A Walk In My Boots -- More
Michael L. Craner
Another chapter in my personal story of my military experiences . . .
My second month in the operation, I was assigned to provide communications support for a series of stops across Turkey for the troops pulling out of Iraq. We convoyed all day long and well into the evening. We stopped three times, each time, leaving part of the convoy behind to set up re-fuelling camps. My stop was at the end of the line. We set up an overnight camp for the troops that would be coming out. That first night, we were all so exhausted, we set up our cots and slept under the stars, between the trucks. A few days later, we found out that we were camped in the "front yard" of a prison. One evening a couple shots sounded off from the prison. We never did find out why, but it was obvious by the sound that it was not from one of our weapons. Again we found ourselves with little to do but maintain communications, so we occupied ourselves by playing dominoes, cards, getting a tan, and one of our team members was chased out of the tent by a big lizard. It was quite hilarious. He then caught the lizard and crucified it for embarrassing him.
We even built a volley ball court using a piece of camouflage netting for the net. I watched some of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in that camp, at 4:00 a.m. After the night we heard the shots, I found it harder to sleep at night, so I pulled my shift at night. I would go to bed at 6:00 a.m., and sleep until 10.00 a.m. By then it was so hot, my sleeping bag, which I only used as a pad to lay on, would be soaking wet from sweating.
One Saturday afternoon, four of us "borrowed" a humvee from an infantry lieutenant, and went off into the hills for a little "reconnaissance." While we were four-wheeling up the side of a hill, we encountered a local goat farmer. Thinking he either wanted food or water from us, or was upset about us four-wheeling around his home, we tried to appease him with bottled water and MRE's. He must have been one of the smart ones, because he didn't want them. Instead, he climbed in the hummer with us and directed us around the hill. There we found his herd, another man, and a boy.
The old man pulled back a board lying on the ground, and revealed a well of clean, cold water. They took a bucket and filled it for us and handed it to us. First we took a drink, then dumped the bucket over ourselves. The cool water felt great after being out in the hot, dusty desert, and the goat herders loved it. They were laughing, slapping us on the shoulders and talking, though we never understood them, and they didn't understand us, it was amazing the bond of unconditional love and friendship that seemed to take place. A few moments later, the old man opened up a pouch, and pulled out a large ball of what looked like huge tortillas wrapped around something. He unwrapped some of the bread, tearing off pieces of it and handing us each some. Then he got down to what the tortilla was wrapped around. It was a large ball of goats cheese. He broke off bits of the cheese and handed them to us. He showed us to wrap bits of the cheese with the tortilla bread and eat it like that. About that time, the boy came back, with a bowl of milk, the old man took the bowl, and put some large green berries of some sort into the bowl of goats milk and what looked like sugar from another pouch. He mixed it all up in the bowl of milk for about thirty seconds and offered us a drink. When I tasted it, it didn't really seem warm anymore, and tasted just like cow's milk to me. There was no more tangy taste. We had visited with these poor and simple folk, and shared their lunch, and they wanted nothing from us, just our company. After a while, we bid them well, and headed back to camp, wondering about the kindness they had shown us. Wondering if the tables were turned, would we allow foreign soldiers to dine and bathe with us.
Once things settled down on our little overnight camp, I was tasked with escorting some of my unit's equipment from the border to the airbase. For some reason we were not allowed to convoy the equipment across Turkey like many of the other units were doing, so we had to load the trucks and generators onto flat-bed semi's. Each semi had a Turkish driver, and one American soldier as escort. Once we got the trucks loaded up, they started leaving, one by one. Except mine. My driver had disappeared! I waited for nearly an hour, but he never showed up. I found a command post and informed them of what had happened; finally the driver showed up, and we were under way! We went about a quarter mile down the road, and he stopped off to eat. I was a bit frustrated that this was taking so long, and that the others were long gone, but the driver bought my lunch, and it was pretty good, whatever it was. After he paid the bill and we went out to the truck, he just sat there for about another 15-20 minutes. Then a friend of his showed up and climbed in with us with one of those little portable TVs, about the size of a car battery. He had just bought it from a street vendor. They tried to tune it in, but of course couldn't get anything. Finally on the road, we seemed to be making pretty good time, considering the semi belonged in a junk yard, along with all the other rigs in Turkey.
We traveled for about a half hour, then stopped in the first town we came to. Both the driver and his buddy jumped out, and disappeared again. While I was sitting there in the truck, waiting for them, a young boy came up and offered me a cold glass of milk. Not wanting to be rude, I tasted it, then tried to give it back to him, but he indicated that I should drink it all. This glass of milk was not quite to m y liking, like the shepherds' milk that I had liked. This one, though cold, was tangy, with little clumps of fat floating in it. I drank most of it, then gave the glass back to the boy. I offered to pay him, but he wouldn't take my money. He just ran off smiling and happy about his kind deed. I then wondered if I had just been poisoned. I must admit I am rather suspicious, especially in foreign countries when people give me things for free. I didn't get sick though, not even an upset stomach.
Shortly after that the drivers returned, and we got back on the road for a couple more hours. When we stopped again, we all got out and had a bit of tea. The Turks enjoy a small glass or two of hot tea several times a day, and it surprisingly seemed to actually cool you down. I took part of this little bit of their culture several times during my tour in Turkey, and I have never tasted a tea just like their's, or enjoyed any as much. Later on, a few more hours down the road, we stopped at a "truck stop" for dinner. Again the driver paid for everything, and the food was pretty good, though I am not sure what I ate. President Bush was in Istanbul that day, and was on all the TV stations. Nearly everyone in the truck stop tried to explain to me that my president was also in Turkey. I was again amazed at the kindness and interest every one seemed to have for me, just because of my uniform.
We continued on into the night, and I noticed a few customs on the roads there that I found odd, for instance, the trucks drove with only their parking lights on (in addition to the multitude of colorful decorative lights and signs on the cabs of the trucks.) The scene reminded me of a circus caravan. Another was the "toll" stops, which seemed to be under the direction of the police, and each time we were stopped, the driver would pull out a big wad of money, and give it to the policeman, then we would leave.
When I woke up the next morning at dawn, we had stopped along the road for the drivers to sleep. When we got back on the road, we made another stop for breakfast in another, smaller, truck stop. Again I seemed to be the center of attention as everyone tried to talk to me. I had a bowl of something I can only describe as porridge, with a taste so unique to me, I had no idea if I liked it or not. A few hours later, we reached the airbase, and pulled in behind the other trucks which had left the border while I was waiting for my driver. They closed up the airbase at night, and had not allowed anyone on the base until morning, so they had had to wait at the gate. Once we unloaded, I bid farewell to my drivers, and was left pondering over the strange adventure.
A few days later I returned to our overnight camp. Our replacements had started coming in country, and within a couple weeks of returning to the overnight camp, we closed it down. Everyone now had to use the local truckers to move around in the country, like I had done, so we were no longer needed there. Typical of a communications unit, we were the last to leave the camp, after the other support units had left. We were without any kind of meal support for about a week, but that didn't bother us, we had long since been making our own meals on a hibatchi. Plus, the cooks had left us several pallets of 'K' rations. We let the locals have most of those, picking out the best for ourselves, which basically amounted to the lasagne. The rest of my tour in Turkey was pretty uneventful, as I negotiated my 'release' to return to Germany. My lieutenant was a bit reluctant to let me leave, until we were met by our battalion executive, a Major, who noted that I had been there for a while, and asked me when I was scheduled to leave. I told him I was ready anytime. Right after the Major left us, my lieutenant told me to pack my bags and schedule my flight! I was back in Germany within 48 hours.
To be continued. . . . .