"Tomorrow morning, you are going out on convoy," my sergeant told me.
A grin spread across my face. I had been working hard nearly nonstop on building and stocking the new Battalion Aid Station here on Mehtar Lam. While I found the work rewarding, I was dying to go outside the FOB on mission and see more of the country. The moment had come, and I couldn't hide my satisfaction.
"Sounds awesome Sergeant!" I said.
"Good, I want to see you there by 0800."
Yes! Finally! I returned to my hooch and started preparing my combat load for mission. I had a hard time falling asleep that night. The next morning I went to chow at about 0730,
"Davis! SP got moved up an hour! Move with a purpose!" said my sergeant.
I slammed my breakfast down my gullet and started helping with the preparation for the mission. I would be driving the medical Humvee on this mission. Our medical Humvee has the back seats taken out and a backboard for a patient added. We loaded our medical bags, water, and ammo. We tested our radios and headsets and mounted a machine gun on top of the Humvee. After a briefing we were loaded and ready to roll. I took all instruction from my sergeant,
"Okay this bitch weighs an extra 5,000 pounds from the armor plating. They put a turbo in the engine to compensate which helps some but the roads out here are brutal. Are you ready?"
"Yes," I lied. It's hard to be ready for something you have never done before but I banked on the fact that I am a quick learner.
"If you have ever gotten an aggressive driving or speeding ticket, today would be the time to use those skills," my sergeant added with a chuckle.
I eased us into motion in line with the other trucks. I hit the brake as the convoy slowed and my gunner slammed forward in his turret as the truck jerked to a stop. 'Sensitive brakes,' I made a mental note as I apologized to my gunner for checking him against his machine gun. We halted at the gate just inside the FOB walls. The order was given to "go red." I pulled back the charging handle on my rifle and released. The bolt neatly scooped and seated a round in the chamber with a satisfying clack. I drew my pistol and pulled the slide back, I saw a flash of brass as I released and chambered a bullet. I returned the pistol to my holster. This is the real deal, I thought. I felt tense but focused. I was nervous but it made me alert. The truck ahead of me started rolling, I hit the gas.
Once we left the gate there was no slowing down. We were the last truck in the convoy and my sergeant was hollering at me to keep up. I punched the gas and felt the turbo kick in. For weighing over 10,000 pounds it responded pretty well. I was careening down a dusty dirt road that wound it's way through the farms and huts outside the base. The road itself was atrocious, there were ridges and potholes everywhere, I told my gunner to hold on as I worked to maintain the right gap in the convoy. The closer I came to downtown Mehtar Lam the more crowded the road was. A small taxi started to ease it's way back into the road as I approached. Instinct moved my foot off of the gas,
"HONK YOUR FUCKING HORN! HIT THE GAS THEY'LL MOVE, TRUST ME!!!" I heard in my headset.
I laid on the horn and put the pedal to the floor. Sure enough, the taxi moved right out of my way. If I had to put my money on a four-wheel-drive armored Humvee vs. Toyota sedan in a crash, I'd take the Humvee. I think the locals would too. When we roll we roll in the middle of the road, no matter what. People move for Americans, not the other way around, and as I said before we don't slow down for anyone. All of these measures are for security. If we stopped for every obstruction or slowed for every donkey cart it would be that much easier to target a truck with a roadside IED(improvised explosive device) or a rocket launcher. In Iraq, terrorists would intentionally place children in the street to stop a convoy for an attack or robbery.
We cruised through a crowded market and made a short halt. We headed about a mile down the road and took a sharp right. I saw as the lead truck drove up and over the curb and onto a dirt road that wound sharply up the side of a mountain. The Humvee swayed as I cleared the curb and began my ascent. I saw the road rise at a sharp angle in front of me.
"Hit the gas! Get a running start or we'll get stuck halfway up!"
I shifted down and hit the gas. Slowly but surely, we climbed. About halfway up I looked to my right and realized that I was on a one-lane dirt road, barely wide enough for a Humvee and there was no guardrail. This road was designed for donkey carts. A vision jumped in my head of the right tire accidentally getting to close to the edge. I visualized the dirt road giving way to a giant armor plated truck rolling down the mountainside. I snapped my attention to the task at hand.
I made it to the top where the land flattened out to reveal a small village with several rock huts. We were high enough to see the lush green valley stretch below us. The convoy halted. Several villagers came out to speak with us and the local children came for the handouts which American soldiers always have. A young boy and girl approached our vehicle. My sergeant got out to say hello and, as a driver, I was required to stay inside. Now my sergeant has a real soft spot for kids. He melted when he saw their smiling faces. He started giving them everything he could, gum, change, all of his pens. I was worried he was going to give them his gun. I asked the little girl for a piece of the gum and traded her a bottle of water. As I popped the gum in my mouth I realized it had touched her grubby hands.
"I hope I don't get dysentery,"
The call was given and we headed back down the tiny dirt road on the mountainside. We traveled through Mehtar Lam and I couldn't ignore how absolutely gorgeous the country was. There were lush green fields, palm trees, and colorful bazaars. Many of the women were adorned with beautiful ice blue burqas. So beautiful in fact, my sergeant would make a comment every time he saw one. After the 27th time I heard,
"Man that is such a beautiful blue burqa! I am gonna get one for my wife."
"Will you shut up about the burqas already?" I replied.
"No! They are beautiful!"
"Yeah, and blue, I know."
We left the village and entered what became my favorite part of the drive. We cruised into a valley full of tall green grass. Several seemingly random roads interlaced as and cut through the grass fields. The convoy picked up speed and we were careening from road to road trying to keep up with the vehicle in front of us. I could see the wind rippling through the tall grass and the trail of dust we were kicking up. It was a beautiful day, and I was having a blast.