Flight of the Infidels

By Bruce Pemberton

We load onto buses at zero dark
for the airfield. Crying wives are
allowed to see us off. My good-byes
were days before to my lab, wishing
her well in the kennel, telling them
what to do if I didn’t make it back,
find her a good home, don’t forget
about her hips and weak stomach.
We’re on a refueler out of Spokane,
bound first for Andalusia, then Kuwait.
Ten hours later, we land for a new crew
and breakfast. The runways littered
with large cargo jets, all heading east
for the war, or west for home. Spaniards
staff an Air Force mess hall, we’re told
to stick and move our meal, then we’re
loaded up again and gone. We travel
across the Mediterranean for Kuwait,
as the pilots dead-stick our approach,
gliding down to the runway, engines off
and no lights. The next morning, we find
white spires and bleached sand. Our bodies
are all half a day behind us. Day is night,
night is day. We wait for our last flight,
end up on a C-130, with the pilot yelling
back, hold on, as we spiral down to the
runway and land hard on what seems
the third bounce. Baghdad is dirty blowing
sand. Buses are waiting for us. We stack
our duffle bags on the floor and against
the windows. Three hours east, on the side
of an ancient road, we wait for an armed
escort. We’d be an easy target. An RPG
would ruin everyone’s day. The new guard
shows up, and an hour later we’re at our
barracks near dark. Never volunteer for
anything, my father once told me, so my
first in-country night, I volunteer as NCOIC
for a hundred sleeping Kurdish recruits,
with a carbine, a pistol and full clips for both.
There’s six of us pulling shifts all night. I
imagine three Toyota trucks, an insurgent

favorite, plowing into the main gate. Two
make it through, and head for us. We stand
on the barracks porch, empty our magazines
into the windshields, as one truck peels off and overturns.
The last one rams into us and detonates.
However, none of this really happens. We’re
so far out on the eastern frontier that the
insurgents need gas money to get to us.
They’re pestering locals in Baghdad for spare
change, so we’re safe for now. My loaded
carbine rests across my desk, as Kurdish fire-
guards send down reports all night. Someone
is smoking on the fire escape. Someone’s sister’s
honor is questioned and there’s an argument.
Awake before dawn, they pray, facing southwest,
to Mecca. We get them outside for exercise, then
into the mess hall, for boiled eggs, cheese, jam,
lentil soup, and naan. The dayshift shows. We
pack up our weapons, gear, and head for our
barracks. Three days or nights ago, I was ordering
burritos at a drive-through in Tacoma. Now,
a tinny loudspeaker somewhere blares call-to-
prayer, as we finally fall asleep.

“Flight of the Infidels” was previously published in Sky Island Journal

About the Author

Bruce Pemberton is a retired high school teacher, coach, and Gulf War veteran. His work has appeared in Third Wednesday, Foliate Oak, American Life in Poetry, Duck Lake Journal. Ocotillo Review, Streetlight Magazine, iTeach Literary Magazine, and the anthologies, In Tahoma’s Shadow, Spokane Writes, and The Poet. He lives on the Palouse, in rural, eastern Washington state.