Monday, June 06, 2005

D-Day

Hour 12 of a 20 hour patrol, and the patrol pulls off a main road and enters into a nature preserve. The armored vehicles stop in a field to the side of the road, and the soldiers dismount and stretch. It has already been a long day. The dust storm has subsided, but my uniform is caked with a fine white mush, from the dust mixing with sweat. My collar has turned brown, and beneath my body armor, I have been soaking wet for 12 hours. The heat continues to make my ballistic glasses fog, and I periodically take them off to wipe the plastic lense, and dry the rivers of sweat running off my face. We are to be here for a few hours…. Observing the countryside and acting as a quick reaction force if needed by any convoys in the area moving north along Route Tampa. The fields on either side are cultivated… long green rows of plants and foliage. Across the narrow street, rows of palms wave in the hot breeze, and further off there is a wet stretch of ground with rough brown reeds. It is the first peaceful place I have seen in Iraq.

Behind me, I hear a tinkle, and I turn to find three slender women passing by, mounted on the backs of donkeys. The donkeys are piled high with cut rushes and the women are perched upon the rushes. They are completely covered from head to toe, in clashing, undescribable patterns, colors, and designs. Except for their faces. Their weather-beaten, ageless faces look at me with unabashed interest as they pass quietly by. I notice that each is holding a small sickle, with a worn wooden handle. They had cut the rushes with a sickle… much as might have been done two thousand years ago. Not much, it seems, has changed for some people.

Some time later, a middle-aged man dressed in brown slacks and a collared, button down shirt boldly approaches. He claims to be a farmer and that he has found a “rocket” a little ways down the street. This was definitely worthy of investigation. Leaving the vehicles, five of us move with the farmer and translator several hundred meters down the street.

The farmer leads us straight down the road and gestures off to the side. “There,” he says, “the rocket.” Off to one side, lying on a matted bed of grass, is an artillery shell. Not a “rocket” as the farmer had explained, but a 155 South African Howitzer shell… and it looks new. At the Captains request, the translator asks the farmer… “how long has it been there?” The farmer looks blank for an instant and then says “two years.” He smiles, revealing dark black gaps in his teeth. I exchange glances with some of the others… the shell is in too good of a condition to have been lying there for two years.

Quickly we move to secure the site, and call EOD. It seems EOD, the busiest guys in theatre, have other calls to attend to, and it will be a few hours before they can reach us. The farmer departs... It gets hotter… The sun shifts in the sky... It gets hotter... and EOD arrives.

EOD pulls up in 5 vehicles, and the EOD sergeant saunters over with a friendly wave. He is wearing a shoulder patch with a bomb and blast symbol that vaguely reminds me of old black and white photos of the fat man and little boy.

EOD proceeds to examine the shell. He inspects it for wires, and detonating devices, blasting caps, and booby traps. I watch from a respectable distance, as do most of the infantrymen with me….no sense in tempting fate. Finally satisfied, the EOD sergeant nods his head and bends at the knees…. As he straightens, to my horror and amazement, I see that he has lifted the massive shell up off the ground and put it on his shoulder like a sack.

With no ceremony at all, he walks off to his vehicle with the shell on his shoulder… mission complete... to be stored and detonated at a later date.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Babydoll said...

LOL! I heard simular stories when Steven came home. EOD guys are a little insane, they have to be to do their job.

3:10 PM  

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