Another day in Iraq…
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I rode in a Bradley again the other day, for the first time in a few years. Bradleys are a rather old-fashioned Army armoured troop carrier; they have treads on them and look like small tanks. They are increasingly getting supplanted around here by newer, roomier, and sleeker Stryker transport vehicles, which get around better in urban terrain. Nonetheless, hundreds of Bradleys still grind and roar around Iraq every day, each containing up to seven or eight soldiers, riding uncomfortably inside.
The sealed-off cabin of a Bradley on a summer day in Iraq is almost unbearably hot; within moments of the huge back hatch swinging shut, you’re covered in a sheen of sweat. At least mine wasn’t crowded; only two soldiers, an Iraqi translator, and me. One of the soldiers across from me was an energetic young man from near Missoula, Specialist Winn.
Talking is nearly impossible in the roar of a moving Bradley, but the impossible didn’t stop Winn, who managed during our ride to shout out to me all about his life in Montana: his fondness of the mountains, for horses and hunting, and his many guns, each of which he described to me in detail. (He politely asked about mine and was greatly surprised that I owned no guns at all).
Conversation drifted over to the newly-installed automatic fire extinguishers in the Bradleys – apparently soldiers often have survived the initial blast of roadside bombs, only to burn to death inside. “They’re great for putting out the fires, but they suck up all the oxygen, so we gotta get out quick if we get hit or we’ll suffocate,” Winn shouted. He motioned next to me. “You know how to open the escape door on a Bradley?”
I looked down and noticed for the first time a small round door was carved into the larger hatch. A heavy metal release lever was next to my elbow.“Actually, no,” I yelled. “Just pull this?”“Yeah, but it sticks sometimes.” His sweaty brow furrowed as he considered some options. “Tell you what,” he said, finally, “if we get hit, look over to me. If I’m still alive, move over and I’ll open it.” “Good idea,” I said. “Will do.” But there were no explosions this day, and our escape plan went unused. It was a long day, though, and finally around sunset the convoy arrived back at the main base and dropped me off, some distance from my tent. As I walked back I saw other Bradleys lumbering back from or heading to patrols, some navigating fields full of dusty desert powder four inches thick, like the surface of the Moon. When they crossed these they seemed to be almost floating as they parted the dust, like tiny iron ships, sailing across sandy seas.