As a result of an operation our Squadron conducted in May 2005 for 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (more about 3rd ACR here), Multi-National Division Iraq – North saw it fit to establish a combat outpost (COP) just outside of the town of Rawah, located in Al Anbar province roughly 50 miles North-West of Haditha. Rawah was on the Euphrates river and at the time had literally no U.S. or coalition presence. It was a major hub in the transit of foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria, as well as a logistical area for the movement of heavy weaponry – mainly the suicide car bomb. When our Squadron was tasked with relocating to Rawah to establish the COP, being scouts we felt well suited for this. My platoon and I personally reconnoitered a location to establish the COP and in a scant few weeks the plan was set in motion.
We went, we conquered Rawah after a week or so of fighting the area was relatively secure (the maintenance process of keeping the enemy routed out took longer; I’ll write more on that another time). Establishing a place to live and work from in the desert meant we literally had to scrape out an existence in the middle of nowhere – a God-forsaken spot near what must be one of the many assholes of Iraq that had nothing but hard, compacted dirt and clay surrounded by hellish terrain features (hills and wadis). Mostly wadis. And as the footprint grew, the COP required even the basics to sustain roughly a Battalion-plus worth of Soldiers. I’m not talking about showers or MWR huts for internet and a chow hall – I am talking about the bare basics here; we slept on our vehicles, the Squadron was run out of the shelter-toc vehicles, security was bulldozed dirt berms that made a perimeter, and we subsisted on MRE’s and bottled water.
But as I said, the footprint grew and the engineers did what they did best, which was throw up plywood buildings for the operations center (the toc) and slowly began to establish the necessary shades for generators, locations to store fuel blivets, and flat aluminum panels that made the forward aircraft refueling point (FARP) for the AH-64’s and medevac birds. And to get the necessary equipment and supplies meant we needed convoys – and lots of them. The initial convoy down to the COP location from Mosul only could allow us to transport so much; Squadron began to require a Platoon to rotate out of patrol /combat duty in Rawah in order to escort logistics convoys in and out of the COP over 100 miles to an American base near Baji called Forward Operating Base (FOB) Summerall. FOB Summerall was a rinky-dink base thrown together on a former Iraqi airfield and was so close to Baji that Soldiers were required to wear a helmet and body armor around the base at all times due to the frequent and accurate mortar fire. The area was also ‘patrolled’ by the 42nd Infantry Division, New York National Guard. We tried to run convoys out of Summerall but we were loosing too many vehicles to IED and landmines (as the featured image shows), so the decision was made to resupply out of Q-West, where some elements from the Brigade had been housed anyways.
In the Early days of COP Rawah – around July 2005 – we would get in a convoy once every seven or ten days maybe. They air-dropped MREs and water and ammo on occasion but ground convoys were needed to really supply the COP. As time went on the convoys became more frequent and averaged roughly two per week. At first we were happy when we drew convoy duty because it meant a hot shower at Q-West, a chow hall and hitting the PX for any item of luxury [it was 120 degrees in the summer in the desert after all, and we were living and sleeping on the Stryker’s]. But then we began to dread convoy duty and I will explain why:
Four Stryker’s could easily escort a convoy of lets say, 16 vehicles. That’s about one Stryker every four vehicles and there isn’t too much lag or play in the length of the convoy. But our logistical convoys were growing up to 47 vehicles per convoy [yes – I escorted a 47 vehicle convoy, and when it was done a 1st LT transportation officer with a National Guard unit told me that I was more than qualified to wear his branch insignia]. Now add in my four Stryker’s and we’re well over 50 vehicles on a convoy that was around 134 miles point to point. Imagine that havoc on the roads.
Roads? HAHahah – Roads, that’s cute. Maybe like, 34 of those miles were on hardball; the remaining 100 miles (give or take) were through the open desert that spanned Ninevah province and Al Anbar. And it wasn’t a straight line, it was a general direction, dead-reckoning that avoided major terrain features. In fact there was a nice flat and empty stretch that added a few miles to the journey but was sorely needed as the convoys had a mish-mash of HET’s, LMTV’s, FMTV’s, HEMTT’s (the wrecker and a godsend for when shit broke down, unless it was the HEMTT), HMMWV’s, recovery vehicles and other assorted ass and trash [if you’re unsure what those are, google it]. We had to go slow; convoys sometimes lasted two days or more, but once we got the hang of it a good convoy could go in eighteen hours. And the route had to be over easy terrain because these vehicles were in various states of disarray and disrepair – and loaded for broke with cargo. And their crews were mostly reservist’s and national guard – to whom I give great credit for the dauntless and thankless task of mind-numbing convoys day after day after day. They moved all my shit for me and had to put up with me as their security escorts, but when they done fucked-up, they done fucked-up. And I will give you an example.
