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thedrifter
09-21-06, 08:14 AM
Shell on the right side of road!

By Kimberly Johnson
USA Today

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq –- Kilo Company is nothing, if not consistent.

My last night with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment company in downtown Ramadi seemed overrun with combat drama, much like when I first met them. On that day, when I traveled with the governor’s convoy taking him to work at the Provincial Government Center, two gun battles rang out and I was made to sprint to evade potential sniper fire. My last night had the same flavor, and included a protracted battle from the roof -- right before what seemed like the drive from hell.

I was to leave the government center in the middle of the night, on a convoy headed back to the battalion’s main head quarters at Camp Hurricane Point. The shooting and explosions had stopped for over an hour by the time I walked with Lt. Brian Wilson, 24, of Columbia, S.C., towards his Humvee. It was dark and my eyes were slow to adjust. “Here,” he said. “I have nightvision. Take my arm,” as he led me.

Wilson explained as I climbed in behind his driver that we would make the relatively short drive to Hurricane Point, after supplies were dropped off at another outpost down the street. He had found a space for me in his Humvee, but I had to share it with a light machine gun. I had barely situated my gear when he unceremoniously placed the long weapon between my legs. The butt of the gun rested next to my right ankle and the muzzle was tucked under my left armpit. It was the only way we would be able to travel with the weapon that stretched more than a yard. And in that one instant, Wilson had undone a long-standing personal record I was beginning to hold dear. All these months in a war and I had never touched a gun, despite constantly being in their presence. But on that particular night, it seemed an improbable record destined to become undone.

The Humvee, with the young officer in the front passenger seat, fell in with the convoy and we drove the few short blocks to the outpost that had just been under insurgent attack. The truck slowed, and Wilson barked out an order.

“This (expletive) better dance,” he told the Humvee’s driver, Lance Cpl Cory Bumbarger, 20, of State College, Penn. “They got shot at by two RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) down here two hours ago,” he said. Bumbarger knew the drill, and the Humvee lurched forward slowly, then pushed backwards in reverse, then forward, then backwards. The rocking motion makes for a hard target.

“Hey, USA TODAY, you get car sick?” Wilson yelled to me over the engine roar. The motion initially wasn’t overwhelming, but as the waiting drug on, I felt a twinge of queasiness, brought on, no doubt, by the power of suggestion. Wilson and the three other Marines in the truck scanned every darkened recess of the broken buildings around them. They saw a light move through one of them, but couldn’t see from what. Down a side alley, the gunner saw something suspicious and shot at it with his M-16 from the turret. There were no shots back and I felt a deep relieving breath rush out of my lungs. My eyes were adjusting to the lack of light and I could see stars through gaping holes punched through concrete floors. The Humvee continued its dance.

“Man, I’m going to puke,” Wilson said as he waited impatiently. He wasn’t happy about having to wait so long in the open and wanted to get moving, if for no other reason than to set his stomach on a constant course. “An IED went off right here,” he said, reminiscing of a past improvised explosive device attack. The conversation filler seemed like needless foreshadowing and put me on edge.

Wilson got a radio call and we sped forward. The Humvee swerved from left to right to dodge deep standing puddles of cloudy water and cratered potholes. Bumbarger had it floored and the engine whined in exertion. He swerved to the left.

“Did you see that sir? Shell on the right side of the road!” His voice was tense and sounded panicked. We had just past a 60-mm artillery shell roadside bomb lying in the next lane over. Wilson yelled the finding into the radio. I braced myself for the possibility of hearing an explosion. None came. We sped ahead, and into the gate of Hurricane Point, abruptly ending my night of tense action and what was just another day for Kilo.