Standing by a blown up bridge with Blackhawk helicopters buzzing overhead, the American soldier casts his fishing line into the lake surrounding a former palace of Saddam Hussein just outside Baghdad and waits for something to bite.
Warrant Officer Leslie “Scott” Henry is part of a unique group of fishermen and women that meets every Sunday and on odd days of the week to take a break from the toils of war with their rod and an array of bait.
“It’s a chance to relax and get away from everything else that’s going on out here,” said the 45-year-old, who deals with aviation safety for US military aircraft in Iraq when he is not trying to hook an asp or a bass.
“You’ve got to stay ahead of the fish. You’ve got to be innovative,” Warrant Officer Henry told The Times as he tried out a new form of bait – strips of scrunched up bacon from the canteen, stuffed with cream cheese.
Situated on a sprawling military base next to Baghdad airport, the al-Faw Palace is one of several grand, marble buildings ringed by man-made lakes that have been occupied by American troops since the invasion five years ago.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of fish live in these expanses of water, inspiring several soldiers to drop their guns and pick up a rod.
They formed the Baghdad Angler’s Club and School of Fly Fishing, which has its own Web site – www.baghdadflyfishing.com – displaying shots of men and at least one woman posing with fish of various sizes and shapes.
Last February, the group even helped to organise a tournament, dubbed Operation: Catch Fish, which attracted some 300 anglers. Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Carter grabbed top honours, reeling in a 14-pound carp.
"It's a great feeling," the amateur fisherman, who had competed in smaller contests back in the United States, said at the time. "I can't win one back home, but now I can say I came to Iraq and won a fishing tournament."
It's a good story about how our troops find ways to relax a bit so far from home. Go read the rest.