M915 tractor with M113 Armored Personnel Carriers waiting for the convoy to move out.

The one best story I have involved an incident during our convoy from Abqaiq to Rafha. I was the S4 NCOIC assigned to the 2/319th AFAR which was in support of the 82d’s 2d BDE Task Force.

During the convoy, at about 2am, on this super highway in the middle of the Saudi wasteland, there’s nothing but pitch blackness except for the dim illumination of our trucks headlights and the occasional passing motorist. Our vehicle intervals are stretched out to about 100 meters and we can barely make out who is ahead of us or who is behind us, except again, for the faint illumination of the lights of the trucks and our convoy manifest. We are tired and sleepy, having been driving for 20 hours or so.

Ahead in the distance, we can see the what appears to be the truck in front of us pulled off to the side, its canvas tarp engulfed in flames. The driver and assistant had already abandoned the vehicle, though I can’t recall if we took them in our truck to a safe distance or if someone else had. Regardless, the dry canvas tarp was already fully engulfed and had already begun engulfing the trucks contents.  It turns out the truck was the ammo truck, loaded with a large cache of various types of ammunition).

According to the driver, a small white pickup truck had been driving near them, harassing them, when the ammo truck driver witnessed someone from the pick-up truck toss a type of incendiary device, a Molotov cocktail of kind, into the cargo area of the ammo truck, then sped off. We already pulled ahead to make sure everyone was alright and the area secured (fancy way of saying we stopped to watch the truck go down in flames).

It wasn’t long afterwards that the Saudi police arrived on the scene to secure the highway. Our convoy stopped for the duration, vehicles both military and civilian, held up on both sides of this super highway witnessing the single greatest fireworks display courtesy of the 2/319th AFAR. Over a two-hour period, you can see LAW rockets launching into the dark abyss that is the Saudi desert, small arms tracers streaking against the blackness, the report of demolitions, rounds, grenades exploding in a tremendous barrage that would put a Fourth of July celebration to shame. It was spectacular to say the least. That was our “terrorist” attack along one of the greatest convoys in military history.

As Paul Harvey would say, “now, for the rest of the story.” But, let me state up front, what I am about to say is speculation, not fact. This is my own opinion of what happened. At the time of the incident, having seen several small pickup truck passed by us, I was in no position to counter the drivers first hand report, nor would I. The report says we were attacked and I will stand by any statements I made.

However, back to Paul Harvey, the rest of the story: There was no terrorist attack. There was no pickup harassing the convoy. There was no incendiary device. It was the driver’s cigarette butt that caused this mishap. You see, with 2-1/2 ton trucks, when you throw your cigarette butt (or any trash) out the window, the air rushing past the cab turns back into the cargo area, drafting any debris with it into that space between the cab and the cargo area. I myself had this happen once and, incidentally, it happened not long after the convoy incident. I instantly remembered what happens when you toss a lit cigarette out the window of a moving truck, immediately stopped, and checked the canvas. I was not going to be the one to repeat what happened along that stretch of Saudi super-highway. Sure enough, the butt had blown back into that space and was stuck up against the tarp, already beginning to spark up. Had I continued driving I would have ignited the tarp just as if Bear Grylls was blowing on a spark to start a campfire to save his life.

I am sure the statute of limitations has long expired, all witnesses have now either retired or otherwise left the service, and, besides, like I said previously, the official report is as accurate as I can remember. But, for vets of DS/DS, you know my version is far more plausible than a terrorist attack (heck, every vet has a great story of some stupid mishap; we have to maintain our sense of humor through the turmoil). In Desert Storm, we did not experience the IED attacks that so many have been killed and injured by in OIF/OEF. In DS, our (82d) casualties were all non-combat related.

At the time, my name would have appeared as SSG (P) Douglas Vidakovich, S4 NCOIC, 2nd Bn, 319th Airborne Field Artillery (AFAR), 82nd Airborne Division.

Best Regards

Doug Vidakovich

SGM, US Army (Retired)

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