so ferociously as to dishearten me.
The jeep stopped before the battalion commander’s bunker and we disembarked. Haghees was sitting on his bench in the afternoon sun in his sandals without hat and with his book I Am Teimoor The Conqueror awaiting our arrival with his normal smile. We saluted him and shook hands as he invited all three of us to sit beside him on the same bench.
"You look pale," he addressed me before I sat down.
None of my companions had told me I looked pale. Perhaps, they were too busy with their internal strife to notice the color on my face and I was taken by surprise. To show that human remains had no effect on me, I denied I had turned pale without having seen my face in a mirror.
"Yes, perhaps you are right," Haghee said with a bigger smile, "Facing disintegrated human bodies in the first days of being in the battlefront has a profound impact on you too, like anybody else. Well, well, you will get used to it. It is everyday life here. You will see many of them. As I said, fire-play always has the risk of burning you."
At this point Haghee changed the course of his speech.
"Our battalion is quite new,” he said, “I am new in the war field too. I used to serve in a garrison and so I don't know much about combat strategies and tactics in practice, but when I was ordered to go to the front line I took my soldier’s bag and came.
Hard days of this battalion had passed before I came. Captain Jalalee, the commander of the battalion, has gone through all the hardships and has suffered a lot. In the beginning our situation was terrible. There were few basic facilities at our disposal. In this Moshtagh Valley that soldiers call Meeshdagh in the scorching days of August of Khuzestan we had no vehicle to carry food and water for our personnel. Even a soldier died of thirst. “Al-hamd-o Le-llah: Praise is for Allah only”, now we have plenty; however it is not enough yet. For the time being we are not in the position of being an offensive battalion; and so we defend only until we grow stronger. We are not going to be sent to Sumar for operations and we are lucky and grateful for that."
His last sentence relieved me from the dread that was haunting us since we were at the headquarters of the army. We would have a chance to experience war in more quiet circumstances to be better prepared for future operations. How quiet the circumstances would have been and how much experience we would have gained all depended on the events of the future. Until then we had a space to breathe; perhaps a peace deal would be reached. We were better off not to worry about what was far and unknown.
At nightfall we were in the bunker. Haghee had already prayed and was talking to us about variety of subjects from his military experiences and family life to his studies and interests. Especially, he talked about Teimoor's conquests in Iran and the ensuing massive destruction of the country. Those conquests did not last long; however the memory of the minarets that Teimoor built with the heads of his victims in Iranian cities, especially in Esfahan, lasted forever. Perhaps, all soldiers at one stage had been tempted to become a conqueror like Teimoor.
We were greedily listening to him to broaden our knowledge of the war. From our training we had gained some sketchy theoretical knowledge about weapons and tactics. That knowledge fell far inadequate for fighting a real battle. Reclining against the eastern wall of the bunker, I was so eagerly listening that I can say I was picking Haghee’s every single word. As he was talking about his adaptation to the war a strange feeling flashed in me. I felt someone was missing from the bunker; but the story was so attractive that I did not bother to search for the missing person.
When Haghee started comparing his situations with ours I had totally forgotten my unease about the missing person. At the same time, I heard four feet hastily running behind the wall that I had leaned against. I did not know whether running at night was an ordinary matter or not; neither I tried to ask anything about that lest I made a fool of myself. Nothing hurt me more than the laughter of an experienced officer at a novice like me. My question; however, was asked by the soldier who had welcomed us the day before.
Suddenly, the shaking, pale, and deadly scared young man appeared at the threshold with wide-open eyes and mouth.
He interrupted Haghee in a shaky voice.
"A moment ago two men pointed their guns at me in the kitchen and told me to keep quiet,” the soldier said, “They were speaking Arabic. They fled as I got on my feet."
The soldier sat down in front of the door and panic overwhelmed us. The dreadful stories that I had heard were happening to me right in the beginning of my mission to the war front. Suddenly, I realized who the missing man was.
"Where is Taghee?" I jumped to my feet, "He hasn't been around for quite sometime!"
Jahanpour shouted, agitated.
"Yes Sir;" a relaxed voice responded from outside.
I was impelled to believe the voice belonged to the enemy. Many instances had been observed that enemy had used the uniform, language, and identity of our forces to disguise their identity. Not too long ago I had heard of a few such cases at the headquarters of the army. This man had made an ambush and was waiting for a proper chance to open fire on us. The best time for such an act seemed to be the moment that all of us left the bunker. Haghee must have shared the same idea when he ordered everyone to stay inside the bunker and phoned his commanders in the front line. As someone answered from the other side indicated the telephone line was not cut. Perhaps, the enemy had not found the wires yet. I believed they would soon find it and would cut it. Disrupting communications system was the most important strategy in every operation.
