Ducks in a row Pt.1

Humvee waits near the gate for the signal to roll out.

Humvee waits near the gate for the signal to roll out.

The sun had set by the time I exited the camp PX. Only a fading band of light on the horizon was left. The stars were out and dazzling. It was like the sand from the day had scrubbed clean the skies. It was beautiful.

Catching the bus back, I walked to my trailer, letting the drudgery from the day turn into sleepiness. Although it was only early evening, I needed to convince my body to get some rest before I had to report to the motor pool. For the weekend, the night would be my day.

I hear about one in the morning a lot, but it’s not often I see it for myself, at least on a day’s start.

Down at the motor pool, the gang was readying the trucks. We were only taking five vehicles to Camp Anaconda that day, but were going to join a larger convoy, so we had the numbers needed for safety.

What was a little sketchy on the safety factor was the soft-top Humvee I had been assigned. Actually, I had volunteered to ride in it, since everyone was chicken. While our up-armored Humvees boast all-around armor plating, this poor thing had make-shift armored doors slapped on the sides. The roof was cloth and had a big, gaping hole cut in the middle for roof access. The guys looked at it with nervous eyes.

Named “The Punisher,” our ride had the skull from the comics painted on the side. Cute.

“When I told my wife what I was riding in, I also said the name meant that it punished the people inside. She didn’t think that was funny,” my lieutenant said. Lt. D was a good guy, prior enlisted, and so didn’t let all the officer broo-haha get in the way of getting crap done.

Sgt. H, our brigade armorer, would be driving. Lt was on TC (front passenger), so that left me free to ride along in back.

Sgt. H wasn’t too thrilled about the cloth roof, and would shake his head whenever he looked at the huge hole that was the “hatch.”

We had put sandbags on the floor to help slow down any shrapnel that might come blowing through. Not that it would block it, but maybe just allow it to stop in our butts rather than shoot through our whole bodies. We couldn’t do much against anything rigged to hit us from above.

Chaplain gives us a prayer before rolling out.

Chaplain gives us a prayer before rolling out.

Our battalion chaplain showed up to give us a send-off prayer. Even the guys who don’t subscribe to the whole religion gig play along. Prayer in the military is just a good time for introspection, if not a small talk with the Almighty. We always appreciate the thought.

After loading the weapons and material we were bringing to Anaconda, we rolled out to the staging area to meet up with the rest of the convoy. Elements from the camp’s Quick Reaction Force would be on gun-truck duty. While we had a few .50-cals ourselves, the QRF boys would be the ones racing to intersections and patrolling the lines to maintain security; we would just be scanning for targets from our places in line.

“Okay okay, form it up, lets get this briefing out of the way,” a master sergeant spat out, breaking the guys away from their laughs and cigarettes.

The briefing lasted about 30 minutes, which was a long time for a newbie like me to stand around in my armor, weapon slung, and a big honkin’ camera bag on my hip. Afterwards we hopped in our trucks and headed for the nearby gate.

Waiting for trucks to un-jumble themselves.

Waiting for trucks to un-jumble themselves.

But the guards wouldn’t let us through. Apparently there was a problem with the paper work. It was one thing to deny access to people trying to come on the post, but I though it a bit ridiculous that we couldn’t get out.

After driving along the length of the camp, we left through the north gate. Dirt mounds flanked the path, giving us some cover as we snaked our way out to the roads.

By now morning was creeping into the sky and my first sight outside the wire was of a Iraqi man across the street, slinging rocks at us as we passed.

Iraq is a desolate place. Sure, there are trees and plants that keep it from being a total wasteland, but what does constitute villages are little more than rusted out buildings and mud-brick houses.

Single florescent bulbs are hung everywhere and serve as the preferred sources of light. Little stripes of light spelled cryptic messages for us along the houses in the growing morning.

Smells wafted in and out from our sun roof. Piles of trash would sit along the roads. Mounds and mounds of the stuff, some of them smoldering from an evening burn. It was an olfactory cornucopia.

As we came up to some kids walking to school, I readied myself for more rocks, but got waves instead. We were 1 and 1, series tied.

Outside the wire. Finally light enough to see.

Outside the wire. Finally light enough to see.

They tell you to look for piles of rubble, rocks, disturbed earth, or anything that might conceal a roadside bomb. Problem is, the road is lined with piles of rubble, rocks and disturbed earth. The whole thing makes you a bit edgy, and Sgt. H wasn’t taking any chances. He’d swerve right and left whenever he saw a pile big enough to conceal a boomer. The way the Humvee rocked back and forth, I can see vehicle rollovers are such a problem.

Soon I was up on the roof, snapping pictures of this and that. Unfortunately the low light blurred most of the shots. I didn’t stay up there for more than a couple minutes at a time, partly because it made the Lt nervous, but mostly because what was a chilly morning was bone biting at 50 mph.

After a couple turns and a few minutes, we made it to Anaconda. There it was, half the trip was over.

I know you never know when you’ll get hit, and every moment outside the wire is supposed to be this horrifying wait for the boom to send you to oblivion, but I can’t think like that and get by. I’ll pop.

###

About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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