Army convoy endures a long wait at the pumps

Two miles an hour, half a day to refuel

War In Iraq

March 29, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHERN IRAQ - So much oil, yet so little gas.

When the U.S. Army needs to refuel a convoy of several hundred trucks in middle-of-nowhere Iraq, it's not a simple chore, or a quick one.

A caravan of 101st Airborne Division trucks pulled into one Army desert refueling station, dubbed Exxon, at 6:30 a.m. yesterday for a fill-er-up of diesel.

It would turn out to be a half-day-long affair - an eternity for soldiers eager to head north to reinforce those who have gone ahead, but not such a long time for the Army.

"People are dying, and we're just sitting here," Sgt. Clint Martin said, as the line of green trucks inched along.

Adding to the impatience was the convoy's amazingly slow pace thus far. It had taken 36 hours to go just 80 miles, barely two miles an hour. Constant vehicle breakdowns have required constant stops.

Going nowhere is not what these soldiers want to be doing just now.

The gas line snaked every which way, down this way, back that way, then the same thing all over again.

One Army officer, gazing at the trucks packing the flat stretch of sand, thought it resembled the biggest used-car lot in the world, not a bad description given the number of trucks that had to be towed there.

Someone else observed that it looked like a massive truck stop, minus the greasy spoon diner.

Probably the most apt analogy, though, was this: It called to mind the blocks-long gas lines that drove Americans crazy during 1970s oil crises.

Soldiers tried to make the most of all the down time. Some dumped Nada-brand "premium natural water" on their heads to wash up.

Some ripped open a "meal, ready-to-eat," their only sustenance now that the chow tent of Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, is but a memory.

Others, spying a nearby trench, shed their chemical suit tops - a thick camouflage garment that does not breathe - so they could relieve themselves. They did not have to shed their modesty because no soldier has any left when it comes to these matters.

It was the second sunny day in a row, and the delay offered a chance to soak up rays. On one Humvee's hood, a lieutenant positioned two speakers for his CD player and cranked up the music.

Soon the chugging engines shared the air with the melodic strains of Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound," a choice not likely to diminish the rampant homesickness.

Finally, the trucks that lined up shortly after dawn reached the five tankers busily pumping diesel.

It was 1 p.m.

But the open road would have to wait a bit longer. The rest of the convoy was still in line.

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