Embarrassment and “Fun” Times in Morocco
So, first of all, Merry Christmas to all of our friends and readers out there. From all of us here, we wish you all the best and hope this finds you happy, healthy and surrounded by loved ones during the holiday season.
Just this past weekend, while chatting online with NEWSREP’s resident badass George Hand, a fellow former 7th SFG and Delta operator, we were comparing notes and pictures from our time in Morocco. And this was on our private writer’s page. Geo had been there with Delta, doing all of the cool-guy shit that Delta operators do. I, on the other hand, was there in a very different capacity. I was there as the Security Adviser for a Hollywood film, “The Green Zone” based on the real-life experiences of Monty Gonzales, a former Ranger Regiment guy who was in Iraq hunting for WMDs.
I had sent Geo a pic from there and he asked if he could post it on his public Facebook page, which he did. There, several of the guys I had worked with there, posted comments and sure enough, someone mentioned an incident that took place involving…yes, the Security Adviser. So, Geo and Alex from NEWSREP got their interest’s piqued and I figured, what the hell, it wasn’t the first time I’d been embarrassed and certainly won’t be the last…
The “Green Zone” was a fun film to work on. We had a fantastic cast and crew of at times 350 including extras. Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan. Directed by Paul Greengrass, (Bourne films, United 93), it was a talented crew. Making it even more realistic was the fact that nearly all of the actors portraying the men in Damon’s Army unit weren’t professional actors but actual Iraq war vets who were hired to give a much more realistic feel to things.
Everyone got along extremely well and there was nary a hint of any issues (other than the weather) that can plague a large budget film. We were all based in a couple of hotels in the center of Rabat, Morocco, about two blocks from the Marketplace (Medina) and right on the ocean. Our hotel was right across the street from the Tomb of Mohammed and the Hassan Tower. There were always tons of cops there because of the site.
However, boys will be boys. And what happens in Rabat, stays in Rabat. The longer we were there, the more problems we’d have some of the male members of the crew going into the Red Light district late at night and often times alone. The area was full of small gangs of thieves who would prey upon the outnumbered. The results were many of them were getting robbed/rolled and they would then call me looking for assistance.
The common refrain from the Security Office was, “we’re not preaching morality here, just common sense. #1. Don’t go to the Red Light district, especially late at night and #2. never travel anywhere alone.” I said that so many times, I got sick of hearing it myself. Little did I know that I would be the next person to fall victim to Rule #2.
One night, I sat in the Hotel lobby bar with my good friend Barnaby, talking about hockey while he rubbed it in my nose that his beloved Giants had just beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl. In actuality, the only two Patriots fans on the entire cast and crew were Mr. Damon and yours truly…
But after going up to my room, I couldn’t fall asleep, Rabat late-night television isn’t what I’d characterize as great. I figured a late night walk in the cool air around the hotel would be just fine, I’d walk around the Tomb of Mohammed since it is well lit and there are always a ton of cops there.
Getting off the elevator, I should have known that it was a bad idea. The lobby was a ghost town, no security at the door, no clerk at the front desk…nobody. It felt like the scene in the “Devil’s Advocate” where the city is deserted.
All I had on was a pair of sweatpants, a Red Sox sweatshirt and my Special Forces ring which I never took off. No cash, no wallet, no I.D., just my room key. I walked across the street along with some shrubs that line the Tomb area. I entered the huge open area that was on the opposite side of the Tomb. It was right then that I heard them.
On the opposite side of the hedges, a small group of hoodlums was tearing up the street, I could see their heads as running along the sidewalk. As they approached the entrance they split in two and three entered the entrance and the rest kept going down to the next one, to cut off my escape route….Fuck, where the hell are the cops ?!?
I cut diagonally back to the lower edge where there were more shrubs and an exit near the roundabout in the road. No cops, nada. Shit….
