A Day in the Field – Month 4

One of my favorite PSD teams was one made up almost exclusively of South African men over thirty-five. Being a little older than most of the other teams, their decisions tended to be circumspect, based on reasoned caution (try to be a little bit scared; try to be a little bit careful). Yet they’d all fought in Angola, so they didn’t spook easily. They wouldn’t pack me up and rush me off a site just because of a little SAF* six blocks away. Their minds worked without the rush of adrenaline screwing things up. That significantly upped the odds that we’d get home alive.

This team also provided me with some entertaining moments in the field, of which this story is one. Traveling to and from construction sites was often a long, slow, boring journey on bumpy dirt roads. This little exercise broke the monotony. Eleven months later I’d remember this day and laugh: this drill was a lot more fun than the real thing!

You’ll need to know that SAF is small arms fire, and that Evan was a big, young, trash-talking good ‘ol boy Texan who’d been working in Iraq since just after the invasion. He and EB had worked together in Baghdad when Iraq was a free-for-all, when drunken parties went on all night and field visits to sites required just one hungover gunman per client. They welcomed any and every opportunity to harass each other.

December 2006

We started the security drill on open desert, driving in formation. When the team leader cued an imaginary attack, our driver slammed on the brakes as if our vehicle had been disabled, engulfing us in a cloud of dust.

The other two wagons converged on our disabled vehicle at high speed, sand flying. They were in position almost as soon as we’d jerked to a stop. A man from one of the other vehicles appeared through the fog of dust outside my window, snapped my door open, and roughly yanked me from the truck. He practically carried me by the scruff of my neck to one of the other wagons that had parked two meters away. The man’s hand left my collar to plant itself in the center of my back and with a good shove I was through the door. Good thing I was wearing my helmet …

I scrambled over to the far side of the seat as quickly as I could, jamming myself against the passenger door. While I was still scrabbling my way awkwardly across the seat, men started tossing weapons in my general direction and piling in after me. One man – one of the largest of the lot – rolled over the back of the seat into the cargo area and lay there where he landed, sprawled awkwardly atop med kits, tires and other paraphernalia, ending up jammed in like a piece of carry-on stuffed into an airplane’s overhead luggage rack. Half buried under rifles and a large pack, I joined in the chorus of go-go-go’s! as someone slammed the last door shut.

We shot off a few meters to simulate a getaway, then stopped abruptly, armor smacking painfully against faces and elbows, awkward positions pinching fingers and jabbing legs, dropped cartridges of ammo scraping our asses. A gun barrel slammed into my chin and someone’s elbow trapped my wrist awkwardly against the sights of another. A chorus of good-natured curses rained down on the driver.

The doors were immediately flung open, but it took a couple minutes for the first man to emerge from the mess that we were. Dust wafted in like slow steam. Untangling ourselves laboriously, the men retrieved dropped radios and cartridges of ammo from the floors and seats as they crawled one by one back out of the wagon, laughing and coughing and shouting, shaking themselves off like dogs once they’d made their exit.

I randomly doled out weapons as they debarked, rubbing my sore chin between handouts, half amazed that they’d tossed all those long guns into my arms. We civilians aren’t allowed to touch a gun, and here I sat with an armful of M4s. I haven’t got any interest at all in shooting at humans, but I am familiar with an M4 and it was good to feel the businesslike heft of each rifle as I handed them off.

The men stood around the truck for a few minutes, still shaking themselves out, laughing and griping about the tight fit of Land Cruisers. I handed a stray Glock out the door by the barrel. Someone laughed. Hey Rob, he shouted. Here’s a good one – the client’s got your gun!

While I checked the nooks and crannies of the truck for stray bullets and cartridges, the men gathered around EB to debrief the exercise. A few minutes later we rearranged ourselves into the proper vehicles and sedately made our way back to the road.

EB turned in his seat to grin at me. “Next time,” he said with an evil gleam in his eye, “we’ll run it when Evan is with us, and he’ll be a casualty.”

I can only imagine what injuries EB will dream up for him … and I don’t doubt the men will drop him (hard!) a few times on their way to the imaginary air evac helo …

It’s nice to have something to look forward to.

Unfortunately we never ran another desert drill, schedules never quite meshing in a way that allowed for it. I had to wait almost a year for another drill, then it was the real thing 🙂    (or   😦   !).




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