Friday, November 17, 2006

Being a private escort for an Iraqi convoy

"For Water Truck 103, a Perilous Path to the End
Ambush Greets Convoy At Site Near Baghdad

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006; Page A01

WITH CONVOY 77, Iraq -- A few miles west of Baghdad, a brand-new water truck backed gingerly off a flatbed truck and down a makeshift dirt ramp, completing its 7,000-mile journey from a factory in Texas to a government ministry in Iraq.

Considering the enormous effort the United States had made to get it to its destination, there was not much celebration among the small crowd of Iraqis who looked on as the truck was driven away. Nor was there any particular joy among the guards and drivers who had delivered the truck.

For them, it was just another job that had brought them up the highway from the Persian Gulf, through the austere desert of southern Iraq and the fertile farmlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Along the way, they had seen flocks of sheep and camels, escorted by ancient-looking men in red checked kaffiyahs and white dishdashas; barefoot children running up to the side of the road and waving for something to eat; crude mud houses that looked as timeless as the land itself. What they did not see were the men with fingers wrapped around the triggers of assault rifles."



After setting his gun trucks into defensive positions, Jones walked over to the manager's small office, dropped a bulky envelope on his desk and handed him the paperwork to sign for shipment No. 10,687.

"There are the keys for the trucks," Jones said.

Outside, Truck 103 was being unloaded. There was no ramp to back the trucks off the flatbeds, so an Iraqi bulldozer operator made one out of dirt. After several minutes of work, they had one that was sturdy enough for the truck to slowly back down to the ground. Mission accomplished. A little piece of America had been delivered to Iraq.

Jones walked back to his gun trucks, waiting for the rest of the cargo to be unloaded. It was slow work; more than an hour and a half passed. Iraqis from town came and went. The men of Team 7 relaxed and chatted.

It was at this moment that the men with guns chose to strike.

A rocket-propelled grenade streaked in from the north, exploding nearby with a deep crump. After a half-second of frozen inactivity, one of the guards screamed, "Get in the truck!" Seconds later, a group of seven to 15 men opened fire with assault rifles from buildings overlooking the compound about 100 yards away.

The usual order of things would have been to drive to the nearest American base, but the iron gate to the compound was closed, too thick to ram through, and the men were under fire. They had to stand and fight.

The trucks' machine guns returned fire, spraying the buildings with bullets, as Jones and two teammates took aimed shots from cover. The shooting from the other side died down.

Jones, waving his hands, shouted at his excited gunners to stop firing. He whipped out his phone and paced around behind his truck, calling for military support. All the Iraqi truck drivers from the convoy had vanished, as had the employees of the water directorate. An Iraqi guard who had been shooting at the attackers got into Hart's pickup truck, breathing heavily and shaking.

As he closed the door, gunfire broke out again -- first the pop, pop, pop of rifles, then the rapid thumping of the machine guns atop the pickup trucks. Once again, Jones and the men outside shot back.

"Jay, get in your wagon! Get in your wagon, Jay, we're moving!" Hart yelled at his teammate James Stevens, who then ran out to the gate to open it so the trucks could escape.

As the team laid down a few more shots, the pickup trucks raced out of the compound, turning right on the road and getting onto the main highway east, toward the U.S. base at Abu Ghraib. Across the road, the insurgents took a few parting shots at the convoy. A man with an RPG scrambled for cover as the gunners in the trucks fired at him.

The reports came in over the radio as they reached safety: They had killed two insurgents. The convoy had scattered to the winds; three or four of the Iraqi truck drivers were kidnapped before they could make it back to Umm Qasr. Everybody in the security team was alive, nobody hurt. And a water truck had made it to Baghdad."

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