TALLIL, Iraq — Even the slowest of Joes knows that devout Muslims don’t eat pork, but when it comes to fish, even culturally savvy soldiers get muddled.

Such was the case recently when a group of civil affairs soldiers in southern Iraq discussed a lavish fish dinner they were treated to by a local sheikh. When asked what kind of fish the sheikh served, they couldn’t exactly say — except that they were positive it wasn’t catfish.

“It definitely wasn’t a catfish — they don’t eat catfish because it’s the only fish that has a menstrual cycle,” one soldier said.

“No, that’s not it,” another soldier said. “They don’t eat them because catfish don’t have scales.”

“That’s not it,” a third soldier said. “It’s because they’re bottom feeders.”

Finally, a fourth soldier weighed in on the debate.

“The reason they don’t eat catfish is because they’re bottom feeders, they don’t have scales AND they look really weird.”

Brown bag lunchDuring a layover at Camp Victory’s Griffin helipad recently, a small group of soldiers passed the time waiting for their bird by reminiscing about their free-falling days in jump school. Much of the conversation centered on the humor and etiquette of airsickness.

In one apocryphal tale, a soldier described the comeuppance of a jump instructor who attempted the old “soup in the airsickness bag” trick.

The practical joke — as it’s been told over the generations — involves one jump master at one end of the aircraft pretending to be airsick and vomiting into a bag. Instead of actually getting sick though, the jumpmaster is filling the bag with condensed soup, something with big chunks of ham or vegetables.

The jump master then hands the bag to an airborne recruit and orders them to pass it down the line to the jump instructor at the other end of the aircraft who, with fiendish relish, proceeds to gobble up the bag’s contents.

In this particular case though, the soldier insisted that when the bag was passed to the other instructor, a couple of trainees opened it and spat blobs of tobacco juice into the soup. Not knowing that the bag contained tobacco juice, the jump instructor gulped down the contents and, feeling the tobacco juice slide down his throat and into his gut, proceeded to vomit.

“Once he puked, it caused a whole chain reaction,” the soldier said. “Everyone started heaving right down the line.”

A different jump school grad who was prone to airsickness explained that in cases where an airsickness bag was unavailable, the conscientious soldier should grab the collar of his T-shirt, pull it forward and simply download his breakfast onto his chest.

However, the soldier — a combat cameraman — said that rule of etiquette went out the window when he was dispatched to Najaf for a week two years ago. After a roller coaster Black Hawk flight from Baghdad, the nauseated soldier ended up spraying his fellow passengers because he didn’t have a bag.

Why hadn’t he used the T-shirt method?

“They told me the camp I was going to was really rustic and might not have any showers,” he said. “Also, I just had one uniform. I didn’t want to be wearing that stuff for a week.”

Milky martyrsSgt. Eric Knight might be leaving Iraq without a confirmed enemy kill, but the Guyton, Ga., Army National Guardsman has chalked up an impressive 11 confirmed bovine kills, albeit accidental ones.

The forward artillery observer and civilian accountant was serving with the 48th Brigade Combat Team in the “Triangle of Death” some months ago, when his Paladin self-propelled howitzer directed counterbattery fire at a patch of open earth that insurgents had just fired mortar shells from.

Before firing, Knight had to receive permission and confirm through maps that there were no homes or population centers in the target area, to avoid collateral damage.

When the mission was completed, a patrol inspected the scene. There were no insurgent KIAs, but there were the remains of 11 unlucky cows.

Knight’s commander was less than thrilled by the news.

“The colonel says to me, ‘Well, we aren’t going to win any hearts and minds with that.’”

Knight said he responded to the officer the only way he knew how.

“I said — ‘But sir, the cows weren’t on the map.’”

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