As the dashing War Correspondent Mikey Sprengelmeyer entered Baghdad with 101st Airborne he filed the following yarn from the front lines for the Rocky Mountain News and its affiliates back home.
It’s true what my friend Luke told me once when we were back in Kuwait: “There’s beer in Baghdad.”
Actually, he didn’t say it once. He said it 400 times amid a gaggle of war correspondents. It became a battle cry for reporters sent to this dusty, alcohol-free region so far from home. “There’s beer in Baghdad.”
When we shivered through the night in our sleeping bags, not sure if we were shaking because of the chills or the sound of the mortars exploding in the distance, we’d say the line: “There’s beer in Baghdad.”
When our assignments to convoys or Forward Area Refueling Points got us down, we would keep forging ahead remembering Luke’s promise: “There’s beer in Baghdad.”
We kept the faith thanks to Luke Hunt, an accomplished drinker and eternal optimist from the land down under.
In these past 101 days in the Middle East, my faith was tested many times.
Usually it was in the middle of a blinding sandstorm when I would pick up my satellite phone, whine to my editors and wonder if it was worth pushing on, northward, as my U.S. Army unit crept toward this promised land.
I lost my appetite for the four choices of vegetarian field rations in the military arsenal. I have lost roughly 20 pounds.
But as of yesterday, it was all worth it.
My traveling companion, Fabienne of French National Radio, and I were in the back of Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa’s Humvee on Monday when he decided to go on a quest into downtown Baghdad.
He is obsessed with finding someone to cook him a meal of fried chicken, so our convoy circled through commercial areas looking for a restaurant. At several points he got out, showing a picture of a rooster to some Iraqi bystander, then using sign language of a fork going into his mouth.
He had no luck. There is no electricity. The city is mostly shut down. And restaurateurs are more worried about falling bombs than about a sergeant major’s obsession with finding hot chow to remind him of home.
But while we were out and about he did agree to make a quick detour to the Palestine Hotel headquarters for what I call the “14th rewrite battalion” – media hoards who have invaded Baghdad and turned the place into a circus, crawling with children hawking cigarettes, anti-war protesters jockeying for television face time and local residents begging reporters to use their satellite phone to call worried relatives overseas.
We made a pilgrimage to the lobby and Fabienne had a reunion with three radio colleagues whose arrival means she can now go home to Paris. The newcomers could see that we were pretty weary, scraggly and beaten down. So one of her friends slipped around a corner and in a few minutes returned with a couple of cans of genuine, bonafide beer.
I clutched my can with gusto, chugged and then felt my head spin like I was a child who had snuck his first sips of forbidden bubbly.
I was so excited. Luke was right. There is beer in Baghdad.
A few sips were enough. All I wanted was a taste of this thing called war. So now at last, I am going home.
WITH THE 101ST AIRBORNE AMERICA AT WAR
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