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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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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