Thursday, April 14, 2005

El-ahrairah's Continuing Iraqi Saga, Episode VI

(posted from an e-mail at his request, edited slightly for spelling and grammar -- CH)

Close Encounters of a Mortar Kind

The Iraq that I knew two years ago and the Iraq of today are two different countries. Two years ago, the Iraqi insurgents were just starting to ramp up their attacks on coalition forces using roadside bombs and mortars followed by the MSM and the left whining and moaning about going to war without being prepared, etc.

Fast forward two years and since the battle of Fallujah and the successful Iraqi elections, attacks on coalition bases have gone way down. However, every now and then, “former regime loyalists” (FRL) or “dead-enders” in Rumsfeld-speak will lob mortars at the base where I live, causing the military to go into “we are under attack” mode. When that happens, there is an alert signal given and we are supposed to respond accordingly. We usually don’t know where the mortar hit, just that one did hit the base somewhere and an alert was given. Most of the time, the alert happens when you want to go outside and go to chow or the head (the toilet for non-naval types) which causes you to vacate the roads and wait until you hear the “All Clear” signal.

It’s funny to me (and probably only me) how “close” so far I’ve come so far to possibly being “lit up” by a mortar. I’ve only been here three weeks and that has happened twice. I don’t consider them anything like butt-puckering, shrapnel-scattering, “Whew-that-was-a-close-one-and-lucky-we-are-still-alive” close. More like “Wow-if-I-had-left-for-work-a-few-minutes-sooner-I-would-not-be-stuck-in-this-stupid-traffic-jam-due-to-the-semi-rollover-up-ahead” close.

Just after I got here, one landed not far from our housing area. At the time, I did not know this, only that I was on my way to the BX and had to return to my “hooch” when the alert signal was given. It wasn’t until the “All Clear” signal was given that I found out that the impact area was in a parking lot which I would have been walking through. I’m not sure if the round actually exploded since it could have been a dud. This happens more times than you would expect because the Iraqis didn’t really take good care of their weapons. When the FRLs looted the weapons depots, they carted off a good number of old, dud ammunition. I suspect that we receive more attacks than are noted for the main reason that the base is very large and if a mortar round hits and doesn’t explode, there may not be anyone around to notice.

A few days after my first “brush with greatness”, I had another almost-“close encounter” with a mortar at my work site. All over the Iraqi air base where we live, there are hardened aircraft shelters (HAZ) where the Iraqi air force kept their fighters. They are built of very think concrete, covered with dirt and designed to take direct bomb hits and protect what is inside. Back when the major air-to-ground threat was Scud missiles or B-52s dropping “dumb” bombs, these would have been very formidable. Unfortunately, thanks to the development of laser-guided “smart” bombs and the US military’s uncanny ability to place them thru ventilation shafts, they have become more of a graveyard for what is inside. Most of the HAZs that I saw at the air bases where I was stationed in Kuwait had been very well “ventilated” during the first Gulf War but for some reason, the HAZs here do not have any holes in them which could mean that they were empty during the Iraqi war (the fact that we have found Iraqi MiGs buried in the dirt kind of supports that theory).

My work site is located inside of one of these HAZs. We were just leaving the HAZ to go to chow when we heard that there was an alert over the radio. That meant that we had to stay put so we went back inside to wait (and miss chow, *$&%#@!). What we didn’t know was that the mortar landed just outside our compound, about 50 yards from the HAZ. When the “All Clear” signal was given, we found out that if we had left the HAZ a few minutes earlier, we might have been outside when the mortar landed. Just think of the “sea stories” I could have told when I got home (ask the Cap’n about the difference between Marine Corps “sea stories” and fairy tales).

I guess when it comes right down to it, I should be worried about the attacks, but it seems just like another military nuisance that we have to put up with here. I’m sure my sainted mother and my lovely wife would think otherwise, so I avoid telling them everything that is going on. As far as they know, all the bad stuff happens somewhere else. Here, it’s “Club Med”.

Shuffleboard anyone?


At 2:20 PM, Blogger Captain Holly said...

if a mortar round hits and doesn’t explode, there may not be anyone around to notice.

Sounds like a philosophical question. If it doesn't explode and no one notices, does it even exist?

And what is the Matrix, anyway?


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