I thought I'd share the article which reflects another person's observations of what a typical day in country was like for all of us... it is still fresh in my mind... but brings smiles in a silly kind of way when faced with the stress of civilian life
• April 25, 2005
Name: Maj. Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq
Riding with Wingnut and Stinky
“Whaddya see?! Whaddya SEE?!” shouted the driver of the HMMWV.
We were traveling at ‘best speed,’ which in this particular vehicle meant about 55 miles per hour. Not exactly a screaming top-end, but still about 5-10 mph faster than the majority of the cars around us. Ahead we could see traffic was at a standstill. On the highways of Iraq, for Americans, coming to a stop on the road can become permanent.
“Hey! Stinky! What do you SEE?!”
‘Stinky’ responds, “Looks like…looks like, yea, it’s a convoy or something. They’re stopping traffic.” The reply was barely audible. Shouted down through the gunner’s hatch in the roof of our gun-truck, it competed with the road noise of a fully-loaded HMMWV. Stinky’s head is a full nine feet above the roadway. He can see obstacles beyond what the driver can pick up from his seat at road level. Already we were slowing.
Speaking into the radio my driver checks behind us, “Wingnut, what do you see?” “Wingnut” is the gunner in the second gun-truck. He is in the Air Force.
“Nothing back here,” comes the reply over the hand-held.
Not just one decision, but a host of them, had to be made. In sequence. Fast.
Drive onto the median or push towards the center lane? Nudge that red car out of our way? Right or left? Force the car that has now reversed track and is heading towards us to the right or the left? Can he make it on the left? If we shove this next white car, will he be pinned against that truck beside him, or will he give way and create a hole for us to slip through? Doesn’t that guy hear us? Warning shot from the gunner’s M-4 or throw a rock? (The horns on HMMWVs are lame so sometimes drivers do not hear us coming up from behind. Stinky has a bag with small rocks up there on the roof for this purpose. We prefer not to shoot into the sky. What goes up, must come down after all.) Shit, that one was a wedding. Give them room. Give them that much. On and on. Another wedding caravan. Another rock thrown to get a black mini-van blocking us to move aside. Are they doing it on purpose? Are they running a ‘post’ on us for somebody else? Look left. Right. Rear. One thing overrides all. We must keep moving.
Our lead driver is aggressive. A few times I think about telling him to slow, to give these Iraqis all around us the chance to get out of our way, to stop if need be and let them make room. I think better of it.
The day before, a few miles from here, a friend of mine found himself in a similar situation. My friend is one of the best combat leaders I know, a soldier and a scholar. He is also one of the most intelligent, most humane and caring men that I know. He stopped his convoy. Seconds later the gunner of the HMMWV ahead of his was blown out of the hatch and into the roadway, bleeding to death from an IED planted to take advantage of exactly that situation. His Sergeant Major was wounded too.
I think of them and I keep my mouth, mostly, shut. This platoon I am riding with, a platoon nobody ever imagined might exist, is working just fine without the Major opening his big mouth. It is a platoon with a Marine Master Sergeant, and enlisted men from the Air Force and the Navy, as well as the Army. I am an Army officer, the senior officer on the patrol. Ultimately, if something goes wrong, the responsibility is mine. But this conglomerate platoon, created of necessity and welded by reality, works well as a team. We move. We do what we can to not to cause harm, but we move. I bite my tongue.
Sometimes, to be a good officer, all you need to know is when to shut up.
BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:
This past weekend the temperature was the end of what I think of as “human hot.” After this it becomes “animal hot.” Around about July we’ll hit “Satanic.” It was 105 degrees in the shade, and about 120 in the sun today.
A single mortar came in nearby as I went in to work the other day. Car bombs are obviously still climbing, but I read about most of them the same way that you do. I would personally very much appreciate it if the Iraqis would form a government. I am willing to be patient, however, since I realize how long it took our own first government to get its act together. Given that that process was measured in years, though it was done by men we consider today to be our nigh-unto-godlike “Founding Fathers,” I would be ungenerous to complain about the pace here.