Our new home sat on the corner of two major routes through the city of Baghdad. Along one, they built three bases along it. Each camp housed a major Army battalion, along with several other units. Each camp had a specific purpose. The largest sat at the end of the route, and it was an air base.
For the first couple of months, it was business as usual. I ran convoys along the route, took people to the airport, and escorted civilian trucks to and from destinations.
Every night it seemed like we got attacked, mostly through indirect fire. As we rode through these neighborhoods, kids would run out to the side of the road and yell, “Mister, mister, chocolate!” I got a kick out of it because they pronounced it ‘choc-o-latte.’
And it seemed like every time they ran out to greet us, something bad followed. IEDs would explode, gunfire rained into the convoys, or the vehicle gunner’s head would get cut off by fishing line underneath overpasses.
You can only see so much of this crap before it takes a toll on you. I dreaded seeing children.
Of course, we weren’t the only unit assigned to this corner of hell. Some National Guard types ran convoys from the key air base. More often than not, we had to stop and pick them up because they ended up shot up, blown up, and worse.
We were hauling unserviceable furnishings left by the previous unit to the air base, when we came upon a group of soldiers huddled in the middle of the road.
Two of their vehicles had got shot up, the gunners of the two vehicles got trapped between the crew-serve weapon pedestal and the fender well of an unarmored Humvee.
Blood soaked the road, dark pools covered the remnant of asphalt. The soldiers had blood all over them. We stopped and helped secure the site. I crawled in between the pedestal and wheel well and helped dislodge the gunner. His left leg had twisted and broken. He kept saying, “moody.” Or at least I think that’s what he said.
Three of us helped lift him above our heads and onto some broken washers and dryers. We rushed into the air base in search of the medical tents. Meanwhile, one of our guys shoved tampons into his open wounds.
We couldn’t find the medics. Finally, we saw a woman running for PT, and we stopped her.
“Ma’am, where’s the medical tents?”
She stared at our convoy leader like she hadn’t heard him. It made me angry, so I jumped out of my vehicle’s driver’s seat, took her by the hand, and led her to the back, where this soldier cried in pain.
“You see that, you stupid broad? That’s an American soldier that’s wounded. Dig your head out of your butt and tell me where to take him.”
That’s the polite version of what I said. She directed us to the nearest medical tent, and we got him squared away.
Inside the tent was chaos. Wounded lay on stretchers, groaning, crying for their mothers, wives and children. It hurt me to my core to see it.
A doctor waved us to an open litter, and we carried the soldier to it. I’d never seen such despair in a man’s eyes before. He looked at me, sighed, and went to work.
Everywhere I looked, I saw exhaustion. It was on the face of every nurse and doctor. I walked out into the heat and covered my face with both hands.
“Don’t cry. Keep it in, use it.”
I could smell the blood on my hands. It was on everything. Blood caked the washers and dryers. Crimson had leaked onto the side of the truck. The guy that treated the soldier on route to the tents had blood all over him.
“Is he gonna make it?”
“Only God knows, brother. Come on, we’ve gotta move.”
It was just another day in hell.