From the Soldier side: Well, I took a few days off from "blogging" (where did that word come from, sounds like someone got sick on the computer...He blogged all over the keyboard.) Well, I got complaints that I was taking too long getting on with this story. Now don't forget, it's not the job, but how you had to get there that made for the "rush" and adventure.
M-249 SAW- Squad Automatic Weapon
Gunner Dance: Part 2. As our convoy of 3 Hummers exited the main gate, we paused to charge our weapons. I chambered a round in my M-4 ( a 5.56mm gas operated carbine that could fire semi auto and 3 round burst) and my M-9 (a 9mm 15 shot pistol made by Beretta.) I had field stripped both the night before to clean them and make sure they were in perfect order...I knew they'd work if I needed to fire them.
The hero of this story is the Gunner. I was sitting next to "Big J" who was standing up in the turret with the M-249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon ( a gas operated belt fed 5.56mm machine gun) pointing forward and around in a 180 degree arc.
As we got further from the base, local traffic got worse. Remember, Baghdad was the worst place in Iraq at that time (early 2005) and it had more people in one city than Bosnia had in the whole country!
We had heard that suicide bombers would ram a car full of explosives into convoys, so every time a car came at us from an intersection, Big J would spin around the gun and hold up his hand and blow a whistle. He was so big, 6-6 and over 250 LBS, I think he scared the shit out of a lot of would be suicide bombers just by his size.
The entire time we were driving, Big J kept spinning and jumping around in the turret always looking for a threat and keeping cars and people away from the vehicle. He never stood still...not for one second.
I had two concerns: #1) Keep scanning out the windows and look in whichever direction Big J was not look.
#2.) Keep my hands and other body parts away from Big J’s feet as he danced around next to me.
It was hot and I was sweating just sitting on my ass in the rear passenger seat....even with the AC on full blast. I know Big J was getting a work out. Every once in a while he'd yell down for me to hand him a bottle of water from the ice chest. He emptied a few liters in a short time... and still kept dancing around.
Every time a car came towards us, I would get ready to drop my window and point my M-4 at the car and fire if it didn't stop. But there was never any need for me to take any action since Big J had us covered.
45 minutes later, we were at the FOB where I had to do my investigation. I still can't discuss that, but the chow at that FOB was some of the best I'd had in Iraq. I completed what I could do for the day, as we had to head back by 1500 hours.
We loaded back in the Hummers and drove back. Big J doing the same dance the whole way. One Iraqi pulled in front of us and seemed to not know we were behind him...trying to pass. This is what we called in Civilian Law Enforcement as a "HUA Driver" (Head Up Ass) So the team leader told his driver to give the car a little "tap" to get his attention. That did it and the idiot moved out of our way. I so wish I could do that back home in the patrol car...and don't think I haven't been tempted.
When one old Iraqi Toyota pulled infront of our convoy and drove slower than Driving Miss Daisy, the team leader told the driver to give him a bumper tap.
Big J never stopped dancing the entire time. Thinking back on it now, I might have called this “Dancing with the Stars”
We made it back to base without incident (sort of). I got out of the Humvee feeling very tired. I looked at the 3 gunners, the drivers, truck commanders and the team leaders and thought:"these guys do this almost every day and I just did it once and feel worn out." (this would not be my last ride) Those guys were real heroes.
In June 2005, Big J was doing the Gunner Dance on a convoy into Baghdad. His normal team leader was called off for something else that day, so another friend of mine, Roberto, took the team out.
An IED hit that Humvee that day, killing Roberto, and severely wounding the two new replacements and Big J. We were told Big J was medivaced to Germany, and he might die.
He did his Gunner Dance for the doctors and is back on duty for the California Army National Guard. Roberto is taking teams out in heaven everyday.