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Young Syrian soldier tastes dull side of war

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

In the desert scores of kilometers east of the capital Damascus, stand a two-story building, a few scattered tents, along with some battered military equipment.

This is the radar camp where 23-year-old Syrian private known as Shaimle has been stationed for nearly three years. "If I stay here any longer, my brain will surely rot," he said bitterly, staring at the the vast stretch of wilderness scattered only with a handful of patches of scrubby grass.

The Syrian government dictates that all male citizens aged 18-42 must serve at least two years in the army, a measure to maintain a sufficient military force that could fend off possible aggressions from its archenemy Israel.

However, the raging conflict that broke out over two years ago in the country has indefinitely postponed Shaimle's retirement from the army.

"Since childhood, I have known that I'll serve in the army when I grow up. But I've never expected to be actually in a war," he said as he squinted his eyes under the glaring sun.

"Now I don't know when this will be over and I can go home" in the southeast province of Suwayda, where he has a fiancee and a shop selling construction materials.

Shaimle said he misses his family and fiancee and they are worried about him. He said he has called them as much as he can despite poor cell phone signals. Shaimle and some 20 other troops posted here are not totally exempted from the civil war either.

Shaimle said they have recently rushed to get some of their "comrades out of a town the terrorists surrounded." He called the opposition insurgents terrorists like every other government soldier.

"During that operation, two of my buddies died and 15 others were injured," he said. According to Muhammad Mahamoud, a commander in East Ghoutha district, a hotspot in suburban Damascus, about 300 government troops have been fighting against opposition militants there.

On April 6, the government forces announced that they've wrestled the area free from the opposition. The victory considered as crucial as retaking East Ghoutha means securing neighboring Damascus International Airport.

As lunch hour came at three in the afternoon, a pickup arrived and unloaded that day's ration: bread, plain yogurt and water-boiled potatoes.

The soldiers serving compulsory terms earn very little money, about 1,000 Syrian pounds per month (roughly 10 U.S. dollars).

Only when they become professional soldiers after compulsory terms, do the men earn much more, from 1,400 dollars to 2,000 dollars per month according to the rank and years of service.

After lunch, the men got to enjoy their leisure time. "We mostly listen to music on our cell phones or sometimes play cards," said Shaimle, while Zufeikar, another soldier, added that they also have radio and TV sets, but they have trouble in signal receiving.

When asked about religion issues, a sensitive matter in a country where many analysts believe the war to some extent is fueled by religious differences, Shaimle said that is a problem among the soldiers.

"We don't identify ourselves by our belief, our faction, or where we come from. We are all Syrians and therefore brothers," he said.

Nearly three years of service has turned Shaimle from a green boy to a seasoned veteran, knowing how to manage sentiment in hard times and how to deal with tricky issues.

He said he learned to be patient. "Only by being patient, can we hold on to hope, until the good things in life finally arrive," he added.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/asianet/130411/young-syrian-soldier-tastes-dull-side-war