Blood Gulf: A Soldier's Story
While I sit here, living high on the fat of the land, sipping Pina Coladas and fretting over what J-Lo wore to her secret wedding, other Americans are standing in a dust-filled hellhole while terrorists, insurgents and bad guys galore try to kill them. We're speaking of course about tens of thousands of soldiers, marines, sailors and Special Forces currently engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The combat infantrymen of 1st Platoon Bravo Company 1-162nd Infantry Regiment wind down by playing a little 16-player Halo in Kuwait following a one-hundred day tour in Iraq.
They cross a broad spectrum of society, and they range from civic-minded National Guardsmen, to career-minded Delta Force. They are men and women who are literally on the front lines. Doesn't matter who you talk to, or what they think of the war, everyone agrees that these guys are neck-deep in crap and danger so that soft-shoed girlie-boys like me don't have to be. And it's gotta suck.
They're apart from friends and family, the food is often miserable, and it's not like they can go downtown to catch a movie and meet chicks. But there is one thing they can do to forget the sound of rockets, the concussive blast of grenades, or the constant roar of military vehicles - play Halo! OK, so they'll still hear all those noises, but at least when they're playing a System Link game, the worst that can happen is a smashed controller.
It turns out that there's a huge Halo following in the Armed Forces. Anywhere a System Link game can be set up, it is. Quartermasters everywhere are on the lookout for spare TVs and crossover Ethernet cables as fighting men and women all over the Arabian peninsula find the most perversely stressful way to release claustrophobic desert stress ever - CTF in Blood Gulch.
Xbox gaming and the armed forces are already natural bedfellows, since Xbox Live gaming lounges are currently available (thanks to a USO program called Operation: Live Connections) in 17 locations, spread throughout 14 European US air force bases. The Xbox Live service lets servicemen connect with friends and family back home in a unique way - by killing them! It also has the added advantage of live voice communication - so I suppose they could talk to each other too. If they wanted to stop killing. And sacking. And fouling.
But in Iraq, far from the Schnitzel-munching, Claret-guzzling luxury enjoyed by Europe-based flyboys, things are a little dirtier, and a little more real. Picture tents, crapped out old TV sets, and jerry-rigged System Link setups. But, having never done anything more dangerous than change lanes without signaling, I had to ask a real man what it was like. Cue Sgt. Kelly Hafer, National Guardsman, teacher, true American Hero. And spawn-camper.
Bungie.net: So what does a typical day in the Gulf consist of? IS there a typical day in Gulf?
Kelly: Well, in Kuwait most grunts end up securing bases. A typical two-day work cycle went like this: 12 hours on the gates (looking for bombs and weapons) or in the towers keeping an eye out for terrorists. Then we had 12 hours off to sleep, eat, work-out, play HALO or whatever we wanted. Next was a twelve-hour shift on the towers or gates and then 18 hours off. While we were in Iraq we were busy doing foot patrols in the evenings and most of the night and mounted (H.M.M.W.V.'s with .50 cals) patrols in the daytime. Our four day cycle went like this, day one - 6 hour day mission, day two - 12 hour night mission, day three transportation and movement security for dismounted elements as well as stand-by quick reaction force (QRF), day four - base security.
Bungie.net: So you guys play Halo to RELAX? What are the most popular game types?
Kelly: Yes we loved playing HALO. Most popular were 16 player free for all with rocket in a compact level. :-) Also we enjoyed 4 on 4 in but the most favorite of all near the end was a game we made up called "Vehicle Wars" it is played in the box canyon and the rules are pretty simple. If you are in a vehicle you can only run over people on the ground or ram other vehicles, the only allowed vehicle to vehicle fire that is from the passenger seat of the wart hog against another vehicle with the rocket launcher. If you are on the ground you can engage people in the vehicles but it was a good idea to get in a vehicle to improve your chances.
Bungie.net: Does Halo bear any relation at all to any real life circumstance?
Kelly: Yes in that you have to cover your buddy like in co-op, but other wise no, it is a little too easy to go balls out in HALO because of the re-spawn attribute.
Bungie.net: Tell us about your division and what its responsibilities were.
Kelly: We were the only battalion from the 7th Infantry Division deployed to the theater for OIF One. The battalion was at one time spread out in three nations, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Our responsibilities in the Gulf ranged from Force Protection to foot patrols keeping the main highway from Kuwait to Baghdad as clear of terrorist/insurgent activity as possible.
Bungie.net: You glad to be home? What did you miss most?
Kelly: I am extremely glad to be home, I really missed my wife. Besides her I missed having a variety of stations to listen to on the radio.
Bungie.net: If you could ask the fellas what feature they'd most like to see in Halo 2, what would it be?
Kelly: My guys would love to see Banshees available for multiplayer mode.
(We'll get right on that! - Bungie)
Bungie.net: What was your Halo "name?"
Kelly: InChon, for the battle the Marines kicked such tail in over there in Korea.
Bungie.net: Camel Spiders. Did you see any and did you crap your pants?
Kelly: Yep, saw a few, I think they are over rated, yeah they are big and ugly, but they are pretty timid, they will run away if you give them a chance. They are fun to have fight if you can catch two at once though.