Archive for the ‘Rockets Can Be Boring’ Category

Rockets Can Be Boring – Episode 2

October 29, 2009

Ah ha – here it is … it took three months in Iraq until I was sleeping through rockets, not two months …

November 2006

 I slept through five rockets last night. I’d have slept through the entire barrage had the Ghurka guard not scared the living crap out of me by beating on the door of my trailer.

 Here in the new camp, as I’ve mentioned, we haven’t any bunkers, hallelujah. Instead, our trailers have single layers of deteriorating sandbags stacked against them. We giggle at the total inadequacy of that illusory protection. Shrapnel has been known to zip through meter-thick sand-filled Hesco barriers; the stacked sandbags are half a meter thick. When we touch them the burlap disintegrates, sending a small cascade of sand falling to the ground. Some of us have taken to poking at them as we walk by in order to hasten the deterioration, as we’ve been promised they’ll be replaced. (A new single layer of sandbags would not be any more effective than an old single layer of sandbags, but we’ve cheerfully adopted the cause in order to harass LTC Slasher with indignant demands … any opportunity to make his life uncomfortable is a welcome addition to any day.)

In lieu of bunkers, we’re required to hunker down wherever we happen to be during a barrage of incoming. As we’ve no central security office to enforce the rule that people take cover, and no camp siren (as if we can’t hear everyone else’s …), and no central method of making sure all souls are accounted for, reactions to incoming now vary. Some people take cover immediately, while others saunter off toward a more comfortable location. Some claim not to have heard the sirens, and stay where they are doing whatever they were doing. As for the head checks … well, there are none. Some intricate and totally unworkable solution is in the planning stages, having to do with everyone carrying radios at all times and checking in with their supervisors via radio immediately after a barrage. The camp doesn’t own enough workable radios and ninety people keying a mic at approximately the same time would be monkey chatter, but that is not, apparently, considered a serious roadblock to implementation.

 For the time being, in place of a siren and in order to attempt to enforce the rule that we all take cover, the Ghurka guards are required to run around camp shouting Take cover! Take cover! Their thick accents cause the phrase to come out sounding more like, Tay cuvvaaaaa! Tay cuvvaaaaa!  – a cry we now all imitate at the first hint of a rocket, just for fun.

 After dark the Ghurkas must not only shout, Tay cuvvaaaa! Tay cuvvaaaa! They must also run around to all the hooches (ninety!) banging on each door. That banging on the flimsy doors of flimsy trailers is frankly far more startling than the rounds going off. Two good thumps with a fist and the entire hooch is jumping and rattling like a 240mm landed next door.

 This new door beating custom is the only reason I didn’t sleep through the entire eight rockets last night. The first fist against the door launched me from deep sleep to a precariously adrenaline packed spread-eagle sprawl against the ceiling, fingernails clawing into the cheap plastic.

 For a few minutes as I sweat in the dark, Jake and I quietly discuss the general nonchalance of the people around us, wondering how explosions that rock camp could become mundane enough for some to sleep through. (Aug 2006)

 Now I know … combine repeated explosions with work-induced sleep deprivation and even rockets can be boring.


Rockets Can Be Boring – Episode 1

October 28, 2009

August 2006

 I wrote this following my first experience with incoming, after being in country two weeks. It was all new …it’s tempting to completely re-write history, but I kind of enjoy the honesty of this account written while I was still green, well-rested, and reasonably careful.

Just after retreating into my trailer to sprawl on the bed in front of the A/C fan this evening, I’m interrupted by an explosion loud enough to shake the ground and trailers. Without thinking I roll off the bed, scrambling to grab my armor vest and Kevlar helmet (thirty-two lbs of steel plate in this heat – ug). I think, wait a minute; get a grip! I take a deep breath to apply a bit of reason to the situation. Assuming reason can be applied to rockets and mortars. Hm. 

Calmed down by some oxygen actually penetrating my brain, I cautiously sneak out the door and duck between the trailers, heading toward the nearest bunker. Another rocket explodes while I’m on my way, though with less ground concussion than the first. I have no idea where they actually land. The first rocket had set off a serious shot of adrenaline, but I have to admit that when the second lands I’m at least as interested in the richly layered sound it makes exploding than I am intent on getting to the bunker.

Possibly not an entirely normal reaction.

The bunker is a long narrow affair, a U-shaped concrete structure set with open side down and banked with sandbags. The inside measures perhaps ten meters long by one or one and a half meters wide. A wood bench runs along one wall, set low enough that heads won’t hit the ceiling when butts are seated on it. Concrete T-walls stand at the two ends of the bunker, about one meter out from the openings, placed to block the opening from stray shrapnel yet still allow us entry.

Eighteen people show up in this bunker tonight, many straggling in griping about being dragged out of their beds on a hot night. It’s still over 100F and today is humid, so we were all drenched in sweat within minutes. Some are wearing their body armor; some are dragging their body armor; some come without it.

The darkness is broken only by small red and blue LED flashlights, so faces are lost in the shadows. Being that I don’t know anyone but Anna Lee from Georgia (Administrative Assistant) and Jake (who arrived with me from Tallil), voices are disembodied. Remarks are largely meaningless to me, anyway, being new. Someone harasses Anna Lee for being so slow to reach the bunker and for not bothering to wear her armor, then bossily demands a pencil from someone else and starts jotting down our room numbers on a tablet as we call them out one at a time.

Bunkers are scattered all over camp, so when rockets or mortars come in we just run for the nearest. Each bunker is assigned a number. As we arrive, someone – Bossy Man, for instance – starts writing down a list of room numbers on a tablet to use for a head count report. The information is transmitted via radio to the security office. The reporting of all bunkers, one at a time, takes at least an hour and often two, although the rocket attack itself is generally over within a couple of minutes. If someone hasn’t been accounted for, we sit sweltering in the bunkers until the individual has been located.

Common reasons for ‘missing’ people:

1. being out of camp while records show the individual as present in camp

2. being in a bunker alone with no radio

3. sleeping through the rocket and siren.

In our bunker no one talks much while the radio roll call is being conducted. After fifteen minutes I slump low, allowing armor to ride up so I can rest my head against its stiffness, absent-mindedly tracking the radio chatter. For a few minutes as I sweat in the dark, Jake and I quietly discuss the general nonchalance of the people around us, wondering how explosions that rock camp could become mundane enough for some to sleep through.

I guess we’ll find out.

A disembodied voice in the bunker tells me that this is the first attack on base in ten days. The Brits have radar that hones in on the rockets, tracking them back to their source. Helicopters (helos) supposedly deploy immediately to destroy the source.

Brit PSD men later tell me that no one tracks back to the source to destroy anything. Defensive action is shackled by concerns of collateral damage and British Rules of Engagement (ROE).

One hour passes. We sit and sweat in silence. The concrete wall behind me radiates heat. The steel plates in my armor grow hot. Perspiration streams down my back, my stomach, soaking my shorts. Someone shifts and swears, setting off a brief cascade of quiet cussing from everyone.

arifjan bunker 2 -smAlmost two hours after the last rocket landed, security has finally accounted for all souls. By the time the siren sounds the all-clear signal, we are all soaking wet and terminally disgusted. It only takes one night like this to understand why people don’t hurry to the bunkers … rockets can be boring.

I wait my turn to shuffle out of the bunker, then wander back to my room where I strip and wring out my clothes in the shower.