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Outdoors at Patrol Base Yankee 1 in Rawah, Iraq earlier this month, Lance Cpl. Joshua Sou [left], 20, of Portland, Ore., and Staff Sgt. Duncan Hurst Jr. 30, of Rock Hill, S.C., play their guitars. Both are with Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of Task Force Highlander, which operates in western Anbar province.
Outdoors at Patrol Base Yankee 1 in Rawah, Iraq earlier this month, Lance Cpl. Joshua Sou [left], 20, of Portland, Ore., and Staff Sgt. Duncan Hurst Jr. 30, of Rock Hill, S.C., play their guitars. Both are with Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of Task Force Highlander, which operates in western Anbar province. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

Mideast edition, Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PATROL BASE YANKEE 1, Iraq — It was a calm evening after chow in Rawah, Iraq, and in the waning daylight a few Marines were lounging outdoors on benches listening to the guitar players on the patrol base steps.

“I see a red door and I want it painted black. No colors anymore, I want them to turn black,” sang the older of the two, an outgoing, jovial staff sergeant with a mild Southern accent.

“It’s a quick change,” he told the clear-eyed, quiet-spoken younger Marine of Cambodian ancestry who tried to follow the Rolling Stones tune on his guitar.

“Try to get the rhythm. Try to get the rhythm,” the older one said.

Both were playing it now, and soon, the older one had another song he wanted the younger to hear.

“Ah-we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout. We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson ever since the fire went out, I’m a-goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,” the older one sang, channeling Johnny Cash in style steeped in the ways of country and the blues. The Marines on the two benches were taking it in while talking quietly.

Then the older player, Staff Sgt. Duncan Hurst Jr., 30, of Rock Hill, S.C., tried the next lines, which were in a higher key. June Carter Cash’s part was a bit too high and his voice cracked.

“Can’t sing that high,” said Hurst, chuckling at himself, and one of the handful of Marines taking their ease nearby laughed with him.

Now Hurst and the younger player, Lance Cpl. Joshua Sou, 20, from Portland, Ore., began playing chords together.

Hurst is maintenance chief for Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of Task Force Highlander, which operates in western Anbar province. Sou is a mortarman/scout with Company D’s Weapons Platoon.

Standing off by himself, enjoying the guitarists, Lance Cpl. Andrew Vanbuskirk, 20, found his mind drifting to a simpler time just a few short years ago in Hayward, Calif., and to high school days and friends and the band he played with then.

“I love hearing music like that,” said Vanbuskirk, also of Company D’s Weapons Platoon. “Soothing, I think. It kind of brings back memories a lot … the old times back in school.

“When you didn’t have to worry about the stuff we have to worry about here.

“In high school you have to worry about your homework,” Vanbuskirk said. “But here you have to worry about your buddies, making sure nothing happens to them, that if anything does go down — we get shot at or anything — make sure none of my friends get hit. And my mom, if anything did happen to me, it would kill her."

Hurst by now was playing another Johnny Cash classic, one that met with the deep silence of instant approval from the nearby Marines.

“I hear the train a-comin.’ It’s rollin’ round the bend. An’ I ain’t seen the sunshine since, I don’t know when, I’m stuck in Folsom Prison, an’ time keeps draaaggin’ on.”

It was dark now, and after each had shown the other a few songs, Hurst went inside. Hurst’s playing is familiar to the Marines but this was the first time he and Sou had gotten together.

“He can play pretty good for his age,” Hurst said of Sou. “He knows a lot of songs I know, and he’s teaching me as well as I’m teaching him. … Oh yeah, we’re gonna be playing a lot together.”

“I’ve seen him play his guitar on the porch,” Sou said. “I asked him today if he wants to jam out, so he got all ecstatic about it, got all happy, so we did it.”

Sou talked of something much on the mind of the Marines here.

They love being warriors — a word they proudly use — but they’re eager to be done with Iraq.

“That’s what it feels like being around here, just, Iraq,” he said, drawing a comparison to the Folsom inmates. “How like prisoners there would want to go home, just like many of us.”

Music was helping, Sou said. “It boosts morale. Playing guitar is like going to another dimension. … It’s like a lifebelt.”

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