An Incident on MSR Tampa
SS Hampton Sr. Ed. Stephen Morgan
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Halloween Night, 2006 – a resupply convoy commanded by the Air Force and escorted by Army gun trucks, is leaving Kuwait for Baghdad. The lonely desert highway north is MSR Tampa, a bloody highway along which for years the convoys suffered insurgent attacks. And on MSR Tampa there is a particular wooded bend that no one speaks of, though many know of its haunted reputation, a reputation given new life by a gun truck crew testing a new generation of enhanced night vision goggles…
Sergeant Travis Harland peered through Cyclops, the helmet-mounted, experimental Enhanced Next Generation/Night Vision Goggles. Isolated homes and small villages swam out of the darkness before disappearing into a greenish-black, haunted landscape. From time to time he was jolted when his growling HMMWV gun truck hit a bump along the road.
A bright shaft of greenish-white light swept across the dunes and clumps of brush to their right before locking onto a small dusty mound further ahead. A metallic voice sounded in the earphones shoved under Harland’s already tight fitting Kevlar helmet.
“—at the one o’clock, a hundred yards ahead,” the Gunner, Specialist Paul Bonner, said.
Harland sighed. A gun truck wasn’t built for comfort, especially when the Gun Truck Commander was tall and thin, as he was. Being thin didn’t provide much of a cushion for sitting, especially on army seats. And communications glitches didn’t help his mood either.
“Bonner! You hit the off-switch again, you fucking idiot. Say again.”
“Pile of sand and rocks at the two o’clock, fifty yards ahead. Throwing a glo-stick,” Bonner said. A bright fluorescent stick tumbled through the dusty, windy night to land next to a pile already well-marked by glo-sticks from previous convoys. Glo-sticks warned of a sometimes suspicious feature for following vehicles.
The Driver, Private First Class Lee Stewart, veered into the left lane, away from the pile.
“That pile’s been here a while,” Stewart said. Harland didn’t have to tell Stewart what to do when they saw the pile. Even if a pile was spotted days before, no one knew if an insurgent had planted an IED in it later on. With the gun truck’s armor upgrades, the crew stood a chance of surviving an explosion. However, the odds decreased dramatically if it was one of the newer copper-tipped Explosively Formed Projectiles—EFP IEDs—that could take out an Abrams tank or a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
“Yeah,” Harland replied in a flat voice as he watched the pile drift past. He was a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and was now three years later on his second deployment. Like a watchful sailor on the lookout for rocks while navigating the shallows, he realized he’d been holding his breath ever since they saw the pile of rocks and sand…