Monday, June 11, 2007

Keep on Truckin'

I piled into the back of Humvees with at least a half dozen different crews. Each attacked the road with a different attitude.

The best guys go slow. It was the quickest indicator of the discipline of a group. The slower you go -- and it's hard to go slow because it's hot and uncomfortable in those things, and the air conditioning tends to conk out about mid-day -- the better chance of spotting bombs.

Rural roads are pock-marked with potholes left from earlier explosions ( fromIEDs, or improvised explosive devices, in the parlance of the military). If those holes are filled with white concrete, then chances are that everything is safe. Unrepaired bomb craters are favorite places for stashing new bombs.

Plus the troops look for wires, cables, animal carcasses, pipes or anything that looks out of place. The problem is, everything is out of place. Trash is everywhere. Virtually the entire landscape is blasted into disarray.

In the picture above, two empty cooking oil cans brought things to a standstill until a close look with a camera zoom gave the crew confidence to move ahead.

Not everyone is so careful. Some move quickly (and in my brief experience tended to listen to angrier music as they traveled).

Some just aren't as sharp. A civil affairs crew I rode into Kirkuk with had trouble working their radios.

Some are jumpier. One gunner I rode with felt obligated to firing warning shots over the top of any vehicle that didn't come to a complete stop. His staff sergeant finally tore into him when he whizzed shots by a farmer on a tractor.

"He's just a tractor man, dude. A tractor man."

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