I mentioned in an earlier post that I usually get the jitters before I go out on a patrol. A few days ago, I didn’t and should have. It was an ill conceived mission to begin with, we were supposed to drive into downtown Baghdad, locate 4 civilian trucks, driven by Iraqis, which had been having trouble getting to our camp. They claimed they were getting turned around at a checkpoint, but it was unclear whether it was an Iraqi Army, Iraqi police, or US checkpoint. Based on the location they gave us, it was actually most likely Shiia militia stopping them and shaking them down for money. Anyway, we were supposed to find them and escort them through our Brigade sector, to the FOB so they could pick up what they needed to pick up. We had about a one hour window of time to meet these guys, but Iraqi time is different than American time. In the US Army, time is measured in seconds, with margins of error measured in, well, there are no margins, and you do things on time to the second. In Iraq, time is more flowing; it is more a concept than a measurement. In the US Army, 0800 means 8 AM, not 0758 and most assuredly not 0802. To an Iraqi, 0800 is in the morning, therefore it means sometime between 0600 and noon, give or take, depending on traffic and if it’s not to hot, in’shallah. We were supposed to meet these guys between 0900 and 1000. I had a real warm fuzzy about that happening. We had no effective communications with them, only a point on the map and a description of the trucks. The Major who needed these trucks thought it would be a piece of cake, no problem. He wasn’t going though; he had a very important meeting instead. Through some twist of fate, I was a driver, mostly because my unit has way too few E4’s. The E4 with us was our gunner, the most dangerous job in the vehicle by far. We were the lead vehicle.
We got loaded up and started rolling. We hit the MSR (Main supply route, really a highway) and headed for the link up point. Traffic sucked, but US patrols don’t get stuck in traffic. We just jump the median and drive into oncoming traffic, horns blazing. They move. They have learned. We own the road. We zigzagged our way into downtown, crossing medians as traffic backed up, jumping back over as traffic subsided. It’s actually very efficient. It also pushes your heart rate up a bit. As we were heading into the city, at one point I saw a taxi on the side of the road, pointed towards traffic, and a bunch of cars parked off the shoulder behind the taxi. It just didn’t feel right, so I yelled to the gunner to watch him and I swung over to the center of the road as we passed. Nothing exploded. A few minutes later, we hit the intersection for the link up. No trucks. Big surprise. We orbited the intersection a couple times, driving a bit past it, turning around, heading north and then south past it. On the second orbit, another patrol passed us going in the opposite direction, back towards our camp. I turned us around, and we headed back up the road. We were a couple hundred yards behind the patrol we had just passed. As we approached the point where I had seen the taxi, an IED detonated on the patrol in front of us. We heard the explosion, and traffic stopped. I swung towards the center of the road, hit the center island, and gunned it past the traffic. One local wasn’t paying enough attention, and tried the same move. He was pulling directly in front of us. My gunner tossed a water bottle at him, hitting his door. That woke him up. The look of shock in his eyes when he saw 3 Humvees headed right for him was unforgettable. We swung past the traffic and pulled in behind the patrol that had been hit, and set up rear security. Junior, our interpreter, began redirecting traffic to another route. The vehicle that was hit was torn up pretty good, all 4 tires were shredded and there was shrapnel damage to the left side of the vehicle, but no one was wounded. Armor rocks.
The IED had been buried in the center island, directly across the road from where the taxi had been parked. When I swerved to avoid the taxi, I had driven within 10 feet of the IED. I never saw it. If that patrol hadn’t passed us, we would have been the next patrol on the road. It would have been us.
We continued to pull security while the damaged vehicle was recovered. We escorted them to the next US checkpoint, pulling security for them as they towed the damaged vehicle, at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, through Baghdad. Loads of fun, I recommend it to everyone. At that point, we aborted trying to find our trucks, as we had long missed the window to meet them. We headed back to the FOB. The rest of the trip was uneventful, thankfully. When we got back, we discovered the trucks we were trying to escort had arrived. They had passed us while we were pulling security.