When you are in a war zone, you never know who you are going to meet or what their strange story will be. Case in point: while in Sarajevo, Bosnia during Joint Guard Operations there in the 1990s, I was stationed at Ilidza, the NATO HQ for that region. Our camp saw NATO, Russians, Japanese, and even African military. Some of the elite fighters from all around the world were represented. We were billeted in a bombed out hotel on the camp.
One morning I grabbed my breakfast tray and filled it to capacity, grabbed a seat next to a friend from the office and surrounded by strangers in a dozen different uniforms. I was trying to gain weight, so I was on a strict diet of “eat everything in sight.” As we ate and ate, a soldier took a seat across from us at the table. He was a big guy, Russian Special Forces from the uniform. He looked like something the cat had dragged in after playing with it in the mud for a while. His arm was in a sling and a fresh patch was over his bad eye. His good eye was black and swollen, blood red where the white goes. He was missing some teeth in his swollen mouth and was eyeing his plate of food like a test of will. As he sat down, I asked if he needed help as my friend asked what happened to him. He threw us a look of disgust and hissed out a “leave me alone” in rough English. When Super-Igor is in a bad mood, you don’t poke him with a stick, so we ignored the angry bear and continued our breakfast and conversation amongst ourselves.
As the meal drug on, people finished up and left the large table one at a time until it was just me and Igor left to grapple with our tests of will. I was eating my fifth egg on toast and he was wrestling with his third bite of oatmeal. Suddenly he whispered under his breath to me, without looking up …. “I no sleep bunk-bed before.” I looked up confused until it dawned on me what had happened. When we all moved into this hotel, they had to cram as many grunts into the rooms as possible. The large, comfy king beds were piled up outside as the new occupants took to work with hammers and wood to create crude bunk beds. Well, the bunk beds were small and without safety rails, basically two mattresses on two slats of wood with a sturdy crossbar between them. This battle hardened beast had rolled off his skinny, second story cot in the middle of the night, smashing his face and arm into the bedside table a floor below! Despite the pain, he smiled a half-toothy smile at me with a groan and I laughed a little under my breath. We both got the joke. Embrace the suck.
Robert “Trim” Blair is a retired USAF zoomie who participated in just about every conflict from 1986 to 2011, still has sand in his boots. Spends his free time now racing cars/motorcycles and writing/editing – mostly for friends who are much more creative. He thanks his beautiful wife for helping him keep a loose grasp on his sanity.