Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The camp Air Force SP's even gave me a ticket, saying I was doing over 60, which we found impossible as the vehicle speedometer never got over 45 in the sand.

And our platoon leader and platoon sergeant backed me up on that. Mostly importantly, no one was hurt, not even 6'5" Wilson who was in the gunner's hatch. We all had our seat belts and helmets on, thankfully, and Wilson was actually able to climb out the back of the hatch to get out. Later, one officer reprimanded the E6 that was with us and who was the NCO in charge of the 'training' for not doing a proper safety briefing and not explaining just how top-heavy the vehicles are. Of course, I realized later that their being top-heavy should have been obvious for me, but I think I might have still had tanks on my mind, being fresh out of tank training. Regardless, I was just thankful everyone was okay.

Unfortunately, after we arrived at Camp Scunion there were a few more accidents. The 1st Infantry Division guys that we were assigned to had previously not lost a single guy during their deployment, not one. But one night, a tanker was lowering a .50 cal machine gun down in the turret of a tank to secure it. It hadn't been properly cleared and the butterfly trigger caught on something, firing the round. The tanker's head was taken off. Apparently the scene was so gruesome that the medic that responded passed out.

Soon after, a Bradley armored vehicle flipped into a canal, killing all six aboard. While we didn't see any of this firsthand, it was all a huge reminder of the dangers of even being around this stuff. This was when I really started to despise some of the guys in our company, as I realized that they (more specifically their mistakes) might be more a threat to me than insurgents. [Sadly, in their first month the 101st, the unit replacing us in Kirkuk, has apparently already had one, and possibly two, accidental deaths, both from accidentally discharged weapons from other Americans.]

A few weeks later, I was on guard duty with SSG Dmitrov in a concrete guard tower. We suddenly heard a big boom, followed by a SRUSSSHHH!, followed by another, more concussive, closer BOOM! I asked, "What was that?" Dmitrov didn't know and as we discussed possibilities, two more booms went off, followed by two more impact booms. We quickly ducked. Bad guys were shooting rockets over our small base at the larger base across the road. Luckily they didn't hit anyone, but it was just another wake up call, as were the shrapnel marks on the dining facility tables from the airburst mortar round that hit the building a few weeks prior to our arrival.

Twice at Barbarian Base in Kirkuk, the bad guys lobbed more rockets at us. Each time it was 'just' one rocket, I think each about 120mm or so, and luckily the bad guys are, generally, bad shots. Both times they overshot the base, although not by a lot. There wasn't much we could do about it anyway.

If you can imagine, the scene was something like this: we're all playing video games or watching movies when we hear and feel a very large BOOM that shakes the windows. Guys' heads pop up from their laptops and we ask, "What was that?" Guys speculate, most guess another car bomb somewhere outside the wire. Later we hear it was a rocket. We shrug and go back to our video games. Hey, what are you gonna do?

Another night I was walking around the pool, speaking to Sally on the Iraqi cell phone. Well into the conversation, there was a commotion near the pool and I saw much of our first squad headed there, with an M14 rifle with scope. Passing one of the guys, I asked what was going on. One of their guys had been doing pull-ups when a bullet whizzed past his head. He assumed it was a stray round from some of the celebratory fire that we constantly hear throughout the city. So he resumed his pull-ups. Then a round cracked near his head (rounds close to you whiz, rounds very close to you crack as you hear the actual sonic boom that they make), impacting on the wall directly behind him. His buddies were using the M14 to try to counter-snipe the shooter. Sally asked me, "What's going on? I sort of lost you for a moment there." As I changed my old path alongside the pool to one with more cover, I answered, "Oh nothing, just saying 'hi' to some guys." From then on, whenever I talked on the phone or even ran around the base, I was always very conscious of just what rooftops I could see from inside the compound, since – of course – that meant anyone up there could see me.

I hated the idea of lying to Sally, even if for good reason. I hated too the idea of misrepresenting anything, or even just not being able to share the things that really happened during my day. There were times where she would be having a tough day with Lillian and I would patiently listen, at the same time wanting to say, 'Hey, you're there with her, and that can't be too bad. Me, I got to see the charred body parts of some Iraqi guy who was killed by a car bomb.' But of course, I couldn't say that. By the way, there were a couple of other incidents that I saw just that.

And, for the same reasons I wouldn't tell Sally stuff, I also couldn't tell you.

The VERY same day that I posted a 'fake combat' photo on this blog, the one with the caption in which I answered the question about me seeing any combat with a resounding 'no', we drove into a bit of a crossfire. It was night and it was two factions (if I can call them that, probably more like it was 'two groups of idiots' is probably more appropriate) shooting their AK's at each other. Our patrol of one Iraqi Police SUV and three U.S. Humvees drove just about into the middle of it.

The gunfire subsided soon after we stopped and dismounted the trucks. I was the gunner on the second Humvee on a 240 machine gun, nervously scanning rooftops and seeing several heads stick up to watch us (luckily it was only locals sleeping on the rooftops to avoid the late night heat). As we took up our positions, three men left a building in the distance. When our dismounted guys caught up to them, they said they didn't know anything about any gunfire. Then we searched the house and (surprise!) found three AK's. The men didn't know anything about the AK's. When we picked them up, they were hot, as if recently fired. When pressed, the men said the equivalent of, "OH… THOSE AK's." Apparently they'd been firing on security guards at a law school across the street when we drove up, allegedly returning fire after first having been shot at by the guards. The Iraqi police arrested them.

So those are my 'almost-war' stories. They ain't much, particularly compared with what other, 'real' veterans have been through, guys like my dad, who was an advisor in the Highlands of Vietnam. And I'm happy they ain't much, because if they were something much then that would mean that people had been actually shooting at me. I can tell you one thing, had someone been shooting at me, especially after lugging that SAW machine gun around for over a year, I would have shot back – a LOT (even if just to use up some of the ammo and lighten my 80-pound load).

Still, sitting on the 'Disco Bird' plane, waiting to land back home, I was probably more nervous of having to tell Sally that I hadn't quite told the truth to her than I ever was around gunfire and rockets flying overhead.

When we finally landed in Boise, there was more hooting and hollering, all of which I, hopefully, captured on video. Unfortunately (yet another military screw-up), the flight was an hour early so many soldiers' families hadn't even shown up yet! Posted by Picasa
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