The day started at 0630 with a wakeup call and a shivering gasp into the cold air. The heaters in the tents decided that last night was their night off. Brr. Now, the tent is heated by body warmth and the one remaining working heater. I laid curled in my bed for a few minutes, trying to will my body warm. Giving up on that idea, I slid quickly into silk weight thermals and my Nomex jumpsuit, and started getting ready for the mission.
Just a couple of hours later, all preparations are completed, and we roll out of Camp Falluja on another route clearance patrol. Today's mission: ensure that some 30 kilometers of road, including three villages, are free of IEDs and other hazards to coalition forces. An hour into the route, on the outskirts of the first village, we find our first IED of the day. Tamped into an old hole by the side of the road, and covered with a thin layer of dirt, it is typical insurgent work. While the IED is being neutralized, someone notices a head popping up behind a wall some distance away. We move to intercept, and as we pull up, more heads appear. False alarm- we've roused a larger Iraqi family with our noisy trucks. Or is it? The wire that some fighter meant to use to detonate his bomb leads in the direction of the wall. As we follow it, it travels towards the wall and then veers away into a field. Out in the distance is a single house. The wire ends just meters away. Inside is a woman and her three children- two teenage girls and a little boy.
Who's wire is this? She doesn't know.
Where is the man of the house? She doesn't know.
Has anyone else been here today? She doesn't know.
Are there any "Ali Babas" (insurgents) around? She doesn't know.
The children stand by silently. When someone asks one a question, she starts to answer, only to be shushed by her mother. Obviously, we're not going to learn anything here. We still have a long route to do, so we make preparations to leave, while letting the unit that owns the sector that it might be worth a trip to the house with an interpreter. The IED we move off into a field, where we can safely destroy it. Before we can do that, we have to make sure that our patrol, and, just as important, the civilians in the nearby village, are protected. The vehicle commander calls up to me in the hatch- "Hey! When we back up, make sure those gawkers get back behind something!" The truck speeds backwards and stops in the intersection near the village. I call out from the turret, flinging my arms up in the air:
Kumbuleh! - Bomb!
The gathering crowd looks up as one.
Rooh lil bayt! - Go home!
They scatter. Staff Sergeant J. looks up and says "Well, I guess your pronunciation isn't so bad they can't understand 'BOMB' ", and laughs.
Krr-THUMP! The IED disappears in a cloud of dirty black smoke and flying dirt. A bare hundred meters down the road, we find the next one. It's turning out to be a busy morning.
After we pass the village, we find a third at another intersection. The rest of the day turns up nothing, and we retrace our steps back towards Camp Falluja. On passing the first IED site, we discover that the destruction of that IED cut one of the nearby power lines, which now lies sparking on the ground. I'm not happy to see it, but I'm not that upset, either. On one hand, work will have to be done to restore the power, but on the other, the IED would have toppled the pole if it had detonated where it lay. The fact is that the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been- the irony is that the village is named Karma.
Life sucks, and then you die.