Report from Iraq: Convoy escorts are a deadly game
Editor's note: Our Marlborough Community Reporter Doug Grindle has returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was embedded with U.S. troops. While there, he sent us reports whenever he could so that we could provide our readers with a glimpse of what's going on in the region.
As always, we are grateful to Doug and other journalists like him who put themselves in harm's way so that those of us safe at home can be well informed.
The following is his last contribution, written before his return home earlier this month.
South of Baghdad, Iraq – Night has fallen several hours before. The countryside along the highway is quiet as a long convoy snakes its way, heading south, toward Kuwait.
Thirty supply trucks driven by Pakistanis, Filipinos and a varied assortment of other nationalities push along the highway throughout the night. Shepherding them are six vehicles driven by soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard – five Humvees and an armored tub of a vehicle called an ASV, an armored car with a thick ceramic hide.
All of the gun trucks sport machine guns or automatic grenade launchers. All are armored. Inside, men peer out, looking along the highway for roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs). This section of about 20 men has found almost 25 roadside bombs in its nearly nine months in country. Half of them detonated. They have had no one injured yet.
Almost all of those roadside bombs were found by one truck – the lead Humvee, called the scout truck. The scout Humvee drives several hundred yards ahead of the other vehicles, and its ability to find the roadside bombs is a point of pride for its crew.
"Me and my guys are proud that we haven't let anything get past us and it hasn't hurt any of our guys behind us, so we take great pride in that," said Sgt. Robert Lindsey from Farmington, Ark., a tall thin young man who is the scout truck commander.
The only time another truck has been hit in the convoy is when Lindsey's truck was shook up by one explosion. The second scout truck behind his took point and half an hour later ran into another one. That was a freak chance, a rare occurrence.
All across Iraq the soldiers play the same deadly game with insurgents. Whether it is on highways with supply convoys, or dirt tracks near villages, the dynamics are the same. The soldiers drive, the insurgents try to conceal their bombs. The soldiers try to kill the triggerman.
Insurgents conceal the roadside bombs in just about anything. They stuff them in trash, in dirt piles, inside old tires, in old refrigerators, or boxes, or even bags. Anything is possible, but the telltale sign is the detonation wire invariably sticking out. The wire is the difference between trash and danger. Lindsey and the two others on his crew are like finely tuned machines, especially adept at picking up that vital difference.
Lindsey's Humvee is neat and trim. Its damage is tough to see, but it has been mangled time and again. Small holes speckle the hood. Filled-in holes speckle the rear.
"It's normal to keep running out of tires all of the time. We'll either pop them or an IED will go off on us and it takes out the trim of whatever," Lindsey said.
Bits of the truck are blown off or damaged every time an IED hits, and then they are replaced.
"I've gone through four sets of doors," he said.
The soldiers are based at a camp near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. In the south the bombs are of a type called explosively formed projectiles (EFPs). They cut right through armor. But up north the explosives are of a more conventional type, and this section has not seen any EFPs.
They have also seen over a half dozen attacks by small arms fire. On one occasion insurgents lined the road for half a mile and shot at the Humvees and supply trucks as they came through. The soldiers say they made it through, but it was a trying experience.
Each day is similar in routine. The convoy rolls at night, so the soldiers sleep during the day. They wake up and have breakfast, which is dinner to most people. Then they get their gear ready and get set to roll out the gate escorting another convoy.
These soldiers are on the road three days out of five. It is a routine life, and they are here for a year doing it. They expect to head back home in late winter.
Until then, driving north and south on the main highway leading from Kuwait to Baghdad and beyond, the soldiers will try to keep their record going.
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