Saturday, October 31, 2009

Notes from a Combat Truck Stop

Late Friday afternoon my partner and I got the word that we were going to a convoy support camp to handle a death investigation. We had about 20 minutes to gather our crime scene gear, grab our "Go Bag", and jump into an MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicle convoy headed down MSR (Main Supply Route) Tampa to the camp. The MRAP is kind of like one of those mini-buses that the retirement communities use, only heavily armored, with a hull designed to deflect roadside bombs. Couldn't see much in the growing dusk as we zoomed south down the highway, but the MRAP has a surprisingly smooth, quiet ride, lulling a number of our fellow passengers to nod off. No snoozing for me or my partner (nicknamed "K-9", as she used to be an MP dog handler), since this was our first time outside the wire in a ground convoy. It took us about an hour to get to the camp, which has the primary mission of supporting the military convoys coming to and from Kuwait. "K-9" and I hit the ground running, and worked straight through the night, processing the scene and interviewing witnesses. We took a break for breakfast in the camp's small mess hall, which like a truck stop diner is open 24-7, and come to think of it, has about the same menu. The camp commander had given us a couple of CHUs, so we headed there to grab a short nap and a shower before resuming our investigation. It was just before dawn, and for the first time in Iraq I heard the Muezzin broadcasting the "call to prayer" from the minaret outside the camp walls...really felt like I was living in an arabic country, instead of a very large trailer park in southwest Arizona. My partner and I worked through lunch completing our interviews, and finished up in time to catch a ride with an armored Humvee patrol heading back to our FOB. It was a very different experience riding northward in the Humvee...a lot noisier, but since it was daylight, I could see everything around us. The civilian traffic flew by us, gents in arabic dress crammed into SUVs and tiny sedans, a few luxury Mercedes Benz cars, obviously armor plated by their low ride, and a lot of young men peddling their heavily-loaded bicycles down the shoulders of the highway. Our patrol lumbered pretty slowly by comparison to every other vehicle except the bikes, but we didn't stop for traffic slowdowns, moving instead into opposite lanes to get around jams. Every few miles I saw an Iraqi Police pickup truck posted on the side of the road, with a cop in the bed manning a light machine gun on the about heavy traffic enforcement! There were goat and cow herds along both sides of the road, and as we approached a recently-built highway overpass, instead of a line of motor vehicle traffic crossing over our heads, it was a conga line of cattle shuffling placidly along. About midway back, we were detoured around a traffic collision...but instead of orange traffic cones, the IPs had set out big rocks and scrap metal to mark the temporary lanes. (Maybe dog agility people stole all of their cones!)
Roadside commerce is sure different in Southern Iraq; gas stations consist of a single pump in a mini-van sized shack, and the restaurants are all open air affairs, most featuring big rotisseries roasting large chunks of meat. It reminded me of travelling up old California Highway 99 through the Central Valley in the early 60's...all it needed was a couple of "Big Orange" stands to complete the picture.
I enjoyed the ride, even more so due to the lack of IEDs or other bad guy was enough to keep me awake until we got back home, secured our packages of evidence, and grabbed a quick bite of dinner before surrendering to the siren call of our CHUs.

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