Thanksgiving in Iraq isn’t exactly like the one we have at home. For the most part, it is the same as every other day on the deployment, the guard must be kept up regardless of the date and proper vigilance must be maintained. The chow is somewhat different. It is hot and it tastes like turkey, or so they tell us in the mess hall. Well, at least it is hot, so we are grateful for that at least. Living off of MRE for months gets old rather quickly and every time we get hot chow makes for a memorable occasion.
One of our patrols got hit by IED, most likely an 82 mm mortar grenade. It happened inside a settlement, so they couldn’t open fire, although they are sure they have identified a triggerman in the crowd. Thanks to their training and armored humvees, no Marine was injured in the attack.
This was the fourth IED for our unit and to be honest, that’s four too many. There are units in the country that had far more, but in my opinion, even one was too much.
As we ride down the White Knuckle Express, I think of the names we like to give to local roads, like the dead man’s curve or ambush alley. They reflect how dangerous roads can be in Iraq. The first time I rode on the White Knuckle Express, I made sure that my last letter was updated, just in case, I don’t make it back. We hate this road, but sometimes we had to use it. Our flank is covered by an M1 Abrams tank. We like to have them around since they pack a lot of heat. As we swerve to go around it, we hear a warning from the leading truck, to watch our a bag with some wires sticking out of it by the side of the road. At this point, everything we see reminds us of IED. There is no telling what piece of debris can be hiding some artillery shells, ready to detonate as we pass along. A pack of dogs starts chasing our convoy through empty streets, but we are not stopping for anything. To stop in this neighborhood is to invite trouble. The dogs give up after a while and I wonder if those are the same we saw eating the corpses of dead enemies a while back.
Even if I could describe the situation in every little detail, I still couldn’t make you feel the sense of being watched by the enemy from around the corner or the cold sweat on your neck as truck maneuvers to avoid a huge crater in the middle of the road. The situation is made surreal because as you are waiting for an IED to blow you up, little kids are lining the road, waving at you. The road itself is littered with IED craters. I tried counting them, but after twenty I lost count. Craters serve as a warning what could happen to us at any time and we use that fear to keep alert and stay on our toes for the duration of our patrol. Once we get out of our vehicles, it takes some time for all that adrenaline to subside.
As we enter our base, we hear a large explosion behind us. An IED was detonated on the road, but too late and it missed us. Someone says it’s number five. It is six actually if we count the one we found and detonated ourselves. As we are watching the cloud of dust marking the IED site, the evening prayers begun and familiar voices of Arab chanting start in earnest. We take our positions, taking care not to be exposed, presenting targets for enemy snipers. Everybody is excited and ready for anything and if the enemy had chosen that time to appear, they would be ground to a dust in no time.
We are settled for the night and can relax, at least for a while. Tomorrow will be a new day and a new task, with maybe a new IED. But until then, smoke them if you got them.