After our initial drive into Iraq and setting up camp at Tallil. The heat was already beginning to rise. The locals were saying that August was “white mans death” since that seemed to be when the heat was at its peak. It was only June and it was already well above 100 degrees before noon. The entire Army was in short supply. We ate MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) 2-3 times a day depending on how much you could stomach, and for the time being, we seemed to have an endless supply of bottled water at our disposal for drinking. There was some comfort that we wouldn’t die from dehydration, but people in the unit were still dropping like flies during the day because they were not getting enough fluids. The communications sergeant was stuck with about seven IV‘s in just as many days, because he couldn’t grasp the fact that drinking a bottle of water an hour was a requirement and not a suggestion.
Keeping the bottles cool was always a task. We had two choices, warm water or hot. We would use wet socks as insulators around the bottles and that would bring the temperature down a little. (GHETTO!) There was nothing cold. But when drinking water is necessary for survival, you’ll drink it any way you can get it. (that’s probably why I drink most things at room temp. now days.) One of the sergeants for a MP unit that got into Iraq during the invasion told us about an ice factory that they would use outside the base in the city of Nasiriya>. They knew the directions mostly from memory, but they were able to show us on a map how to get to the building by making our way through the city streets. He stated that we would end up at a large building with bright blue diamonds on the building and the gates, and that was the ice factory. He even made a point to show us that we would be crossing the same intersection where the infamous ambush took place that thrusted Jessica Lynch into the spotlight. He said that if the unit was paying attention to basic land navigation, they wouldn’t have missed the turn and may have avoided the deadly attack all together. But mistakes like getting lost in the maze of city streets was more common than not since the basics like land navigation, using a map and compass seemed to get forgotten by Army units that never had to use them during their annual training. Those mistakes led to many injuries and deaths during my tour. Sad but very true!
To make sure we didn’t repeat their units mistakes, the Squad Leaders went over the route 3-4 times with the Team Leaders to make sure that everyone knew the way. Special emphasis was placed on security and what to do if we were ambushed during our trip. The next morning, we grabbed our weapons, did a pre-combat inspection of our men, loaded up the trucks and went on a mission for some ice.
We took four humvees on the mission, each truck with one team consisting of a driver (obviously) a gunner in the turret manning the machine gun and last but not least a team leader. Once we drove into the city, I was instantly on edge. Hundreds of people walking down the road, driving in their cars, going about their everyday lives. Everything looked very normal, but rule #3 is ‘complacency kills’ and the fact was that all it took was on person in the crowd to pull a gun or an explosive and at trip to get some ice could turn into a major catastrophe in a matter of seconds.
We weaved our way through the streets, maintaining our four vehicle convoy intact. Most of the civilian cars got out of our way when they saw us approaching in their rear view mirrors, the ones that didn’t move, were nudged until they got the point that we had the right of way. The fact is we ALWAYS had the right of way. The building was exactly where we had it plotted on the map and the team leaders made a point to plug the coordinates into their GPS’s for future reference. As we approached the building, the Squad leader called out over the radio that we would have a three vehicle security element in front of the building and one truck will enter the gate to get the ice. He said that there were a lot of civilians around the building and to keep them back while we got what we needed so we could get out quickly if necessary.
Our vehicles set up a perimeter and the rear humvee went into the gates and backed up to the open cargo doors. The Iraqi that owned the factory came out to meet us, greeting us and shaking hands to all of the soldiers. There was a major language barrier but we understood that it would cost $5.00 for a 10 pound block of ice. We bought 10 blocks and the factory owner’s workers loaded blocks of ice into the back of the humvee.
Outside the gate, the security element was keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity. There was nothing overtly suspicious, but it was chaotic. As soon as the trucks set up there positions and the gunners took their sectors of fire, kids started coming out of the woodwork to come see the American soldiers. There must have been about 50 kids surrounding the humvee asking for money or water or food. The people were all around us, coming up to the windows of the humvees with their hands out looking for anything we would give them. The Team Leaders did what they could to keep the people back. We got out of the trucks, but short of physically pushing the people back, not much worked. Yelling at them did the job for a few seconds, but they would come right back. Some of the soldiers handed out candy or what they had available to the kids, but there wasn’t enough for everyone.
Then the call came out over the radio that the ice was loaded and the truck was going to be heading out the gate. All of the team leaders got in their trucks and filed in behind the truck loaded with ice as it drove out the gates and onto the city street.
The drive back to the base was filled with conversations about how surreal that experience was. The Squad Leader was in the humvee that was carrying the ice and he started talking about how the ice was melting in the back of the truck and he had a pool of dirty water swishing around the inside. When we made it back to base and drove to our compound, a few other people from the unit were out side the tents. some were washing there uniforms in plastic buckets, and a small detail was bringing boxes of MRE’s and water into the supply tent. We parked our trucks and walked over to the humvee that was carrying the ice. Small streams of water were trickling from the back. I opened the trunk and for the first time I saw what the ice blocks looked like. Nothing special, just long blocks of ice and alot of them. It took two people to carry each block into the tent. We set the ice on a couple of unused cots to keep them off the ground. People started bringing in small ice chests or laundry buckets and cut off chucks of the ice to put inside. Once they had enough ice, the whisked off to there tents to bury bottles of water under the ice for the luxury of a cold drink. A warning was put out by our company medic that we had to be careful that we did not eat or consume the ice. Hygiene is not exactly the priority of the ice factory and other units had said that they had found bugs and other foreign matter in the ice when they had made the same trips in the past. I didn’t care too much, I was about to have my first cold drink in about a month. I would have to wait about 45 minutes before that could happen though.