The men driving these trucks were young – probably early 20’s – but our lives were in their hands. As we drove out of the airport – they gave us a briefing about what would be happening, where we were going, and what to expect. They drive fast – not because they were racing – but to stay safe. They would be talking and looking for anything suspicious – and they encouraged us to do the same. Keep our eyes open, look around, and don’t be afraid to speak up if we see something out of the ordinary. This is not safe, this route has been hit – not recently – but it has. We needed to keep our heads about us, and make sure that we are aware of everything around us. I think back to the Academy of Military Science, where I got my commission – and all the talks on situational awareness - being aware of what is going on, at all times, around you. We were taught this skill as a reminder to not let things go unnoticed – as leaders, we should always be aware. This may be my test of this skill.
As I tried to look out the armored windows – which was not easy in full armor and helmet – looking up was difficult – I could see despair. It was almost in the air, and it was thick. The land was pocked with holes, the ‘homes’ were no more than hovels, except for what looked like industrial buildings that had been sectioned off where people were living, they were about the size of a single bedroom back home. The people were just like what I’d seen on TV – walking around with the clothing that was loose and sparse – but covering. Except for the kids – I saw a 4 year old with no shoes. Shopping carts were there as well – but no shopping centers. I did see a few ‘stores’ – although they were either in small – 10’ x 10’ – in the side of the road in a cart – or in one of the holes in a building. The roads were dirt – the walls surrounding the various military buildings were tall, and covered in razor wire. We stopped twice on the drive, pulling in and stopping for a few minutes, and then driving on. As we drove near the US embassy – you could see the increased US presence, the walls, and the nice buildings on the other side.
I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. Our drivers were professionals; talking – almost chattering – as we drove about everything I could see on the road, every vehicle, every pedestrian that was anywhere near the road. The roads were not easily accessible or wide – there were cars on the sides of the road, and people just walked out in front of us. I knew if it came to it – we would hit them – but the drivers did not.