“When I heard that recording, I felt that look in my eye again and the feeling that I was trying to forget.”
By Peter Alexander
Photography by Peter Alexander
I entered the combat theater two weeks after Saddam’s statue fell. The streets were lined with cheering people just like we were promised; after all, we promised to be liberators. That sentiment changed in seemingly direct proportion to the increase in temperature as March soon became summer, and the locals realized our presence was occupation. The violence would ebb and flow, but the heat was always constant, and early on we battled the elements as we laid the disposable infrastructure for extended military operation. We didn’t have running water to start, or air conditioning. We had burn buckets and trash bags before we had port-o-johns. I remember waking up one night, scratching at my bloody arm thinking that I had somehow contracted Mad Cow disease from something I ate, unable to stop scratching at the sand flea bites, and unable to sleep.
My time was spent primarily in the Al-Anbar region and for me the war consisted of two activities: guard duty and driving in convoys. And whether you are on guard duty or running convoys what you are really doing is waiting for bad things to happen. Eventually they do, and that expectation becomes increasingly rational. Living with that expectation takes its toll, just like the weather. I remember the moment prior to taking this photograph with a black and white disposable camera when I had the same look in my eyes. When I looked at him I saw myself from just the moment prior and saw that look of someone forced to accept a fate he does not desire. You want to get out of the heat and away from this place where people are actively trying to kill you and away from the person that is so willing to kill them, if that is what it takes to get home. But all you can do is sit and wait.
When I heard that recording, I felt that look in my eye again and the feeling that I was trying to forget. I call the juxtaposition Dead Wait because the only way I could handle that waiting was to let go, to wait like I was already dead.