Somewhere in the wilds of Saudi Arabia. later I’d look at a map and be astonished at how close we really were to the Saudi/Iraqi border. But for the time being we were sitting along a paved road and trying not to develop a bad attitude doing it.
Engineers had come in a little after our arrival and dug out a reventment for us to back our hummer into and provide some measure of military cover. But a few days after Christmas, we got rain. Some people tell me they got snow.
I’d have preferred the snow. I’m from Colorado and had been stationed in Germany where it snows by the truckloads. The winter rain we got was just wet and miserable.
And it turned the reventment into a swimming pool.
So, we parked outside which was just as well.
The convoys as they came in were told miles and etc, and then told to look for a wrecked, partially buried, red in color tanker trailed as the turn off towards 1st Armored Division. Turns out there was more than one that caused some confusion, so telling them to look for the one with the MPs was easier.
I don’t think our little turn off ever had an official name, or it it was ever really marked on any map. But we started calling Checkpoint Bravo. It was only about two miles from the tent base the 501st MPs occupied, and often times we’d run from the base up to it while wearing full combat gear.
Bravo was easy duty. We’d go down, park. My buddy Greg Bradley had a gas powered stove and he’d break it out. Filling our canteen cups with water, we’d put them on it, heat it up, and make ourselves coffee. To make the coffee a little more palatable, we’d mix our cream and sugar in with it, as well as the hot chocolate packet. As odd as it might sound, even on the hottest of days, hot chocolate was a favorite drink.
We took turns sitting up into the gun turret each HUMVEE had. We’d sit on the rim of it rather than the strap. While the strap was fine for combat ops (it kept you a little lower and at least gave you a little sense of protection) it was uncomfortable as hell.
We’d arrived only with Ammo we’d gotten while doing security at the Dew Drop Inn. That was a belt of a thousand rounds for the M-60 machine gun. initially, we still had nothing for the M-16s or the 45s.
Everyday, dozens if not hundreds of Arab vehicles went by. And we were painfully aware of how naked we really were. Nomads moved freely across the borders with their sheep and families. If they moved so freely, why not Spec Op troops and the like?
So we kept a wary eye open and hoped that nothing would happen.
That’s not to say that Bravo was without funny incidents or a little drama.
One of the things we were told was to get onto the convoy drivers if they were coming off the hard ball without their helmets. So we spent more than a few minutes telling them to put the helmets on (I’m sure they took thenm off no sooner they’d passed).
A truck was coming off the highway and of course the driver didn’t have his helmet on. SSG Dean Haahr was taking his turn yelling at drivers. Dean had come to us from recruiter duty. That’s important to understand what happens next.
When he approached this one truck, he got a reaction he hadn’t expected. the driver looks out, see’s him, and almost fell out of the truck in laughter. the driver looks at Dean, looks up at the sky, and says, “Thank you, God. My recruiter is here with me!”
It was a very nice reunion for them.
Of course all kind of interesting loads came through to include M-1 tanks.
The tanks had arrived by ship and then were transported cross country to where ever they needed to go by Saudi truckers. Coming off the hardball into the division area was interesting because like most trucks, they just couldn’t go straight. There was an underground pipeline for oil that ran about a hundred yards off the road. Driving the trucks over it with an M-1 would probably break the pipe.
So instead, what they had to do was turn, go down about a hundred yards and there was a large high mound of gravel and dirt erected to form an overpass over the pipe.
We’d have to direct them towards it, and watch as these trucks struggled to haul the tanks over it.
Truth was, the majority of these trucks were barely up to hauling the M-1. These were civilian trucks, and not a one of them were the massive Peterbilt’s or Freightliner’s like we had back in the States. I was reminded more of some of the local hay haulers we had in the valley that carried a couple of hundred bails of hay between feedlots.
Someone also told me the trailers being used weren’t made to haul the M-1, but tanks like the M-60. I know nothing about moving tanks around and the trailers involved, so I had to take their word on that.
So, sooner or later, one of them was bound to have issues.
This truck had struggled with it’s load from the port to Checkpoint Bravo. A Major and Specialist had rode behind it in a military pickup truck. By the time the truck got to Checkpoint Bravo, it sounded like it was on it’s last leg. The driver said he was having big problems, and now he was expected to go over the overpass when going cross country was bad enough.
He at least gave it the old college try. The truck turned towards the overpass, and I could hear the engine screaming as the driver tried to pick up as much speed as possible. Then he turned towards the overpass. The truck did okay for the first couple of yards and then as the massive tank started moving around the overpass the speed dropped off dramatically. The front of the truck made it almost to the top, stalled, and wouldn’t budge another inch. Going back was out of the question. That left a road block on the overpass.
A few more military vehicles arrived and after some consultation between several officers and NCOs, it was decided the best way to move forward was to unload the M-1.
Several of the officers walked over and got up on the tank. The drivers hatch was opened, and a Major got in. The tank had been loaded on backwards and the turret rotated around backwards so the tank could drive straight off the trailer.
The major started up the tank, and after everyone cleared off he put the tank in gear. Slowly it began in inch off the trailer.
There was no ramp under the tank to help it off, just empty air. I looked at the soldiers who had arrived with the Major and they were standing back as the tank moved forward. soon, the back half of the tank was on the trailer, and the rest was hanging out over empty space. As it crawled forward, sooner or later the tank would reach a tipping point. The nose of the tank would come down.
The thing here was to have it come down slowly. It also had to come off absolutely straight, There was little room for error here.
I know everyone was watching this and holding their breath.
When the tank came off, there was a chance it would do so unbalanced. if it did, it would go over.
The tank crawled forward and reached that tipping point. The Major stopped, letting gravity do the rest. I could easily imagine he was sweating behind the controls. He knew the stakes, but had blended his skills and senses in with the M-1. He could feel what it was doing.
Sure enough, the nose of the tank began to drop, slowly at first and then with more speed. It landed on the forward part of the tracks. With a groan of protesting metal from the trailer, the body of the tank followed the nose.
The landing on the nose of the tank was surprisingly gentle. But now the tank looked like it was standing on it’s nose. It looked almost vertical to me.
The Major applied a little power, and the M-1 crept forward still standing on it’s nose. In many ways it resembled some insect or prehistoric beast rumbling forward while doing a hand stand. I couldn’t understand why it hadn’t fallen over.
But slowly it went down from vertical , pushing itself off the part of the trailer it was still in contact. it leveled out, came off the trailer, and with a surge of power, the major drove the tank off the berm. The massive metal beast looked and moved fine.
Free of it’s load, the Saudi Driver was able to get over the berm, clearing it for the tank and future traffic.
As we all walked out, the Major got out. He helped an enlisted man up who was obviously the driver. The major had impressed the driver so well, that he slapped the Major on the back. The enlisted man got into the drivers position as the Major jumped off the tank.
He didn’t look any the worse for wear. He adjusted his sunglasses as if he did this everyday and said, “Gentlemen. That’s how we do that.”
The tank went over the berm and we all looked at each other and shook our heads.
Either way you cut it, that was one impressive piece of driving.
No matter how much we know, there’s always something else we can learn, eh?!!
(would have loved to see the look on the recruiter’s face when that guy recognized him!!)
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