Thirty minutes in and it is 99 degrees inside the Rhino.
We can't open the door because of the gunfire in the distance. Fresh overheated air isn't worth a bullet wound. The water was almost gone. We started this trip at 6 a.m. The digital readout on my watch stays at 99.2 as the hands point to 30 minutes past 1 o'clock p.m.
The officer in charge joked with us, "This was not part of the regularly scheduled program ladies and gentlemen." The sweat hadn't stopped pouring down his graying hair, but somehow this military man's uniform was still all angles and starch. Forced laughter barks back at him from wilted reporters.
The U.S. military is the most powerful in the entire world. They mean well, with statements such as: "People should not suffer under the power of a dictator"; "We are in New Orleans and everything is fine"; "We are offering a trip to Abu Ghraib with a select number of seats for the press" … etc
Only the best of intentions, and yet it just seems like the brain behind the beast only thinks of its goal, not of its consequences. They transported us to a terrible place in a terribly expensive piece of machinery. They allowed us to witness a unique event. They fed us, gave us plenty of water, and HOOAH! bars. HOOAH! is the creation of the U.S. military to improve performance. Military research found: "subjects consuming the HOOAH! bar showed a 19 percent improvement" in physical performance. I thought we might need that added performance to make it back home in this heat.
Forty-five minutes pass. The temperature of the air stays the same. We are about to blow.
The U.S. military did not map out a plan on how to get us home if something went wrong. Sound like Iraq to anyone? The jack wouldn't work. It couldn't lift the Rhino and a gaggle of journalists off the ground.
One of the military's translators, Sam, picked up his helmet and dressed himself in Kevlar. He proved himself to be a loud man with a wide smile. The scowl he wore through most of the day peeled back as a Kurdish journalist sang a few bars of Lionel Richie's, "Say You, Say Me" to the pretty Christian reporter at the back of the bus.
Sam walked down the line of traffic behind us that stretched a mile or more with several hundred cars in a row. They didn't honk. They didn't try to get around us. They just sat there in the heat. Every Humvee has a sign hanging off its tail reading, "Danger. Stay back 1000 feet", in English and Arabic. I saw one where the D had been painted over and the message seemed more apropos.
Sam, the translator, finally found an Iraqi big rig in possession of an industrial sized jack. The Iraqis and the Americans joined together and lifted that impregnable automobile off the deadly asphalt. You could say it was a coalition force that managed to change the tire. Maybe that is how this war will be won. When both sides come together to fix a problem. The thought made me feel good.
Then the Australian journalist with a knack for Arabic looked over at me and said, "I hope they don't kill him for helping us." The stagnant air stopped for a moment: sobering thought. The Aussie has covered the bloodshed in Ahmiriyya. People she spoke to for her stories were found as bodies in alleys. Maybe the solution to Iraq isn't so easy after all.
So I kept flicking my wrist back and forth, the cardboard fan moving the hot, Middle Eastern air around. And I thought about a time when circumstances were totally different, the only bullets I had ever seen were used on a dove hunt, and I had never heard of Iraq.