Crossing the Line of Departure

Minutes after the mobilization order was received, I called my wife, Marie, on one of the cheap Kuwaiti cell phones that had been acquired to do business. It wasn’t secure, so I couldn’t say much. When I said, “I love you ... goodbye,” I was convinced that I would never hear her voice again. We were at war.

Entering Iraq was eerie. The oil fields were burning. Warned of likely NBC attack, we wore our NBC suits. We learned to appreciate the activated charcoal that absorbed body odor after we had to remain in them for a month. It would be weeks before a chance to take a shower. Baby wipes were the only hygiene option.

We moved at night with the advantage of night vision goggles (NVGs). We learned how hard night ops can be on unfamiliar terrain with limited communications. Driving Humvees at high speeds in total darkness is an accident waiting to happen. Our Humvee ran into the back of another vehicle as we tried not to lose them in the desert darkness. We couldn’t risk not keeping up with everyone else. We wouldn’t be able to assess the damage until the next morning. There was no stopping.

When we finally paused to make camp, we were in the middle of the red sand storm that looked like something out of a book in the Bible, making all of us wonder if this was Someone telling us to leave. The wind and sand resulted in little to no visibility.

With great effort, we managed to get our three men tents set up to weather out the storm.

One of my Corpsman abruptly announced, “Sorry, I have to take a dump.” He quickly disappeared from sight into the sand storm. He was gone for a long time, returning exhausted but reporting satisfaction that he had done his duty far from the tents. He was embarrassingly mistaken. The next morning despite wind, sand and even rain, his feces were in clear view only a few feet away from the tents.

With our shelters in place, I reported to the Command Operations Center (COC). The mood was tense. As we set up the equipment, the G4 came into the tent and tried to ease the situation, “It could always be worse!” As he left, as if by cue, the lightning and rain started. He shortly returned to the COC wet and muddy; he had fallen into a flooded area. He corrected himself, “I guess it can be.”

I remember leaving the Command Operations Center later that night to return to my tent after being warned that the perimeter was not secured. I had never truly experienced fear until that night. I held my M9 service pistol in my hand all night and slept little as I watched the door, convinced that an uninvited Iraqi soldier was at my door.

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