Thursday, April 15, 2004

Rock the Sunni
Think it's all death and despair over there? Not so:

At the Kirkush training base in the eastern Iraqi desert, an hour's wait for a helicopter was spent listening to Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Shania Twain before the Black Hawk fired up its turbines and somebody back in the barracks, as if on cue, cranked up Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven.''

The songs came from a European satellite music channel and a communal computer where 12.8 gigabytes of tunes had been downloaded for sharing on MP3s. The rule was simple: Take some music, add some music.

"Any time anybody on the team gets a new CD, they load it in, so we stay pretty current," said Sgt. Thomas R. Mena.

As the new CD from Tool blasted in the barracks, Mena scrolled through the computerized music library, which ranged from Abba and AC/DC, through Limp Biskit and Metallica and on to Van Halen and ZZ Top.

Emigres from West Africa who joined the Army for citizenship and career training arrived with the latest Nigerian pop CDs. Chinese-Americans hauled along hot Hong Kong video imports.

"We've got the whole world under one tent," said Pfc. Nicholas Allen of the 1st Infantry Division.

Troops running a checkpoint near the Kuwait border end their day by listening to Bush, not their commander-in-chief but the grunge band. Inside central Baghdad, whose palaces are home to the American-led occupation authority, Ludacris and R. Kelly were heard within earshot of the promenade where Saddam Hussein celebrated victories under crossed swords that reach five storeys into the sky.

A Green Beret sergeant in his 40s, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said he packed Grateful Dead CDs next to his laser rangefinder.

The country of Dwight Yoakam blared from a mechanics' bay at Taji airfield, north of the Iraqi capital, even as a bass drum of captured ordnance rumbled in a controlled detonation.

So one year after the start of the war, as 130,000 American troops clear out their tents to make way for 110,000 fresh soldiers, it is time to take stock.

This is not Vietnam and Jimi Hendrix. In the American war in Iraq there is no obvious soundtrack save the thump-thump-thump of helicopter rotors. Sgt. Daniel Kartchien has been in the Army since 1973. He said that when troops go off duty, ``it's all individual stuff now.''

"Back in Vietnam you had those doing recreational drugs on one side and the heavy drinking on another," he said. "Here there's no alcohol allowed. And drugs aren't the thing any more. Everybody has their own MP3 player to pass the time.''

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