Memoirs of a Modern-Day Ksatriya, Part Two
Posted June 12, 2004
Caught in concertina
We passed another convoy that had stopped on the side of the road to fix a vehicle. I hoped that we wouldn't end up in a similar situation, as I would have to be the one to get out and fix it.
Something you don't want to do in a convoy is stop. Traveling in the back of the convoy, as mechanics generally do, is already dangerous enough, but getting out of your vehicle in a danger zone is double the trouble.
As we entered the third or fourth village on the banks of the Tigris river, we noticed that some men had laid concertina wire across the road to halt our progress. Unable to avoid contact with the barricade, one of the lead vehicles drove over the wire, which instantly wrapped itself around the truck's axles, bringing it to a stop in the middle of the road.
I observed that on either side of the road were seven foot high sand berms. Surely, this was a trap! We quickly jumped out and took position under our vehicles, alternating sides so that all directions were covered. Once we formed our perimeter, I made my way to the disabled vehicle, staying low as I moved.
The truck was a mess, and it took me over an hour to untangle the wire and fix a couple things that had gotten damaged. I must have chanted eight rounds while lying under that truck, knowing that an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) could hit at any second. Krsna always provides us an opportunity to chant more, and He always protects His devotees. There was no attack.
Holding off the masses
When we entered the Sunni Triangle, our commander warned us to stay alert and be prepared. The Sunni Triangle is known as the Mecca of insurgent attacks. We were on our third day of travel and we were exhausted, but very awake.
Our initial route was to take us around Baghdad rather than through it, where the majority of attacks had occurred. Our alternate route, in case the course was blocked or threatened, was to back-track a little and cut through a neighboring city, adding three hours to the journey. We took neither. The lead vehicle ended up taking a wrong turn, with the entire convoy following suit, right into downtown Baghdad.
Making our way through the congested streets of this over-populated and highly aggressive city, many welcomed our presence and many more scorned us. Some men waved hello, while others waved AK-47s. In Iraq, the only form of gun control is the limit of one machine gun per household. Some people took their shoes off and waved them in the air as a sign of disrespect, and a few of the women flashed us by quickly removing and replacing their facial veils.
Suddenly, the convoy came to a stop. There was some obstruction in the road up ahead and our only option was to wait until it was cleared. I kept my weapon pointed out the window and checked the side mirror. A mob of angry onlookers had formed and was quickly approaching us from the rear. I let out a Hare Krsna! and, without hesitation, jumped out of the truck, locked and loaded. The soldiers in the vehicles in front of and behind me had also dismounted, all with the shared notion that we must contain this crowd at once. It was five against fifty.
Within minutes, we had created another perimeter around the vehicles and were holding the crowd back. We each kept one eye behind our site as the other eye scanned the rooftops, windows and alleyways for potential danger.
I don't know when I started chanting and when I stopped, but as the crowd slowly dispersed back to their preoccupations, I felt as if Krsna was standing behind me -- as if I was protecting Him. I don't know why. It was He who was protecting me, but that's how I felt at the time and that's what got me through the moment.
Close, but no cigar
Just before reaching our final destination, we received some small arms fire and returned the favor. No one was hit on our side or our opposition's. The attack lasted all of one minute, and was more of an insurgency statement than anything else. They were letting us know we weren't welcome.
"Close, but no cigar," our commander proudly boasted over the radio, as we pulled into the camp that would become our home over the next year. Once inside the gates, we were finally able to lower our weapons and relax for the first time in days.
To celebrate our successful journey, the commander handed out cigars to a dozen troops. He offered me one as well, knowing I wouldn't accept it.
"C'mon! We just convoyed through Iraq, for Pete's sake! Can't you bend your rules a little, just once?" I refused his offer. I couldn't understand why these people were killing themselves in celebration that they were still alive.
As the commander flipped open his Zippo to light his fine cigar, he realized that it had gotten completely drenched in sand and wouldn't light. Another soldier offered his lighter to the commander, but it was to no avail. In fact, all the lighters that were conjured up (at least a half a dozen by my count) were useless. The smoke session would have to wait.
People are always sober in the face of danger, but so quick to forget their dependency under the illusion of safety, not realizing that they are always surrounded by danger and that death can come at any moment.
As I walked away, I gave the commander a smile and said, "Close, but no cigar."