Terror in a Cloud of Dust

A soldier’s growing unease turns to horror when his convoy makes a calamitous detour.

Over the faint clamoring of gunners mounting their .50-cal and 240 machine guns, a truck door creaks shut and I hear the gravel under a soldier’s boots displace. He walks half-asleep toward the front of the trucks to hear what a newly promoted captain has to put out on his first mission as a convoy commander.

I walk around my truck to check the tires. I make my way to the front, pausing to take the last drag from my cigarette and toss it to the ground. The convoy commander is finishing his mission brief and explaining how we are supposed to box up if we get hit by an IED. I step up onto the grill guard of our 1029 Humvee, climb onto the hood and up to the roof, then slip into the gunner’s turret.

A pensive Chase Weston, author of this personal story about an IED attack in Iraq, sitting on a couch as he examines his helmet.
Photo: Anne Medley

The author at his home in Missoula, Montana.

As the support element, we are pulling security for trucks carrying water, food, parts, mail, etc. I do a quick check to make sure I’ve got my can of Skoal and my smokes as I set in for a nasty ride to our other forward operation base, on the east side of Samara, FOB Wilson.

Our mission was fragged from the get-go this morning. I woke up with that nasty gut feeling, and the new commander is running late, so we will have to take a shortcut to the FOB. The shortcut is one of my least favorite rides to pull convoy security on, because this route takes us 40 miles or so off-road into some very fine sand. The dust stirred up in that section is so bad you can’t see but six or eight inches in front of your face. Because I am the rear gunner for the security team, this makes my job the worst. I have to eat the dust of every truck in the convoy.

Leaving FOB McKenzie, we stop at the firing pit to squeeze off a few rounds and check our weapons to make sure the .50-cal guns on the trucks are set right. If they were to jam, we would be completely combat ineffective and shit out of luck.

Finally, we are on the move. When we come to the only town on this route, something doesn’t seem right. It is morning, 0930 or so, and the local women are nowhere in sight. They are usually out washing clothes in the creek or trying to keep their children from running into the road or playing in the creek, but I see no one. This does not help my gut feeling in the least bit. To be honest, it makes me quite nervous.

As we pass through the town, I cannot help but notice the palm trees and shrubs planted in the median. I never knew Iraq could be this pretty. Coming to the middle of town I see two elderly men sitting in front of a small sandal shop. This puts my nerves at bay for now. People in town are a good thing—we most likely will not get blown up here.