I served as a Cavalry Scout in Northern Iraq during one of the the more busy years of the war. The majority of our patrols we did in trucks, better known as Humvees or HMMWVs. Our trucks were Up-Armored, that still did not keep insurgents from killing quite a few of us in the Province, who would then move on to the famous "Fiddler's Green" for Cavalry who were killed in combat to rest. AIF (Anti-Iraq-Forces) in the region were quite effective in using deep-buried IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and RPGs (Rocket-Propelled-Grenades) to inflict serious casualties.
I was trained to drive an M2A2-ODS (Operation Desert Storm) Infantry Fighting Vehicles A.K.A (Mini-Tank and Armored Personnel Carrier). Being a Cav Scout this was our designated vehicle of choice. I was a fan of the vehicle for its protection and firepower, beyond that I hated the Bradley. It is very claustrophobic, and if you live in a Bradley as a driver you live and sleep in what is called the “Hell-Hole”. Basically a small corridor from the driver’s compartment to the troop compartment in the rear of the vehicle, meant to allow communication to troops in the back and as means to escape in case of a catastrophic hit that disallows the driver to exit from his own hatch.
In the summer it was an armored oven, in the winter (even in Iraq) it was an armored freezer. I am thankful I have never been claustrophobic, but living and working within the interior you have little to none freedom of space. I was the driver for our Mike-Gulf (Master Gunner) in our platoon, I believed it was because I performed the role well.
Moving on, a quarter of the way into our deployment, our platoon was given another Q.R.F. detail (Quick Reaction Force) for one week. This means you assist any friendly unit in enemy contact, chase after AIF firing mortars at our Forward Operation Base, it is essentially a detail to respond to units in contact at a moment’s notice. Our platoon finished this week of non-stop operations tired, beat and in need of rest.
The same day that detail ended we were given another. Two Main Supply Routes (MSRs) were designated “Black”. This simply means that the routes were too dangerous to travel on, be it multiple IEDs or complex ambushes (IED, followed by small arms fire and RPGs). These two routes had nearly a dozen IEDs hit Coalition Forces within one day. The segment of our Troop (Company to units other than Cavalry) who operated Bradley’s was ordered to escort Combat Engineers and secure their ability to neutralize any other threats on these routes.
For those not familiar with clearing routes of IEDs with C.E.s, it is a slow and methodical process. By slow I mean travelling 5 MPH to allow our parties to identify any potential threats, regardless if anyone wants to shoot you or detonate any ordinance on your parties.
The four crews (including mine) from my troop were well versed in using our Bradley’s to escort the C.E. convoy, and what would end up being an long night.
We were allowed to use our headlights instead of the antiquated “Fish-Bulb” night-vision system that only allows a Driver to see five yards in front of the vehicle. Upside was an ability to see the road/terrain better, downside headlights in the middle of the night with a curfew in effect automatically makes you a target.
My Bradley crew was the front vehicle, beyond was another Bradley followed by a half-dozen Buffalo MRAPs (Mine-resistant-Ambush Protected) and two Bradleys in the rear searching for more of the eleven IEDs to detonate that day in the specified routes we were told to clear on that freezing night. We were asked later to speed ahead of the C.E.s to provide a rolling cordon on both routes ahead of them so they could clear the MSRs carefully.
That is when things got screwy, we were all dead tired from the previous week and recognized that. On convoys we would usually play games, such as connect one movie to another through the various actors that had been in them (a variation of “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon”). This patrol however was completely different. We had heard earlier on the Squadron Coms that one our Bradley’s was hit by an IED. No word on potential casualties or damage, not a surprise though since potential casualty scenarios were kept largely quiet and on the administrative Squadron channel until all facts were known and collected. I just hoped everyone was okay, a Bradley is strong but far from invincible.
We pushed on clearing our route, but among my crew not a word was said. We (I) kept driving, looking for threats to ourselves and the C.E.s. Eeriness set in when I attempted starting up convo through our CVCs (Combat Vehicle Crewman headset) with my crew. Silence from my crew, and after an IED on one of our vehicles there was silence on the Squadron Tactical Net. Thinking everyone was taking a combat-nap, I drove on at 5 mph in my cold isolated driver’s position. Even with the engine inches away from me as the Driver, I felt no warmth, only cold.
After an hour (maybe more) of not hearing any communication from my own crew, the patrol or any other unit, I got scared.
I began to think, no, deduce that it was our Bradley that was hit. That I was dead, and driving 5 mph in a cold winter Iraqi night waiting to die, with no one to talk to, no one to break me from this spell of thought. This, this was my hell. Travelling slowly down that route forever, that dangerous road with friends neither seen nor heard. With no end in sight and a staggering cold that chilled every bone in my body. I had found my true “hell-hole”, and was stuck there for eternity having just past "Fiddler's Green".