These days, when I brag on myself as a driver I rarely bring up my best work – the 100 hour push through three divisions of Iraqi Republican Guard behind the steering yoke of a Bradley Fighting vehicle.
There are plenty of civilian driving feats to throw on the table from my driving resume in the two decades since my time in the Bradley. And, from day one as a driver, I was jumping cars, playing high speed chase, driving through corn fields chasing deer and outrunning cops that thought I should slow down. All of it was done with an untrained natural ability to make any vehicle dance on most any surface. Never a crash, never an injury.
I am The Driver and I always will be. I became The Driver, during that sleepless dash across the Cradle of Civilization – a strange place for a straight legged infantryman to be in control of a heavy armored all-terrain death machine. It wasn’t supposed to be, but the first time I drove a Bradley Fighting Vehicle was onto the train that would take the 36-ton tracked weapons platform and personnel carrier from Bamberg to a German seaport for the boat to Daharan Saudi Arabia. I had no idea how it worked when I stomped on the boot-sized gas pedal an pointed the behemoth down the frozen picturesque cobble stone streets of a 1,000 year old Bavarian village. The whole affair was cloaked in Christmas and the eventuality of the desert. An infantry private in the Illinois National Guard, I signed up for active duty and the promise of a life in southern Germany with a little Cold War clean up. Instead, I washed into a mechanized unit still standing watch in the Fulda Gap as the Soviet Union collapsed in on itself. We were there in case the nearly dead Soviet giant stepped forward into Western Europe in a final throw against its pending death.
It’s been more than 20 years since that desert drive where my goal was to stay alive and to keep my but in the drivers seat 24/7 to ensure that I stayed alive. In doing so, I would keep the six other souls aboard alive with me. It was on that drive that I learned that no human should be awake between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. – ever. I learned that there was battlefield wisdom to be gleaned from Apocolyps Now’s Chef who cried “never get out of the boat,” as a tiger chases him from the jungle. In my case it was “never get off the Bradley” after I jumped from the hull to the desert floor. Off to relieve myself, I looked down between my feet to see a BLU 97, a tank killing cluster bomb bomblet, with a boot on either side. Had I not stopped to pee, I would have crushed it with my driver side track a few feet under my seat. After that, I stayed on or in the track for days.
The company had plenty of infantrymen already transitioned on the Bradley and its turbo diesel churning 600 horsepower into a hydromechanical transmission that delivered 98 percent of the power to the ground. I knew helicopters, rifles and machine guns, things that you walk into battle with. My combat tools were switched from a rifle and knife to topography – what little there was – speed, agility, range and a complex molecularly structured armor plating. I gave up my personal weapon and the fear of pulling its trigger to kill for a role in a three person killing team working a 25 mm chaingun and anti-tank missiles.
Sgt. J, a master gunner and former light infantryman, came into the barracks one night just before we deployed in December 1990 saying that he wanted me to drive his track. That I take orders, have good instincts and the ability to think for myself were the reasons he gave me. I also hear that he knew of my work on the autobahn doing weekend runs across Germany into other parts of Europe. he knew I was a driver.
I don’t know how many of the 1,700 Bradley drivers deployed to the Gulf War knew what they were doing before they got there. But, only 28 were destroyed in the fight, 20 of those were killed by friendly fire, something I too experienced. When all was said and done, the infantry, in our BFVs, killed more Iraqi armor and infantry than the tankers with their Abrams M1A1 main battle tanks.
On the job, I learned that a good driver always gives his gunner a field of fire while hiding at all times. A good driver can smooth out undulating terrain at top speed while calling out range and direction to targets. The good driver can take a dump in a bag without slowing down or bumping the gunner off target. A good driver gets the regulator removed. A good driver knows that there are men in back being tossed as the battle unfolds at speeds up to 50 mph. I learned that in the hands of a good driver a Bradley charging 36 tons at full bore will jump a tank ditch without a ramp. I learned that just because you see the muzzle flash of the T-72’s 125 mm gun it doesn’t mean that round is coming for you, though I still don’t believe it.
When I drive more than 50 miles today, or have precious cargo, I become The Driver again – connected with my vehicle, never late and duty bound to get there and back safely.