This is the third and last segment on our 40-hour mission. It's a little more disjoint than the others, because I don't remember the second day as well as the first and I didn't take the luxury of a lot of time editing this one. Hope you enjoy!
First call was at 0500. I rolled over in the blackness and felt for my breakfast MRE and my last cigarette carefully nestled between my ammo pouches. I emptied out the backpack that I normally bring on missions before the previous mission, because the lead truck has no room to spare for it. I miss that bag more than anything this morning. It had all the essentials that I need today: a spare pack of smokes, clean socks in a ziplock baggie that keeps them dry, and a small jar of sleep-replacing vitamin B12, as well as some other comforts. This will be the last time I take crap about my bag.
The mission is only one-third complete, but we will be turning around and heading out the way we came. There are too many IEDs, too many caches, and too little time to finish out the route. The smaller trucks are refueled from the disabled vehicle to ensure we don't run short of gas if the day drags on again. We know we'll find bombs replaced in the road behind us, so we prepare for a long day and set out at dawn.
The day progresses, and we find more IEDs. EOD is once again called off to the sides to deal with bombs the infantry has found. Periodic explosions announce the reduction of another IED and the impending return of the EOD team. The bombs that EOD judges too damaging to blow near their surrounding buildings get stashed in the back of the truck. I didn't wear a seat belt the entire second day- it seems a little ridiculous to worry about your neck when the secondary blast from the back-seat cargo will turn you to mush before you can feel the IED hitting the truck.
One bomb was burrowed in nearly four feet from the roadside, underneath the asphalt. It was a Russian 152mm artillery shell- 90lbs of explosive and steel waiting the chance to turn into deadly shrapnel. Along with it we found eleven liter bottles of diesel fuel; over the radio someone joked "Well, at least we solved our fuel problem". When we dug it up, someone had already tried to set it off. The blasting cap on the bomb was blown, but the IED had not gone off. Someone got very lucky.
Beauty and humor are the two things that most easily make me forget Iraq. The last push back into Amiriya had both. We were rolling down a narrow, rutted road through the middle of a wheat field starting to turn tan and gold from the sun. Lines of Marines and Iraqi Police stretched away on either side scouring the ground for hints of war, despite having their finish line in sight. Bradleys clanked behind the infantry, pushing stalks of wheat into the soft earth. I looked out over the line of troops- Marines in digitalized desert MARCAM and IPs in old woodland BDUs. In the middle was one Army soldier in ACUs, sticking out like a redneck at a fashion show.
We spent the next few hours uneventfully, back in familiar territory clearing the last roads between us and home. One last detail remained before we rolled back into Camp Falluja- we had to destroy all the explosives I was carting around in the back of the truck. We stopped in the semi-secure "pink" zone on the gate road, and set up the blast. Artillery shells, rockets, signal flares, bulk explosive, and a healthy helping of C-4 all went into a pile that totaled something close to 450 pounds, 200 of that explosive. I pulled the initiator on the time fuse, and we stepped back over the berm, drove down the road to our desert amphitheatre and watched the fireworks. The blast was perfect- all the ordnance detonated and left behind a six foot crater with a small hill in the center.
We rolled inside the berms and barb wire of Camp Falluja at a little after 1730- we were out for almost 39 hours, and we got back just in time for dinner. We were credited with six IED finds over the course of the mission- EOD reduced four more that the infantry found on side roads. Between IEDs and caches, we and EOD destroyed over 1200 pounds of ordnance.
It was a good day.