Tomorrow I head towards Iran after my first two night stay somewhere since getting here.
Actually, I got in at 5 a.m. this morning, so even though I slept until 9 a.m. I guess it’s still only one night. Tomorrow I get in a convoy to head to a base where a New Hampshire soldier is working with the Iraqi Army to prepare them for the change-over. I’m looking forward to the ride (snark-snark), particularly after my last one. At least this one is during the day. My last one, which brought me here, started after I caught a helicopter to Kalsu, the forward operating base I’d been told I’d be staying at for a little while. But plans change, and because of the confusion about the date of my arrival (their confusion, not mine) I landed, spent 10 minutes on the ground, and then loaded into a Rhino for a 6 hour convoy to FOB Delta.
The convoy was 5 Rhinos and a mile’s worth of tractor trailer trucks, some armored, some not. I was in the back the middle Rhino, with two in front of us and two in back. I had a pair of headphones and got to listen in on the radio chatter.
We left around 11 p.m. for what was to be a four hour trip. Thus began one of the more adrenaline filled nights of my life. I was already running on three hours of sleep, but there was no way I was going to sleep bouncing down an Iraqi road outside the wire (how soldiers refer to off the base). I couldn’t see anything because I was in the back, but I every time we passed a suspicious car, or someone on the side of the road, the lead truck announced it over the radio, and I waited for an explosion or a gunshot. Kalsu, I’d been told, gets hit every night, and the road we were on, Tampa, had a reputation as well.
Around 3 a.m. an Iraqi police escort met us and told us the road was blocked. We had to follow them, they said. The soldiers were reluctant, and they were all over the radio weighing the situation. If they went the wrong way it was going to be impossible to turn around the convoy, but they didn’t trust the police.
It was decided by SABRE, the convoy base, who said we should follow the police. No one was happy. They led us down a side road, rutted, unpaved, through tight streets of some small town nicknamed Bucharest. The chatter on the radio got frantic. “Where are they taking us?” “Keep an eye on them!” “THEY JUST GOT OUT OF THE CAR!”
I was sitting in the back, wondering if I was safer or a target because our vehicle had a gun. The tractor trailer trucks looked like sitting ducks — I could see them out the rear window slowly rolling along.
“Watch the roofs,” the lieutenant told the gunner, “keep your head down.”
I tried to climb into my helmet. I tried to pull my arms and my legs into my vest. I kept peering around, trying to watch the roofs.
“It’s OK, he’s just looking around. He’s getting back in the car.”
The police started rolling again, and so did we. I exhaled, and we crept through back to the main road.
Two hours later we rolled into FOB Delta. Just a night’s drive in Iraq, one of the soldiers told me.