May 2002. We are in the American Consulate in Amman, Jordan talking with a liaison to the Ambassador about our upcoming trip into Baghdad, Iraq. An attendant walks into the room with a tray, and hands each of us Turkish coffee and some interesting biscuits for a sweet distraction. We listen as the liaison tells us in no uncertain terms that it is too unsafe to drive into Iraq. He says terrorist activity is very high on Freeway 1, the main thoroughfare we were taking, and coalition forces, nor the U.S. government could confirm our safety and security.
“If you still choose to go,” the liaison finally says, after he realized that my Dad was unmoved by his scare tactics, “you must drive in a caravan at no less than 100mph for the 10hr trip.” Dad’s eyes got big while he shot a smile to me and gave me a wink. “I guess we’ll be driving fast then. Just as I like it”, dad states to the official.
Later that same evening, we rendezvoused with two other U.S. based groups, all in white GMC suburbans with blacked out windows and curtains, and our collective 10 cars caravanned to the Jordanian/Iraqi border. Once we crossed the border, and began driving through the desolate Syrian Desert that looked like a moonscape, the tension began to rise in our vehicles. For a few hours all one could hear was the Hindi music over the radio, while we spotted the occasional nomad on a camel in the distance.
When we approached Ramadi, chatter on our radio picked up. Some of the vehicles were nearly over-heating, and we all agreed that if any vehicle stopped, they would be left behind for the safety of the entire group. As we passed Ramadi, and just prior to reaching Al-Fallujah, we began seeing young men on the sides of the road with checkered scarves over their heads. They were jihadis/terrorists and they had stretched a huge chain across the road that was littered with spikes (one looked like an IED).
“Go! Go! Go!” Dad said to our driver. Dad gripped my forearm and said, “Hold on!” Each of our 10 vehicles flew over that chain, and heard…nothing. We quickly looked back at the young jihadis behind us, who seemed utterly confused at the lack of calamity. Miraculously, we made it through the journey physically unscathed, although our nerves were quite frayed as we pulled into the Palestine Hotel across from Firdos Square in central Baghdad.