from "Route Recon"
by Brian Bieniek
It was so hot both outside and inside that we were all downing water like crazy. I must’ve already drunk over a gallon of water and we hadn’t been driving long. Then it hit me hard when we went over a major pothole. Holy shit did I have to piss. We talked about this in the Operations Order. We’d stop at planned places and not before unless there was an emergency. Not only that, there were like thirty guys including the Brits on this mission, so there was no way we were going to stop every time someone had to piss. My options were to use one of the bottles at my feet or wait. I waited until I literally was about to piss myself. I picked up a bottle and contorted myself in the seat in such a way that I was like in a standing and crouching at the same time, one knee partially on the seat position with my radio cords tangled around my arm. When I thought things couldn’t get worse, I got stage fright. Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate – ahhh, there we go. It worked until near the end when another pothole (unavoidable, the driver swears) caused me to piss on my hand and partially on my pants. Damn. They never showed this shit on the “Army of One” commercials. The hand sanitizer that they made us carry came in handy for a change. Much to my content, the guys in the back seat who were laughing at me got a nice show when the gunner got the urge to go after seeing me. Since we were the last vehicle in the column, he was sitting in the hatch facing to the rear. All he had to do was stand up to complete his mission. At least I wasn’t sitting in a car seat with a guy pissing in a bottle two feet from my face. I think one of the highlights of the day was listening to them yell at the driver about how they were going to kick his ass if he hit a bump and they got pissed on.
“It worked until near the end when another pothole (unavoidable, the driver swears) caused me to piss on my hand and partially on my pants. Damn. They never showed this shit on the “Army of One” commercials.”
When we hit the release point, we stopped to say farewell to the Brits. We took a few minutes to return their radios and collect ours. We set out security, took a few photos and traded some meals – shitty tasting English stuff for shitty tasting American stuff. They’d continue on to the Saudi border and then loop back around to Umm Qsar in order to identify their entire sector. They turned down southwest onto their route and we turned north onto ours. So, this was the road being built, huh? Well it seemed to be a road in that numerous vehicles seemed to have coincidentally driven this same route leaving a well defined trail. Although I had no background in construction or roadwork, I knew there was no way that a road was going to be here by the time they said. It’s funny to hear higher put out information so matter of factly and then see the actual truth close up. Well, maybe it’s not funny. It just emphasized how important getting eyes-on is over word of mouth. As we continued on, we could see construction vehicles in the distance. We got closer and saw a few graders and dump trucks, and the trail did get much smoother and road-like. However, I knew that they were still supposed to pave this thing with asphalt. As we drove further along the road, visibility dropped to zero because of the fine dust being kicked up by the three vehicles in front of me. All I could do was sit and wait for things to happen: to drive off the side of the road, to slam into the vehicle in front of us, or for an IED to blow up since I couldn’t even see what was on the sides of the road. It was a feeling of true helplessness; not being able to prevent anything from happening, just waiting for it. We couldn’t slow down and try to get out of the dust or we’d end up trailing way too far behind. My driver was driving blind, and doing a great job. He didn’t seem fazed by it, but I could tell he was concentrating solely on watching the dirt cloud in front of him trying to pick out anything that resembled the back of the humvee. I heard a call come over the radio that we were stopping to check out some tents and a building ahead of us. The driver slowed, the dust eventually settled, and we pulled up to our designated place in the herringbone formation.
The PL called for all vehicle leaders and dismounts to meet him at his location. The gunners and drivers were to stay with the vehicles. Along with my dismount and Doc, I headed up to meet the PL. On the way up, I checked out the area we stopped near. There were two decent sized tents and a brick building that looked like a garage. The entire place was trashed. It looked like this was once a small oil facility of some type. There was an oil pump and derrick combinations, but it was only about 15 feet high instead of a giant one that would be at a major facility. There were a handful of broken down, stripped vehicles. There were piles of trash all over, consisting mainly of broken wood, broken bricks and concrete, sheet metal, and broken plastic water tanks. I was sure the PL wanted to search this place because it was right on the new road, which made it a security threat. We got to his vehicle and quickly discussed a plan of action to clear and search the tents, building, and “yard.” The occupants were starting to head up towards us and pretty soon we had a group of twenty people standing around us – about six adults and fourteen others ranging from teenagers to toddlers. The PL knew a good deal of Arabic from the year he spent up in Samara, which was something I’d always been grateful for since his assignment to our platoon. He first asked the adults if they had any weapons or illegal items. After getting a negative reply, he then informed them that we’d be searching their tents and all the stuff lying around outside. They didn’t seem to care; they just stared at us and smiled while shaking their heads for no reason.
