My convoy narrative continues. See Part 1 if you missed it.
We arrived at our last stop before Camp Liberty/Victory, CSC Scania, after a four-hour boring highway drive. Our convoy was hauling ass – even with all the HEMTTs and 5-ton trucks, we were maintaining 55 or 60 miles per hour most of the way.
I don’t know if it was nervousness or boredom or what, but there was something almost joyous about peeing in a bottle during our trip. I was drinking a lot of water – maybe 3 liters a day – and once we started rolling, there was no stopping for anything short of a breakdown or a bomb in the road. I sliced the top off of an empty water bottle, and made frequent use of it. Maybe excitement was just relief at not having to squirm in my already-uncomfortable seat, preoccupied with my bladder status.
As we rolled into Scania, it started to rain a little bit; certainly not what I expected, but then again, the drive had already been shattering expectations left and right. Indeed, Scania itself was a surprise; according to our briefings, it was little more than a roadside rest area. To the contrary, it seemed like a well-established encampment, ringed by concrete walls and Hesco barriers, with a little PX, DFAC, phone center, etc. People were engaged in a lively volleyball game when we dismounted and struck off in search of food, and a few of us managed to score hamburgers and hot dogs, fresh off the grill, with Cokes to wash it down. So there we were, chewing on some tasty meat, drinking Coke, and studying the palm-like trees in the distance, half expecting some Hueys to come flying over the horizon and a bunch of Viet Cong to dash out of the treeline. I don’t know what it was, but SGT P and I agreed that the scene had some kind of Vietnam flavor to it.
That night we had our briefing from the convoy escort team from the 1st Cav. These guys were the real deal – they’d been up and down this route a hundred times and seen all kinds of shit. There’s nothing more credible than real experience, and these men had it in spades. The lieutenant that addressed us confirmed something that I had considered already: you might as well throw all that training about identifying an IED (improvised explosive device) out the window, because at 55 mph you’ll never see it coming. I took the risk of an IED attack to be like a lightning strike, an act of God – there was nothing I could do about it except react to it after it happened.
Indeed, despite the rather grim situation – various factors had conspired to make the next day’s drive a high-risk operation, not least of which being the last big convoy before the US presidential election – I wasn’t particularly worried about death or injury. Rather, I worried more about doing the wrong thing if/when something did happen, about making a wrong decision that might lead to someone else’s death.
My roof-sleep was interrupted by my driver Cryptkeeper’s voice. “Hey, get up, it’s gonna storm.” I tossed the sleeping bag off my head and sure enough, lightning was ripping across the sky. I checked my watch – 0245. We weren’t leaving for almost three hours. I tried to sleep in the cab but of course, sleep in a humvee only comes to me when it’s a) running b) daytime and c) I’m supposed to be awake.
After interminable radio checks we finally rolled out around 0545. My M249 was locked and loaded, one flick of the safety away from being ready fo fire. Scenarios played through my head; I almost looked forward to using my weapon, as if to say “look out insurgents, cuz we’re the National Guard Signal company, bitch!!
As it turned out, nothing happened – I felt more threatened on Lake Street in Minneapolis than I did here. Of course, I don’t have a machinegun and body armor when I’m on Lake Street…hmm…
There were a few tense moments, like when the convoy stopped near an overpass which had been briefed as a danger area. A couple of teenaged kids came up to my vehicle and waved, then started gesturing and asking for something. Most kids were asking for food or water, but these weren’t – it turned out they were asking for pens. I didn’t have any on me (didn’t think I’d need a box of pens on the convoy), so they got the idea and wandered off. Then, a whole gaggle of schoolkids – maybe twenty to thirty of them – walked by on the overpass, waving and yelling. Some stopped to gawk at us, and a few brave ones clambered down to the highway to wave and possibly scavenge anything we might offer.
Maybe it’s perverse, but it was almost with some regret that I popped open my M249’s feed tray cover and pulled the belt of ammunition out, stuffing it back into the pouch. We made it to Victory, a drive of some five hundred miles, with hardly even a breakdown (there were a handful, but not many), let alone combat. Certainly I was glad that nothing had happened, but after all the hype of the last eight months, and the almost hysterical tension of the briefings leading up to our drive, it seemed somehow anticlimactic.
SPC (formerly PFC) Leemo coined the Superbowl analogy while we were in Kuwait. He said it was like the Superbowl of PMCS – this drive was going to be the culmination of every maintenance check you’ve ever done in your Army career, and if you hadn’t been doing it right, everyone was going to find out real fast. Of course, he said it mostly in jest; there’s a subtle humor to it that one can only understand if you’ve spent endless days in the motor pool, checking the fluids for the tenth day in a row on a vehicle that hasn’t been moved in a month.
So to complete the analogy, I guess we won pretty convincingly – but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year’s…Superbowl of PMCS! [ESPN SportCenter theme]