by First Lt. Gabriel Scheinbaum, U.S.A.
American Reporter Special Correspondent
February 2, 2006
IN A CONVOY, LEAVE THE DRIVING TO THEM!
NINEVEH PROVINCE, Iraq -- I really like to drive, which is a personality trait I might now take under review.
The U.S. Army doesn't forbid officers from driving themselves around - they just sort of discourage it. No sense delaying the punch line. Driving a U.S. Cavalry supply truck is my version of being mounted on a black stallion leading the Cavalry through the Old Dakota Territory and ending up red-faced somewhere in a mud pit, wheels spinning and my soldiers laughing.
Okay, let's go back to Happy Days on the tube and cruisin' the neighborhood. Driving is something that I always enjoyed doing, and after the first few mishaps of accidents and tickets when I was a teenager, I was always eager to get behind the wheel. I was once asked by a friend of my father's if I would like to drive an antique Cadillac hearse from Jackson, Miss., to Palm Beach, Fla. I was in college, and the prospect of driving a death mobile through the Bible Belt, all expenses paid, was right up my alley.
That story has many tangents of its own, but it is was worth remembering today as I got to do something that I normally don't get to do in Iraq: drive.
You may recall a lot of military movies where an officer will jump into a jeep and zip off down a road. The reality is that driving in today's military is less like M.A.S.H. and more like a hired car service because the Soldier does most of the driving while the officer rides shot gun. But that isn't how I operate, and as often as possible I do my own navigating and driving.
Convoys are as big a part of military operations as combat, if not more so. I have a friend who is a transportation officer who always reminds me, "Nothing happens 'til something moves," his little wink to the support side of what we are doing over here. And he is spot on because logistics and supply is essential. This keeps the men and women, fighting far away from the comforts of the civilized Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) that look like small cities with all the amenities of your hometown's main drag, supplied so that they have even the smallest of necessities.
The convoy is integrated into almost every mission in this war and the inherent dangers involved are just as serious as some of our most complex combat operations. So today I got to participate in a convoy as we moved my Troop from its sandy tented perch along the Euphrates River to the equivalent of George Jefferson's "deee-lux apartment in the (Mosul) sky."
While the rest of the troop loaded up on our Stryker vehicles, I decided that if I was going to have to go on an eight-hour trek across the desert I was going to do it behind the wheel of one of our trucks. Good thing I had a license.
I recently wrote that you could go hundreds of miles out here without seeing sand. Well, that didn't pertain to today. But the bonus was that we are in a bit of a rainy season here, so what was once sand and dust is now a veritable quagmire. That is all good and fun for the all-terrain Strykers with their big eight wheels, but try driving a five ton truck while towing a one-ton trailer! And you thought fish-tailing along the Interstate was scary? But I handled it and really enjoyed every minute, well, almost every minute.
One of the reasons we officers usually don't drive anymore is because the Soldier spends a lot of time on the vehicles. The brass are usually cooped up in an office behind a computer hunting and "p e c k i n g" on the keyboard and coming up with policies that are more complex to understand then Rubik's Cube.
So when one of us says we want to drive, the betting pools begin: "How long until he crashes? When will he get tired? What do you bet he gets a flat tire?" So I am always cognizant of such dangers and am extra careful before I head out. But one thing I don't always have is patience, and today I traded ten seconds of discomfort for uncertainty that turned into a painful hour of recovery. I got stuck. It happens. But when it happens to an officer it always comes with an extra helping of "I told you so."
Think about it. I am surrounded by the best hi-tech stuff our taxpayers' money can buy, and for all the good it did me at that moment, I could have used a few oxen.
In fact, that's the bizarre poetic justices of it all. In ancient Ninevah, an ox, horse, or even a good mule would have been a more reliable form of transportation than a First Lieutenant with a truck.
While I tried to avoid one area along the route that looked as if it would give me a lot of trouble my alternate choice fared much worse. I ended up driving myself right into mud that nearly engulfed my entire wheel base. In the words of the chaste knight who guarded the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "I chose poorly."
The end result was my First Sergeant and some other Soldiers helped to tow me out, a process that took the better part of an hour and made no one, including me, happy. Of course it was also embarrassing, but I was happy to learn that my miscue would be our only problem along a route that has seen its share of IEDs in the past. Even with an impatient officer, we finally arrived safely.
Thankfully, even the worst Army menu of MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) of stew, omelettes, or stroganoff does not include an order of crow.
AR Special Correspondent Gabriel Scheinbaum is on active duty in Iraq.