Since this job is my first non-flying job in the military, it has been somewhat a rough one. Not to mention I'm performing the job in the middle of Iraq! In some regards the travel is a welcome event...I get to fly in a helicopter most times. Sometimes, I travel in a vehicle. Not to worry, that vehicle is a well armored, "Mad-Max" type vehicle...so relatively safe. I've always loved flying, especially when I'm at the controls of the aircraft. Here, I'm just a passenger...but it still brings me joy, none the less. On one of my recent trips, I spent some time talking with one of the helicopter pilots and a couple of the enlisted crewmen. What a great bunch of guys. Aviation "types" are pretty much the same...no matter what branch of service. We talked for about an hour and it was nice to have familiarity in a world that is completely "upside down". The best part is they made me an offer that I could not refuse: Come to their facility anytime I wished and they would let me jump on board with them and fly around all day if I wanted. Talk about a great deal! I haven't been able to take them up on the offer yet, but I plan to do so...very soon.
So, the Iraqi 500...the drivers here are crazy. They don't follow any general rules of the road. Speed limit: Yeah right! Lane courtesy: Not even close! Patience: Not a recommended quality! The Iraqi drivers drive very aggressively...to their own demise. When an American convoy is travelling on the roads, the convoy "owns" the road. The armored and heavily gunned vehicles of an American convoy use all the road...and I mean all the road. If the convoy is headed north, they will sometimes use the southbound lanes(opposite flow). If there is a "traffic jam" ahead, the convoy will either proceed into the oncoming lanes or with horns blaring, fire warning shots to ensure the Iraqis move out of the way. Now before anyone says, "See that's just driving like a jerk." Realize, in Iraq, you don't want to get stuck behind a traffic jam or get boxed in...ever. If you do...you are just a sitting duck waiting to get attacked. So all these measures are for safety and security of our American forces.
Now sometimes the Iraqi drivers aren't too keen on our driving standards. So, randomly you'll find an Iraqi driver that decides he wants to play "chicken" or be stubborn about letting a heavily armed and armored vehicle pass by. This is where things get sticky...for the Iraqi. When this happens our guys don't know if this guy is just being a hot-head or if he intends on blowing himself and his vehicle up in an attempt to kill American forces. Trust me, it happens here more than I'd like to admit. In these cases our guys start by shooting warning shots. If no compliance, the gunners start shooting the vehicle. Drastic measures for drastic times.
The normal Iraqi hot-head usually "sobers" quickly at the first warning shots. So those aren't the folks that endure "step two" from above. The people that endure "step two" are usually the folks that a have a car packed with explosives and intend on using them. So the measures of protection work. As draconian as they may seem...they have saved numerous American lives. Everyone just remember...this is a war.
Some of my posts recently may have become somewhat "dark" in nature. I don't consciously post this way...but I think it is just the nature of the experiences. I also think that it would be completely wrong of me to not write how things actually "are". It would not be fair to NOT portray things at face value. Don't be fooled...this place is not fun or cool. With that being said...my promise to everyone is that I will write from my mind and heart and not skew things negatively or positively. Now, don't worry...I still find humor and fun in everyday life here! So you will be able to experience those situations also.
The picture above is the typical IRAQI 500 road course. The road is a major thoroughfare in Baghdad. As you can see, they all end up being a big parking lot. Not the safest place for an American convoy to be stuck. Hey at least I was flying that day; enjoying myself with a smile on my face.
R, K and G...I miss you and will demonstrate my Iraq driving techniques when I get home...we'll rent a car first.