Monday, July 31, 2006

Route Irish

Less than an hour to go and I find myself getting nervous. Last time I was too busy to be nervous - this time I came in early to take care of things ahead of time. I won't do that again.

I find myself twisting my wedding ring around on my finger over & over again. Sort of like that feeling when you're on the field but before the kick off - tingly and weak. You know once that cleated foot touches the ball and you are chugging down that field everything will be okay, but it doesn't take away the jitters now.


The Gunner getting his weapon ready before the Route Recce.

Convoy Briefing: “Okay guys, listen up! The convoy will be on frequency ----; the Sheriff’s on ----, so if you get into any trouble just call for help in the open. They’ll know where we are because we’ll have the Blue Force Tracker on. If we take casualties, we continue to roll. Clear the kill zone and report on frequency ----. If we need a Medevac use the 9 paragraph Medevac Request format.

“If the vehicle is disabled, passengers jump out and climb into the other humvee. ‘Gunner’s the last one down. If the other vehicle is disabled, we swing around to pick them up – just make sure the doors are open and you’re out of the way ‘cause they’ll be moving quick. Cpl ----, pop a smoke if you have time, but don’t let up on the 240.

“Major, you’ll sit in the back, so if the gunner gets hit, you take over. Don’t worry about the gunner being hurt, just keep firing, okay? Have you fired the 240 before? Everyone lock and load before we take off. Alright, we’ll roll at 1025 – don’t forget to hydrate. We’ve got water and Gator aid in back of the second Humvee.”

There are a couple of check points before you actually hit the red zone. Lots of Jersey barriers to slow down suicide car bombers. We pass Ugandan, American, and Iraqi troops; all seem to be exceedingly bored. Some waves, as you would wave to someone you don’t know going somewhere you don’t want to go - sort of a “better you than me” kind of wave. “ECM on!” As we turn onto Route Irish we pass a very large patch of scorched earth and the Sgt Major turns back and asks me if I’m scared. I give a little smile but don’t reply. It’s not yet 1100 but the sun is searing, and I feel little rivulets of sweat rolling down my chest underneath my body armor.

Suddenly we’re off. Well, not so suddenly, because these armored humvees weigh quite a bit and handle more like a boat than a car, but you can tell that we’re through the gates and on the road by the whine of the engine. It must really be sucking down the JP-8 now. The turrets swivel to opposite sides, gunner’s scanning the buildings along the road. “Two up front and a white sedan approaching from the right!” “Rog, got ’em.” “Two more coming up on the left!” Traffic is light, and every vehicle is called out by the gunner. We’re going pretty fast, weaving back and forth and in and out of traffic so as not to make an easy target. The rear vehicle has a large sign that reads “Extreme Danger! Stay back 100 Meters” in both English and Arabic, and I see the gunner point his machine gun menacingly at an Iraqi car that gets a bit too close. The car backs off fast, almost coming to a stop on the highway,

“OVERPASS!!” the gunner shouts out as he ducks down below the armored shield. The Muj like to string wire across the concrete abutments of an overpass at just about the height of a gunner’s head. I’ve never heard of the tactic working, but the gunners take it seriously. Although there is no wire, I notice two hearts spay painted on the concrete, a sign the Muj had been there.

We pass a burnt out vehicle on the left, and a couple of Soviet-era armored personnel carriers with Iraqi flags painted on their sides. It’s pretty junky along the sides of the road, but it’s hard to tell damage caused by the war from regular junk or trash. There are observation posts and check points manned by Iraqi troops every couple of miles, which makes me feel better. One check point even has a huge American Abrams tank in the middle of the road. Although I have gotten used to having machine guns pointed at me as you approach a checkpoint, it still gives me the creeps to stare into the business end of a 120mm smoothbore. “One on the left. OVERPASS!” The gunner squats down and gives me a thumbs up sign.

