“We should turn ‘im into a comic book hero. I mean, I don’t know nothin’ about comics, but I think it would sell. Don’t you think Bello?”
“Yeah, I’d read it anyway. What would you call him though?”
“The Goat King.”
“Heh, right on, The Goat King. It’s got a certain ring to it.”
Perry and Cabello were referring to Captain Pacheco, the 2-27’s battalion chaplain. He had enlisted in the Army in 1978, got out, then commissioned as a chaplain soon after 9/11. His tanned, wrinkled face revealed his advanced age and experience. He was surely even older than the battalion commander and sergeant major. And it was more than his age that garnered instant respect from strangers; it was also his size. It is very hard to look ripped in uniform, due to the bagginess, but Pacheco looked like a brick shithouse: an old-fashioned, tornado-withstanding, brick shithouse. He was big, and got that way because he lifted weights more often than men half his age. He should have set his office up in the weight-lifting tent to save time. Even his face had a six-pack.
The man had conviction. His flock required that of him. He led services on Sunday, of course, but also led a bible study on Wednesdays that explored the blasphemous nature of The Da Vinci Code. Perry went to both engagements weekly, provided he wasn’t outside the wire.
Cpt. Pacheco would frequently need to provide guidance and solace to the many young warriors residing in FOB McHenry. Some would come to him over troubles at home: divorce, grandmother’s death, financial problems. Many others would come as tortured souls. As the bodies on both sides started to pile up, the young men would come to the uncomfortable conclusion that they might need to take a life or be required to lose their own. The good chaplain assured them each individually that what they were doing was not a sin, just a little Old Testament in nature. He realized from the volume of troops coming to see him on the matter that he needed to give the faithful a sermon on killing in combat.
“He could carry a huge, leather-bound King James Bible as a bludgeoning device.” Perry rolled his clove back and forth between his fingers, smelling the smoky goodness and watching his loosey exhaust flitter skyward as he reflected on McHenry’s “fisher of men”.
Around thirty soldiers would enter the GP Medium for the Sunday service; most were dejected. When Cpt. Pacheco revealed the subject of his sermon, some men were excited, others confused, but all gave the captain their complete attention. No one had ever heard a sermon that advocated killing one of God’s children. Pacheco brought it on with luster. He used the New Testament, Old Testament, Proverbs, and Psalms to validate his claims. The men brightened up more and more as the sermon progressed. They gripped their weapons more lovingly. The majority of the men left with a renewed vigor, looking forward to leaving the wire, looking forward to drawing a bead on the first stupid bastard that merited termination. They left renewed because CPT Pacheco said most convincingly that their souls were safe. And as long as Pacheco had their backs, or rather, their souls, the men were ready to close with and destroy the enemy.
“Yeah, and in the other hand, he could carry a long hickory cross with a big bayonet lug at the base,” Cabello offered as he ran his pinky around the hard edges of the lug on the M4 resting on his lap. “And on the cover of Issue 1 he could be holding the cross and bible across his chest and look all menacing and whatnot.”
During Ramadan, Cpt. Pacheco invited all of the important elders of Hawija and her surrounding environs to a great feast after dusk. To prepare for the meal, Pacheco had acquired funds from places unknown to bring in live goats and sheep. Some nights, elements departing on mission would have to drive around loose sheep. When the day of the feast neared, Pacheco slaughtered the needed number of goats and sheep himself. And out of respect to his Muslim guests, he killed the stock the way it is prescribed in the Koran: he cut their throats. As one of the firmest Christians in the area, no one worked harder to cultivate a positive relationship with the Islamic people of that province.
Not to be outdone, Perry shot back with another grim detail to tie Pacheco’s features together. “To top him off, literally, he could be wearing a goatskin cape with the upper-half of the skull with the horns fashioned as his crown.”
A month after Ramadan, Pacheco decided the men of McHenry were in need of a giant Christmas tree. He went out on a patrol in an LMTV unarmed. Somewhere, out in the boonies, a large evergreen was found and harvested. It was an odd and welcome sight to see such a beautiful reminder of home rolling into base strapped to the back of that truck. No one was even aware that such a thing even existed in the entire Middle East, let alone in that backwoods area of northern Iraq. The tree was promptly and brightly decorated with tinsel and homemade ornaments and lastly, with Christmas lights. It served as a constant reminder that there would someday be something to come home to.
On Christmas Eve, Pacheco presented a living manger scene to celebrate the birth of Christ. A dozen Iraqi interpreters volunteered to play the parts of the shepherds and wise men. A soldier played Joseph and one of the few females in the FOB played Mary. Baby Jesus was played by a doll, as no small children were available for the lead role. Elements of Matthew were read by the chaplain and crudely acted out by the rookie thespians. It was a night that would not be forgotten by any in attendance. Perry was the sole Cowboy there, as he was the only one from their heavy squad to go to church. That night observing the manger scene, that included donkeys, and the goat and sheep Ramadan survivors, reminded Perry that he was in the land that is the third most referenced in the Bible, behind Egypt and Israel. He was in the land where Abraham was born, and Jonah was buried, where the Jews spent many generations in captivity. Perry felt in a strange way right at home in such a desolate place- like he was always meant to be there.
