Senior Airman Joe Batman of the 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

Senior Airman Joe Batman of the 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Gotham City is not the only place with a Batman in its ranks.

Baghdad’s Camp Liberty has its own — in this case Senior Airman Joe Batman of the 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron detachment.

“It’s a German name,” he explained. “It is, from what I’m told, a German officer’s servant.”

Whatever its origin, it has drawn a lot of attention to the 25-year-old Dolphin, Va., native.

Batman deployed to Iraq from Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base about two months ago and expects to be in country until mid-2005.

“We thought it was a joke,” said Senior Airman Hugo Vitela, about Batman’s pending arrival a few months ago. “We were like ‘Batman? Who the hell is Batman?’”

His Air Force brethren quickly got used to him — although he still does get a little ribbing from them. When he enters the Tactical Operations Center in their corner of the camp, other Air Force personnel always do the song: “duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh” — well, you know the rest.

Since the Air Force is greatly outnumbered by Army personnel on the camp most of the attention comes from soldiers, Batman said.

“They get really excited,” he said. “They do the ‘Look, I’m Batman’ thing.”

“They do the little song,” Vitela added. “You can hear it in the background when we’re walking.”

Batman doesn’t get upset with the attention drawn by his last name, and has never wished he were “Joe Smith” or something less, well, superhero-like.

“Nah, Batman’s too cool,” he said.

Though single, he hopes to have children someday and pass on the Batman name.

But there are some names that are definitely out for the future kids.

“No Bruces or Robins,” he explained.

Though he’s probably the only Batman in Baghdad, he’s not the only one in the military. His brother, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ira Batman, is assigned as a mineman at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, near Corpus Christi.

Melancholy magic

Every seat on the bus from the post exchange to the northern part of Camp Liberty was full as it turned toward one of the camp’s living areas.

Tunes were blaring, as they do every night in the “Wayne’s World” bus, so named because of a piece of paper stuck in the window underneath the bus route sign.

Soldiers new to Iraq talked with the old hands, a couple of whom said they were counting the days until their combat tours were over. Everyone seemed in a pretty good mood as the final few notes of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” ended.

As the bus pulled into the living area, the first notes of the next song came on.

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,” crooned Paul McCartney. “Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

Conversation came to standstill.

“Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be.

“There’s a shadow hanging over me.”

“Wayne’s World,” it seemed, had just gotten a lot smaller and much more personal.

One newly arrived officer wryly commented that he hoped none of the soldiers would start crying.

It wasn’t said in jest.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jason Chudy contributed to this report. He is currently embedded with the 10th Mountain Division in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

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