Combat Infantry Bunny
by Carolyn Schapper
This is the story of my bunny. His name is CIB. He is my hope and happiness. My name is Carolyn, but everyone here in Iraq calls me Scrappy. I am the only female soldier living in my house. I feel very alone.
Early morning. Five mortars hit the FOB with one KIA. We go out and about with our mission. At the first stop it‘s my turn to talk to the locals. Next stop and I’m only pulling security on the truck; it’s hours of being mobbed by children.
The conversations with the children go something like this:
Children: “Mister, mister, soccer ball?”
Me: “La.” (“No.”)
Children: “Mister, mister, pen?” This is all more of a demand than a question.
Children: “Sunglasses?” “Mister, mister, whiskey?” (They’re not asking for “whiskey,” but rather offering to sell.)
Me: “La! Shukran.” (“No! Thanks.”)
Me: “Na’am.” (“Yes.”)
Eventually the candy is gone. So conversation turns to current events.
I point at myself: “Ismay Carolyn.”
I point at them: “Ismay?, Ismay? Ismay?” And so on until I’ve learned that the majority of them are named Mohamed.
(Note: Above is NOT grammatically correct.)
Moving on, we go over the vast vocabulary we share. They point at my truck and I respond, “Sayara.” My weapon: “Rashasha.” Then we reverse the process. This, unfortunately, can go on for a very long time.
Eventually even the children tire of this stimulating conversation, leave, and come back with two baby bunnies. The are white, fluffy, and fit into the palm of a child’s hand. *Heart melts.*
My gunner asks, “How much?”
“Two dollars,“ is the response. Is that a fair price for a rabbit? Well, my gunner buys one, much to my dismay. What are we going to do with a rabbit? I don’t even like rabbits.
But as my gunner is examining his purchase he calls me over. “Look at his whiskers,” he says. Well, there wasn’t much to look at; they had been burned off and his cute white bunny fur was singed on his little bunny face. Immediately I want to rescue the second tortured bunny, but the kids were long gone with their two dollars. So now we have a pet bunny approximately four weeks old. My gunner named it CIB (Combat Infantry Bunny, pronounced “Sib”).
Anyway, as my gunner, is the, uh, gunner, he can’t really hold the bunny on the way home and neither can I really, but that doesn’t stop my gunner from assigning me bunny duty. I need a box. The only box I have in the truck is filled with candy (yeah, I lied to the kids). So I dump the candy on the floor of the Humvee. The bunny rides home in the box. Bunny’s first convoy.
We get home. Three mortars hit, no KIA. But this time everyone is awake so reaction time is better and they think they figured out where the guy responsible is and there is a “call for fire” – which sends us all to the roof to watch as an Apache shoots a Hellfire missile into someone’s home. The bunny comes too. Bunny’s first call for fire.
Well, the bunny, CIB, although initially loved by all the boys, was being denied copious amounts of care-giving because they started to complain that the bunny did not smell good. Somehow it becomes my job to wash the bunny. I really don’t know how to wash a bunny. Do you? Our uncovered shower drain is larger than the rabbit, so I grab a bucket. You know what happens to a wet bunny? Well, one, it shrinks in size. All that fluff goes away and it no longer looks like something cute. Then it gets really slippery and difficult to hold onto. CIB slithers out of my grip and makes a run for it – towards the gigantic drain! Oh. Dear. God. No! I grab him. I drop him. Oh my god, I dropped the bunny, and I’m not talking an inch, I’m talking a foot off the hard floor. He’s stunned. I’m traumatized. I finally gather him into a towel and walk out to the main room and tell the guys I dropped him.
Dan, the gunner who bought him, takes him and lets him hop. “He’s limping,” he says.
“Really? No. Really?” I respond.
“Yeah, see, he’s hopping a little to the left.”
I can’t trust this guy. I don’t know if I’ve really hurt the bunny or not. I leave the room for a little bit, feeling terrible that I’ve possibly hurt a tiny little bunny. I return and one of the other gunners is holding CIB.
As my eyes drift to watch what’s on TV, he says, “Hey Scrappy.” I turn to him. “Catch!” and he throws the bunny at me. I scream, but quickly realize he threw a huge puff of cotton at me. The guys howl with laughter. At least the bunny’s not hurt…at least I don’t think so. I’ll check tomorrow to see if he can still properly hop, without anyone else there to mess with me.
