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sandbox! MN guards....

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 06, 2004 11:54 am    Post subject: sandbox! MN guards.... Reply with quote

4 Apr 04

3 days ago we left Kuwait to move to Baghdad.

It's hard to explain how hard it is to prepare for a trip that is only the distance from Minneapolis to Fargo. Back home you just jump in the car and don't think much about it. Here, we go over every contingency that may happen, practice what your going to do if something does happen and then pray nothing does.

Before we left Kuwait, the main planning keys to moving safely are:

1- Travel in large convoys

2- Keep 100 meters between all vehicles

3- Have all the equipment you need in case of a breakdown

4- Drive fast! (It's hard to hit a moving target with mortars or RPGs.)

That was the plan... here's what happened.

Day one we had to go from Camp NY to place on the Iraq border called Navistar with 150 personnel and 40 vehicles. Only about 50 miles and fairly safe. It gives you a chance to work some of the bugs out. I think my vehicle had the first glitch. The tow chain we had on the front of my vehicle came off and was dragging on the road. It sounded like we threw a rod or broke something in the drive train. Not really a big deal but you don't want to fall out of the convoy; there is safety in numbers (rule 1). Right about that time, one of LT BBBB's(Kitch's edit) vehicles broke down. I forget what the reason was but it required a maintenance vehicle to go back and get it.

Breakdowns are a lot of work. Everything is done by self recovery meaning no one coming out to fix you; our unit has to do it as the rest of the convoy moves on. That means we leave 2 vehicles for security, 1 wrecker, 1 maintenance team, and the 1SG or XO. So we left the vehicles back to fix the broken down vehicle and within 30 mins they were back on the road.

Mean while we were having issues with the spacing of the rest of the convoy (rule 2). You can be too close together and you make an easy target or too far apart and you make it hard to control. 40 vehicles speeding down the road stretches out almost 3 miles if you do it right. It's hard to do.

We made it to Navistar fine and the wrecker towed in the broke vehicle shortly after we arrived. There we staged the vehicles for the next days move with every other unit going north. Basically it's a giant parking lot made up of 20 to 25 rows of 40 vehicles each. They served steak and lobster at the dinning facility that evening. We slept on or next to our vehicles.

Day two we had a departure time of 0345am. Starting at 0300am a convoy leaves every 15 minutes until every unit is on the road make one giant convoy (rule 1). Driving in the dark is fine by me. So we crossed the border about 0400 and went to weapon status amber. That means every weapon has a magazine loaded in but no round in the chamber. (Status red means round in the chamber and ready to fire.) Most Iraqis is the southern part of the country are friendly and no need to be shooting everything that moves.

By 0415am we had broke rules 2 and 4. There was a lot of traffic and sometimes we were going 5mph because a local was driving down the wrong side of the road or 60mph and playing catch up. Lot of radio chatter that morning in our convoy, radio checks or status checks. I think everyone finds it a little more comforting knowing someone can hear you on the radio and that you're not just alone in the dark in a hostile country.

As the sun came up, you can tell you're not in Kuwait anymore. Kuwait is a desert, sand for miles. Iraq is desert, but much greener and a lot more livestock (by livestock I mean camels and sheep). It's similar to driving across South Dakota in the early spring only instead of farm house they live in little tiny tents. And then we started to see people on the side of the road. The Highway was 6 lanes and traffic was fairy heavy, mostly military going north and civilian oil trucks going south. And the kids would stand right on the edge of the highway. Most would wave or give a thumbs up. But its scary seeing 3, 4, 5 year olds alone right up next to the traffic. Some of them would make a gesture to their mouth or shout "FOOD" in English. I think early in the year many of the convoys threw out mRE's or bottled water as a sign of good will. But now we don't do that. Let the humanitarian efforts do that. But it's hard not too... these people are poor, I mean the tent I go camping with is bigger than what these people live in. It's really a different world...

By 0800 we made our first pit stop for fuel and port-o-johns at Tillil. (Interesting fact about Tillil, its 2 miles from the ancient city of Er where Abraham lived) Most guys had already filled up an empty water bottle or two by this time. You got to go when you got to go and there ain't no stopping a tactical convoy.

Back on the road and the sand storm start up. We had been on paved road all morning, but when we got to the Euphrates River, it went to 6 lanes of gravel. The blowing sand is just like a blizzard only warmer. Visibility was less then 10 feet at times and we lost sight of vehicle in front of us many times. Which mean driving slow, rule 4, not good. 50 miles of these conditions and every vehicle has one or more guys outside in the gunner hatch or in the back of a vehicle taking the whole brunt of this in the face. The wind burn was brutal. But everyone did their job, covered their sectors of fire and no one bitched. Our gunner's rock!

