Special Reports

'Beige alarm:' Mortar attack interrupts lunch

They call him the whistling gunner.

OK, so maybe they don't. But I do.

While heading out to one of the local police stations to teach a class, Spc. Jared Smith of Twin Falls spent the drive whistling from the gun turret at the top of the Humvee.

"It's calming," Spc. Smith said.

"He's a song bird," said Spc. Hugo Salcedo, of Chicago, who was driving the vehicle.

— Kim Hughes

Photographer Kim Hughes and I had been warned about the sirens on FOB Warrior, but we hadn't experienced them first hand.

The way it works, we were told, is some insurgent usually fires a rocket or mortar onto the FOB, it explodes or lands with a thud (some of them are duds). Then a couple minutes later, a siren sounds.

By the time you hear the siren, the danger is usually over. If it didn't hit near you, you're probably safe. But you're supposed to go sit in a bunker until the siren blares again.

Kim and I and a bunch of Alpha Company soldiers were sitting in the chow hall when the alarm sounded. It was a long dramatic wailing siren, then a distorted, disembodied female voice said "Alarm Red" over the PA system.

I was midway through my turkey breast and gravy with potatoes, and I had a fat slice of cherry pie staring me in the face. The soldiers groaned. They were supposed to evacuate the chow hall, and we were just starting to eat lunch. We all looked at each other. I took my cue from the soldiers, and they weren't budging. I kept eating.

We probably wouldn't have moved at all except the battalion commander was sitting at the table behind us, and he got up. It's tough for a bunch of sergeants and specialists to stay seated after the colonel leaves.

So we got up, carried our trays outside in an orderly fashion and dumped them in the trash. Except me. I held on to my plate. I'm willing to make certain sacrifices for my country and my profession, but lunch isn't one of them.

We casually stood around outside. The bunkers, were full, so instead of having the marginal protection of the chow hall, we had nothing but cloudless blue sky and chirping birds over our heads.

We walked over to the Humvee and got inside. Other soldiers sat on, and around vehicles, eating their lunches like they were at a parking lot picnic. I sat in the Humvee and wolfed down the rest of my lunch, then walked back across the parking lot and dumped my plate in the trash.

We decided to drive back to the barracks rather than wait for the next siren. On the way back, we heard the distorted, disembodied female voice say Alarm Black, which I assumed meant we were safe again.

We returned to the barracks and about 10 minutes later the distorted, disembodied female voice said "Alarm Green, the attack is over."

No one with us heard or saw anything that resembled an attack. The voice called it an Alarm Red, but at worst it seemed to me like an Alarm Beige.

But I learned a valuable lesson from the experience. Next time I go to the chow hall, I'm eating the pie first. You never know what might happen.

— Roger Phillips