Fight or Flight

A soldier goes birdwatching in Iraq

Illustration: Jed Morfit

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When Sergeant Jonathan Trouern-Trend, an avid birder, deployed to Iraq with the Connecticut National Guard, he saw a chance to update his life list. His sightings are chronicled in his new book, Birding Babylon (Sierra Club Books).

2/15/04 I’m lying on the ground with my eye on some guy racing around in a pickup truck, wondering if he’s going to take a potshot at us (which would have been suicidal), while a pair of crested larks were not even 10 feet from me, the male displaying and dancing around.

3/16/04 Tomorrow I get to go on a run to the burn pit…. [The pit] is a big draw to gulls and crows, and I’m sure I’ll see something good in the gull department.

3/18/04 I think everyone thinks I’m doing security work when I’m looking into the distance with binoculars. I’m not sure what they think when I’m looking up in a tree.

5/14/04 On the way the helicopter hit a bird. It traveled through one of the windows near the pilot’s feet and into the helicopter…. The bird was a male pin-tailed sandgrouse. I’d like to see one alive, maybe later this year.

6/23/04 As I was watching some wood pigeons, a pair of F-16s came tearing down the runway…. The birds were unfazed.

1/27/05 Yesterday was my last day in Iraq for this deployment…. One day I hope to return, with binoculars but without a weapon.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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