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  • Charlie Balls
  • Elliot Ackerman (bio)

Charlie was Willy’s Dog, but Radar was Willy’s bitch. None of the Marines called the Afghan dog Charlie; they called him Charlie Balls out of respect and because he had a huge set of balls. All the Marines called Radar “Radar”; no one bothered to learn how to pronounce Zbrignewski, and no one felt they needed to call a cook with a head as flat and round as a radar dish “Sergeant.” No one called Willy “Willy”; they called him Gunnery Sergeant, or Gunny for short. Charlie Balls didn’t call Willy anything because he was a dog. But when Willy scratched Charlie Balls behind his clipped-off ears and fed him pork chops from Radar’s mess tent, it was obvious that, if he’d been a person, he could’ve called Gunny “Willy.” [End Page 81]

It was Charlie Balls’s job to love Willy, it was Radar’s job to take care of the mud fort they lived in, and it was Willy’s job to lead the squad’s patrols. On patrol the squad would drive for days, crosshatching the high plains of the Registani Desert and visiting villages like Adraskan, Shindand, and Anah Dareh; each one a loose constellation of houses, their bricks kilned from the very dirt they sat in.

When Willy ran the patrols, all the Marines left the cracked-mud walls of the fort except for Radar. Even Charlie Balls left, but he didn’t go on the patrols; he just didn’t want to be stuck alone at the fort with the Afghan security guards who smoked hash and kicked dogs. Radar didn’t want to be at the fort either, but Willy wouldn’t let him come along because he was just a cook. So during every patrol Radar got left at the fort with the Afghans who, when Willy wasn’t around, smoked more hash than usual.

When Willy drove back from the patrols, Charlie Balls would wait on the low dirt road that ran up the hill to the fort, and Radar would cook forty-two pork chops, two for every Marine and two for Charlie Balls. When Willy smelled the thick meat-smoke in the cab of his truck, he knew he was home. He’d roll down the window and shout, “Hey-ho, Charlie Balls! Heyho, Charlie Balls!”

Charlie Balls would run up to the convoy, and Willy’d prop his door open with his size 14 boot. Once Charlie Balls made pace with the gun truck, he’d jump inside and land on Sergeant McCool, the driver, who sat next to Willy. He wasn’t a huge dog, but he was big enough to knock the breath out of McCool, who’d curse, “Jesus, Charlie Balls!” Willy sat next to McCool because Willy was the vehicle commander, and Charlie Balls sat on top of McCool because he was the type of dog who liked to drive, and when he drove, he drove with his tongue out.

The patrol wasn’t over for the Marines until the convoy stopped in the dirt courtyard of the fort and everyone piled out of the gun trucks. The patrol wasn’t over for Charlie Balls until he jumped off McCool’s lap, sauntered over to a yellow tulip bed the Afghans kept, lifted his leg, and pissed all over it. Charlie Balls would look up at the Afghans in the towers, grin, and pant so hard it looked like he was snickering. And the Afghans would look down at Charlie Balls with dead red eyes from the hash they smoked.

Once Charlie Balls was done pissing and once Willy had put his rifle, helmet, and body armor away, the two of them would walk over to Radar’s mess tent to eat their four pork chops together.

Radar was proud of his pork chops, and he was proud of his mess tent, even if no one else was. When they served pork chops, Radar would dish them onto every Marine’s paper plate personally, like they were gold. He’d let the local-hire Afghan cooks he supervised serve the rice and...


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pp. 81-90
Launched on MUSE
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