“He’s One of Us” by Johnny Hilal

Note: In this narrative, the author appears as the character named “Hilal.”

It was a long ride back to Camp Anaconda, a.k.a. Mortaritaville, Iraq. My ears were still ringing from the blast. I was tired, hungry, and needed a shower. But I could only muster up enough energy to break out the laptop and email my wife Sara. I just wanted to let her know I made it back safe. I kicked off my boots, set up the laptop on the Pelican case, and the damn thing wouldn’t turn on. “Screw it,” I thought. “I’m going to bed, I’ll take it to the IT shop in the morning.”

The next day I was awakened by the distinct rumbling of mortars hitting the flight line. Boy, those ragheads are at it early this morning, I’ll tell ya. First day back from the mission, I had a lot of things to take care of, but first I needed my laptop fixed. As I walked to the IT shop, boots sloshing in the deep gravel, I noticed that the base thermometer displayed 114 degrees, but it felt more like 140. I couldn’t wait to get inside the J6 (Communications & Networks) building; they kept that place colder than a winter night back home in North Dakota. I guess they gotta keep their Flux Capacitors and nerd gear cold.

I walked up to the IT shop and was greeted by a junior ranked sailor named Hilal. I thought to myself, “This squid better not lose my data.” I handed over the laptop and explained the issue. He said that he would need a few hours to repair it. “I guess these Panasonic Toughbooks aren’t so tough, are they, squid?” I said. As he began to rattle off some geek talk, explaining how the hard drive was sensitive to vibrations in the Humvee and so on, I took a closer look at the man and noticed he looked just like the enemy. Brown skin, Middle Eastern features and a scruffy beard. “You look just like those terrorists we wiped out yesterday; if you weren’t wearing a uniform I’d mistake you for one of them,” I joked. He must have been a sensitive guy because he didn’t think it was funny. Whatever, I don’t have time for feelings, I’ve got shit to take care of.

The next day Chief Special Warfare Operator Williams pulled me aside. He was a Navy SEAL Purple Heart recipient who acted as a liaison for the Navy support personnel (due to his injuries he could no longer go on missions with the team). “Word’s goin’ around that you made a racial slur to one of the IT guys,” he stated with concern. “Have you seen that Hajji? He doesn’t even shave!” I replied. “Look, man, I know what you’re saying, but you’re gonna have to cool it; he’s one of us, and you could get in big trouble if this shit gets escalated. This is what we’ll do, I’ll pull him aside and ask him about his beard, then you come from around the corner and apologize to him about what you said earlier,” he recommended.

“Whatever Williams, I guess I’ll owe you one…”

Johnny Hilal served four years in the Navy as an Information Systems Technician from 2004-2008. He served in Italy, Iraq, and eventually his home town of San Diego, CA, where he decided to continue to support the Navy, but as a civilian. He is currently employed with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, where he develops technology needs for the Navy. He is completing his Master of Advanced Study in Architecture-based Enterprise Systems Engineering at UC San Diego in the 2018 Summer.