Excerpt about my convoy experience in Iraq from the mind of a soldier. Thanks for reading.
|As I rode in my Humvee north to Baghdad, I stared out of my vehicle with no doors. This was before armor was mandatory and felt that if I did get shot at, I would be protected, mainly due to my bullet-proof vest and heavy plates concealed inside. However, if an IED (improvised explosive device, aka roadside bomb as CNN explains it) went off, I would be going home a tad lighter in the world's fastest weight loss program. To prevent this, my rifle was scanning for something, anything that may cause my troops and me harm.
As our convoy rolled, I admired the beauty of the land and the surprising amount of palm trees, and staring at each intently to see if someone is hiding behind it. In my mind, I pictured Iraq looking very different than what was reality. The sand blew past my face as we traveled down the bumpy, dusty, unpaved road. It doesn’t seem to bother me though as I am too scared to notice the dust, other than trying to look past it. Perhaps more scared of my imagination, than the actual threat. What would I do if bullets starting raining on me? Would I shoot back? Would I cower, or would I be brave? Will my months-long training cause a reflexive nature and I would be on autopilot, so to speak? I'm sure I would get my chance, but I prayed today was not the day as I felt green and vulnerable.
The heat was overwhelming, and even though it was only March, it was still hotter than I was used to, with temperatures already in low 100’s. Sweat poured from my Kevlar helmet and I could feel my t-shirt and my uniform clinging tightly to my skin, as it was soaked with sweat. My palms were sweaty, which may have been good, as the barrel and plastic of my weapon was becoming increasingly warm in the hot sun, perhaps the perspiration was the only thing cooling them enough to hold onto to the one thing in my life that could protect me at that point in time of my life.
Along the way, children would stand on the side of the road with their arms raised and waving, some begging for scraps of candy or holding empty water bottles that other soldiers had thrown from the trucks. As hot as I was, it crushed me to see these kids, kids my son's age, begging for water on a dangerous road. I was even more petrified that the soldiers would throw something from the truck and have a child run out to retrieve it, and as a plume of dust envelops her, another vehicle strikes her dead. What if that was my child? To the Iraqi children, convoys rolling are like the Thanksgiving Day or Mardi Gras parades, but more deadly. I made a note to brief my soldiers that this could not be risked, despite their good intentions, and despite the fact that we wanted to be the good guys in a country that has not seen good in a very long time. The children were young, very young, and certainly too young to be standing on the side of the road with no house or parents in sight. How did they get here?
We continued to travel down the road heading north, and the further we went the scenery changed from desolate dunes to more palm trees and more vegetation. There were farmers in the fields and I thought back to old Vietnam War movies and the farmers portrayed. In this war, there are no distinct markings to know who is good and who is bad. The clothes were all the same, dressed alike in their long gowns and no shoes. Watching them work in their attire, I was moved to think back to Biblical days and I feel I had gone back in time watching these humble citizens. The only difference is, RPGs did not exist in the Bible. So as soldiers, we watched and looked for any suspicious movement. Wishing that it were a matter of bad guys wears black, and good guys wear white. By the time you figure out which, an RPG round could be heading in your direction.
As I pondered how best to protect my convoy and myself against such an attack, we were stopped by a convoy halted ahead of us. There was a roadside bomb ahead, which would be my first of many encounters. We exited our vehicles and assumed our security stance. Some people took this opportunity to urinate on the tires of their trucks. Certainly not protocol, but to stay alive, we needed to hydrate and drink lots of water. After all, what goes in must come out. Hence why public urination had seemed so appropriate as we took turns covering our battle buddy. Back home if we were on a road trip, we could simply pull into a BP or Amoco station, stretch, and actually use a restroom in private, without risk of being killed. This was just one more thing that we took for granted in peacetime. On the side of the road was what appeared to be a primitive tool shed, but found out this was the Iraqi version of a convenience store, as they would sell candy, and even Coca-Cola, and a variety of other items. I always thought this would be a perfect place for insurgents to hang out, and convinced that the shop owner was partially responsible for placing the roadside bomb, if anything, to make our convoy conveniently stop in front of his store. It had seemed like an interesting way to drum up business.
As we relieved ourselves and maintained our security, weapons pointed outwards, we waited. We waited for what seemed like hours. We watched a camel herder with his camels walk about 100 yards east of us. It seemed that people thought we were at a zoo, rather than in a combat zone. They would snap pictures, as if they had never seen a camel before in their lives, as if it was some alien creature to them. I admit, my curiosity was also peaked and thought a snapshot of the camels would be a nice thing to email home, but was I willing to be caught unprotected for it? No.
I heard an explosion and in the distance, about half a kilometer away, a black plume of smoke rose into the air, before dissipating a few minutes later in the bright, cloudless sky. The Army’s version of the bomb squad, EOD, had intentionally set off the roadside bomb, and the road was reopened, and we were on our way. We would never get anywhere fast in this country with roads closing at the drop of a hat. The more we were on the roads, the more it seemed we were sitting ducks. Sitting ducks heavily armed, but sitting ducks nonetheless.
As we continued our way up the road, there was radio chatter about a woman found dead in a ditch up ahead. The unknown woman had been beaten and left for dead. I wondered to myself, "Why are we helping these people, who beat their wives and leave them for dead in a ditch?" These people are monsters. Then I thought, they are human, and even in America, humans can be monsters.