With the sky starting to lighten up in the horizon, I knew that our all night patrol was coming to an end. Just a few more checkpoints, a short security halt, and we would be on our way back to the base. A long, uneventful night time patrol on semi deserted roads had come up with nothing but the fact that we seriously needed to upgrade our night vision capabilities. I suppose that it is safe to say, several years after the fact, that we were woefully under-equipped. No IR capabilities, no up-armor, hell, for a while there, the most powerful weapons we had were a couple of saws, a middle finger, and bad breath. Straining one's eyes for hours at a time will result in the mother of all migranes, let me tell you. It essentially boiled down to two options.
At night, drive with your regular...
1) Lights on. This would allow you to spot (some) land mines, and possibly avoid them.
n.b. nothing better for Mahmoud on the hillside to gauge your position at night than by your headlights. If he was using an IED, you were screwed.
2) Lights off. This would allow you to (hopefully) sneak past the above mentioned Mahmoud and his nasty little toys. If he had put out any land mines, however...
I decided to call for a short halt before we returned to base. We pulled off the road, circled the wagons, and killed the engines. Marines got busy doing their extended sweeps, making sure that there was nothing in the immediate vicinity that warranted our attention. I got on the radio with company to inform them of our current position, status, and future intended action. Pulling out the map, I blinked...snort....mrph....jerked my head up to hear Lcpl. Schnozz yelling something in the distance.
'What the hell ever happened to noise discipline?', I though. I looked around. Sand and a whole lot of nothing else everywhere. Marines sitting in the turrets, standing guard. Marines spread out on the perimeter, standing guard. One Lcpl. taking a deuce behind a pitiful bush, giving the finger to another guy taking a picture of him.
Turning my attention back to Schnozz, I could make out ....looks li...[garbled]...mine...base..
Looks like Schnozz had sniffed out the companies first land mine.
Walking over for confirmation, it was pretty clear that it was some sort of anti-vehicle mine. As I am most definitely NOT a member of EOD, that was the extent of my analysis. I instructed the Marines to pull back to the vehicles, and to re-check the ground immediately around the Hummers. I didn't want to find another mine the hard way when we pulled back out to the road.
Looking around in the area where the mine had been planted, I could make out the faint outlines of a trail. Didn't really make too much sense for a 'road' to be here, as the terrain was pretty level. I understood why someone would not want to drive on the paved road, due to the number of explosions, but we had been trained to not drive the same route, if possible, when going off road to avoid setting up a predictable pattern for enemy attack. Perhaps the trail was etched out by the previous Battalion, or by locals traveling to another village out to the east. I very cautiously picked my way out of the area, and returned to the vehicles to make my report.
I was given the order to secure the area and await the arrival of an EOD team. This kind of put a kink in the much anticipated rack-ops. See, while the EOD team was notified, prepared themselves, and hit the road, we had to stay on site. I wasn't too worried about an ambush, being in the middle of nowhere, but we had been up all night, and looked like we were going to be stuck here for a few more hours. One of the other squads had to return to the base, pick up EOD, and then escort them to where we were. ETA was given at 1.5 hours.
Approximately 4 hours later...
My northernmost-posted Marine rogered up on the squad radio to announce another convoy traveling south to our location. The last two announcements had actually been regular resupply convoys, and not the EOD team that we were waiting for, so I wasn't getting my hopes up for this one, either. All of my drivers were sleeping, if they could, simmering as they were in sweat. (I had no desire to finish an extra long patrol only to have one of my vehicles drive off a bridge 15 minutes from the base due to a sleepy driver.) The rest of us were rotating watches in the turrets of the vehicles, keeping an update of how many lizards came around to check us out. I turned down a request to sharpen pistol skills on one particularly sneaky lizard we named 'Ahmed'.
