Camp New York
Quickly our team settled into Camp New York. The heat was intense with dust and sand everywhere. Tracked vehicles and cranes drove the dust into the air causing clouds within the tents. The camp was desolate and faded into a continuous horizon of dunes. Sand rose up in all directions to touch the sky.
The view was broken only by scattered tents a quarter of a mile away. Helicopters flew by in the distance, sun glinting, off their windows. Convoys miles away put up a rooster tail of dust, marking their passage, as they crossed over into Iraq. Our turn for crossing was approaching in a few short days.
We gradually explored the grounds, the hardened bunker, and the tent areas as we settled into our own tent. It was crowded and uncomfortable, but retrospectively was the most luxurious part of our deployment. Community showers and honey bucket bathrooms that we disdained at the time were later seen as a luxury.
Over the next few days of waiting a “battle rhythm” started to develop for us; waking up early at day break, washing, cleaning, reading, writing, working on our area to make personal improvements and accounting for gear. Walking to the mess hall by lunch time was unbearable in the heat. As we prepared to cross into Iraq we unpacked our MILVAN and repacked our vehicles for our drive North. Rumors came and went about the status of the war and the need for mental health support.
A sand storm came through our camp. It was an experience that would be repeated multiple times over the course of our deployment. Despite the danger and discomfort they presented, the sand storms remain natural events beautiful to behold. We were spell-bound to see the sand front move towards us and also frightened as it enveloped the camp.
Convoy into Iraq
On Easter morning we loaded our vehicles and lined them up. We cleared our weapons and distributed the ammo. I had opted not for an M16 but a 9 mm pistol. I was in the sixth vehicle in our convoy of roughly 60 vehicles. I was the senior officer in our group as a LTC. I was the oldest as well, at the age of 39. My call sign was “Psycho Doc Pappa.” I liked it.
We started out with dust everywhere. Amazing to me was its consistency. It was so fine that it behaved like a fluid, as if waves were rippling in front of a boat. Soon however, the characteristic properties of the dust flying in the air turned to grit in my teeth and made me thirsty for water.
We stopped once before the border. Stepping out, stretching my legs and then taking a pee by the side of the vehicle was the necessary routine at stops. We drove for a while across dessert, then turned on to a hardball road. A few miles down there were two large “berms.” The second was the border crossing into Iraq.
The border was guarded by two machine gun nests and a Bradley Fighting vehicle, our vehicles passed through a trough between them. I was not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it, I was expecting something more impressive.
Unceremoniously something fell from the back of the HMMWV in front of us. SGT Gonzales and I pulled over out of line to recover whatever it was, thinking it might be important. It was laundry detergent. We piled back in and regained our spot in the convoy with the mission vital “TIDE.” Puns lightening the mood were thrown across our vehicle marking our entry into the war zone, “we are sure going to clean this place up,” “the Tides going to change now,” “hope they don’t shoot any SUDS missiles at us.”