They jumped out of the dark right by the exit, the oldest, a young punk about 17-18 held a kitchen knife that looked like it had been dipped in shit about three lifetimes ago. When they caught up to me, they realized I was at least a head taller than all of them and it gave them the slightest pause. But the young leader with the blade was undeterred. His knife gave him courage. He yelled something in French, which I don’t speak a word of… (Geo I needed your language skills!). I shrugged as if to say I don’t understand.
They all started to jibber-jabber in a mixture of Arabic and French and the tough guy leader gestured for money. I didn’t have any, just a room key and my ring and those little shits weren’t getting that. I put my hands out to say, “Okay I will give it to you” and moved my hand to my pocket. The leader lowered his knife slightly and at that time, I grabbed his skinny little wrist and twisted it as hard as I could, trying to snap the fucker in half. The knife clattered to the ground. And with the adrenaline going, I punched him as hard as I could right in the forehead. He went ass over teakettle into the shrubs.
Now I was pissed, I grabbed the knife and the rest of those little shits decided that robbing that French/English tourist wasn’t a great idea and took off. With the knife in my hand, I gave chase down the middle of the street. Guess who showed up?
The cops see a white guy chasing a bunch of local punks with a knife in his hand and now I’m safely surrounded by Rabat cops, pointing their guns at me. With four of them shouting at me, the only thing I recognized is that they wanted me to get down in the street. I gave them the universal language that they understood immediately. I told them to go fuck themselves.
Right before they commenced to either shooting me or beating the hell out of me with clubs, an officer showed up who spoke some English. I made him quickly aware that it was me who was being robbed. He understood and took a statement from me that took entirely too long because his English was limited and my knowledge of French and Arabic was virtually non-existent.
So much for sleep that night. The next morning on the set, I ran into Monty and his brother Jason and told them how I had broken my own rules and nearly got robbed right outside of the hotel. After embarrassingly swearing them to secrecy I wandered off to walk around the set perimeter to stay awake more than anything else.
Well by that afternoon, either the hotel people blabbing to others in the crew or my buddy Monty spilling the beans, everyone knew that the “Security guy that tells everyone not to go out alone almost got robbed for doing the same stuff”. Besides feeling like a hypocrite, I ignored it. Our director Paul saw me in the afternoon and he asked what happened. I cringed and relayed the story exactly how it went down. He laughed.
“I heard that this morning,” he said. “But it has been making the rounds among the crew and it has gotten better with each telling. Now there were a dozen al-Qaeda guys with AKs and RPGs storming the hotel” Paul laughed and said, “I can’t wait until what it will be tonight.”
The story had an even more sublime ending. About a week later, I came down about 6 a.m. as we were heading out to the old U.S. airbase at Kenitra to film there. It was about 45 minutes from the hotel. It was the same airbase that “Black Hawk Down” was filmed at. My Moroccan driver, Hassan who spoke English, Spanish, French, and Arabic was waiting for me as usual.
Just then a slew of Moroccan cops entered the hotel lobby, they went to the desk and after speaking with the clerk, I saw the clerk gesture toward me. I was surrounded by four cops all speaking at the same time and one guy with a camera.
“What are they saying,?” I asked my driver. “Steve, they want to take a picture of your hand…” he said. Unsure of what they wanted I looked at the one with the camera and he just kept gesturing to put my hands on the table. When I did he snapped about four pictures. It was then another cop entered and he was talking at length with my driver, who smiled at me. Next, the cop produced some photos of the little punk with the knife….they had caught him.
My driver was laughing, “he said it wasn’t him, that he wasn’t there,” Hassan said. “But look at the last picture.” Sure enough, right above his left eye on his forehead was a perfect cut, an indent from the top of my SF ring. The crossed arrowheads and the loop of the crest were unmistakable. The cops had made note of my ring initially and then needed a picture to corroborate their report. “He’s going to get 11 years…automatic,” the cop said to my driver who translated. “He’ll be gone later today.” The wheels of the justice system turn very fast there.
So, yes, I was the hypocrite who broke his own rules, luckily for me, I didn’t have a steep price to pay other than being embarrassed by breaking my own rules. As Paul Harvey used to say, “now you know the rest of the story…” Merry Christmas.