"Enemy has infiltrated our territory," Haghee said in an agitated tone, "Give the highest alert order and send everybody to his trench. Don't let anybody cross the front line. Each of you, send off a group of soldiers backwards to search the area to find and capture the infiltrated elements. Order them to search the area all the way to the headquarters of the battalion."
Then, he phoned the commander of the platoon of reconnaissance ordering him to send all his soldiers to look for the enemy in and around the headquarters to find Taghee. At the end, he ordered the artillery to launch a few illuminations that were immediately launched.
It was of no use to stay inside the bunker. If the enemy decided to blow the whole bunker with an R.P.G.7 rocket, none of us would have survived. For an unknown reason they had not attacked the bunker yet. With the fear of being targeted by the enemy bullets in heart, Jahanpour and I cautiously sneaked out of the bunker with our boots untied and without any hat.
Two illuminations were in the air dimly lighting the area. A dozen soldiers were awaiting Jahanpour’s order in full military preparations. Jahanpour ordered them to search the area for the enemy elements and they immediately began the search.
Agitated, I did not know what to do. My hands and feet were shaking out of control; my heart was beating wildly. I knew nothing about an emergency situation like the one that had just showed face; but I wanted to participate in the search and rescue operations.
"Let me go with soldiers, Sir;" I asked Jahanpour.
The answer was negative. I was ordered to stay with him a score of paces away from the bunker. A storm of agitation was blowing within me, as plenty of movements were under way. Orders were being barked; passwords were being exchanged; soldiers were moving all around their bunkers; Haghee, Khavarzameenee, and Daee Niakee had joined us outside the bunker; two more illuminations were launched; the front line reported all passages were blocked and three groups of soldiers were dispatched to search the area between the battalion and the front line; and orders were passed to battalion guards not to shoot at the soldiers who were approaching them from the front line.
After a quick search soldiers of the platoon of reconnaissance came back empty-handed reporting they had not seen anything suspicious in and around the headquarters. Not satisfied with the result, Jahanpour sent them for another search. The result was the same. There was nobody around and Taghee was not found either. It was strange that an officer could so easily go missing. Haghee's next order was even stranger. In a more relaxed tone he told the soldiers the emergency situation was over and they were to return to their bunkers. Before the last soldier returned to his bunker, he called Jahanpour and me to follow him to the bunker.
The unexpected order put me in an absolute confusion.
"The enemy has penetrated the area and he is ordering every one to return to his bunker?” I asked myself, perplexed. “Why did he not want to follow the enemy? What if they come back? Is this not called treason? What's going on around here?"
Questions kept coming to me as with astonishment I followed the rest to the bunker. Giving a cold smile and no detailed explanation, Haghee called his commanders in the front line asking them to call off the search and let their soldiers know that they had done a good job and emergency situation was over. Next, he informed the regiment and the army that the emergency situation was over. Finally, he looked at us who were looking at him filled with questions and showed a faint smile. He let us know that commander of the platoon of reconnaissance had “played a practical joke” with us; and Taghee would be brought back within a few minutes.
We were relieved, though I could not comprehend the rules of this game. If Haghee were telling the truth and the game had been staged by the commander of the reconnaissance, why he was kept unaware of the procedure. After all, he was the person in charge of the whole battalion. How dare a third lieutenant play such a game with the whole battalion without his superior’s knowledge? I decided the kidnapping had been orchestrated by Haghee to teach us his third lesson of vigilance and agility, still not fully convinced that it was really planned by him because he was as scared as everyone else in the bunker. For quite sometime I was hesitant which one of my speculations to choose; however I had decided that no commotion was needed to teach us how to be alert and prepared. In the previous days in the war field we were frightened enough to be vigilant and agile. Was it a routine to kidnap personnel? What motive was behind it?
Among our confusion Taghee arrived with a soldier who said good-bye at the door. Taghee’s figure looked smaller than before, his sparse hair disheveled, his face pale, and his lips dried and dead. He sat in a corner, confused, shocked, and angry.
"This is lunacy!” he said, “Really it is! I'll die of this horror. The commander of the platoon of reconnaissance will be responsible for my death. I'll take him to the military court."
Keen to know what had happened, we questioned him. He sighed deeply.
“I was in the washroom,” he went on, “As I came out two Arabic-speaking men appeared with their guns out of the blue. They put a hand on my mouth, caught my both arms, and dragged me away. I was terrified. I thought they would kill me in the dunes after extracting the needed military information. As soon as they freed my mouth I told them I was a new soldier with no knowledge about the army and besought them to spare my life. After a few Arabic words they ushered me to their commander’s bunker in the platoon of reconnaissance where they spoke Persian. My god! As I was expecting to be executed, they were talking to me in Persian! I could not believe I was returning from the brink of my grave. They were two Arab Iranian soldiers and were sun-burned like Iraqis."
