It was some time after 3-2 SBCT had moved down from Mosul to Baghdad and the brigade had been assigned as the Corps reserve. We were clearing different neighborhoods in the city and my battalion, the brigade support battalion (BSB) had created a "support package" that would base itself at whatever FOB or COP was nearest the neighborhood being cleared (preferably in the same neighborhood). This was done so we didn't have support vehicles and soldiers travelling everyday from our "home" base at Camp Striker at the airport to whichever neighborhood was being cleared, they would be pre-positioned and quicker to react.
If I recall correctly 3-2 was clearing the Rusafa neighborhood and our support package was stationed at a FOB in the middle of the city in the same compound as the Ministry of Oil, across from the Martyr's Memorial.
This crazy looking place
On the day of this particular incident I had hopped onto a convoy consisting of 4 HMMWVs that were taking either the battalion commander or the battalion command sergeant major (it's been awhile, I forget) to see our soldiers who were at this base. I joined the convoy to get myself away from the office for awhile and check out the routes in Baghdad that our soldiers were using which is something I tried to do as often as possible. This was the first trip to this particular base by these soldiers...a key piece of information that will become relevant in a bit.
It should have been a simple trip. Leave Camp Striker and head down The Airport Road (Route Irish, at one time one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq), head straight into the Green Zone, make a few turns and then turn right onto the Jumiriyah Bridge, head straight through a large traffic circle and then continue on straight to our destination. Simple right? One problem...Iraqi security forces had thrown up roadblocks and entry control points everywhere and it was often impossible to know where they were unless you drove the route.
Everything went smoothly until we reached the Mohamed Al-Qasim Expressway. After passing under the freeway it appeared that the road was blocked by barriers and the Iraqi Army. Having no idea where to go the convoy commander in the lead vehicle (where I happened to be) decided to hang a quick left...which due to barriers forced us onto the freeway on-ramp.
All of us in the HMMWV became concerned with being on the freeway, mostly because we had no idea where the next exit was and whether or not it was blocked off. The traffic ahead of us began to speed up to avoid the usual mess that was created by a convoy of US forces showing up and the traffic behind slowed down to give us the space we demanded so as to not be perceived as a threat. The convoy commander made the quick decision to turn around and head back down the on-ramp...
...which was now filled with cars trying to get on the freeway. We had no where to go. Going against traffic would just be stupid and there wasn't room; turning around and going with traffic would just put us back in the same position of not knowing where we were going; and as I stated the on-ramp was filled with cars. We did the only logical and yet insane maneuver a group of heavily armed HMMWVs can do in this situation.
We started driving in circles.
I kid you not. There we are, 4 American HMMWVs driving in circles on some Iraqi freeway as we try to figure out what to do. I kept looking out at the Iraqi drivers and the looks we were getting were something between bewilderment (what the hell are they doing?) and frustration (great, I'm now stuck here because these Americans just want to drive around in circles).
After 2 or 3 loops we decided to just force our way down the on-ramp. Luckily the Iraqis on the on-ramp figured out what we needed to do and did their best to move over. The Iraqi soldiers at the bottom who were manning the barriers also saw what we were doing and started blocking traffic for us. It took some time but we eventually made it off the freeway and the Iraqi soldiers then directed us to the entry control point that we had missed when we first drove by (hidden by some T-walls).
That day wasn't my most absurd but it ranks up there. I still wonder what the Iraqis who we encountered that day were thinking about us and if they realize we were just a lost group of Americans who didn't mean to screw up their commute. At least they now have a humorous story to tell about HMMWVs driving around in circles on a freeway.