After about 10 minutes of watching the convoy gradually come closer, it pulled up to our position and came to a stop. A huge number of EOD personnel, Army, if I remember correctly, dismounted and came up to our vehicles, about 40 feet off of the paved road. They asked who we were with, noted our recent arrival in country, and immediately assumed that we had called in a paint can lid.
There are some that will call in EOD for anything suspicious, and that is ok. Better safe than sorry. I suppose that EOD gets somewhat peeved the 56th time that they have to come out to clear an old pillow filled with trash, but that is what they get payed the big bucks for. I am happy to note that every time we called for EOD, they earned their money.
They were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had an actual, no-shit Italian land-mine on our hands. As they had their security element with them, they assumed control of the scene and set about training some newer soldiers on proper mine-sweeping ops. We mounted up, notified company, and set off back home. Not more than a few miles into the trip, one of the vehicle commanders came on the radio to announce that he definitely had a flat tire.
An already looong patrol was getting incrementally longer, and I was not a happy camper. We pulled up to an old, abandoned, and mostly destroyed Iraqi National Guard checkpoint, and stopped for the tire change. Some goat herders who lived in one of the nearby tents saw our vehicles, wandered over, and proceeded to chat. They offered us some grapes, we gave them some bottled water and MREs. We both practiced our rudimentary language skills. I was pleased to note that they understood the majority of what I was trying to say in Arabic. They were shocked to find that we had a Muslim Marine (not myself, a Staff Sergeant that had come out on patrol with us). We gave them some smokes, and all was well in our little corner of the world.
The tire change was not going as quickly as it could have, due to the number of semi-professional back-home-car-tinkerers that we had in our squad. Too many chiefs, not enough indians sort of thing. I excused myself from the herders, and started back to the vehicle in question to find an ass to boot. When I was about half way there, in the distance to the south, I heard a muffled 'fwumpfwupmpfwump...fwumpfwump..brattbratt...fwumpfwump'. As the sounds of gunfire were coming from approximately where we had left the EOD team, it got my attention in a hurry. I yelled at the Marines to fix the tire or I would leave them behind. I dunno if they thought I would actually leave them, or they were determined not to miss out on the action, but they suddenly turned into the USMC / NASCAR tire-changing crew. Had that puppy off, tossed, and replaced in a heart beat. Marines were leaping into the vehicles, the vehicles were turned around, and the herders moseyed back to their tents.
As I jumped into my vehicle, Eagle Eyes flipped the switch on the speaker. The radio traffic filled the hummer. "...this is...[static]...taking...[garbled]....small arms...machine guns...[unintelligible]...north to...[something]...riendlies in the area, over?"
Sleepiness was forgotten and we hauled ass back to the EOD teams. 'Hauled ass' is a relative term, being as we were in old and decrepit vehicles, loaded down with all the ammo and sundry toys that we could carry, but we were moving as fast as safely possible. On the way, and in our rush, we forced a convoy traveling to the north onto the shoulder. Normally, the convoy would have the right of way, having a larger number of vehicles and a greater importance to the grand scheme of things, but when we saw them heading in our direction, we just flashed our lights, waved them over, and kept the pedal to the metal. As we had traveled the road not more than 20 minutes earlier, we could be reasonably certain that the roads were safe for the convoy to park for a minute as we passed. As far as I was concerned, providing support to an ambushed friendly unit held the highest priority, waaay above convoy priority. At the time, I didn't even think to question why the convoy hadn't stopped.
We arrived at the land mine site to find the EOD, worried about...us. For them, the gun fire had come from the north, as well as the same garbled radio traffic. Putting both accounts of the radio traffic together resulted in a little bit more understandable radio message.
"this is convoy 'ass nugget', we are going to take a minute to test fire our small arms fire and machine guns. We are traveling north to Camp Cupcake. Any friendlies in the area, over?"
Instead of making this announcement BEFORE opening fire, and what the hell, ensuring that there was actually nobody in the area, they just sent the traffic whenever, which turned out to be as they were firing.