By Nathan Mihelich
The day the NMCB air detachment departed for Iraq, the Seabees were told the convoy would leave at 3 am. It didn't start rolling until about 6:30. Some Seabees told me, just like any branch of the military, they operate with the "hurry up and wait" mentality.
"We're in an MTVR, a 7 ton vehicle, and they're rough seats - no padding, just solid wood. It's a long convoy, windy as you can tell," 23 year old, Seabee Joshua King of Gulfport said.
So windy and sandy that the Seabees wore goggles and cloths to cover their faces. Many of them could feel their lips chapping as they were driving along.
Because the Seabees have so much heavy equipment, the convoy moved slowly. When the convoy approached the Iraqi border, the Seabees put their weapons on "condition one" - locked and loaded with the safety off.
"Right now, coming into Iraq, I was a little in suspense, not know what to expect. But as we came across the border, seeing all the Iraqi citizens happy for us to be here, it made me feel a little more welcome, a little more at ease. But I'm still being cautious at the same time, because I never know what could be lurking out there," 21 year old Seabee Wesley Boyd of Orlando, FL said.
This was the Air Detachment's first glimpse at Iraq and its people. Everyone they saw was smiling, waving, or giving a thumbs up. Seeing how welcoming these people were confirmed to many of the Seabees that their service is worthwhile.
"It made me feel happy, welcome and comforted. It made me feel safe," 21 year old Seabee Travis Peppers of Alabama said.
"It makes me feel good to help people that, for whatever reason, can't help themselves. I hope that if I was in their spot someone like us would come help me," 24 year old Seabee Marco DiGilio from Chicago said.
As the convoy made its way further north into Iraq, the Seabees knew there could be danger. They traveled "Ambush Alley," a nickname earned because of all the vehicles attacked on the highway.
All of a sudden, there was a loud boom. The Seabees thought they were under attack.
"We can't fire until the Marines fire first," one Seabee said. "Keep the weapons up, do not point at anyone."
Turns out the convoy was hit, but not by artillery. Two land mines damaged two of the big trucks carrying the heavy equipment. They ended up leaving the vehicles behind.
What's interesting to note is that the land mines the convoy hit were American land mines, left over from the Gulf War, that someone had placed on the road.