“What, you think you’re Joe Rock now?”
Joe Rock. Who the hell was this guy? Did he ever even exist? For a long time, I thought “Joe Rock” was a comic book character called “SGT. Rock”, an implacable soldier of almost superhuman endurance. His Army fatigue shirt worn down to a vest, bare chest underneath and belts of machinegun ammo draped over his shoulders, he was a World War Two hero in DC Comics two-dimensional glory. When I read his comics as a kid, I don’t recall ever seeing his first name, but “Joe” always seemed appropriate (Turns out his name was “Frank”. Who knew?).

sgt-rockFrank, we hardly knew ya.

I first heard of “Joe Rock” in US Army Basic Training in Fort Benning, Georgia. I won’t give the exact year, but I was in D-10-2 and one of, but not the, last rotations out of Harmony Church before training was taken over entirely by the Sand Hill facility. “Joe Rock” was a generic “everyman” type term applied to all of us trainees.  There were of course other, more colorful names applied to us, the only one I’ll share here is “boneheads” due to our freshly-shaven scalps  (I’m trying to keep this somewhat family-friendly).

Anyhow, “Joe Rock”. Joe Rock, whoever he might have once been, was the stereotypical tough-guy soldier, the type you might see in Hollywood. Probably running around with a “Tommy gun” and mowing down Nazis, or later, Communists. Joe Rock wasn’t an over-the-top hero like John Wayne or Rambo –we got called by those names, too, when we were trying too hard to be cool. No, Joe Rock was the name they gave us when we were just slogging on in the muck and mud, tired and grumpy but not complaining much. We aspired to be Joe Rock.

BOHICA, on the other hand, is an acronym. The Army loves its acronyms, but BOHICA stands out. It means Bend Over, Here It Comes Again. What “it” is can be anything from “a swift kick in the rear” (family-friendly) to other, far worse fates. Just when you think you are done for the day and can go back to the barracks for some hot pizza and cold beer, BOHICA –you’re not done. As soon as you get permission to get released for the weekend, the sudden discovery of a last-minute worn track shoe means BOHICA. When you swore up and down you were coming back in from the field on Friday, guess what? It’s not this Friday, it’s next Friday. Another week downrange and you just ran out of beef jerky and Skittles. BOHICA, son. When you get so used to bending over for another kick in the can that you don’t even notice it any more, guess what? You’ve got the BOHICA BLUES.

And now back to good ol’ Joe Rock. When I went on to regular service with the active duty Army, I was in the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson Colorado. One day in a fit of wanton attention-whoring, I put up a hastily scrawled pen-and-typing paper cartoon called “Joe Rock”. He was one name I knew all of us in the Company had in common, so the everyman appeal was obvious. Admittedly, not all my cartoons were proper for public consumption and I did get a few stern finger-wagging lectures about how I portrayed certain Battalion leaders (hint for future military cartoonists: drawing your Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major naked, holding hands, and skipping through a field of daisies generally does not go well).

1987-001While overall “Joe Rock” was well-received, and even got mention in the base newspaper, he didn’t last long. I got out of the Army and moved to California for a few years, experimenting with small-press and fanzine comics, before drifting out of cartooning for several years.

It changed in 2004, when I was mobilized through the Army Reserves with the 458th Engineer Battalion. We spent much of February 2004 in Kuwait, waiting to cross the border into Iraq, and after a long two-day convoy we found ourselves in Camp Victory North, just outside of BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port), among the first rotations into the newly-created base. We had brand-new air-conditioned trailers to live in, and after the inevitable jokes about trailer parks and banjos we settled in for… well, we weren’t sure what.

That night, comedy hell broke loose.

We’d been tense and nervous on the drive up; two days with little sleep, navigating in a strange and hostile land, waiting for “something awful” to happen. Our first night, shortly after dark, became punctuated with explosions. What followed will be detailed in cartoon form (the only proper way to address the absurdity) but I knew, the next day, I would have to confront this with my drawing hand. By March 15th, 2004, I had a piece of cardboard torn from an MRE box, some tape, and a couple document protectors. I made the “BOHICA BLUES” reader board and started inserting new cartoons in it whenever I could, first in our humble Battalion chow trailer and later in the big Brigade Mess Hall.

I still have the cardboard reader board and most of my originals; Joe Rock and his band of brothers & sisters will relive most of the moments already committed to paper, but this time around they have been given more detailed backgrounds and names. The first version, in Baghdad, was mostly a hastily-scrawled “joke a day” format; a more coherent story, with color, has been constructed for the webcomic version. They will all be featured here and reflect on the weirder, funnier, and stranger aspects of the Iraq War. Joe and his companions, like most of us, never fully understood what was going on or why; what it was all for and what it meant will be for others to address. Regardless of the conclusions others come to, Joe –like most of us—will probably walk away from the experience shaking his head in dismay, saying, “This is a really stupid way to solve arguments”.

Enjoy BOHICA BLUES and Joe Rock.