Fuck the Dry Years!
Sure, we had studied the maps. Sure, we had prepared for the Mission in the Isolation Phase. Sure, we had attended Intell briefings. Sure, we had taken an aerial reconnaissance flight over the AOR (Area of Responsibility) and beyond. We checked all the boxes in our preparation….., but to be honest:
We did not really know what to expect. Still we knew we were ready for it. That is what training does.
One thing it was for sure: It was a dream come true for many of us in the Teams. We were kinda giddy about it. The teams, the Ops room, the Helicopter pilots, the whole Unit. Boyish excitement. Adventure into the unknown. Hell…….this was why we signed up in the first place. Our turn. Finally. Fuck the Dry Years! No more ´Training for the Olympics and never going´!
And we were the first Team to be Inserted for an extended Recon Mission into Iraq! Man, we felt so ´Bravo Two Zero´, you wouldn´t believe it!
One vehicle per Chinook, 2 Chinooks per 8 man Team, low-level ´tactical´ flight over the Iraqi landscape, into the just slightly rising sun. Right into our DOP (Drop Off Point). Ready for action. No need for RedBull, thanks. On Edge.
So what do you do when you touch down in Iraq? Unload the vehicles and secure the perimeter ASAP! Get the MAG machine gun operational! (had to be folded down to fit into the heli) Comms check! Just like we practised!
Well………turns out there was not really a lot of cause for hurry, as we could see for over 10 kilometers in each direction……No threats 🙂 Relax. Breath……What were we thinking? Seems silly now. Better to be a Warrior in a Garden, than a Gardener in a War, right? 😉
Enjoy the Silence…….
It hit us then, after the Chinooks were out of hearing distance (which was a loooooooong time)……´Holy shit…..it´s really quiet out here! Really, really quiet.´ Nowadays, we are so used to background noise, that we have tuned out from it. But it´s still there. Traffic (even distant planes), neighbors, birds, the fridge, noises around the house. Noise.
But for those of you that have never been to a desert: All you hear is the blood pumping in your ears and your breathing. The noise of your internal chatter (thoughts) amplifies. Imagine that. Kadung…..kadung…..kadung…..It actually takes getting used to. Anything you do makes a lot of relative noise. The sound is not masked by any background noise. For any of you who have been in the desert, I´m sure it has made a profound impact on you too.
´You see that hut at 2 o´clock? Any movement? Hostile?´
Because you can see for kilometers and kilometers, your Judging Distance is way off. There is no comparing. I should have turned in my Sniper Badge for this one. During our patrol we spotted a hut. It was glimmering in the sun. It had a chimney. The view was really diffuse, because of the scorching heat, but we were certain. ´Let´s check it out, keep 360 and close in´ No movement. We decided to go in all the way. Only when we were standing right next to our ´hut´, it turned out to be…… a part of a tea-pot on a stone!!! WTF! We laughed our asses off. Best lesson in Judging Distance in the Desert!
Remember the ´we could see for 10 kilometers or more in any direction´? Then where did this guy, on foot, all alone, dressed in black, suddenly come from? And where is he going? And how does he know where to go? How can he survive out here in the blistering heat? Is this even normal? Does this mean we have been compromised of sorts? Did he even see us? And off he strolls………..Weird.
Who needs a telescope anyway?
Ahhhh, the nights. Pitch black all around you. I thought the Forests of Southern Germany were dark…….hahahaha, nothing compared to this, i can tell you. We did a lot of ´feeling around´ from the OPs (observation posts) to the vehicles. Literally not able to see your hand before your eyes.
And do you remember the stars in the sky? Gazillions! No rest light makes them pop out. The big ones and the little ones. All of them. Makes you feel Big (as part of the Universe) and Tiny (as part of the Universe) at the same time! The night skies were not even the same seen from the FOB (Forward Operating Base, an Airbase this time). Just too much light distortion. Yes, the night skies in the Iraqi desert were amazing. You remember those, right?
Remember the good stuff
Sometimes i think about this ´Other World´. It´s still there. And we were once a part of it. We have experienced it. That is rare. Keep your good memories and experiences alive. Talk about it with your mates. Write them down. It´s easy to forget them in our day-to-day silliness.
And because i´m pretty sure you will never forget the (not so nice) smell of the streets of Kabul or other places with open sewage. 🙂
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Have some nice desert epiphanies of your own? Tell me in the comments!
Written by Robin C, Former Dutch SF officer, Operator, 12 years into adapting to civilian life