Reporter's Notebook: The Longest 20-Minute Ride of My Life

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

MOSUL, Iraq —
The speedometer never reached 30mph, but it was the most terrifying ride of my life.

After spending a day at Camp Freedom, the U.S. military’s main base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, I was waiting to head off to my final destination, Charlie Company, the 2nd battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. The unit operates out of a former Iraqi police station that militants overran last November, where captured police were taken to the roof and executed.

Little more than a month ago, U.S. forces reclaimed the building. Although lacking water, heat, and electricity, it was now Charlie Company’s base of operations, and where I was to be embedded to cover the run-up to the election.

It was almost nine o’clock in the evening when I was told it was time to depart. No more hot meals, showers or shopping at the Post Exchange (PX, a self-service store for military personnel and their families). A military convoy would transport our cases of TV gear along with myself, cameraman Richard Davies and producer Tadek Markowksi. The trip we were told “would only take about 20 minutes” — less time than my daily New York City commute.

Cameraman Davies and I shared an armored Humvee. Standing between us with his head poking through the roof was a gunner with his finger wrapped around the trigger of his .50-caliber machine gun. In the front passenger seat was the lieutenant in charge of the convoy, who told the sergeant behind the wheel it was time to move out.

As we pulled away from the relative safety of Camp Freedom we were warned that roadside bomb attacks were not uncommon on our route. The lieutenant told us that to improve our chance of surviving a blast, we would travel no more than 30 miles an hour. Our actual pace made me wonder if it would be quicker to walk.

Looking out the Humvee window of four-inch thick anti-ballistic glass, the city was dark and appeared deserted. It had been raining heavily all day, giving residents of this violence-plagued city yet another reason to stay home.

Ten minutes into our journey, while crossing a bridge over the Tigris, we came to a sudden stop. About thirty yards ahead on the right shoulder sat an abandoned car — or was it something more?

As we sat motionless the lieutenant and others peered through their night vision goggles and studied the obstacle in our path. The car looked like an Iraqi taxi — the type of vehicle used by terrorist bombers. Over the two-way radio someone in the convoy said, “it appeared to be partially stripped.”

We crept closer for a better look. At the same time we inched to the left shoulder until we were hugging the guardrail.

Moving almost imperceptibly, the Humvee pulled directly across from the mystery car. For an instant we came to a full stop. Four narrow and barren traffic lanes were all that separated the two vehicles.

Cautiously we crept forward. The convoy followed.

In what seemed an eternity we pulled off the bridge arriving safely on the other side of the river.

Slowly we weaved our way to Charlie Company’s battle outpost. We would sleep that night — just like the troops — on cots in near-freezing cold.

I could not have been happier at The Ritz.

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David Lee Miller currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.