THE LONG WAY HOME
Ten years ago, I spent two days convoying from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq to Camp Doha, Kuwait. According to Google, its approximately 418 miles. By FAR the longest drive I took either year I was deployed. I had been lucky enough to fly from Kuwait to Baghdad in June 2003, rather than convoying into Iraq like so many of the troops.
I rode in a freight liner truck, which was a manual, and we didn’t have a trailer on the back. This convoy was a test-run for redeploying the brigade. Those of us leaving, were the ones who were too close to our 365 day mark, and we had to leave theater by 31 January. If I recall correctly, I think the Army would have had to significantly increase our pay everyday for every day past 365 that we were in theater.
Let me translate for you what this means in my life…
- Our unit had no idea what they were doing and pretended to conduct training on a sand table (map in the sand) the day before the convoy. This equates to a map we’re not taking with us and are hoping we’ll never need to remember.
- I was unable to drive the vehicle because it was manual – if anything should have happened to my driver, it would have gotten interesting very quickly.
- Not having a trailer on the back of the freight liner meant the ride was extremely bumpy, on the unpaved roads.
- The Mark 19 mounted to the turret of the truck a few vehicles in front of us, was missing a firing pin (a key element to make it fire), so it was literally only a deterrent for show (as was the poor gunner). The MP (military police officer) up in the turret, only had a 9mm pistol if he needed to fire a weapon.
I of course went to the PX and bought loads of snacks and drinks, because what would any road trip be without lots of fat kid snacks? Armed with (at least) two enormous bottles of San Benedetto peach sweet tea (at least room temperature if not warmer… yum), loads of gummy candies, and who knows what else… we loaded up into the vehicles with little to no idea where we were going (other than following the leader), or what to expect.
Numerous things went wrong on this convoy…
- The soft cover HMMWV (humvee) in front of my truck had unzipped the windows because none of the vehicles had air conditioning. The box of computer manuals and notes started flying out of the backseat window. They stopped and a girl started chasing after the pages into the desert. She could have stepped on an IED or anything else, chasing after these pages. Luckily, nothing happened to her, but it was a bit ridiculous to worry about them as they scattered.
- At some point, we also had a possible IED threat along our route and we all had to dismount (get out) and pull security, while it was investigated. Weirdly it was among the less memorable events of the trip. I do remember the crowd that gathered while we pulled security outside the vehicles. I remember wishing I could use a bathroom (a very common theme throughout the trip for me).
- We lost radio contact with our convoy commander, who as the MP vehicle told us was letting us know we the convoy was leaving us behind and the MPs would stay with us. We were going to tow a supply truck driven by TCNs (third country nationals). No one asked if we had a tow bar – which of course we did not. When we made our way to the supply truck, which was farther ahead of us, it was like a scene out of Star Wars with the sand people surrounding the truck. The bedouins were attempting to steal parts off of the broken down truck when the MPs let off smoke grenades to scare them back into the desert.
- At that same time, I had drunk (what seemed like) gallons of sweet tea and was hoping to pee somewhere… anywhere. No that’s not true, I was hoping for a magical clean bathroom or even a Porta John to suddenly appear like a mirage in the desert. Unlike my driver who just stood on the step every time we stopped for a minute and shouted we had a radiator leak like it was hilarious, while I was nearly crying I had to go so badly. I tried to block myself behind the tire of our truck while the MPs, the driver were discussing hooking up the supply truck behind us…. and just at that moment, the MPs let off the smoke grenades. Congrats… I would not go to the bathroom until our overnight stop HOURS and HOURS later. And also, I’ve never had sweet tea since.
There was grid lock leaving the small camp in the morning, which I’m sure is hard to imagine, but true. The second day was a little less memorable and much calmer as about half of it was spent driving through Kuwait.
Here are a few pictures from my trip. Please excuse some of the dirt and blur as I was in a moving vehicle.