A few years ago, I was part of a convoy transporting Iraqi soldiers to a camp called Ferrin Huggins. On the way to this camp, we (the Advisors I was working with) had to cross a crowded, jammed up bridge. Since we were not driving military vehicles, My boss at the time (aka The Duc) decided that, since the Iraqi people wouldn’t respond to our endless honking of horns (everybody lays on their horns here) that he would get out and run ahead of the convoy, moving cars along the way. It was about mid July, and easily 110 degrees, but we weathered on, across about a mile of jammed traffic. The bridge itself is the east/west entrance into Southern Baghdad, and crosses the Tigress River. It is 3 lanes on each side, and is about 100 feet or more to the water. From the top, there is a commanding view of Baghdad, to the north, and the river as it moves south on its way to the Persian Gulf.
Since I was the driver, I watched as the Duc and a group of Iraqi’s ran back and forth, up the bridge and down, moving cars and watching for potential enemy. It was slow and plodding movement, and it took the better part of an hour to cross the span. As we weaved in and out of the traffic, vigilant for a possible attack, I thought to myself how utterly ridiculous this is, and never in my life would I ever see something so dangerous and incredibly funny.
I was wrong.
Today it was easily 115 degrees, and we were moving from one camp to another, along the road to our home camp. As you know, the violence here has been contrasting, going from good to bad in a split second. Apparently the government (if you can call it that) had instituted some curfew that I hadn’t heard about, and the cars on the road were dead stopped. We needed to get through, and it was not going to get any faster since the cars just didn’t have much room to move. I looked around at the area and in the back of my mind, I sort of knew where I was, but couldn’t identify it. Looking at the traffic ahead, we pretty much realized that unless we moved the cars, it was going to be a very long afternoon.
So, rifle in hand, I set out running ahead of our convoy. Approaching cars, I looked in all directions, banged on the hoods and roofs, and got drivers to move over so we could get through. The heat as we moved slowly over the river was intense, and I had to make multiple trips back and forth to the trucks to get water. I moved up and down, three Iraqi’s in tow, moving trucks and cars and bikes and people. The citizens were everywhere, sitting on the road, sitting on the cars, lying under the trucks. Sometimes it took a few minutes to find out who the driver was, and then it took a lot of energy just to get them to do what I needed.
Slowly, we made our way across the bridge to the Iraqi Checkpoint that was stopping the cars. About an hour or so had passed, and I was barely functioning at that point. As I made my way back to the vehicle, it dawned on me where we were and what had just happened. As I got back into my truck, I looked at my driver, who was staring at me and laughing. I asked what the hell was so funny, as I guzzled water like a hippo. He said, “That was the funniest shit I ever saw. You would never get me to do that.”
I looked at him and was going to say something, but left it alone. Some things are better left to the memory and the experience. And there is always next time…