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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


Well we got through Ramadan with little sleep and no attacks on the COB. The guys outside the wire got hit a lot as anticipated. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as we expected.

The weather has changed. We finally received rain, the first rain this place has seen since the middle of April. It can rain very hard here at times and the lightning is very impressive. In addition to the rain the temperatures have dropped significantly. Nights with the additional humidity are very cold.

The rain and cooler temperatures have brought additional signs of life to the desert. Small patches of grass are springing up from the talcum like dust. We now have a large flock of crows inhabiting the near by patch of trees. At least I think they are crows as they have rounded tails and I believe ravens have square ones (please let me know if I am wrong). It has also brought a plague of flies.


Simple laughs are good for the soul. GI’s are at times great comedians. Humor helps relieve stress. Some may find some of their humor morbid or revolting, others may chuckle or snicker, and someone who hasn’t “been there done that” just doesn’t get it. Truth is often funniest. I wish I had a tape recorder going 24/7 to capture some of their amusing and funny stories.

A lot of guys customize or buy custom weapon slings for their weapons. They have their names or the name they have bestowed upon their weapon embroidered upon the slings. Other soldiers put symbols or witticisms on their slings. One of the better ones that I have seen read as follows, “Till Death Do Us Part”.

Most convoy vehicles have signs on the back warning locals to stay away. This is for the protection of the locals and those in the convoy. The signs range from very polite to matter of fact. They are usually in English and Arabic. The signs are normally white background with red or black lettering. What follows is a small sampling of the warnings:

  • Please Stay Back 100 Meters
  • DANGER STAY BACK 100 Meters

The first one is rare and very sissified. The second is direct and to the point. The third is the most common around here, and there are several minor variations. My favorite on the back of a HUMVEE is also very rare.

  • Caution Stay 100 Meters Back OR YOU WILL BE SHOT

That sign should convince anyone following that vehicle the crew inside means business and do not try their patience.

Soldiers from Troop D, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment
patrol Taji, Iraq, on foot and in Humvees, Nov. 30, 2006.
From Photo by Spc. Jeffrey Alexander. This photo
appeared on

The medics at the hospital took a picture of the rear of a convoy HUMVEE and placed it on the hospital latrine wall. The picture catches your attention, and then you read the message below to keep the latrine clean. Your brain tells you there is something wrong with the photo. Upon second glance at the warning on the rear of the HUMVEE in the photo you notice someone has removed a letter from the usual warning sign. It now reads:


Who says Doc’s don’t have a sense of humor?

Drivers often name their vehicle or put custom unit symbols on them and just like aviator call signs nicknames are based on inside jokes or a personal act of stupidity. Some have both. The artists for the most part use red or black paint for their work. Sometimes you see the drivers name and the truck commanders name stenciled in the appropriate place. Symbols include dragons and snakes coiled around things like the Engineer Castile. Scorpion’s are popular. One of the better looking ones has the new Air Force symbol in blue paint as the arachnids’ body and the claws, legs, and tail in black. Horses, knights, and road runners are also popular. The variations are limitless.

Vehicle names are varied, some are sarcastic, some are endearing, and others are just plain funny. Names like Dirty Durkar, Bang Bus, Mad Max or Dragon Wagon can be found on big trucks. I have seen Bob the Builder on a combat engineer vehicle. Sometimes the name identifies function like HOOKERS for recovery team vehicles. A mechanized infantry platoon named their four M2 Bradley’s after the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. One Bradley bore a sign on the side of the turret “BEWARE OF THE DOG”. Other nicknames pop up on windshields naming the vehicle or identifying the people inside like Gen Early, Sandman, A Team, Killer Spades, Road Runner, The Mule, Joker, and Taz.

Another oddity is finding stuffed animals tied to tow bars or front bumpers. One HEMMIT crew has Betty Boop tied to their grill. Fuzzy bunnies for some reason seem to be the favorite choice of drivers I haven’t a clue as to why (four stuffed rabbits feet?). Soldiers can be very superstitious, if it keeps IED’s away…..

Bumpers are customized and reinforced for pushing other vehicles out of the way. Many bumpers have additional storage compartments built into them, some are simple steel pipes or “I” beams. All front bumpers have tow straps or tow bars attached to them for quick extraction from a kill zone if the vehicle becomes disabled. The rear bumpers can also have tow devices. Most vehicles have back boards, fire blanket kits, extra water, or extraction tools on the rear. Turrets abound with extra ammo cans. Vehicles can have two or more antennas, anti IED devices, loud speakers, Kojak lights, sirens, and enough headlights or search lights to make a Baja race driver envious.

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