Coming of age

Fillin' radios, son!

Fillin’ radios, son!

Iraq nighttime summer missions are hot.

While the air cools off to a modest 90-something, the reserves held within the stone and metal continue to pour out misery to all cooler-clime-based individuals, well into the night.

Add the typical combat load: armored vest, shoulder pads, side inserts, side pads, loin protector, throat protector, weapon, helmet, gloves, ammo, med pack, weapon, and, in my case, a camera bag; and you have one recipe for salt encrusted uniforms post mission.

Packed into the space behind the truck commander, I felt like some muscle-bound brute trying to reach across my armored chest to check my equipment. Already my legs were aching, sharing foot space with our spare spotlight, used to ID potential “gifts” from our insurgent friends.

We pulled up to the gate and awaited our “SP” (start point) time. It was a lot like airports with gate schedules, sometimes you got stuck behind a few convoys ready for takeoff. We were second or third in line, which translated into 15th or 20th for aircraft since a dozen cargo-laden vehicles are a bit harder to get up to speed and in line than is a 757. You sit there, with the lights blacked out, the “air conditioning” blowing Iraq-temperature air on the one-inch portion of your sweat-soaked skin not covered by ballistic padding; waiting to leave.

I cracked open a Rip-It, our energy drink of choice this season (apparently Red Bull, Monster and other vendors are allowed to showcase their wares in our dining facilities only on certain months to maximize fairness). Gone in two gulps, I threw the can aside and groped in the monitor illumined, quasi dark for the bottle of water I had set down earlier. No luck.

I went through all the equipment checks in my head and started to realize something: we were the old kids on the block. Just a few weeks away from leaving, we were starting to train other units in how to work the roads. That was my story, to cover how the training program was going for a Puerto Rican National Guard unit that operated out of the capital.

A few minutes earlier, when we were staging, the newer guys listened with rapt attention at the briefings the older guys knew by heart — convoy speed, intervals, reaction to enemy fire…. Some of our cats started to make jokes and laugh and had to be told to settle down, just like the seasoned jokers that we replaced did on our first few convoys.

It was a good feeling, almost being done. It helped me wear the ache in my legs like a badge of honor, since I knew the new guys just feeling the pain wouldn’t be faring as well. Call it an initiation, I guess, learning all of the discomforts of road patrols and convoy escorts.

Those were the parts of patrols that the others back at the office never saw — the parts that you remember when a fobbit brags, “Man…wish I could get out on the road — go outside the wire. Sucks that they don’t let me.” Yeah, it’s glorious, right down to the musky smell of the radio headsets.

“We’re rolling!”

We started moving into the road to exit the gate, trucks firing up their headlights in succession. Now was the time to see if all their classroom work made any difference when facing the real deal.

“Gun three is red.”

And we were off.

###

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.

15 responses to “Coming of age”

  1. BWJones says :

    You need a soundtrack for the road patrols. Something like Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again combined with Moby’s South Side and perhaps Rush’s Red Barchetta among other choice tracks.

  2. beka says :

    for some reason Highway to Hell by ACDC came to mind but that’s pretty much been my answer to anything that needs a soundtrack these days. maybe it’s cause my sister is getting married again really soon. hmmm…

  3. Radio Free Babylon says :

    Or Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”

  4. beka says :

    i appear to be a little more cynical than the average bear.

  5. brogonzo says :

    The Neville and I both recommend “This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About” by Modest Mouse as a soundtrack. Apparently, it did him wonders during his road time in Kuwait.

  6. salmons says :

    Yeah, coming out with a “Roadside Soundtrack” would be pretty rockin’!

    The soundtrack to Syriana is appropriae also. Very ethnic and tense.

    Soundtracks would be cool, but we can’t do the music thing on the road.

    Our headsets are wired into the radio to help monitor transmissions. The roar of the humvee drowns out anything else.

    We also have earplugs in to minimize hearing loss when an explosion rocks through.

  7. ZNB says :

    I had a crazy dream last night that your blog gained national attention and I was trying to teach people Microsoft Excel. The 2nd part sucked, but I was overly excited about the 1st.

  8. finch says :

    dude – just saw Jesse James guy on Leno – apparently ya’lls Iraqi hook up the humvee special that you covered 6 months ago will air on the third of July…just thought that was cool…you rock dude…Word!

  9. salmons says :

    July 3rd, eh? Thanks for the head’s up. I was wondering when that blasted thing would air.

  10. beka says :

    i told all my gear head friends about that episode and went so far as to show them all your blog and photos about it. can’t wait to see it!! will we catch a glimpse of the salmons!!?? we’ll all just have to wait and see!!

  11. salmons says :

    I wasn’t IN much of the footage — at least nothing that would air 😉

    The only thing they got of me was when Pete (the pin stripe artist) was pin striping my iPod. Word! It’s totally been Monster Garageified!

  12. beka says :

    oh my gosh! is that josh salmons! THE josh salmons!! the one from that show!!! he’s like sooooooo cool!!! i wonder if i can get his autograph!! oh my gosh! oh my word! he’s like walking this way! *squeal, giggle, squeal* oh my gosh, josh salmons you’re like my favorite soldier EVER!!!! can you sign this for me!! PLEEEEEEEEEEASE!!!

  13. WW says :

    Holy Christ what a hellhole. You truly have my sympathy. I was in the Midwest last week and a friend of mine in central Wisconsin showed me the gear he installed on his roof to heat his water and generate electricity with the sun. His utility bills are now $10 a month on average, and the electric meter often runs backwards.

    Make no mistake, if Iraq didn’t have oil no one in Washington would give a shit about it. My friend is a mechanical engineer and all-around polymath and tinkerer, so he says he next step is going to be to rig up a little sign that will flash, “Fuck You, Dick Cheney” when the meter is running backwards.

    So this morning I’m talking to the handyman down the street here in Seattle. He’s going to repair the concrete on my porch and put up a fence. I tell him I’d like to do this solar thing that my friend in Wisconsin’s got, and he just about goes crazy telling me that this is his true passion.

    Hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have gone “off the grid.” My guy says it’s a 15-year payback at today’s energy prices, which we can all assume are going to do anything but fall. Next step after that is going to be an electric car for around town, with the batteries charged by the solar electricity system.

    I’ll still have the 12-cyliner atmosphere heater for long road trips, but day to day my energy footprint is about to shrink. Now just imagine if Bush had come on the Idiot Tube the week after Sept. 11th and told everyone to start looking hard to alternatives to oil. Something tells me that Arabs would be making peace among themselves pretty damn quick.

    In any case, reading stuff like this blog makes me even more determined to do what I can do to cut the cord. We are spinning out of control and you are paying the price. It sucks.

  14. salmons says :

    WW: Sweet! Pretty kickin about the solar angle. I think a lot more people will be getting into that sort of private energy generation business as oil hits $100 a barrel. That’ll be an emerging industry.

    Get on it all you business-savvy types. How do you capitalize on an emerging private energy market?

  15. WW says :

    I was genuinely shocked to find out that my friend had cut his energy bills by so much. I’ve downloaded a bunch of stuff from the Internet about it and will be gathering more info next week. For me the big issue is that I have trees on my property that shade the yard, so it’s going to be a matter of whether there’s a way to collect enough rays to have this make sense.

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