12 hours after we start day two we arrive in Scania where would stay the night. It just another pit stop for food and fuel and a safe place to spend the night. The place is a hole and it would suck to be assigned to this joint. But they man the towers and walk the wire so our convoy can sleep.

Day 3 started off bad and I should have known that it wouldn't get any better. We were supposed to leave at 0700am, right behind a unit (1-303 Armor) with 3 serials of 50 vehicles each. It's the start of daylight savings today and whether they forgot to reset there watches or just missed they slot to move out, we didn't get to leave until about 0800am. The stretch of road from Scania to Baghdad is not friendly and convoys get shot at weekly or daily basis. Its only 75 miles and you really want to drive fast to be safe. Most everyone was feeling more confident and we were going to own the road, the best defense is a good offense. Weapon status was amber and each platoon was given the ok to go to red if they felt threatened.

And then LT XXX's(kitch's edit) vehicle (the lead vehicle) hit a civilian vehicle. No one was hurt but both vehicles un-drivable and had flat tires. They were going under a bridge and switching lanes when the civilian vehicle entered their blind spot from the rear. They shoved them in the center median and crushed their front end. Iraqi's know better than to pass a tactical convoy but they do it anyway.

As the rest of the convoy continued on, I pulled out to assist along with 2 security vehicles, maintenance teams and a wrecker. One of my jobs as XO is to be the claims officer for the battery and assess the monetary values to damage we do in country. If it's not tactically related, the army will pay out the locals for damage we cause. This was our first solo one on one contact with local Iraqis. And meeting up with a couple guys that we just ran off the road who may or may not like us wasn't something I or anyone else was looking forward too.

It ended up that they loved Americans and hated Saddam, every time they said his name they would stomp their feet and say "Saddam bad, no good" and that was the extent of their English. Even in the desert in the middle of a highway we drew a crew. After as much information as I could get from them and about their car they gave me a kiss and shook our hands may times. We had to leave them to fend for themselves and get back to fixing our trucks.

It took about an hour and half to get the two flats fixed. We came to find that our standard jack won't lift our new armored hummvees, too heavy. Our maintenance crew had to use the arm on the wrecker to lift the vehicle and swap out tires. Even then we still had to tow the vehicle.

As this was going on, the local kids started to approach and asked for PEPSI and food. They were four of them about 6 or 7 years old. And their English was better then the adults. We ended up giving them a few Cokes and all of our writing pens. The kids love pens and if you want to send anything, send more pens! Again, we can't give them food but they think pens are great and it's a nice gesture.

Back on the road, my vehicle was in the lead and we were an hour and a half behind, (remember rule 1?). We were out of radio range with the rest of the unit and knew that they had an escort to lead them in once they got to Baghdad. (It's a city of 5.5million people, an escort is a big help). If we didn't catch up we would be on our own. And of course we didn't...

By the time we reached the outskirts of Baghdad, the rest of the Battery had arrived safely. Early that morning we had been brief in Scania not to take the exit to Baghdad International Airport and go to the exit spray painted BIAP. And of course this was the exit we were supposed to take, but not knowing this, I move our little convoy up to the next exit that, on the map, showed a road cutting straight over to the airport. Map and road here really don't match up too well as we soon learned. We exited off a large over pass which instantly turn into a dirt road. It didn't take long to realize that this is not a place we wanted be in but the road was too narrow to turn the wrecker around because of the cannels on each side. We were only about 4 miles from where we need to be but the road suddenly dead-end at some local's house. These maps suck!! I'm sure it was quite a scene for the family to watch us get that wrecker to make a u-turn. Also, we came to find out then next day that there had been an RPG attack against the US compound not more than 500 meters from where we made the u-turn 30 minutes before we arrived.

So we ended up back tracking to the exit we were told not to take, which really was the right one. This road is the main highway through Baghdad, and at 2 in the afternoon it was like rush hour traffic. And guess what happens next...Sgt Soper's vehicle tire goes flat! This day can't get any worse. Our tires are run flats which mean you can drive on it for about 30 miles at 35 mph if it goes flat or until it starts to smoke and fall off.

So there we are, breaking rules 1 through 4, one towed vehicle and one with a flat and no where to stop and fix it. We made it to about 2 miles outside of Camp Victory when the tire did start to smoke and we had to stop. Luckily, traffic was a little lighter and there was a small shoulder on the side. We set up a road block, secured the area and let the maintenance team go to work. Pointing your .50 cal at vehicles really does make people slow down fast and we weren't about to let anyone mess with us this close to our destination.

With everything fixed, quickly found the rest of our unit who were a welcome site. We now call Camp Victory home and everyone is doing well. Despite what you see on news, everyone is secure and looking forward to our next year's worth of missions.

I miss everyone and can't wait to come home to where everything is normal again.
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