Letter from Iraq #18

This is the latest letter from David, a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq….
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I recently went on a long convoy, I thought you might want to know what the expierence is like.
The convoy didn’t start off great as the first stop we went to get gas and the attendant said it was only for the Iraqi Army and Police force. Seriously what is the use of taking over and conquering a country if you can’t get gas anywhere I mean isn’t gas the reason we are here…so the terrorists don’t control it…anyways that was disheartining, and I didn’t feel at all safe parked next to huge 10,000 gallon tanks of combustible gas…so went to another spot on base and the Iraqi dispensing it asked for some money. Jesus Christ we spend 300 billion on this war and still some Iraqi has his hands out, We said no, he still insisted (did he not see we had loaded automatic weapons on us….give us some god damn gas!) finally some Iraqi officers who were eager to please any American military got us some gas. that was before we even left one mile from the compound.
So inside these convoys everyone is wearing a IBA (Interceptor Body Armor), its a bullet proof vest, and this weighs around 25-30 pounds, than we have all these ‘cool’ protective attachments like a neck guard, side plates, shoulder thingies, crotch guard, and than we got our ammo attached to us as well as our first aid pouch ( every soldier gets thier own high tech turniquet….that is always fun to think about…tying off a turniquet on yourself) so by the end of all this stuff you got easily over 60 pounds strapped to you, than we wear our gloves, our helmet, our eye protection, ear plugs (if an IED explodes, which happens too often than you could lose your hearing from the blast) , very cool headsets, so everyone can talk to everyone else in the convoy, and everyone carries some type of lucky charm. You can hardly move at all and it hard just entering into and out of a vehicle.
btw… I keep on my person at all times, in my breast pocket, 4 items, a small American Flag, a teddy bear head, a seashell, and some kind of tile that has I think a saint on it, I don’t know which saint, I think it might be the saint for midgets because this dude is small.
The biggest killer so far of US troops are IEDs, this is short for Improvised Explosive Devices, and they are placed on the side of the road and dentonated as a convoy passes. They really are improvised as the enemy will just about use any piece of munition and any trigger mechanism to explode it. ‘In Country’ (thats how we refer to Iraq) . In Country we are most afraid of two types of IEDs , EFPs Explosively Formed Penetrators, these are shaped IED charges, and were introduced primarily in war as an anti-tank weapon, so you could imagine what they do to a moderately armored Humvee. And than there is just insurgents just digging up holes and filling it with literally tons of ammunitions and blowing it up. I have seen movies of these and they are outrageous, I have seen M1 Abrams tanks split in half from one of these charges.
So they keep ugrading our humvees, i think ours is the new frag 5 upgrade kit, it has doors that weigh no kidding around 800 pounds each of armor, I think the whole vehicle is over 5 thousand pounds, We have special locks on our doors because it wasn’t uncommon before for the insurgents while you were at a standstill in traffic to come up to you open a door and chuck a grenade in there, so we have specail combat locks, I spent a good ten minutes practacing opening up the door and closing it just to be comfortable if I needed to exit the vehicle.
I can’t go into detail about how fast we go or how far apart we ride our any of our tatics we use when we hit intersections or chokepoints, all that is operational security stuff and it changes constantly and the tatics of our enemies change as well and the insurgents in one area have different tatics than insurgents in another area. but I can tell you chokepoints we watch out for are intersections and overpasses, and bridges, anything that can bottleneck us. I always held my breath going under a bridge.
so all that said and done we start off on our trip, everyone is in light spirits, even though convoys are the most dangerous part of being in Iraq, keeping the mood light takes off stress and makes the ride more enjoyable, of course we are always still super vigilant but you make jokes and talk. In our vehicle we were reminicing of all things, the movie Top Gun and the kick ass 80’s soundtrack, the gunner in our vehicle wasn’t even born. than it seems one of the guys always likes to sing some prince. the conversations are classic, so much so, that it sounds like it is right out of a movie, just the easy way of talking in such a perilous situation, I know I have seen it before in movies but now its that ultrareal feeling, this is not a movie but real life, riding down the roads of Iraq.
Before we leave our compound we go black, which basically means locked, cocked and ready to rock and roll with our weapons. on both sides of us are large Hesco Barriers about 7 feet high, we are loading our weapons in the middle of basically nowhere and a little Iraqi jumps over the barrier, we were loading our weapons at the time and it came as an absolute surprise to see this little kid from nowhere. if it was an insurgent with a grenade he surely could have taken out at least one vehicle. of course all the kid wanted was choclate and candy. “Choclate?” the Iraqi kid asked our gunner who sits atop our vehicle. He is African American by the way and responded to the young Iraqi, “I’m black not choclate” and we were off.
getting to the highway was strange in itself, there seems to be always some kind of muslim festival going on. the day of our convoy was some kind of festival called “Ashura” and its where muslims walk to some holy city, so on all sides of us we had these pilgrims walking on the side of the road. they carry these large colored flags, almost all of the kids are happy to see us but some of the adults are not and our gunner got a few rocks thrown at him. Its a shiia festival so we knew that the Madhi militia army was on the streets patrolling with weapons, they are not our friends but they were there to protect the pilgrims walking, (obviously they did not do a great job as a few days later over 130 pilgrims got blown up nearby)
what is interesting is actually seeing packs of camels walking by and young people in donkey driven carts down the street. every city we saw was drowned in trash, there is so much trash everywhere. there is a lot of new development and every so many miles we go through an Iraqi police checkpoint. The police are friendly but don’t look at all confident and are happy to see us and unhappy as we go. Iraq right now is pretty green and we only saw patches of desert, it is strange to go through towns, we have to slow down and the gunners put down a rather intimidating presence, but looking at all the faces, you can’t help but wonder what each persons story is. To me in America, peoples lives seem to be rather the same, some boring job, house car, relationship, the whole things, these people are scramblin’ around town trying not to be noticed by insurgents or americans, wondering where they will find money, trying to scrounge to stay alive, we traveled through some desperate parts of Iraq and I felt like we were that dark wind that whistled through town. I wonder how we look to them.
everyone makes way for us, we have signs on our vehicle that basically say, stay back 1000 feet or get shot in the face in english and in muslim and for the most part everyone now understands that when they see a convoy they need to get the hell off the road, because we basically take over the road, if it is a two lane road we drive smack in the middle of the road ( I have heard of soldiers going on leave and driving in the middle of the road in the states because that is just how they drive in iraq.) so we go fast and don’t stop for nothing and we own the road, its sort of feels like mad max
anyways that is somewhat what a convoy is like, I hope I gave you a good idea.