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Posted on Mar 14, 2007 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Letters from Iraq 7: Anger, Stay Back!

By Russ Vaughn

The vehicles are painted primarily desert tan; however some still have forest green parts or possess woodland camouflage schemes. When the gun trucks are mixed in convoy with the multi-colored civilian trucks it looks like the circus has come to town.

The gunners are being told to get lower in the turrets to reduce exposure. Instead of the old name tape defilade they are now told to go neck defilade. The new HUMVEE turret makes it possible for them to do that and still effectively engage the enemy. Gunners now get a heavier set of body armor and a seat belt to hold them in. The good news is the seat belt doesn’t interfere with them dropping in to the cab during a roll over.

I had the privilege to climb into an M1A2 SEP Abrams tank the other night. The Abrams is a drivers dream, in fact they have a hard time getting the drivers out of the seat because they are so comfortable. The driver lies back on a nice padded seat with plenty of room. The seat is inclined and so well made it is a good place to sleep.


Unlike the drivers station the turret looks tad cramped, but is still fairly roomy for three crew members. Sticking my head in the turret I caught a whiff of that tank smell, it brought back a flood of memories from when I served in the 3rd Armor. The smell is hard to describe, but anyone who has spent time in a tank, any tank knows what I am talking about. The fire control system and sights in the M1 are amazing. It is one of the most accurate weapon systems on earth. I am glad we have them.

The M1 is a tough vehicle. It will take a lot of punishment. The insurgents respect it and rarely mess with them. It is the proverbial junk yard dog to the bad guys. The M1 has a lot a fire power that can be brought quickly and accurately on target. A new shell has come out for the M1’s 120mm cannon, it is a canister round. The new round turns the main gun into the world largest shot gun. The round contains a substantial amount of marble sized tungsten projectiles. I have been told by tankers it has a spread of about 400 meters wide at 500 meters. Yeah baby!

M-1 Abrams tanks from the 5th Cavalry Regiment, provide overwatch
security for Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry
Division in the Al Doura district of Baghdad.
Photo by Cpl. Alexis Harrison March 05, 2007. This photo
appeared on

Sleep is a valuable commodity. You get it when you can. We normally have twelve hour shifts. Sometimes because of circumstances beyond our control we can end up pulling an additional six to eight hours. Sleep deprivation is high amongst convoy teams. In September while driving on patrol I spotted a gun truck parked in the shade of a tree. The motor was running and I could hear the AC fan kick in. I made a mental note of the vehicle and went on about my assignments. Two hours later I drove back down the road where I had seen the HUMVEE parked. It was still there and the engine was still running. I am thinking to myself this is wrong and I mention it to my partner Vernetti. She agrees that we should stop and check it out. We flip a U turn and pull up along side the armored truck. I get out of my car and go to the TC’s door. I peered inside the tinted bullet proof glass and see the four crew members. The TC and two crew members had their eyes closed and the fourth had shirt over his head. The TC also had the radio headset over his ears.

I tapped first on the glass and then on the armored door, none of the crew responded. I tapped harder and still no response. Vernetti and I were now thinking possible carbon monoxide poisoning. We tried opening the doors, they were combat locked. I had Vernetti hit the siren. The TC’s eyelids barely opened and then closed again, but no sign of movement from the other crew members. Vernetti hit the siren again, this time the bleary eyed TC looked at me not quite comprehending what was going on. The right rear crew member stirred a little, and still no motion from the other two crew members. The TC rubbed his eyes and slowly opened his window. I asked him if he was ok. In a very tired voice he answered he was ok and asked what was up. I told him we were checking on him and his crew to make sure they were alright.

The TC told us his crew had been convoying for a couple of days and they needed sleep. He thanked us and said they were just trying to catch a little sleep before they had to go back out on a convoy that evening. Relieved that they were ok, I let them get back to their much deserved rest.

Convoys are the life blood of the troops. The convoy troops bring us everything. It is tough dangerous work. My life here is very easy compared to theirs All of us here owe them a lot. We share the stuff we get from home with them. It is like giving your kids gifts at Christmas, you watch their faces light up as they receive the goodies. It is the least we can do for them.

The bad guys occasionally send us nuisance gifts in the form of rockets. A few weeks ago I was in one of the main dinning facilities enjoying dinner. We were all relaxed, enjoying a really good meal, especially the water melon, when we hear a loud explosion and felt its concussion. The new guys immediately looked up nervously toward the direction from whence the noise came. The old guys pause without looking up and analyze the bang, direction, distance, intensity, “was there a preceding sound that I missed”,” controlled detonation or incoming”? The solution comes quickly to the old guys, “small rocket, no big deal”. The old guys look across the table at each other, shrug it off, and continue with dinner like nothing had happened. The new guys look at the old guys for a clue as what is going on. They see the old guys chowing down. The new kids resume eating, albeit nervously.

A few minutes later the Mess Hall Sergeant comes out and tells everyone to report back to their units and get in the shelters. A few choice words are muttered (to be honest I muttered a few also because I hadn’t finished my dinner). Everyone stood up and slowly began to exit. Like good soldiers we were carrying our trays to dump them on our way out. The Mess Sergeant yells for every leave the trays behind. The old guys are thinking “yeah, yeah, nothing is going to happen” and nothing else does. We report back to the unit and get accountability. Everyone is in one piece. The attack hasn’t even raised our pulses or blood pressure and we all go back to work a little hungry.

The next night we are on patrol and get a call to set up a TCP near the impact site from the previous night. Someone had found a second 80mm rocket that hadn’t exploded. So we established our traffic control point and wait for EOD to pop the UXO. An Army officer blows around one of our TCP’s. My team stops him near our TCP and has a little chat with him explaining he almost got perforated by little metal parts flying at high velocity. Needless to say he was a tad sheepish and asked for forgiveness.

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