The highlights of the past week were definitely two little villages we went to. The last time I was in one of the villages I got bread from one of the women and I ended up taking lots of photos with my camera. I wanted to thank the women for their generosity and my gunner suggested I should print out copies of the photos and give them out the next time. So I did. At the first house I went to hand out photos to I ran into the man of the house, who wasn’t there last time, and I handed over the photos. He asked my interpreter if I would be interested in being his third wife. I guess he offered 10 sheep or something. I was told it was approximately $5,000…so I guess I’ve established a base rate.
At the next house I went to the bread lady. I handed over the photos and she gave me a hug and a kiss…she was overjoyed. She has officially become my favorite Iraqi, and I dare say I’m her favorite American. I’m unique here, my team is unique here. So rarely do the other patrols get out and talk kindly to the locals. Meanwhile I run around handing out stickers to children…one of the benefits of being one of the few females on the ground here…I can actually have a heart.
Now to the important news. I have become CIB’s sole caregiver, as my gunner lost interest soon after buying him and the other guys stopped wanting to play with the bunny after it kept peeing on them. Now I bring CIB in every night (it’s very cold outside), feed him, and clean his cage. CIB realizes this and stays close to me. (Aside: it’s going to be pretty tragic for the both of us when I leave.)
January 01, 2006
The tragedy/miracle of one particularly long day occurred on the return to the house. It was already dark out and I went out back to get the bunny and bring him in for the night, but there was NO BUNNY! I looked and I asked. No bunny. I took hourly walks around the perimeter of the house calling out to him. Finally, around 10 p.m., to my great surprise, I saw something small, white and fluffy come out from hiding and hop towards me. Shocked with delight! I was so sure something so small would’ve been eaten or frozen to death by then.
Aside from the bunny incident, I actually did work that day – which is evident from the 13 oranges I procured! Everywhere I went people wanted to give me oranges, especially the lady who is my favorite Iraqi.
The next day was to a village we hadn’t been to before and it EXHAUSTED me. I was overwhelmed with kids and the household of women that we were parked next to. After several hours of being surrounded by children my gunner asked if I wanted to swap. Thankfully, I took to the turret and he went to get attacked. But it did not work out that way. The kids hardly bothered him. But every time I came down I was once again “attacked.” This country needs more condoms. Upside, I acquired six pieces of homemade bread, as well as dolma and rice, from the household of ladies.
Yesterday was a breakthrough day in a way. I was pulling guard on the truck, so once again my gunner was my only source of conversation. Unfortunately he was in one of his moods where he was enjoying making fun of me. This isn’t abnormal. In fact, he says this is what dudes in the Army do to one another all the time, so he’s just treating me like anyone else. Well, I wasn’t willing, or was unable, to brush it off and/or banter back yesterday. So, I turned to him and said, “You are the closest thing I have to a friend in Iraq and I wish you’d stop being mean to me.” Yes, maybe I was being a little sensitive, or “a girl,” but it shut him up.
And then he said, “You’re the closest thing I have to a friend here too.” Ok. Awkward. But I did feel a little better. Later that night, we ended up talking by the fire pit, which led to a whole bunch of weird looks from all the other guys. Apparently a girl can’t talk to a guy alone without it being skanky in some way. Anyway, I eventually grabbed my other friend, CIB, to be our chaperone.
We’ve made military history. In 24 hours my team managed to get six humvees stranded in three separate locations far from the FOB in an area we were unfamiliar with. Four of the vehicles, two of which were our “rescue” vehicles, were stuck in clay down to their frames and couldn’t move. Long story short, a Chinook plunked five of the uparmored vehicles out to hard pavement, but didn’t have enough fuel to come get my vehicle, so we drove out…alone…with the help of the Iraqi locals. We all lived to tell an extraordinary tale.
In other news, the bunny is potty-trained.
Back in Iraq from home leave – trying to get a Space A flight back to my base today to make sure CIB is still alive. I’ll never forgive my gunner for bringing a bunny into my life that is ultimately just going to break my heart.