At one point we pass four pick up trucks with dark blue clad police in the back. Two of the trucks have Russian machine guns mounted rat patrol-style. They don’t smile or wave the way the Iraqi Army troops do. A while ago a couple of police were convicted of killing their American advisors while in a fire fight in Baghdad. Even the Iraqi Army doesn’t get along with the IPs – they remind me of a street gang from Detroit. I don’t like them, but we’re soon past.

“Broken down vehicle on the right! OVERPASS!!” “Fuck! Was it there yesterday?” “I don’t think so.” Wait… okay, guns outboard, we’ll go in right after this blue Renault on the left (meaning, we’ll drive right behind the Renault hoping that if the broken down car is a bomb, whoever is going to detonate it will hesitate if we’re next to a car full of Iraqis). “Gunner, man the turret, don’t duck – this is too perfect (i.e., too perfect an ambush site). “Roger, convoy leader” “Let number two know” As we speed up to catch the Renault, so does the Renault, until finally, engine straining, we’re just behind it. Three kids are looking out of the back window. Behind us number two backs off as we finally pass the abandoned car. Everyone is holding their breath and… no explosion. “Okay Guns, keep the overpass covered until number two is clear.” Rog” Two clears the overpass and we all breath easier. “White sedan on the right.” We drive on.

The Americans pretty much own the road. When we need to go through a cross street one humvee pulls out to block traffic while the others make the crossing. Anyone that comes too close risks being shot – most know this and give the humvees a very wide berth. Some people wave, but more just stare, as if we didn’t belong here. On and on and on. It’s not really that far, but concentrating so hard can actually give you a head ache. We finally pull into the IZ, past the check points and past metal tower with what looks like miniature chain link fence surrounding the top where a lookout might be posted. It looks a little bit funny because the fence is held about two feet out from the tower itself by metal poles, in order to detonate incoming RPGs before they actually hit the tower. It’s hard not to notice that Baghdad is a city at war. Several mortar rounds impact in the IZ while were there, but they are not close. We only hear about it later.

The ride back is mostly the same. I switch humvees so that I can sit up front – I am tired of burning my damned leg against the hot transmission case that takes up most the back seat not being used by the gunner. Baghdad is a dirty city – I wonder how people can live like this? “Passing on the right! We’re turning – does two know we’re turning?” “Roger.”

Finally, we’re getting close to the base. “Mama bird over head (there’s an observation helicopter above), and there’s the gate! Come on in.” “Slayer One we’re about three mikes east of your pos.” We swerve across traffic as the gunner leans out of the turret signaling “stop” with his outstretched hands. Now we’re in the shoot, with a long row of 8 foot high concrete barriers on either side of us. The gate ahead swings up as the driver punches it and we’re in. “Yeah BABY! Wooo whoo!” “That was something!” The driver turns around and gives me a high five while the gunner slumps in his sling for the fist time since we left the gate four and a half hours ago. Someone turns on a Combat Rap CD as we approach the second check point, drained. My uniform is drenched from the collar to the waist. It is what it is.

Mark in the IZ after the first half of the Route Recce


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, I don't understand why you are out doing these kinds of missions. Aren't you a Major that's there to set-up and maintain communication systems? Is this just part of everyone's job? Are there also Generals out there doing these sweeps??

July 31, 2006 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

Reading as fast as I could, I held my breath all the way through. Exhaling as I read the last line,I thought great story! That is, if only it were a story...

July 31, 2006 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey you Major, Major--

Please, don't do that anymore!!!!

Love Yo Yo

July 31, 2006 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this guy - there is a sly smile there... Pride showeth through...

July 31, 2006 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will you quit playing army already!!!!

Can you tell me what exactly is your role in this adventure and also why are any of you out there????

Love and concern,

Yo Yo Ma

August 01, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Jen Jen said...

like keith, i was anxiously reading as fast as i could, all the while thinking that if you had typed it out, you must be ok. are you okay?

August 01, 2006 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Kelly said...

Tears have welled up in my eyes. Just thinking of you and your men out there both scares me and fills me with pride all at the same time.

August 01, 2006 10:28 PM  

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