Major Jace Jackson’s polished dress shoes shined as he marched up the palace’s steps. Standing in front of the towering golden palace, the executive officer of the 8th Fuel Battalion with the Third Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia, gave his dress uniform another once over. Satisfied that his uniform had no wrinkles and his medals and his expert rifle and expert infantry badges were in its appropriate place according to Army regulations, Jace went over his mission again in his head. Yes, the West Point graduate who was serving his third tour of duty in the Middle East was there because Sheik Rashid of Abdu Jar had invited wanted a member of the famous Third Infantry Division, known for its prowess and victory at Marne, France, in World War II, to have dinner with him at his palace. Why he’d been volunteered to be the sheik’s dinner guest was beyond him, Jace shook his head, but like the good soldier he was he knew orders were orders.
Only a few hours before he had to leave for Abdu Jar, which was about two hours away from their camp in Baghdad, Jace’s commanding officer, General William Eubanks called him into his office.
“Major, can I have a word with you?” Eubanks beckoned him with a finger as Jace, clad in his physical training sweats and top, made his way toward the latrine for a shower. Jace certainly did not want to go to dinner at a sheik’s palace smelling like sand and sweat.
“Yes, sir,” Jace turned immediately following his superior into his office at the end of the hallway.
As Eubank closed the door behind them, Jace stood at parade rest in front of the desk of the veteran officer, who had served in the Gulf War and Desert Storm. Eubank’s office was the typical Army office – it was neat, orderly, and only had the necessities such as the packed duffel bag, rucksack, and some pictures of family.
Taking a seat on the metal folding chair, Eubanks gestured to the folding chair in front of his desk. “Take a seat, Jace.”
The 30-year-old from Chicago hesitated a moment before sitting down. Calling a soldier by his or her first name just was not something done in the military, so he figured his commander had something serious to discuss with him.
Eubanks slapped a file marked “top secret” on his desk. “This came down from Stormin’ Norman himself with MECOM. “ Middle East Command (MECOM) based in Kuwait supervised all the Army operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries in the Middle East.
Slowly, Jace looked through the paperwork that had information and pictures of Sheik Rashid, who has been selling gas to the United States for the last several years. After scanning through the thin pile of papers and photos, he found the orders Swartzkopf had issued him. He was to negotiate a deal with Sheik Rashid to lower the price per gallon of gas.
In a letter, Swartzkopf emphasized the importance of him successfully making a deal because President George W. Bush had promised Americans that they’d soon have relief from paying $6 a gallon for gas. For the last six months, his mom and other family members, who all lived in Arizona, had sent him e-mails and letters complaining about how they were barely getting by having to pay $6 at the pump. They told him how ridiculous it was to have to pay so much for gas, and he could not agree more but the
United States had traditionally bought gas sheiks and other Middle East oil companies regardless of its costs.
Luckily he did not worry about coming up with a deal for the sheik, the Army took care of that for him. He had read it over several times in the last several hours before coming to the palace, and Jace felt certain the sheik would sign it without any problems. The negotiated gas price contract provide Abdul Jar’s ruler substantial profits.
After ringing the bell cord at the door, a puny emissary escorted Jace into the great hall, where a harem of women danced with veils to Arabian music being played by musicians. After the music faded and women disappeared, a burly man announced, “His Highness Rashid.”
Clad in red robes and matching turban, Rashid made his way over to Jace. “Major, it’s a pleasure to have you here.”
“It’s my pleasure as well, Your Highness,” Jace said, amazed by all the rings and jewelry the sheik wore. “Before we have dinner, I wonder if we might discuss some business.”
“Of course,” Rashid said, gesturing to a plush cushion and both men sat down. “What business would like to discuss?”
Jace presenting the Army negotiation contract to Rashid. “Your Highness, the United States would like you to consider this contract reducing the prices you charge on your gas.”
Rashid laughed loudly.
“Your Excellence, surely you have wealth beyond measure,” Jace pleaded with him, “and what my government offers you is very profitable and reasonable.”
“Yes, I am extremely blessed with riches and your country’s deal is most beneficial,” Rashid agreed with a warm smile, “but I only make this kind of deal with family. Perhaps if you marry my daughter, Serena,” he gestured to a lovely dark haired woman garbed in purple veils. “We may have a deal.”
“Then just call me, Son,” Jace said, shaking the sheik’s hand.