Jewish World Review May 8, 2003 / 6 Iyar, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Dispatches from the Desert: Ammo boxes in trucks get attention of soldiers


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | WESTERN IRAQ It makes you feel like a proud father," said First Sgt. Jim Gowdy. "They do listen."

Gowdy has four sons back home in Canon City, Colo., and 140 more in the enlisted ranks of the Army's Apache troop, Tiger Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"It's funny how my guys can go from boys to men in a matter of minutes," Gowdy said. "This isn't something we practiced. But they did great." The Apache convoy, headed yesterday toward a base camp near Qaim on the Syrian border, was at the side of the road for a maintenance stop. Staff Sgt. Steven Ayres of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion noticed a Russian-built pickup truck eastbound. It had a new paint job and green boxes in the back.

Green boxes!

They looked like Iraqi ammunition boxes.

Ayres had no radio in his Humvee. He raced to the vehicle behind him to report what he had seen.

Soldiers from Apache troop quickly blocked the highway in front of and behind the blue pickup, trapping it. Following the blue pickup was a yellow pickup, also filled with ammunition boxes.

There were 14 men in the trucks. The troopers took them out of the trucks, down the hill from the roadway. They had them sit in a semi-circle, about 10 feet apart from each other.

Each Iraqi was searched. Three soldiers conducted each search.

One sat in front of the suspect, showing him the proper posture to assume. A second conducted the pat-down. The third kept his M-16 trained on the prisoner.

Each of the Iraqis was given water to drink.

Other soldiers searched the trucks. The ammunition boxes in the yellow truck - which had once contained rocket-propelled grenades - were empty. But in the blue truck were thousands of rounds of ammunition for the ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft gun.

The two Arabic linguists attached to the civil affairs unit, Staff Sgt. John Pullen and Sgt. Brian Myhre, questioned each Iraqi. The occupants of the yellow truck said they didn't know the occupants of the blue truck, and vice versa.

The occupants of the yellow truck said they had picked up the wooden ammo boxes from an abandoned Iraqi military base a few kilometers to the west. They planned to sell the wood. The occupants of the blue truck said they were scavengers, too. They gave directions to the military base.

When Apache troop arrived at the base, they found a vast cache of weapons.

"There was enough ammo there to fill four or five aircraft hangars. Artillery rounds, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), anti-aircraft, you name it," said Lt. Tim Barnes, the assistant intelligence officer for Tiger Squadron.

The Iraqis were brought up the hill one by one. Pullen affixed to each one a tag with his name and some other pertinent information. Their hands were bound with plastic cuffs, and they were put in the back of an Army truck so they could be taken to a former Iraqi air base where interrogators from the Defense Intelligence Agency could question them. Other soldiers drove their trucks to the base.

"My heart was breaking for one guy," Pullen said. "He pleaded with me to let him go. He said he had eight kids, and they were hungry."

Pullen's compassion proved to be partially misplaced. Six of the 14 - all of those in the blue truck, and one in the yellow truck - turned out to be Iraqi soldiers. Several had ties to paramilitary groups that have fought in support of the Saddam Hussein regime. They remain in custody, and the truck is now the property of the United States government.

The soldiers in the blue truck apparently were using the civilians in the yellow truck as Judas goats to distract attention. If the story of the men in the yellow truck checks out, they'll be released, and their truck returned to them.

"We don't want to hurt poor people who are just trying to make a buck off the regime that took so much from them, but we can't afford to take chances," Barnes said. "Not everybody out here is a friendly."

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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03/11/03: Ultimatum's moment of truth
03/11/03: Thank you, Turkey, we needed that
03/07/03: The fight against Saddam isn't a distraction from the war on terror --- it's is the main event
03/04/03: Bioterror nightmare approaching --- how it could likely happen
02/27/03: Iranian student: Can America hurry up with Iraq already, so they can get on with attacking us?
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02/25/02: Don't rule out a quick victory --- even if prez says otherwise
02/21/02: Saving our military from itself
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02/15/02: Our European allies are like the fat kid who wants to play quarterback
02/13/02: Is the Army in danger of becoming "irrelevant"?
02/11/02: So, I "propagate hatred"
02/06/02: Bush whacking the media
02/04/02: Why serious folks disregard the European Union --- and why Bush must, too
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01/23/02: Toward a stronger defense at a lower cost
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© 2002, Jack Kelly