Tillil, Part 2
Over one million pounds of metal sat idling in the December morning, waiting on 480 collective wheels. The 90,000 pound trucks stood as shadowy mountains in the night.
Ten Heavy Equipment Transports were about to head out on their way to Tilill, Iraq, to deliver some unneeded equipment. The artillery pieces we had lashed to the trailers were to be shipped home.
For our five gun trucks, this was their first mission flying solo. There was some confusion as to the route we should take. The HET drivers normally ran through the least-dangerous roads through Baghdad and into southern Iraq, but our escorts were only familiar with a very dangerous stretch of road called Irish. There was concern the humvees wouldn’t know where to go, and they suggested we went their way.
“Hell no,” one of the louder HET drivers spat out. “You get lost, just put a HET in front. We ain’t going down Irish, that’s for damn sure.”
The huddle was still haggling over the specific order of turns and roads after I had made my way up to the cab. I saw the nervousness of the drivers at the mention of Irish. My driver, waking from his sleep, just shrugged.
“Oh well, wouldn’t be the first time,” he said, yawning. “Sure does seem stupid that they don’t just let us do our run.”
Reaching for a bottle, he poured out three pills. “Hydroxycut” was in bold letters on the side of the label.
“It tastes like sh*t, but it keeps me awake,” my driver said, as he broke open three capsules and poured the powder into his mouth. Grimacing, he reached for a can of Red Bull and downed the whole thing.
“Aren’t you not supposed to drink other forms of caffeine with this stuff?” I asked, reading the bottle.
“Meh,” he said flatly, and drank half of another Red Bull.
Our TC, the convoy commander, finally arrived from the forum outside.
“We’re going our way, f*ck Irish,” he said as he arranged his GPS monitors and radio headset.
Minutes later we were out the gates and into the war.
We barely made a dent in the eight hours before our TC started dozing, a usual no-no in convoys. Normally everyone is awake and alert, scanning for threats IEDs, but the truck drivers had a different protocol.
“One of us sleeps on the way down, that way we can switch out for the trip back,” my driver explained. “I don’t like it, but I sure can’t make it the whole time by myself.”
He prepared another triple shot of drugs to take the edge off his fatigue and I kept watch with him, reluctant to leave the speeding 100 tons of truck and cargo to the doped-up consciousness of a young specialist.
Swerves to avoid potholes or any number of rubble piles kept me up in sudden jolts. Quarter hour melted into quarter hour until I noticed the landscape changing from village to city to village to field to empty night. We had passed through the capital and were entering the southern portion of Iraq, rife with nothing.
After a refueling stop, the sun began its rouse. The sky rained down more and more light until I was able to see the bleakest expanse I had ever witnessed.
Surprisingly there were still people here. Single room houses appeared on hilltops every mile or so. With no plumbing, electricity, or water for miles, I could only wonder how families could live out here that produced the number of children that lined the street as we passed, begging for candy.
Unending folds of dirt, no developed land of any kind, and yet there were dozens of these kids, many without shoes, every few hundred feet. All out, hands touching their mouths in the sign for “food” as we rolled by.
“Makes you wonder where the hell they come from,” the driver said. “I mean, look at this place.”
Everyone hears the stories the cavalry and tank guys tell about chucking 9-volt batteries or rocks at the kids, using them as target practice; or just beaming the candy at them for spite. We didn’t have any of that, thankfully, just a box of Cheese-Its that found a smiling little girl, and an MRE or two.
The closer we got to Tillil, the more Beduins there were. Not just kids, but parents, bicycles, herds of sheep, camels, street vendors, all with little tents nearby – a clue as to how they lived in this blasted landscape.
“They’ll sell you hash if you want,” my driver said, smiling. Statements like that sometimes are true, but sometimes are just said to mess with the journalist.
Some of the merchants held knives or DVDs up as we passed, as if we’d be enticed to leap from our speeding vehicles to pay $30 for a looted bayonet.
Some kicked their feet out to show us the bottom of their feet – the Arabic version of the middle finger. Some actually flipped out their middle finger – the learned Arabic version of the middle finger. Every time I saw a kid giving me the bird, I just had to laugh.
As the sun burned the last reds and purples of early morning away and ushered in the yellows and browns of day, we arrived at Tillil – a base of Coalition forces, national flags peppering buildings and signs as we passed.
After making contact with some sergeant major, we headed toward the airfield to unload the vehicles. Our day had gone smoothly so far, thank God, but we still had the trip back, and my driver had depleted the bulk of his caffeine and soda supply.
To be continued…