So when they finally arrived about 12 hours behind schedule, everyone decided it would be a good idea to get a night of sleep, then head out in the morning. Little did I know, they really wanted to push the definition of "Morning". So despite waking up at 0530, hauling our gear down and making other preparations to leave, we didn't roll out until around 1130.
With so many mines found the day before, someone had a brilliant idea to drive not on the road, but instead to go along in the dirt. If you would like to know what it's like to drive in Iraq's dirt atop 7-ton vehicles, you can do a little mockup in your very own at home. Open about 20 bags of flour in your living room, set up several box fans and turn them on high. Voila. Driving along in the dirt not only allows your weapons to get so clogged up they'll never fire, it also sends up a rooster tail along the column that blinds you and lets everybody know exactly where a big American Convoy is.
But wait, there's more.
After getting about 30 miles from Al Asad, the decision was made to return to the road. At last, we get a chance to get some dust out of our eyes, off our cammies, out of our weapons. We're pretty much on the home stretch, when I hear the unmistakeable sound of an explosion about a mile ahead (Our convoys are stretched out a very long way, to keep deaths to a minimum should a mine/ied go off). Immediately, everyone halts and puts weapons outboard, establishing security while our convoy commander tries to find out what the hell just happened. About a minute later, the word comes out that the explosion was an IED, and it hit our other Engineer Vehicle.
While the minutes ticked by and we all waited to find out if everyone was okay, I got a pretty sour taste in my mouth. First I was relieved: I almost rode in that vehicle. Then I felt disgusted for even thinking that. Then a low-grade panic started to set in as I thought about everybody I knew on the 7-ton. The fact that the report hadn't come over the radio wasn't helping things any. I imagine the churning in my stomach was similar to what a mother feels when she suddenly realizes she doesn't know where her kid is.
Finally, after what seemed like years, the word gets out: Everyone is okay. No deaths, no injuries. In fact, the IED didn't even detonate near the vehicle, but about 200m away. So much for accurate intel.
When we got back late that night, I took a few moments before I left to quietly look at everybody while they offloaded the vehicle. Can't say I was thanking god, but I felt something. Divine intervention or just plain luck, I guess. I didn't like the feeling I had on that 7-ton. The feeling that despite all the training, all the airpower, the superior marksmanship, the bodyarmor.... It all came down to some clown that didn't time his bomb right.
But, we're all here safe. Ultimately, that's what matters, I suppose.