Within a mile of crossing the border again my expectations were not met. What I saw was a mass of impoverished children, shoeless and in rags standing by the roadside. These younger kids were not the “threats” I thought might meet us.
Tentatively they made their way to the road and at some points slowed and stopped our convoy. As we progressed, these younger children were joined by older people; men of military age gathered as we moved past. Many had blank stares and watched motionless, while the younger ones gave thumbs up, and waved, signaling that they wanted food, MREs, or water.
As we progressed it was clear that the security of our convoy was lousy. If we stopped we were mobbed by the civilians who gathered around and in between the vehicles. Our instructions were to “bumper up” putting our vehicles bumpers touching but this was nearly impossible. Even a little space remained a conduit to the child or adolescent to climb between to get to the drivers side of the vehicle and ask for food or water. We “accordioned” along, with spacing between vehicles way too wide.
My anxiety reflected that of many, but there was a component of the medical reserve group we had joined who seemed oblivious to the danger. Many appeared as if out on a Sunday drive in Topeka, Kansas. Some of the soldiers appeared to encourage the chaos and melee of people by throwing out MREs, water, and exchanging some dollars for worthless Iraqi money.
My heart raced during these moments when we came to a stop. Shortly though, we were back to a steady pace making our way northward, with scattered debris at every overpass, empty TOW missiles along the freeway, and burnt out fox holes.
Observing the scenery along our convoy I noted hutments, crude shelters, and adobe homes. None appeared to have running water or inside toilets as outhouses appeared to be the norm. There were small farms near the houses and herds of animals. Larger groups of men were herding sheep and camels.
One snapshot: along the roadside we saw parents with a baby. It was so hot, so desolate in the sand, and in the wreckage of the vehicles I wondered how they were to survive. It seemed naive to think that there was help out there at all for them. I hoped that they and the baby would be all right. We drove on.
We pulled around a clover-leaf, the convoy slowed and came to its first refueling point. We took on fuel after waiting for a long time for our turn. The fuel was delivered to us from trucks or large rubber and cloth balloon like things called blivets. The term originally was slang for something ugly and unwieldy “ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag” which seemed apt.
After hours of waiting we were told to rest for the night. We ate MREs and made “cat holes” to go to the bathroom. We ended up spending the night there, opening our cots up by the vehicle with the door open protecting one side with a poncho draped over the top.
The dust remained horrible. Wet wipes would serve as our showers for many days; after that a bag filled with water hanging on a nail would do for months. My eyes were heavy, the adrenaline now ebbed. Feeling as if we were safe for the moment, I slept.