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"We worked hard, we worked damn hard," Chuck says about his time in Iraq. "My boys and I needed to unwind and talk about home. Maybe play a couple of games of dominoes. And drink."
Chuck was there during the fall of Baghdad and returned for another stint last year. By then, the situation had worsened. The Iraqis weren't as welcoming. Still, one thing remained the same: the booze.
"When I was there both times, we drank quite often," he recalls, laughing. "Almost every night. Probably 80 percent of the people I knew would do it."
Army policy didn't allow Chuck and his buddies to drink alcohol in Iraq, not even during R&R, in deference to Islam's prohibition on alcohol. So Chuck and his fellow grunts hid their habit from superiors. They spiked Gatorade, tea and a Middle Eastern fruit drink called Rani Float, hid it in water canteens, cough syrup bottles—anywhere and in anything.
Chuck and his buddies bought their alcohol at a store near Abu Ghraib run by two Iraqi Christian brothers. "I don't remember their names, but they knew we had to keep it low-pro," he says. All types of alcohol were available, but soldiers rarely bought beer—too much hassle hiding cans. The drink of choice was vodka: "cheap, nasty crap that would do the trick. It was easy to hide and easy to consume, and it didn't take much of it to take effect."
Chuck insists that the troops he knew kept their drinking in check—no boozing while on patrol or on duty. "Everyone was pretty on point," he said. "You would be endangering other people." But Chuck remembers other stories and laughs.
"Once we were in a room with an officer, throwing down shots," he says. "We weren't afraid because an officer was with us. We hear a knock on the door. A female soldier comes in. She had red Gatorade over the front of her shirt. She had thrown up. You could smell the alcohol. We took her out on the balcony to get some fresh air.
"She throws up on the side of the wall, and it starts sliding down until it falls on the air conditioner below and made a big slap on the metal. We're like, 'We're fucked,' because that's where the commanding officer was sleeping. So another guy gets a bucket of water and throws it down below. The next day, we look on the wall, there's a big bright-red line, going down from the second story to the air conditioner. Pretty soon, everyone knew what it was.
"And then there was another time my buddy was snorting Vicodin," Chuck continues. "That was a definite. If you didn't drink alcohol, you snorted Vicodin or smoked hashish. Anyway, my boy, he got called for an assignment and he was knocked out. They had to pick up another vehicle, but he was fucked up. When he tried to climb into the vehicle, his legs stopped working, and he hit his head on the ground. It was pretty funny."
Asked why he and his buddies would drink, Chuck shrugs.
"It was Iraq. It sucked."
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