My platoon was escorting a convoy out of Rawah back to Q-West in order to return these folks and bring back another convoy. All of my vehicles had both FBCB2, and BFT [GPS-tracking and communication devices – like your TomTom on steroids and crack, together]. Sometimes convoy vehicles being escorted did as well, which meant I could see them real-time on my map. Well, after several hours in the desert, I noticed a blue icon that was severely behind. I called my platoon sergeant and he confirmed that yes, he too saw the blue icon. Sometimes the systems lag, and sometimes they project a false-image that shifts the vehicle’s actual location making it appear in a different area than it is (like when my vehicles up on the Syrian border were throwing false images 5 km INSIDE Syria, resulting in about 10 different confirmation radio calls to let folks know No, I did not invade Syria). Anyways, this icon was so far South we wondered if this was a vehicle from another convoy operating nearby. Since it’d been hours since we started this goat-rope of a convoy we decided to take a pause for the cause, and I ordered a convoy halt; the vehicles slowly crept to a halt and closed-in on each other in ducks-in-a-row fashion (actually getting proper distance and in most cases catching up with everyone else).
My Stryker’s peeled out from our positions – my section up at the front and the platoon sergeant’s section near the rear. He and I independently drove from one end of the convoy to the other performing a vehicle count [number with us by type]. We both came up short 2; a HMMWV and a HEMTT wrecker. This process took us about twenty minuets and by then the blue icon was farther away and heading East (we had made the turn North). 20, 30, or 40 vehicles in the desert kick up a lot of dust, which makes it difficult to see in front of you – which is sort of crucial for following the lead of vehicles in front of you so that you don’t run into a wadi and break your neck, or inadvertently veer off course, or avoid slamming smack-dab into the vehicle in front of you (which sometimes happened). My platoon sergeant took his section and began to head towards this icon with haste – radio calls to it on the convoy frequency went unanswered so a physical grab would be desperately needed. Two vehicles ill-equipped for desert traversing – let alone combat- would not fare well for long.
After what was probably an hour, the section returned with the truant vehicles. The HMMWV was a gun truck, and was at the rear of the convoy behind the wrecker, pulling security [in reality, platoon sergeant’s section was the ‘rear’ of the convoy] The only way to really control large convoys like this was as such – senior scout leads the pack from the front, while the remaining three Stryker’s drive up and down the sides and around the rear of the convoy like sheep dogs, keeping the flock in line and nudging home those that stray. As it happened, the driver of the wrecker – which had no radio and no weapon system aside from the rifles of its 2-man crew – kept falling behind on purpose because he could not see well in all the dust from the convoy [mistake 1]; he slowly could see more as the dust from the convoy got farther and farther ahead of him, and figured he could keep up [mistake 2]. The guy in charge of the HMMWV gun truck was so nose-to-ass on the wrecker that he didn’t really know what was going on [mistake 3] and though he had a radio, he didn’t use it until he was far out of radio range [mistake 4]. Eventually, the HMMWV took over lead once the wrecker stopped to say ‘hey dude, we’re fucking lost.’ Guy in this HMMWV was an E-8.
Now, those of you who have done a hot-minute in this man’s military will know an E-8 is a senior NCO, who in theory would have the sense and experience to know when there was a problem, and not to make rookie mistakes. When I asked him what he planned to do if we hadn’t come for him, he said matter-of-factly “Well, lieutenant, we were going straight on what I believed the convoy heading was, and I had made the decision that if we didn’t see any convoy in the next half hour, I was turning South and heading for the road.”
First off, you never instinctively travel in a straight line – you drift towards the Equator its called the Coriolis effect and anyone with good land-nav skills knows this. That is why they never regained the sight of the convoy’s dust trail becaue they were drifting to the right and weren’t looking towards where we all had turned North. Second, had that fucktard of a senior NCO done as he had said, he would have wound up on a road alright – smack dab in the town of Haditha. Two weeks earlier Marines in Haditha were conducting Operation Quick Strike when a Marine Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) was destroyed by an IED, killing 15 Marines and their Iraqi interpreter. The operation was launched as a result of a Marine outpost being overrun days earlier and that entire team was killed. And we’re talking active-duty U.S. Marines here, with guts and fortitude and AAV’s that have 30mm Bushmaster cannons on them – this guy was a portly reservist in an M1114 up-armored HMMWV with one .50 cal, and accompanying an unarmed HEMTT wrecker. You couldn’t be more of a sitting duck. The E-8 seemed unphased by this. The dressing-down was lost on him, so I sent them back to their position and we kept a close eye on them for the remainder of the convoy.
Half hour away from death – that’s how I look at it. We saved their lives (if you ask me). But fucking idiots aside, mostly convoys were just nightmares of vehicle break-downs, and equipment and cargo bouncing off of vehicles and needing recovered. What couldn’t be recovered was destroyed so that the Hajj couldn’t use it, or booby-trap it. Fun was the Stryker on rear-guard that got to slowly follow up the convoy and just drop thermite on unrecoverable supplies, and machine-gun broken pallets of water bottles. No time to stop – not with another ten hours at a snails pace until you hit hardball. No, all the hot showers, the masturbating in the hot showers, the cafeteria, the buying licky’s and chewy’s at the Q-West PX, none of it could make up for the sheer pain and hell it was to escort these logistical convoys through the harsh empty deserts of Iraq. Not when you’re scouts, used to being out on your own; Not when you’re Stryker’s and anything less than 8-wheels is ass and trash…