Back It Up!

IEDThe command went out to all battalion leadership, “Mandatory attendance of Memorials within your footprint!” For the 5th Squadron 7th Cavalry Regiment, such a command was asking a lot. By the end of 2005, and the end of the deployment, we had suffered 401 Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) hits on our convoys. One of the units to our North and across the Tigris River lost a soldier around mid-summer to an IED and being that it was in our footprint the command had to attend. At the time, I was the unit Chaplain so the command brought me along.

Interesting priorities begin to take shape when the threat of an IED seems imminent. For instance, the normal placement of vehicles within the convoy line suddenly changes based on known percentages of which vehicle in the line is most likely to be hit. Our averages showed the 1st and 3rd vehicles in our area were most hit by IEDs. Normally, when traveling in a convoy, the chaplain is seated in a separate vehicle than his assistant. The reason for this is so both are not lost or wounded should the vehicle take a hit. Somehow, we both wound up in the 1st vehicle.

Now, I do not believe in rabbit’s feet for good luck but soldiers and leaders certainly do. Someone in charge of the seating and positioning for that particular convoy believed that having the Chaplain out front made their odds of survival greater.

The Army Forward Operating Base (FOB) we were heading towards was about the same distance as traveling from Mobile, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida. Back in the day, that trip took me about 50 minutes to complete. Our trip north of the Tigris would take all day. Once we, cleared the bridge leading over the Tigris, there were potholes in the roads every two feet. These make for great distractions and hiding places for new IEDs. Our speeds slowed way down.

hqdefaultAbout 25 miles into the journey we came into an Iraqi town or village. The buildings were very close to roads so our range of sight was also diminished. Now we were moving even slower because we had to check every roof top, around every corner and keep close watch at the windows in the building. The call went out on the radio, “every pack, eyes outside the vehicle!”

All the vehicles in our convoy were outfitted with Blue Force Trackers (BFTs). These are the Army version of GPS for cars but is more like an actual computer within the vehicle that is manned by the vehicle or tactical commander (TC). The TC for my vehicle was an E-5 Sergeant (SGT) and the driver was a Private First Class (PFC).

Prior to the mission, we had a convoy brief and discussed the route we would be taking. Now hours into the convoy and in an Iraqi village, we came across a primary road we were supposed to take to reach our destination. However, the Iraqi Army (IA) were present and the road was barricaded with large saw horses painted orange. All vehicles stopped in a tactical parking position, the commander grew anxious because of our surroundings and wanted to know the status. My TC called to the commander who was riding in the 4th vehicle and informed him of the situation. IA, were Iraqi soldiers trained primarily by U.S. Soldiers and were friendly for the most part.

Before the commander could respond with instructions, two Iraqi Army soldiers moved the barricades. The TC called the commander and verified, “We have been cleared to enter the route, disregard last transmission.” I noticed, the TC did not think twice about the environment outside the vehicle and immediately went back to watching the BFT. Instantly, I felt myself become the most anxious I have ever felt and almost without thinking, I told the TC, “Hey, what are we doing? You are driving us into the kill zone.” He looked up quickly and did not see anything in the road in front of him so he responded as most soldiers do when Chaplains engage in tactical talk, he looked at the driver and said, “Get going! Move forward!” Again, he went back to the BFT.

By this time, I was practically in the front of the vehicle. I had my hand on the shoulder of the TC and I said, “Look! If we are NOT in the kill zone then why is there an IED robot heading straight for us?” After an interesting trail of expletives, he finally managed the command, “Back it up! Back it up! Back it up!” We retreated to the original place where the barricades were located. It was all we could to convince the TC not to get out and take out the IA manning the road. He had to regain his composure and quickly because the rest of the convoy was counting on him to get us rerouted with the approval of the commander. After a brief freak out session, he was back with us and ready to proceed.

060102-m-8096m-025The entire vehicle was on high alert from then on and the rest of the day. Prior to departing the area, we watched in front of us as the vehicles behind us were trying to back up. The IED robot, was guided all the way down between the two hills where we stopped and began to back up. On the side of the road, it uncovered and IED with three mortars buried in the ground. They were uncovered on mine and the TC’s side of the vehicle.

The driver, was in tears at the thought of what could have happened, the TC was mad at himself and my assistant told me later, “thank you for saving our lives.” We successfully rerouted and cleared the village. After an hour or so more, we made it to our destination and honored a Fallen Infantry soldier. A less targeted route was established for the trip back but it meant taking longer to get back to FOB Paliwoda.

As we approached our FOB, I wanted to get a picture of it from the outside so I could have a picture for my wall but I was on the wrong side of the vehicle. I made the mistake of calling out to my assistant so I could get him to take the picture from his side. When I did, the driver stopped the vehicle as if something were in the road and the TC said, “What? What is it? What do you see Chaplain?” Over the radio, I told him what I was trying to do. The TC called out loudly, “Don’t do that! We have already had one close call today!” It felt good to be a Chaplain, again.

As was tradition and before we left that day, I prayed over the convoy and the Soldiers. I make it a point to pray scripture. The passage I read was from Psalm 141:9-10, “Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.” Some trust in rabbit’s feet but I trust in the Word of God!

Mijikai Mason
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Mijikai Mason and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Bio: Mijikai Mason is an Ordained Southern Baptist minister and Chaplain in the United States Army. He has been in the Army for 26 years both as an enlisted Soldier and now as an Officer. He has been stationed at various bases in the United States and in United States Army Garrison Schweinfurt, Germany. He holds an undergraduate degree in Religion from the University of Mobile, a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and Evangelism and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Webster University. Chaplain (MAJ) Mijikai Mason was selected by the Army in 2013, to become a Family Life Chaplain and began his service in this field starting 15 May 2015. He is the Deputy ESC Chaplain and Family Life Chaplain for the 593 Expeditionary Support Command at Joint Base Lewis McCord. He has deployed four times: Desert Storm (1991), Iraq twice (2005-2006; 2007-2008), and Afghanistan (2012-2013). He has a total of 42 months deployed in combat and logistics operations. Mijikai and his wife, Ashley, have been married for 17 years this May and live near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington with their four daughters.