The tributary stretched out in front of us from the Euphrates, pointing toward the northernmost fringes of Saqlawiyah, Iraq. Weapons platoon maneuvered a column of vehicles down from the main supply route (MSR) to a small dirt road that ran parallel to the river. A latticework of paths and irrigation ditches, swollen with water, striped the green plain of farm fields. Halfway down the slope from the MSR to the dirt road, everyone but the drivers dismounted to form up for the sweep: two columns, one on each side of the road. The carcass of a long-dead cow, mummified by the desert, crunched as a Humvee’s front tire crushed its skull, then ribs. My sergeant stopped to dry heave. “Oh my God,” Prockop said between gags. “That smell. Fuck. It’s rancid.” A few other dead cattle lay along the slope. I didn’t know for sure, but I could guess that some bored marines killed them from behind the guns of a passing convoy. I gathered this from how the carrion scattered out from the MSR, like a herdsman had pushed his small herd up from grassy fields, only to have them spooked by diesel engines and gunned down by men half his age. The Humvee’s rear tire crunched over the dried bag of bones, pushing more detritus from inside. I started to open my mouth to retch, only to have the blow-dryer heat of the desert push it back down my throat. “Hell of a start to the big sweep,” I said to Prockop. The Humvee we’d been guiding moved down the slope, into position behind a Mine-resistant Ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle. The rest of the vehicles sat on the MSR, a few of them idling. There was a pause, while radios crackled and people tried to figure out what was going on. There hadn’t been a mission briefing, so I had no idea of the bigger picture. I’d thought about asking for a mission brief before we’d stepped off, but knew better. I’d learned a long time ago that our forward operating base (FOB) allowed for some of the habits of garrison to remain a part of our daily lives, despite the threats from the environment and surrounding ville. Captain Vorgang liked the pomp mustered for him in garrison, and so did Staff Sergeant Gnade. The captain liked to tell stories about his last deployment to Afghanistan; Gnade talked about his SWAT training and fallen comrades.