Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Incident at ECP 13

It was my first ride in the Rhino. To me, it looked like nothing more than a short touring bus completely covered with boiler plate, but, despite its ungainly appearance, they say no one has ever been killed in one. The windows are one inch-thick bullet-proof glass, and there’s a rifle port with a little sliding cover for every passenger seat, just in case. It’s used mostly to shuttle people and equipment back and fourth between the Victory Base Complex and The IZ.

Everything was going well until we entered the slot. That’s what they call the 200 meter long double row of cement barriers that forms the entrance way to ECP 13. It was dark, but we could see the long line of trucks just sitting there in front of the gate. Some even had their engines off. As the gun truck ahead slowly rolled to a stop we could see that there was something going on up ahead - lots of smoke or dust flying about and flashing lights. A second later the radio squawked - it was the gun truck saying that they’d been in touch with the BDOC and it looked like at least an hour wait, maybe longer.

This wasn’t too good, as the Rhino makes a huge target just sitting there, and it was very late and we were tired anyway. After the bitching died away the Convoy commander (not me, there was a Col and a Lt Col with us) decided that we could back up and go around to the next entry point. Well, neither humvees nor the Rhino have rear windows, so backing up is difficult, especially for long distances. It took some time to convince the driver that he could do this (he was a young PFC who was afraid he’d be blamed for crashing the thing), but in the end we decided that if we were going at all we’d better get moving before anyone else got behind us.

We opened up the armored escape hatch in the back and had one guy hang out while shouting directions to the driver. This wasn’t quite as dangerous as it may sound since there were no lights in inside the vehicle, but we still prayed that there were no snipers watching. Slowly, slowly, transmission whining, we backed up. Inch by inch it seemed. “Right! A little the right!” “More right.” More right! Stop!” Alright already, this ain’t easy, you know.” “A little to the left, slow…. Stop now, dammit!” Okay, okay, let’s go…”

After what seemed like forever, we were finally out of the slot. Now all we had to do was cross Route Irish, follow a side street for a while, and then cut west back towards the entrance to the log base. From there it was just a short jaunt over to Victory, and then on to Slayer.

What we didn’t count on was that the side street would be closed. I mean permanently closed; there was a 3 foot tall dirt berm going across it with concertina on top. Shit. So here we were, two gun trucks and a Rhino, out in the middle of no where in the pitch black night, with two choices: back to the slot, or cross country. Now the Rhino isn’t made to go cross country, it sits so low to the ground that it can barely move over flat surfaces. Just then the gun truck comes up on the net and says that the ECP has been closed – and I guess that pretty much made up our minds. Cross country it was.

Well, it wasn’t really cross country, there was a dirt road, but it was bumpy and it was muddy. Some of those turns were pretty tight, and I thought the damn bus was gonna go into the ditch about four times, but we always made it. Just then a flare goes up in the distance and the front gun truck opens up: WUMPA WUMPA thunk!! Even inside the Rhino it was loud. “What’s going on??! Talk to me!” “Disregard.” “What do you mean disregard? What’s going on?” “Nothing, I thought I saw something, but I didn’t. Sorry.” “What the fuck? What happened to positive ID? Are you sure?” Yeah, sorry.” “You better be sorry, an’ you better be sure that wasn’t someone out there. Number two, take a look. Shit.” We continued on.

It was spooky out there, like ships at sea can be spooky. In your own little world, plowing through the waves, with darkness and evil all around. I kept expecting an explosion, followed by the witches laugh cackle of small arms fire – at least then we’d know what we were up against. But all I could hear was the whine of the diesels, surrounded by silence. No one said a word as we drove on.

The driver was sweating. I remember once Lisanne and I were visiting her brother in Sacramento and I went for a walk at dusk – it got dark fast and the trees no longer looked so welcoming; they looked sinister. I was afraid walking back, unsure that I knew the way. Funny how your imagination can do that to you, make you unsure even though you are retracing the exact steps you’d taken a half an hour before. Just because everything looked so very different – so evil. I believe in evil. It’s out there, waiting for you to drive over a pressure plate, or to snag a trip wire. Or just to drive too close….

The minutes pass as hours. Twice the bus bottoms out and I think we’re going to be stuck, but the momentum and willpower keep us going. Finally, we see the lights of the log base ECP. The guards wave us in – they are surprised to see the Rhino coming this way. Bolt back, drop magazines, clear your weapon now. On the gun trucks all crew served weapons are at 45 degrees (pointed up). It’s the same routine as always, coming through the gate. We were back on known territory, literally and figuratively. And somehow, it didn’t seem quite so dark any more.


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