18 May 2016

"Sir, what do we do?!"


During the early summer of 2006, I was in a seven vehicle convoy just north of Baghdad, Iraq. I had only been in country for a short time. I was riding in the passenger seat (or "truck commander" seat) in the second vehicle. Our Humvee was modified to carry electronic countermeasures equipment, and as a result, we had no .50 cal gunner (similar to the Humvee on the right in the picture above). It was just me and a young Army soldier driver.

As we passed through northern Baghdad, I noticed a flash in my side view mirror. We soon realized that an IED had gone off behind our vehicle and in front of the third vehicle. A quick comms check revealed that, thankfully, no one was injured. A quick inspection found only minor damage to the vehicle. Nonetheless, we stopped to investigate.

The lead Humvee sped off to the right to investigate a taxi that was driving away from the scene.

"Sir, what do we do?!" My young driver and I realized at the same time our now-awkward situation. The normal procedure under these circumstances was for the lead and trail vehicles to drive 400-500 meters and set up a cordon. This would allow the other teams to investigate while providing standoff distance for approaching vehicles. Since the first vehicle followed the taxi, we were now the lead vehicle, but without the powerful Browning machine gun to support us. Keep in mind that I'm a Navy officer; a naval flight officer trained in electronic countermeasures. I had two weeks of "Army" training. I was not intended to be involved in ground combat. Nonetheless, here I was.

I immediately explained to the driver to move and set up the cordon. He drove us half a kilometer forward, blocked the road, and then disembarked so we could provide some measure of support. It was not ideal, but it worked. For a few tense minutes, our only method to project power was M-16s or M-4s--hardly the kind of weapon you would want to deter another vehicle. Fortunately, another Humvee came forward and eventually relieved us.

At that point, we returned back to the scene of the IED. I then followed the lead Humvee to where they had stopped the taxi. One soldier seized a few cell phones, which I held while another soldier swiped the hands of the taxi driver and his passengers with a chemical swab to detect explosives. Then, one of the cell phones rang. Iraqis had been using cell phones to detonate IEDs, but this was just the cell phone. Still, it spooked me.

As we were wrapping up the roadside stop, I heard the unmistakable rat-tat-tat-tat of an automatic machine gun. In that instant I immediately realized two things: first, you don't have explain the sound of an AK-47 to someone under fire. Second, you don't have to teach a Navy guy how to hit the deck. I did so immediately. After absorbing a face full of sand and dirt, we soon realized that the sporadic AK-47 fire was not aimed directly at us. Most likely, it was spray-and-pray fire designed to unnerve us. It was working. We soon hurried back to our vehicles and were on our way.

The Army unit I was with was near the end of their rotation, soon to head home. To them, this was just another day outside the wire. Fortunately, no one was injured. As far as I know, the incident was never written up (such a write-up would be required for a combat action badge or similar award). Yet I remember the incident as if it happened yesterday.
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