“All I could do was sit and wait for things to happen: to drive off the side of the road, to slam into the vehicle in front of us, or for an IED to blow up since I couldn’t even see what was on the sides of the road. It was a feeling of true helplessness; not being able to prevent anything from happening, just waiting for it.”
Since security was mainly my issue, I had two guys keep the group consolidated, and told the one vehicle facing in their direction to provide overwatch. I had three guys set up on three sides of the compound maintaining visual contact with one another. I used the vehicles on the road to pull security on the fourth side. We had limited people to search the tents, so I needed to use whatever resources I had to ensure 360 degree security. I sent Doc over to the group of civilians so that he could look at any cuts, scrapes, or bruises. I figured we could try to “win hearts and minds.” I knew nobody really liked to have their house (or tent in this case) searched by a member of a foreign Army. Once security was set and Doc was situated, I headed over to assist in clearing of one of the tents. These guys were compliant, so we entered in a non-threatening manner. We were fully prepared to react to anything, but we didn’t go in weapons pointed, yelling for people to get down. The tent was split into three sections, putting us in the middle section as we entered. This section had a few chests and a table with a sewing machine on it. The right section was filled with blankets and cushions that rose all the way to the ceiling. Another soldier and I checked the chests and drawers in our section, while one soldier went through all the cushions and blankets. The last guy on our team pulled overwatch to make sure we were secure while searching. When we finished our areas, we all headed towards the last section. As we were about to enter, two women speaking in Arabic tried to block the door. We pushed our way through into what looked like a sleeping area. It was about 25 feet by 25 feet with nothing in it but a TV and many pads and blankets lying on the ground. In the middle on the ground was a small girl, probably between three and four years old. She was sound asleep. My soldiers walked right in and continued searching, looking behind cushions and under the pads and blankets as if she wasn’t there. I couldn’t help but to just look at the sleeping girl. She was about the same age as my daughter back home, at least the same size. She lay there just like my daughter did, sprawled out all over and taking up as much space as possible for a little kid. All I could think about as I looked at her was what my daughter was doing at this very moment. The feelings came out of nowhere. It’s not like I didn’t think of my family often, but I made every effort to stifle that while focusing on a mission. “Everything’s clear here Sergeant.” The words snapped me out of it. We went back outside and linked up with the PL’s team, who were also done with their search. We split up again with his team taking the building. My team put together a quick plan to search the yard in a controlled manner. It took awhile because we were dismantling piles of junk to see if there were any caches hidden or buried anywhere, all the while looking out for possible booby traps. The PL’s team finished their search and then helped my team to finish up the yard area. We didn’t find anything, which gave me mixed feelings. I would’ve liked to have found something for the sake of finding it, but at the same time felt good that these people seemed to be focusing on their desert lifestyle and not getting caught up in activities that might put themselves in jeopardy. We headed back to the vehicles, passed out some water and a few MREs, and headed back on our way.
“In the middle on the ground was a small girl, probably between three and four years old. She was sound asleep. My soldiers walked right in and continued searching, looking behind cushions and under the pads and blankets as if she wasn’t there. I couldn’t help but to just look at the sleeping girl. She was about the same age as my daughter back home, at least the same size. She lay there just like my daughter did, sprawled out all over and taking up as much space as possible for a little kid. All I could think about as I looked at her was what my daughter was doing at this very moment.”
We were browned out with dust again so I couldn’t have seen any type of IED warning sign. I sat and thought about the girl in the tent and my daughter. How could a person raise a kid in these conditions? Obviously they were doing it, but I guess it just seemed so weird to me – living in a tent out in the harsh desert every day. I guess we were sort of doing it too, but that was just a tour of duty. This was their life. Then to have soldiers come in and go through all of your stuff, has it really changed in the last thousands of years? Desert inhabitants being subject to the Army of the period passing by and going through all of their belongings. Seeing that kid made me really think about how much I missed my family. How pissed off I’d be if someone came in my house and went through all the stuff in my daughter’s room while she was asleep in her bed. As hard as it was, I had to stop thinking about that. I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me. The mission and the safety and security of my men absolutely had to be my guiding motivation at all times. I would never have forgiven myself if something happened to my guys in the tent because I was daydreaming about my family. I could look at their pictures when I got back tonight. I needed to refocus on the mission, visibility or not.