Friday, January 18, 2008

The Drive Home
Some of the convoys now include a relatively new vehicle called an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), which is designed to withstand IED explosions better than a humvee. The soldiers seem to like the idea of a safer vehicle, but since most of them still have to travel in humvees, their excitement is limited. I was traveling in the MRAP in our convoy, and became fairly well acquainted with its interior. It is more spacious than a humvee, but still doesn’t seem designed to accommodate soldiers wearing body armor.
We left the Bayji JSS at about 8:00 pm, and were scheduled to make a stop at an Iraqi checkpoint which had been hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). There had been no damage to the checkpoint, and no one had been hurt, so we moved on. Briefly.
A call had come in from the IPs (Iraqi Police), who thought they had spotted an IED, so our convoy was sent to check it out. The IP truck was parked down a deserted narrow stretch of road lined with tall grass. A perfect place for an ambush.
Two soldiers, Ryan Rockriver and Chris Gardner, were sitting in the back of the MRAP with me. Ryan and I tried to look out the side windows to get an idea of what was going on outside, but the windows were too small and too close to the ceiling, so we sat back down and listened to Chris and the gunner argue over which state was better, Texas or California. Then the driver got involved and there was a moment of silence while they tried to figure out if there was anything to say, good or bad, about Idaho.
The soldiers who had taken a look at the IP’s discovery determined that it was worth calling out the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team to have a look, which meant we had signed up for at least another hour, probably two, of waiting.
Ryan and Chris were beginning to fidget in their seats. We had been out longer than expected, and they needed to tinkle. In situations like this, soldiers usually just hop out of the truck and everyone politely looks in the other direction, but it’s not easy to hop out of an MRAP--they are much higher off the ground—and the area did seem dicey. So the search began for empty bottles. Having found two suitable for the task, Ryan and Chris went to opposite corners and I covered my face with my helmet. It was sort of a bonding experience.
The EOD team arrived at about 10:30 pm, and, with the help of their robot, determined the IPs had found a mine. They cleared an area for a controlled blast, and once the mine was taken care of we resumed our journey to FOB Summerall.
It was midnight when we rolled through the gates. The VIP trailer had been reserved for another VIP, an actual VIP, so I had been booked into a room in the Battalion headquarters. While it didn’t have its own bathroom, there was a TV, and I was really just looking forward to some quiet time, a good night’s sleep, but one of the beds was occupied by a guy. One of the beds was occupied by a guy? What? Was this another of Mike’s little tests to see what I was made of?
Turns out Rusty was a private contractor waiting for a flight out. He was a very sociable fellow who talked and asked questions while I unpacked my backpack and wondered if I could somehow sneak back into the VIP trailer and ask the real VIP if I could bunk with him. I also wondered how I was going to recover sufficiently in time to convince Mike I had enjoyed a lovely visit at the Bayji JSS and my complaining days were over.
As much as I complain, I always learn something, either about myself or about the soldiers, every time I leave the comfort of the VIP trailer and go outside the wire. My trip to the Bayji JSS taught me just how soft and spoiled I am. And I also learned that it’s not easy to pee into a bottle in an MRAP, in full body armor.
Mike does a great job arranging to get me out as often as possible, and I have no right to complain about anything, although of course I will unless someone sews my mouth shut. But I like to think I am complaining on behalf of the soldiers too. I think every soldier deserves a VIP trailer of his or her own. Of course they do. Even Mike. Especially Mike. For putting up with me.

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