Now I am back at my FOB. I have come home to find the situation quite different here. The entire structure of my team was changed while I was gone. Half the people I worked with have been sent away and there are only six people in the house now. We can’t go outside the wire without infantry support, so right now we have NO missions. So I’m cleaning my weapon and figuring out how to build a structure outside for CIB that the local fox can’t get into.
Guess what fun and games the boys played with the bunny while I and my gunner, the original bunny owner, were on our respective R&R’s? They, particularly the PSYOPS boys and my ever-responsible Team Leader, thought it’d be amusing to bring the bunny out into the field and drive their huge remote control car all around him. And this part was particularly amusing to them – they ran CIB over! Yes, they aimed that damn toy at him and as it approached, apparently CIB flattened himself against the ground and the car went over him, apparently not hitting him. I am so pissed. I’d like to tell myself they weren’t thinking about how this would affect me if they had killed the bunny, but part of me knows they were aware of that and went ahead anyway. I hate them.
To answer your question- I’ll still be the same Carolyn when this is all done. I think CIB is going to need to be liberated soon, as he bit me twice yesterday!
It appears that CIB is rebelling against his indoor confinement. So I’ve been putting him in this makeshift cage outside. Apparently it is poorly constructed. While inside, I heard, “Scrappy!” – as if I was in trouble. I walk out and my gunner hands me CIB. He had gotten out of the cage and was spotted by two of my team members, who were on the roof to throw a flash-bang grenade in the very corner CIB had innocently hopped into. So CIB has found the path to freedom and apparently it leads to danger. I’m hoping that the gradual orientation to Mother Nature might help him hone his survival skills for when I finally do have to release him, but for now I’ll be sure to take him in at night so that the neighborhood fox is denied a tasty treat. Besides, CIB will soon realize that the great outdoors doesn’t offer the same variety of food that I do.
April 1, 2006
I have not been able to get off the FOB to work. Instead we’ve gone to Tikrit AGAIN for three days for some vehicle maintenance. I’m really not sure how the bunny is doing with it all though. This last week I conditioned the bunny to hop around the outside of the house and stay within the perimeter for up to 7 hours unsupervised, while we’re on mission, and I’d bring him in at night. This was a very important task as our Battalion Commander (BC) and CSM were coming to visit and since we aren’t allowed to have pets, we had to leave him outside. But when we found out we were coming down to Tikrit for three days, I decided to lock CIB up in the house with a very large bowl of food so he wouldn’t be eaten.
April 7, 2006
We got stuck down at the FOB in Tikrit for 5 days! True torture. Safe, yes. Boring, yes. Anyway, we FINALLY got to leave, and yes, I will admit, the majority of my apprehension for being stuck in Tikrit was the welfare of the bunny. I was mentally prepared to find a bunny corpse when I came home. Instead, I found a bunny very happy to see me – and even happier to see food and water. At that point I decided the bunny needed more than day-trips to the outside bunny condominium; he needed to go full-time. I am happy to say that the bunny survived one night all by himself, although I did check on him every 3-5 hours to make sure he wasn’t in the mouth of a fox. Tonight is the second experiment, as yesterday we had thunderstorms and rain, so I brought CIB in.
Well, the week remained fairly tame, except for the gigantic rainstorm we got that made CIB’s bunny village a version of a Rabbit’s Katrina. His hole was flooding and his escape route was already flooded by the time I got there. I, AGAIN, thought it was the end of the bunny but as I was trying to stop the flooding out hops a very wet and muddy bunny from a pile of wood. Hurrah. Tragedy averted once again by basic bunny instinct.
In addition to me having no faith in my team leader, these are dark days. Yesterday I listened to the call to prayer and watched the sunset. I decided I wanted to share this moment of peace with the bunny, but sadly, I could not see the sunset from the bunny burrow. I seriously don’t know what I’m going to do when I leave the bunny. He’s my only bit of happiness.
The bad news of the week is the poor bunny’s weak little heart. I found a group that works to get pet dogs and cats back from Iraq to the US for the military, so I asked about my bunny. They wrote back and said the bunny’s fast-paced heart would never survive the plane ride. So, I guess the bunny is just going to have to take its chances alone in Iraq without me. I hope he can survive without me tucking him in every night with the words of “Don’t get eaten, and if you see an unfamiliar person coming your way, run.” I wonder if my love and care for this rabbit will destroy his survival instinct and I will ultimately be the reason he dies?
