NPR is doing a feature of women in combat this week and I was reminded of an old story of mine from SHOTGUN HONEY. Thought I would post it here.
What Bagdad Did to Us
US Army Specialist, Ronnie Bixby, spent 2004 in Bagdad. She’d become a
member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit before her rotation began, but
never fired her weapon during her entire stint in Iraq. Guarding
Halliburton Trucks never drew direct fire on her watch, and she was
asleep in her bunk when one of the trucks was carpet bombed, killing two
Ronnie was quartered with women during her rotation and developed a
close relationship with several of them. Oh, there were a few men she
liked too, but it wasn’t the same. None of her closer female friends
were lesbians despite the ubiquitous catcalls. All of them had someone
at home, someone waiting for them.
Her CO created camaraderie among the men by humiliating the women.
But it wasn’t the sort of hazing that could be grievanced. The CO never
laid a hand on a female soldier or encouraged a male soldier to do so.
Never used the more vulgar euphemisms that women in some units
So the women in Ronnie’s company felt like pussies for minding his
tactics. Most of them had experienced worse in high school—being the
sort of women they were. It was trivial, wasn’t it— the sort of teasing
that went on in their unit. It seemed too insignificant to get upset
A point of agreement among the female soldiers was that trips to the
latrine at night were a risk. Few of the women drank liquids after three
in the afternoon so late night urination became a remote concern. It
was difficult in the summer heat, but necessary.
Unfortunately, it was diarrhea that sent Ronnie to the john one
night. She considered asking another woman to come with her but rejected
the idea since it was nearly dawn. Cramping badly, she barely made it
to the latrine, and when she exited a few minutes later, someone grabbed
“Are you a bitch, a whore or a dyke?” the man asked when she
struggled with him. He threw her down on the ground then and raped her.
The noise from the idling Halliburton trucks masked any sound.
When he was finished, he wiped himself and left saying, “I’ve had better lays than you out back at Flo’s Escapades in Austin.”
It was dawn by now and Ronnie had gotten a good look at the soldier’s
face; thin, hatchet-like, as pale as the moon disappearing from the
morning sky. Now she considered the rest of him as he walked away: the
height, the build, the physique, a peculiar way of walking. Later, she
saw him on the base and managed to catch his name. PFC Loomis. Hal
She didn’t report the assault, but filed the information away. None
of the women who’d been raped got anywhere with their charges. Two women
had died of dehydration in the heat the summer before and still been
ignored. Reporting such incidents only brought shame on the tattletale.
It interfered with camaraderie and the esprit de corps, one woman was
It was after her return to the U.S. that Ronnie fired a gun. It was then that it became necessary.
She didn’t re-up and back in the states, it took surprisingly little
time to find Flo’s Escapades on the Internet. Ronnie rented a place iin
South Austin, got herself a job cleaning the cages at an animal shelter.
She was good at the work, good with the animals. Soon she was offered a
better job. But it wasn’t about the work. It was about waiting for the
return of PFC Loomis. She knew he’d be back. The directory was filled
with probable relatives. She cruised their houses, saw yellow ribbons on
a few trees.
It was a nearly a year before Loomis swaggered out of Flo’s,
“Loomis,” Ronnie called from her car. Loomis looked up. “Are you a creep, a casualty or a just a plain dead man?” she asked him.
He looked at her as if she were crazy, which she was. She pulled the
trigger on her gun and killed him with one shot, proving her inclusion
in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit was well-deserved.