Well good morning to you too
Five o’clock Friday morning smacked me in the face.
Sitting up in my bed, the room dark, I reached over to quiet my alarm clock before my roommate woke up.
After a minute or two of rubbing my eyes, I started my little morning ritual of changing in the dark. When living with someone on different work schedules in a tiny room, you get quite good at operating in darkness – finding shoes, keys, stepping over bags and clothes.
I locked the door as I stepped out. It was cold – damn cold. Just as I had begun to grow used to fierce heat, now the fall was bringing a new aspect of arid life. I stopped for a second and thought about putting on a jacket, but figured I’d warm up after starting the run.
Friday was chest/triceps day. I had started a nice little six-day weight workout plan from awhile back. Although the gym was very crowded by 0530-ish, I didn’t mind squeezing a little more sleep out of my night verses a few fewer bodies in the weight room.
Forgoing most of my stretching routine, I started my mile-or-so jog to the nearest gym. I heard there were three in the general area of my gym, but had never bothered with finding them. This gym was the biggest and was right next to a huge dining facility – easy to find.
I made my way on the gravel paths through the clusters of trailers that housed everyone from aviation personnel to cooks. Some were sound asleep, other clusters showed the beginnings of life. A smattering of runners gave me a few people to say “hello” to.
Down the street and around a few corners, I finally came to the gym itself. It wasn’t until I reached for the door that I realized I had forgotten my ID card back in my trailer. Without it, nada on the weight room. You needed it to get in, and the civilians who run the place are cold-hearted bastards when it comes to exceptions.
Oh well, I thought, and started along the normal route I use on run days. Rounding the nearby PX and heading south put me near the fence that slides along the south-western edge of the camp. An Iraqi village was beyond the fence. Apparently there were two villages nearby: A friendly Shiite one to the south, and the not-so-friendly Sunni town next to the fence.
After finally finding my pace, there was this boom that happened off beyond the fence. Then this sort of whine – like a police siren spinning down. Just hearing that, I thought a police car outside the gate had just been hit with an IED. Strange that the police siren hadn’t been going off before it was hit.
Then there was a louder boom to my left. This explosion had more of a cracking sound and was definitely on camp.
Thus went my education on mortar attacks. The thumping sound was the launch. The whine was the shell arching into the sky. The cracking explosion was the shell hitting.
No mortar alarm sounded, so I kept running. I was heading home anyway and figured I’d make it back before another hit came.
Two minutes later I was almost home when the alarm finally went off, signaling everyone to head to the bunkers.
Another thump came from my right. You could barely hear the shell’s whistle over the siren. Small arms fire started up in the distance – apparently some of the guards saw who was shelling us.
Then a flash off to my left, some 150 meters away. The shell had burst in the air, leaving a small cloud hanging in the sky like a July 4th firework. Wow, close one, I thought.
Veering off the road, I headed to a nearby bunker and huddled in the concrete and dirt shelter with some sleepy Mississippi National Guardsmen. A first sergeant nodded at me as I came in.
“Air burst?” he asked. “Roger, top, close as hell,” I said.
A few minutes went by before the choppers started up. Watching them from the bunker, they flew low over the camp toward the offending village, searching for our attackers. An unmanned aerial vehicle took to the sky as well, putting more eyes on the now still and quiet row of shacks beyond our border.
And that was it. Soon we got the signal saying we could leave the bunkers. I said my goodbyes and made it back to my trailer. Just another attack. No biggie.
Retelling the story later to a sergeant first class in my personnel office, she said, “With it that close, you could qualify for a combat action badge. All you need is two eye witnesses.”
Not that I was gunning for the award, but no dice – I was alone, I told her. “Oh well,” she replied.
Regardless, it was an interesting start to the day; and the convoy I was scheduled to go on that night would make the day’s close just as eventful. Our main supply routes are very interesting places, full of suspense and adventure. Damn insurgents love sending us little bombs to keep us on our toes.
Thank God it’s Friday just doesn’t have the same sparkle as it does in the states.