For about a week the bunny was acting like a teenager – shunning me and not showing itself, but I knew it was around because food was being eaten. I thought perhaps the fur-covered bunny was not actually ignoring me, but protesting the 120-degree sun. SOOO, I took a bag of ice and put it over the rabbit hole, hoping it would cool down the hole. At first, the confused bunny came out to investigate, but quickly fell IN LOVE with the ice. Licking it, eating it, just plain sitting next to it. As the days continued and I put ice out the bunny emerged immediately upon hearing it and now loves to play and sit IN it. I up’d the ice intake to twice a day, but then today I went to the ice truck and there was an “ice shortage” sign on the truck and a request that everyone only take what was necessary. Umm, is my bunny’s happiness “necessary?” I thought about it and determined that the bunny’s happiness is directly linked to my happiness and what is more important than the mental well-being of a U.S. soldier? So, the bunny got its ice, but we’ll go down to a bag a day.
June 13, 2006
Today was a banner bunny day at first. CIB was more social than he’d been in weeks. After dinner I went outside and my team leader, who was on the roof on the phone, yelled down at me, “I think the fox got CIB,” and then he went back to his phone call.
I immediately saw the fox and threw a box at it, but instead of running away it jumped further into the scrap pile where the suspected murder had occurred. It was night and I couldn’t see, so I ran into the house and yelled, “Ivan, the fox got CIB!” Ivan was one of the boys I actually trusted. I knew he cared about CIB. He promptly stopped the Championship Foosball game and he and many others ran out with their weapons and flashlights to get the fox. I looked for any traces of CIB and we searched the scrap pile, but didn’t find anything. I was hoping CIB had gotten away and was hiding somewhere. I went back inside and eventually my team leader came in after getting off the phone and I asked if he actually saw the fox with CIB and he said no, but that he had heard the shriek of the rabbit. So I went and told Dan, my gunner, who originally bought CIB, but hadn’t known what was going on, and we went looking again. I finally spotted CIB in the scrap pile curled up inside a tire. He moved toward me when he heard me call his name. I called out to Dan, who told me to wait for him, and then he retrieved CIB. No blood, but he was clearly hurt because he was lying on his side unable to get up. We brought him in and Dan determined CIB’s back was broken and he was clearly in a lot of pain. So, he did what I couldn’t do and drowned CIB to put him out of his misery. I wanted CIB buried immediately and I wanted him buried in the rabbit hole he had worked so hard on. We found a .50 cal ammo box and put CIB inside. Most of the house came out to watch and all I could do was cry. I’m pretty sure I freaked all the guys out with my ceaseless crying. Bad female soldier. Bad.
Two days later and I still miss him and never realized how much of my day centered around that damn rabbit. Every time I’d go outside on the way to the bathroom I’d visit CIB. Every time before and after a mission I’d visit CIB. Every time I ate a banana I’d give him half. And sometimes I just wandered out there and sat down and watched him. Every time I felt a little sad I went to go out and see him, but now I feel sad because of him and he’s not there to hop around and make me smile. As macabre as it may sound, my reason for waking up every morning was to see if CIB had made it through the night. My reason for motivating myself to go to the chow hall was the search for vegetables for the rabbit. Everything fell in after that. I’ve also realized that my nightly visit to say goodnight to the bunny needed to be more specific – I simply told the bunny not to get eaten by the fox. CIB fully complied with that request.
I feel awful, because part of me is glad that I know his end and I won’t have to worry about him every day after I leave here. It doesn’t change the fact that I miss my only true friend in Iraq.
This was the story of my bunny. His name was CIB. He was my hope and happiness. Now I am alone. I will make it through the next three months without him. I will make it through the sniper fire that injures one of my gunners. I will make it through the final IED that hits my truck and my team on our deployment. I will make it through the mortar attack that fills my throat and lungs while I am running for cover faster than I ever thought possible. But I will miss him every day. I have missed him every day. He was my reason for living. Living for myself doesn’t seem worth it…but for some reason I do.
Carolyn Schapper grew up in California and received her Master’s Degree in International Relations at Boston University before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2003. She was deployed from 2005-2006 in Bayji, Iraq, where she went on nearly 200 combat missions and survived multiple hostile attacks. She has testified before Congress and been featured in dozens of print, radio and television interviews.