Memoirs of a Modern-Day Ksatriya: Part One
Posted June 6, 2004
Camp Udairi, Kuwait
I could see the fires in the distance. The oil refineries just across the border light the path that we will travel through enemy territory tomorrow. It is January and we have just arrived.
Each individual deals, in their own way, with the stark reality that this day may be their last. Some call home, others write. Some try to sack in whatever sleep they can muster while others can't sleep at all. A couple Privates put on their best gung ho show, but no one's buying it. I chant my japa.
These soldiers have had months of training in tactical manuevering and convoy procedures. Countless hours have been spent teaching them how to fight, but none have been taught how to die.
The tent had quited down. I chanted my evening gayatri, which didn't go unnoticed, and layed down for bed. In a tent with fifty other guys, when the opportunity to sleep presents itself, you take it. And so I did. Tomorrow would be a long day.
The first two weeks
We arrived at Camp Udairi in the midst of a severe mud storm, which soaked all of our gear within minutes. I couldn't help but think of the duality of material nature. While just a couple days prior I was praying to Sri Sri Nitai Sacinandana (our temple deities) for protection and holding my wife and daughter for the last time, I was now standing in Kuwait, knee-high covered in mud.
Two days after our arrival, the storm ended and we prepared for our convoy through Iraq.
IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and blocked ambushes were the biggest threats and there had been some attacks on the route we were taking just the day before. There was training to be done.
Aside from the neccessary training, our equipment had to be brought up to par. As a mechanic, I had two weeks to make sure that sixty humvees, a quarter of which were in no condition to have been shipped over in the first place, were fully combat ready. After 150 hours of pounding and twisting and tweaking and lubing, they were.
With a few days to spare, we drove to a nearby camp to undergo Special Forces close quarters combat training. We trained with live ammo. While out on the M-249 machine gun range, one brand new soldier had gotten some rounds jammed in the chamber of his weapon. Too embarassed to tell anyone, he put it down amongst the other weapons that had already been cleared.
Luckily, no one was hurt when the gun "phantom fired", sending rounds out in all directions. I've never danced for the deities the way I danced when bullets kissed the sand around my feet.
We returned to the camp for our last few days in Kuwait, a little more prepared and a lot more conscious of our weapons.
Somewhere between Iraq and Kuwait - Iwait
Today was the day. At 1:30 a.m., I mounted a picture of Lord Nrsimhadeva in my truck and we rolled out, crossing the border into Iraq twenty minutes later.
The fires burned high and bright, but this time, they were not so distant. Beyond the fires, the land was dark and colorless, creating a sense of timelessness that can only be understood by one who has been there. I was reminded of the Bhagavatam's description of various hellish planets. Surely there was one that resembled this place.
We passed through our first village at the break of dawn. Even in the midst of battle, the sunrise is glorious. The local villagers had already begun their days' routine. Herdsmen lead their flock to graze on small patches of grass that peaked through the sand. Women, clad in black cloth from head to toe, harvested whatever it is they harvest. Everyone watched as our convoy proceeded through their village.
This was the poorest place I had ever seen. I hadn't seen a village in India as poverty-stricken as this one. The road was lined with huts constructed out of mud and garbage, and there was no electricity or water. Men bathed and children drank out of muddy puddles. As we neared the center of the village, children approached our vehicles with their hands to their mouths in a silent plea for food and water.
There was pain in my heart at the sight of these starving kids, and fear in my mind, knowing that any of them could have a bomb strapped to their chest.
You never know who or where the enemy is, and so you set your weapon's scope on everyone in your sight and pray that it's not them.
To Be Continued......