01 September, 2009

The First Mission

After having my soldiers taken away from me and completing all of the training that is required of us, it was finally time to start work. What happens is when a new unit gets to Iraq and is replacing another unit, they have to go out with the old unit to get validated. The first mission you go out on, you are mostly observing. The second mission you’re in charge and the old unit is there to make sure you don’t royally screw things up. The only thing that confused me is that even though I was a soldierless leader I still had to get validated. But who would I go out on mission with? That question was soon answered when I was told I would go out with another CET from my platoon; SSG J’s CET. SSG J had already gone on his first mission, so he would be in charge on this mission and I would be observing him.

SSG J’s CET is a pretty tight nit group of guys and gals and work together very well. I was glad I was able to go on the road with them as SSG J has trained them well. SSG J and the soldier validating him walked me through the pre-planning phase that takes place before each mission. There is a lot of stuff to do, and ends with a Pre-Combat Inspection by the commander and 1SG. After the PCI we had all of our gear ready to go and everything checked out, we were ready to go on mission.

The next morning I woke up like any other morning. I thought it weird that I was going to Iraq in just a few hours, but I ate breakfast like everything was normal. Eventually we grabbed whatever we needed that was not already in the truck and headed to the staging lanes to meet the convoy that we were in charge of securing. After a brief meeting with them we were ready to head to the border to start the mission. Our drive to the border was interesting. This was the first time I’d not been in the back of a bus while driving through Kuwait. Apparently traffic laws in Kuwait are optional for most people. They pretty much drive as fast as the car will go, and drive wherever they want. More than once I’ve expected to see a head-on collision, but seen disaster averted at the last minute each time. I can’t say that I’m not a little disappointed when they don’t crash. Not that i want people to die, its just… I don’t know why i want to see that. Maybe its just because I’m a guy and like to see things destroyed….

Arriving at the border we had to mount our weapons and do any final checks before crossing into Iraq. Every soldier worked very hard and quickly to get everything done in a timely fashion. By the time that was completed it was time to have the Convoy Commander’s safety briefing. Once that was completed we all stuck around for a quick prayer then dawned our gear for our trip across the border.

This trip was to be a short mission. Drive to a base in Southern Iraq, spend the night, and then drive back. The mission ended up being as simple as it sounded. When the truck I was in actually crossed the border I was surprised that I did not feel any fear or anxiety. I didn’t really feel anything really. It was just like any other hummer ride I’ve ever been in, except this time we had live ammo. Since we only drive at night I couldn’t see much, just glimpses of wide open desert as the gunner used her light to scan the area for IEDs and possible ambushes. I was kind of bored in the back but learned as much as I could from SSG J and the validator. Things finally got interesting when we had to make a turn off of one highway and onto another. We actually blocked the entire freeway in both directions to allow the entire convoy to go through. It was pretty interesting sitting there and stopping all the traffic. It dawned on me that American forces have been doing this type of thing since 2003 so the Iraq people are used to this sort of thing. They see the road block, stop and turn off their headlights, and wait for the convoy to go through. What was really strange to me was the fact that all the traffic we stopped in the north bound lane that ended up behind us; they passed us… in the south bound lane! I was sure I was going to see a head-on collision this time. But again, they’ve been doing this for a while and there were no accidents.

Things were boring again until we got to the road leading to the base we were going to. Intelligence reports said to expect people throwing trash in the road to try and stop the convoy and then people running from the bushes and stealing stuff off of the non-military semi trucks in the convoy. Sure as shit, that is exactly what they did! Once the trash in the street was cleared we were roving around the convoy looking for anybody hiding in the bushes. Eventually we heard on the radio that some LNs (Local Nationals) were on one of the “White Trucks'” (the non-military vehicles in the convoy) stealing things! We were lucky that our validator was behind the wheel of the hummvee because that man drove that vehicle like I never thought possible! There was a time or two where I actually feared for my safety because of his driving! But he kept all 4 tires on the ground and we quickly got to where the Iraqis were stealing stuff off the white trucks. We were able to scare them away and recover anything they tried taking. After that they left us alone and we got the entire convoy into the base without further incident.

At the base we really don’t have much to do. We unload our gear from the vehicles into the tents we’re assigned. Drivers clean the vehicles and make sure nothing is broken from the trip. And then gunners clean their weapons. After that, we basically eat, shower, sleep, then wait till we’re supposed to leave again. Some people go to the gym, others find the MWR and use the internet, and others just watch movies. Eventually within the next 24 hours, we went back on the road again to go back “home”.

The trip back was not nearly as exciting as the trip up, which obviously only had about 10 exciting minutes out of the several hours we were on the road. The only thing that we saw on the way back were a couple of kids that live at this construction site. I felt very sorry for these two kids for a couple of reasons. First, they lived in a construction site that I thought was nothing more than a pile of trash; apparently that was their home. Second, they live in the middle of the desert! Honestly there must not be anything within 50 miles of them. Third they were obviously very poor and just wanted some water that we could spare. We stopped at their location and gave them whatever we could. Both boys, around 12 years old, seemed very happy that we gave them some water and even a Gatorade. When we were giving them water and Gatorade I felt even more sorry for one of the kids as his right eye was almost swollen shut! The best we can figure is that somebody “tossed” a bottle of water at him as they drove by… at 30+mph. Taking a bottle of water traveling at that speed to the face probably doesn’t feel very good.

Iraqi CountrysideEventually the sun came up and I finally got to see a bit of the Iraqi countryside. I’ll tell you that in some of the places we travel, its exactly what you expect it to be. A vast expanse of sand… nothing more. How some people can live here is absolutely beyond me. Eventually we crossed back over the border and completed the mission. As quickly as it all began, it was all over. I honestly believe that we spent more time getting ready for the mission than the mission actually lasted. Since the mission was complete, SSG J was now validated and he was to validate me on our next mission… but that’s a story for next time…