He lit a cigarette and devoured the smoke.
"I had quit smoking just one week ago," he resumed while shaking his head, "They told me they wanted to kidnap Captain Haghee and they had taken me by mistake. After they left me with their commander, they came to the battalion commander’s bunker to pick Captain Haghee. I don’t know why they returned empty-handed."
That night Taghee did not eat. He used to stare at a spot on the wall, sigh, smoke, and repeat: "Boy! I thought I was gone. My poor mother would have died of grief."
Days after the incident I heard a colonel from the regiment had ordered the commander of the platoon of reconnaissance to kidnap Haghee in order to show him how lax his security measures were and he had carefully planned the kidnapping; but his soldiers had mistaken Taghee for Haghee only because both of them were short and skinny. Taghee was sent on leave a few days later and commander of the platoon of reconnaissance was reprimanded.
The day after the incident was spent on training a Russian-made heavy machine gun not known to us in the garrison. This gun that carried the name of Dushka was reaching the fronts through North Korea. At least, we were told it had been bought from that country. Other weapons were being bought and introduced to the front line that we had received no training on. Also, I saw many vehicles that had been bought for war purposes that were not known to us in the garrison. Battalion commanding vehicles were “Towsan Jeeps” made in India while our light pick-up trucks were mainly of Toyota and Nissan models bought from Japan that had arrived the war zone long before I was sent there. Due to their big size, the trucks that the Shah had purchased from Soviet Union and East Germany were of limited use in the war fronts.
In the morning of the third day Haghee called all three commanders of the front line companies to his headquarters and met with them without our presence. All these lieutenants and those who were on leave were at least five years younger than us. All of them were victims of the Cultural Revolution. They had been graduated from high school right after the closure of universities and had faced closed doors. The only institutions of higher education open to them were the military Officers College where the education lasted three years and the graduates would become second lieutenants in the army. Also, there was a school of officers where high school graduates would receive one year training and the rank of third lieutenant. In the face of all closed doors these young men had chosen military institutions and for the same reason they felt inferior to us. Later on I heard of some frictions between some commanders with conscript officers stemming from their different educational backgrounds. In any case, during their studies and after graduation these officers had to pay frequent visits to the war fronts that increasingly needed commanders.
Shortly after the commanders left the headquarters for the front line. We did not know in the meeting they had made decisions about our distribution plan. In the afternoon Jahanpour and Taghee built a bath. They erected four wooden columns and put iron plates around them. Then they wrapped several meters of plastic around the plates to keep the gusting air out. To warm the water, they put a small water tank on a metal stool up the slope of a dune and connected it to the little shack by a rubber hose that carried warm water. They made fire beneath the tank with the bush and branches they gathered from nearby area and warmed the water. At last, all three of them took shower.
Having dried himself and put on his uniform, Haghee called all three of us to his bench and invited us to sit. We sat down and he started:
"As I said before, it is my policy to keep the new-comers in the headquarters for a few days to acquaint them with the rules of combat and then to send them to their own units. And now it is your turn gentlemen. You'll go to your companies today. In this morning’s meeting we made decision about your next place of mission.
Regrettably, in the past few days you faced unpleasant incidents. Indeed, such incidents are at the core of all soldiers' lives. I am sure you are braver than any staff officer and you can tackle difficulties more effectively because you are more tried in the events of the revolution than they are. Those days you were university students in the middle of fire and blood and campaign while they were in the middle of their teens and did not get deeply involved in the upheavals. Nevertheless, I give you some advice. This situation is different from what you have gone through in cities and it is my responsibility to make things clear for you.
In the war region you should always have keen ears for the shells whistling. Whenever you hear a noise in the air, lie on the ground in the lowest possible place. Combat rules dictate to dig as deep into ground as possible. Don’t worry if soldiers laugh at you first. Arrogance and foolhardiness do not work with shells. Shells and shrapnel don't recognize friend from foe. Do not forget, in dealing with explosives your first mistake will be your last."
"Where are we going to be sent?" I asked as soon as he paused.
"You are in a haste as usual Avaznia;” Haghee returned with a smile, “That was the next thing I wanted to talk about. Daee Niakee will go to Mahdi's, Khavarzameenee to Assadi's, and you to Zeerakee’s company. Good luck gentlemen!"
He called his driver and ordered him to drive us to our destinations. We saluted him and firmly shook his hand as the setting sun of Khuzestan was reflecting from his clean shining baldhead >>> Part 5
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