Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yesterday's Convoy

Sheets! I actually have sheets -- and a metal bed frame. The room here is great. I live with two others, a young lieutenant and, temporally, a private first class (PFC).

The room can best be described as something akin to what Martha Stewart must have had in prison. It's such a comfort compared to what I've had. And, I mustn't forget the shower. Ah, refreshing, esp. after that dust storm.

In the midst of my own gratitude, PFC Conyers, a 19 or 20 year old kid from the inner city, who is married and has a son and another on the way, expressed his own gratitude.

"You know, sir," he reminisced, "when I saw those kids on the side of the road on the convoy up here, it made me sad."

"Why?" I questioned, even though with kids of my own I could have predicted what he'd say -- or so I thought.

"Because. People -- they ain't know what they got." Funny, I had just been pondering that very same thing.

Of all the nice American-type amenities in Balad (LSA Anaconda), I didn't see one child there on the military installation. There aren't any children on any military base here. I miss seeing children-- my own as well as others'. PFC Conyers added, "When I was on tower guard at Ramadi, I once saw some Iraqi kids diggin' through the dumpster looking for clothes."

I thought about the Iraqi children I had seen earlier that day; they came running up to the road and waved to us as our convoy passed, relocating us to the north. Later, the kids got out of school and walked home. As I saw their decrepit school buildings and shacks, I thought of what I had told my own children about coming to Iraq. I told them I had come to help save the children and make life better for the children of Iraq (See "Daddy, why do you have to leave?")

As I looked at the school kids from the window of my armored Humvee, I wished my own children could see them. Yes, the school building was dilapidated, but at least they could go to school. Both boys and girls could learn -- something that hadn't happened before in many parts of the country.

Prior to the convoy, I snapped several digital photos. I walked around asking all the soldiers I have come to know so well and respect -- and even love -- if they'd allow me to take a picture with them. I must admit, I had an agenda.

If I'm completely honest -- and I try my hardest to be -- I didn't only take the pictures for memories' sake; I did it because I wanted to have a picture with them before the convoy just in case they didn't survive the trip. Horrible thought, I know, but this area is much more dangerous. That is why I did it.

We stood and smiled for the picture. And for a moment, time stood still.

The people in my unit have been blown up well over a dozen times. They've also been shot at, had grenades thrown at them and have been recipients of a few complex attacks, where after a roadside bomb detonates under their vehicle, al Qaeda insurgents shoot automatic weapons at them as they try to care for the wounded.

While we have had some people get injured, including a lot of concussions and a few guys losing consciousness, no one has yet been seriously injured or killed. (NOTE: I'm not counting broken bones, lacerations or concussions so severe they've had to go to hospitals in Germany and the states for medical care as 'serious' for this record...though that in itself is anything but 'minor.')

A lot more people would have died had we not had MRAPs -- Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Members of the House Armed Services Committee, including Ike Skelton (D-MO) and others, came to Ramadi over Christmas to see, among other things, our MRAPs on display. (See The Divided States of America) I had great hopes to speak at length with the Representatives, but I was not afforded the opportunity unfortunately.

Anyway, on the trip yesterday, we did not get MRAPs. Instead, we had Humvees.

As we were driving, I could not help but think of Johnny. He may have died on the very route we took. As I scanned the roadway, the fields and villages we passed, looking for threats, my eyes would occasionally get blurry and I had to blink away the tears before they could fall.

"Vic Two!" the first vehicle radio operator called out in a panic, "watch out for that pot hole. There's something in it." He screamed the words quickly, but by the time he finished we were already to the large hole in the concrete. It turned out to be nothing, fortunately.

Johnny was in a Humvee when he was killed (See John is Dead). While seeing the pot holes we had passed earlier, I thought about how he may have died. Was it quick and painless, or did he suffer? Was he totally ripped apart by the bomb blast, did shrapnel pierce his vital organs or arteries, or did the concussion and blast wave destroy his internal organs quickly, causing him to die?

I didn't seem to care much about the threat of dying or getting blown up yesterday. I was more calm than I've ever been. I think it's because I'm so tired of war. There comes a point where you get numb to it all, I suppose. If you're hyper-vigilant or high-strung all the time, you wear yourself out; if you're not vigilant enough, you're a danger to yourself and others. In war, as in life, you need to have a healthy emotional balance.

I thought about how I could get to my tourniquet and tie it around the severed arm or leg of the guy nearest me in the vehicle. And I thought about the prayer the Chaplain gave before we left on the convoy. Maybe we should should be praying for peace more than we should be praying for protection.

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