Chapter 2: Unwelcome Presence

November 4, 2007

Camp Mendel, Iraq

Colonel Eric Windsor stepped into the tent of Camp Mendel, the United States base of operations located just in the north-eastern province of Iraq. It sat a few miles out from Baghdad, just the right distance for US forces to take out any unwanted nuisances. He took a sip into his mug of steaming coffee, taking in the delightful of aroma of the hot liquid. It was an escape from this hellhole and he thought of pleasant images of himself on a tropical island. In this reverie, he would be free of worries, free of death, and free of war. It wasn't soon before reality kicked back in, and gunfire began to sound from the distance. He sighed and conceded in this life, he would never find peace of mind, even if the war was to end today.

The simultaneous barks of M-16 automatic rifles continued for some time as troops dug in and got their target practice out of the way. They were of course aiming at inanimate objects. After what happened with the Blackwater scandal, the higher-ups became pretty uptight with any kind of extracurricular soldiers might've been up to – in particular, what the soldiers were shooting at. And so, Colonel Windsor granted his men daily target practice. It served a dual purpose. For one, it kept their skills sharp, and second, their sanity alive, at least for another day in this war-ridden country. After all, he was not unfamiliar at seeing men just lose it after being stationed here for way too long and it hurt every time to see another one fall victim to the daily fear and terror that came with their prolonged stay.

Of course, Colonel Windsor was a patriot. He loved his nation, and the uniform he wore. He was proud to carry the American flag on his sleeves, and would sacrifice his life for the President if need be. He would fight this very war by himself in the name of honor and freedom. But the Colonel was tired, and like many others, he too wanted to go back home. Home was peace, a loving family, good food, a warm bed, and like his short reverie before, a tropical island compared to this place. It was amazing that he himself lost his sanity yet, but his desk job prevented him from serving on the frontlines since the beginning of the Iraqi War. Because of that, he was unable to succumb to the fatigue of war as many others had.

He did however, hurt a little time inside every time a soldier fell in the line of duty. If anything, it was the one thing he least prepared for in this situation. Sure, he had seen his fair share of battles, after serving in Desert Storm a decade ago, but he never liked seeing American body bags. Especially now, since he would have to be the ones to write the report to their families. Each time, he would have to think of something new to say besides the usual "Your son/daughter served in the line of duty and made the greatest sacrifice that one possibly could to this country." It was partially because as his stay in Iraq continued, he no longer felt that "this greatest sacrifice" could no longer be called in the interests of America's greater good. There was no greater good in staying in this country. It was just staying here until whenever the higher-ups would pull them out.

And for that, he too began to lose sight of their purpose in this war. Like a true patriot, however, he continued to believe that their stay would better serve the Iraqi nation but also the symbols of freedom and democracy.

He finished the last of his coffee before setting down the tin cup again. It was about that time a whistle was blown and the gunfire finally died down as the last rounds were expended from the M-16 assault rifles. Colonel Windsor stood from his seat, and left the shaded confines of the tent and into the sunset evening of Camp Mendel. The sun was an orange-red fireball ball dipping below the horizon, and the last streaks of light began to fade slowly. Soldiers began to shoulder their weapons and slowly marched towards their tents. The Colonel tied his arms behind the small of his back, watching as the evening skies begin to creep over the horizon.

"Cigarette?" a voice behind him asked.

Colonel Windsor turned around, coming face to face with a middle-aged man just a few inches taller than himself, holding out a box of Lucky Stripes. He accepted the stranger's offer, noticing the familiar combat fatigues on the man. On man's left sleeve was a familiar insignia of a superior officer: Brigadier General. Windsor's eyes widened as he hastily threw up a salute. "Sorry, sir. I didn't recognize your rank before."

"At ease, Colonel," the Brigadier General said. He held up the pack of Lucky Stripes a little higher, still wondering if Windsor wanted a smoke. Unsure of what to do, Windsor politely took a smoke from the pack and handed the box back to the superior officer. The man extended his other hand forward and helped light the cigarette that was now clenched between Windsor's lips.

The Brigadier General turned his attention to the same horizon that Colonel Windsor had been observing for some time now. "The name's Derrick Vader. Just call me General Vader."

Colonel Windsor stifled a laugh, only to end up in a rolling cough. He took some time to breathe properly again when the man quipped, "Yeah, like the Star Wars character."

Windsor nodded. "I wasn't aware HQ would be sending a Brigadier General down into this hellhole." It was a more polite way of saying "What the hell are you doing here?"

General Vader nodded solemnly. "That's because my stay here is supposed to be unofficial, Colonel."

"Sir?" Windsor said, furrowing his brows. "I don't understand."

"I'm not qualified to answer your question," Vader responded, taking a drag from his cigarette. "Some things are better left unknown, anyways Colonel. What I need from you is living quarters for me and six other men to stay for the next few nights."

Eric Windsor did not understand the need for secrecy, and while he was curiously interested into whatever reason the Brigadier General was doing at Camp Mendel, he decided now not might have been the best time to inquire. "I understand, sir. I'll have my men clear out a place for you."

"Excellent," the man said, a smile beginning to form on his face. "I promise we won't get in the way of your men. I understand you boys have a busy schedule here. "

The Colonel simply nodded as the Brigadier General walked away and strode toward a large military truck parked just a couple of meters from the Northern gate. Windsor sighed mentally to himself as he watched a few other members disembark from the rear of the vehicle. "General, you already have."