OH DARK-THIRTY |
January 15, 2010
Name: Six Foot Skinny
Posting date: 1/15/10
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Milblog: Lost in the Desert
Alarm, too early, as usual. It is truly “oh dark-thirty,” and it’s cold. Start the coffee that I ground the night before so as not to waken my roommate. Rub my hand over my face -- I shaved late yesterday because we had the day off so I’m good for now. Brush my teeth and spit in an empty water bottle. Pull on flame-retardant uniform pants and undershirt, combat shirt over top of that. Check pockets. Notebook, pens, dog tags, ID, room key. Lace up my boots. Drink my coffee. Surf a little, while I wake up. Time to go. Wind breaker over everything else. Grab my helmet and gloves and sunglasses. Make sure I have clear lenses in case we’re out past sunset. Sling my weapon and hoist my body armor onto my arm. All on autopilot, all silent as I can. Out the door to the motor pool.
I am the first one there. I even beat my driver, so the truck’s not unlocked yet. Stack my gear by the passenger side door. The eastern sky is starting to glow, transitioning from midnight to that clear and startling blue that is every day in Iraq. My coffee steams from my battered aluminum travel mug. The hot liquid warms me from the inside and the caffeine and nicotine combine to give me a happy buzz as my head clears for the day’s activities. I watch shambling shadows morph into human figures as my Soldiers make their ways to the trucks, also toting body armor and helmets. One by one the lights go on and the trucks cough to life, diesels protesting in early morning chill.
As my driver checks fluid levels and tires and my gunner mounts his machine gun and prepares his turret, I turn on the dizzying array of electronics. Radio, check. GPS unit, check. Blue Force Tracker, check. Jamming equipment, check. My Lieutenant -- “ell-TEE” -- is at my door, there’s a glitch of some type. We work it. Find a solution. All good. A quick briefing, checks of personal equipment and protective gear. We’re rolling. All snug in our reinforced up-armored steel and kevlar and thick-glass vehicles that sprout antennae like some giant beetle that just might eat your children -- we’re here to help.
I listen to the trucks in front of me call off their status, letting the convoy commander know that countermeasures are operating and weapons are loaded. My driver always loves it when it’s our turn and I click my button and announce, “One-seven is amber, amber, hot, and jamming.” She smiles to herself and we’re out the gate. Two hours north today, all on a modernish four-lane highway. Through slums and commercial districts and along the overpass that goes through “trash city.” It is just that -- a smoldering garbage dump as far as the eye can see on both sides. There are livestock and people and homes. The shacks are made out of things cast off by others. Reminds me of a documentary I saw about a similar place in Guatemala.
We BS and smoke and drink energy drinks and watch. Always watching. Watching for people and cars and trash and anything that looks out of place. Mid joke I mention a suspicious-looking dude to my gunner and continue the joke knowing that he is paying particular attention to the guy who is watching us intently with his hands in his pockets. And then we’re there. I always breathe a little easier when we clear the gate and are safely inside the wire. We make our linkup, do what we need to do, eat lunch, and get back on the road. More of the same on the way home and we’re back before we know it. Again breathing easier to be safe and sound. It was a routine mission, and uneventful and boring in hindsight, but never boring at the time. Just like a dozen other trips I’ve made in the last year. And just like all the others, it’s one day closer to home.