“So in the opening issue, we can have ‘im rollin’ through the Wij sitting on the hood of an 1114 with his feet restin’ on the front bumper kit that Alpha grifted from us.”
“Yeah, and he has brought along a green Army laundry bag full of goat jerky and toys for all the good little Muslim girls and boys.”
“Awesome. A terrifying Muslim version of Santa Claus. But what about coal for the bad kids? What’re we gonna come up with for Iraqi coal?”
“Um, OK, got it. Are you cool with buyin’ two tickets for the creativity shuttle on our way to the Storyteller Airways terminal?”
“Ah…sure,” Cabello responded in a carefree manner with a deep drag off his black between words. Puffs on his cigarette concealed an ever-growing smirk that was fighting off a grin.
“So, parents in this region start using The Goat King as like the boogeyman to keep their kids in line. Like, ‘Achmed, don’t play with that IED or The Goat King will slit your throat.’ Or ‘Fatimah, brush your teeth or The Goat King will stab you in your sleep with the bayonet attached to his massive hickory crucifix.’ At night the children ask their dad to check for The Goat King under their beds and in the closet. Whadya think?”
“I’d brush my teeth.”
“Ooh, another thing. Because he is twisted St. Nick, we’ll call ‘im St. Pac, he comes to the homes of Hawijians every year on Christmas Eve. So when the family is sitting at dinner the parents will look out the window and see the silhouette of his horns and his piercing eyes.”
“Yeah,” Cabello took over seamlessly, ”And the dad leads his family in fervent prayer to Allah and he is all, ‘Allah, thank you for sending your messenger to provide us with this wonderful goat meat and the Hot Wheels for Achmed and the Dora the Explorer action doll for Fatima and um, Ameriki is number One, Ameriki is number One,’ and he keeps saying it until the outline of the Goat crown and the fiery eyes disappear into the surrounding darkness.”
“Right, but I assume he says it in a better Arabic accent than what you just did,” Perry interjected with faux pomposity.
“Well yeah, if the comic makes it to the big screen that is.”
Cpt. Pacheco was respected for many reasons. The most prominent was the fact that he frequently checked on the men in the numerous combat outposts in and out of Hawija. It seemed he was almost out as much as the grunts and it didn’t go unnoticed that he was in such a dangerous place without a weapon, as chaplains are still considered non-combatants. To keep him safe was a chaplain’s assistant, an E-4 armed with an M4. Pacheco’s assistant had no idea what he was getting into. Most chaplains are nerds with glasses who are all too happy to stay out of the shit; Pacheco went just short of seeking it out. Wherever the assistant was seen he appeared bewildered and exhausted, content with just attempting to keep up with Pacheco’s endless supply of energy.
“So the chap ass could be like Robin, except the opposite personality. He could be the voice of reason for St. Pac to try to prevent all the shenanigans they get into on their many adventures.” Perry kept the comic scheme going with reckless imaginary abandon as he tossed gravel over the wire-mesh and canvass lip of the Hesco barrier sitting sentry.
“Yeah he could be all, ‘Sir, maybe we should wait for an escort before going into the Western part of the Wij?’ Then the Goat King would say in Clint Eastwood voice, ‘Nonsense Chapass, we move forward alone with the armor of God resting on our shoulders and this big ass Book and huge honkin’ Cross with bayonet lug in my hands. We must get these mini Bibles and Hot Wheels to these people.’”
“Do you think we could get Eastwood to do the voiceover?” Perry asked, only partly joking.
“Again, if the comic makes it to the big screen I can’t fathom any reason why he wouldn’t get involved in such a project,” Cabello retorted in matter-of-fact fashion.
Pacheco would be remembered fondly by the 2-27 Wolfhounds and Wyoming Cowboys attached to them. He was a man that could earn the respect of Muslims and Agnostics alike. The ones that would never forget him were those that held hands with him as they prayed over their freshly-killed brother-in-arms.
“It’ll be great. We’ll probly even end up with our own booth at Comic Con,” Perry said as he attempted to wrap up the conversion in sync with the dying cherry nuzzling the ass end of his clove filter.
“Commie Con?” Cabello responded, honestly perplexed.
“No, Comic Con. It’s like Nerd Mecca. Everyone dresses up like Orks and Klingons and stupid shit like that and play video games and jerk each other off to Shatner reminiscing about Star Wars. Oh, and it’s all sausage and no taco, like 40,000 dudes and three hot chicks. And the chicks are getting paid to be there.”
“Count me out; you can act as my proxy.”
“So you’re OK with me getting all the glory in the eyes of all our nerd-elf adherents?”
“Um…yeah,” Cabello stated casually, bookending a beautiful puff of clove.
“Well I’m just excited about getting started and finding an artist, maybe a tattoo guy, for the illustrations.”
“Yep, when we get home.”
When we get home.”