Continued from here....We started moving without anymore distrations.The day was getting dark, we were hungry, tired and angry, meaning short tempered. I was very exhausted. As it was getting dark, I advised all my boys to be ready with the night vision goggles, night vision binoculars and night vision sights for the M16's, including laser sights to be attached to the rifles for night fighting.
All the food we escorted was from the USA. We risked our lives to move this grain without being hijacked by Somali gunmen. Whenever we stopped on the way to Baidoa, we were asked whether we were from the US, this was due to the similarities of our flags which we wore as a shoulder patch. We always replied that we were from Malaysia. They would reply, "good, America bad", the irony of that was that the Americans were the ones who were the major contributors towards the well being of the Somalis. Notice bags of grain marked with the letters USA.
I instructed the vehicle commanders to keep the convoy tight as it was getting dark. Asked Othman to do radio checks to ensure that all communications were in good working order.
There was alot of static on the HF communications sytems, it was quite difficult for communications with MALBATT Headquarters, though with much difficulty we could make ourselves understood. The VHF was not a probem, they were in excellent working condition.
All vehicle commanders were ordered to test fire their weapons on the move, limited to 20 rounds on their main armamanet. Which they did to ensure that in the dark we were well prepared for any kind of an eventuality.Othman reported back to me that all main armaments were in good working condition. I told Lance Corporal Shamsuddin to take over in the turret of my vehicle. I took a position behind Zaid my driver, where I stationed myself, looking out behind the driver, getting the view of the driver to be exact. I started noticing the desert, it's vast expanse, desolate and very unforgiving.
I could afford to think back now as Othman was handling the situation. Wow, this was one hell of a priceless experience. Taking a journey the first time ever into the desert all on my own, meaning leading a convoy with all my charges, the responsibility I realised was not a minor one. I had 57 lives of my boys in my hands and another 50 plus Somali divers. Discovering myself, that there were guys with me who would lay down their lives fighting for me. We of diverse beliefs and ethnicity. Wishing that Malaysia would become like that. I used to tell the Americans when they were around that we were a mini USA, flag and all.
So far no major screw ups, everything was going well except that we were several hours behind time. I have kept everyone of them safe. Apart form the Somali bandits who came looking for trouble. I was a capable "manager of death and destruction" when the need arose.
The desert is like a sea, the dunes look like waves under the convoy lights. The moving convoy's lights make the dunes move. Far, far away I saw lights, which looked near. These lights we noticed at around 2300 hours, at first I thought thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me.We continued moving towards the lights wondering what were those lights. These lights looked like ships at night in a wide sea. The distance as we were closing up towards the lights did not seem to change, the same lights, stagnant and teasing us, seemed to be saying come on, come on repeatedly. Yet we were not any nearer.
Soon we could make out shapes and other flickering lights that was around 0100 hours using the night vision binoculars. The flickering lights were the lights of the Somali homes who were using oil based lamps. The fixed electric lights were the lights of the Indian contingent in Baidoa. They were 3rd Mech, Indian Army, formely 8th Gurkhas, which had a 170 years of history. We slowly wound through the streets of Baidoa, looking at huddled groups of families in this war torn place, seeking refuge and protection under the gaze of the Indian contingent.
Soon we were near the perimeter of the Indian Camp. There were search lights out for us. I was soon on the ground. There were a flurry of salutes, as I introduced myself, to the Gurkha Officer of 3rd Mech there. Beside him were two teams of tank hunting parties armed with anti tank, 84 mm recoilless guns. They were not taking chances until they had identified us. They were on a stand-to until they identified us about ten minutes ago. Which means they were ready to take us out, if we were hostiles.
He told me to move the Somali trucks into an enclosure designated for the trucks. Warrant Officer Lal said that that they were expecting us around 1000 hours in the morning. After 4 pm they were expecting me forever. Yeah right. The last truck that entered the perimeter was at 0200 hours. It took us an amazing 22 hours on the road to reach Baidoa !! There was a parking area, a large one. The Condors pulled up alonside the road, allowing all the Somali trucks into this parking enclosure. Once in the Indians rounded the Somali drivers and escorted them out of the perimeter. They showed us our place to settle down. The Somali drivers were not allowed to sleep within the perimeter.
We wer directed to another area with tents for us to settle down for the night. The Indians told us that the area was secured. I checked the area out, yes there were Indian sentries around guarding us. Being cautious, I told Othman to post a section of 8 men on sentry duty on a rotational basis, along with one Condor with it's engine running. This was just in case, no point regretting if anything happened and we were dead, I told him that. Othman always complies to the letter.
I wnet into the tent there was a canvas bed, a pillow and a blanket. The tent was a layered tent, with a cotton lining to keep the tent cool during the days, the Indians knew how to stay cool, can't say the same for the Malaysians though. When we first moved to Mogadishu we were staying in arc tents. These were large tents made form thick plastic sheeting. One could virtually melt under those arc tents ! In awhile there were two Indian soldiers. Micheal brought my pipe an tobacco. I lighted my pipe for the first time in 22 jhours, it was virtually a ritual.
The Indian soldiers brought in a small table and a chair. Very carefully placed a white sheet on the table, brought ou a plate and fork, spoon and knife. They were serving me dinner. I asked them whether my soldiers were being served food. They answered in the affirmative, I asked Micheal to check, he confirmed it. I told Micheal to take off. I ate a bit, I lost my appetite as I was still excited.
I asked the soldiers if there was any beer at 2 am plus in the morning. They said there was and one of them took off to get the beers. He was back in a jiffy with a container, holding 6 bottles of beer covered in ice. Tusker beers from Kenya. In the Indian Army they know how to treat their Officers in the field. I took a bottle of beer from the container, dimissed the Indians and went to look at my soldiers. They were tucking into the hot food. There were 'puris' and 'chapathis', my boys were smiling and enjoying the food in thick and spicy dhall dips. Some of them made folds out of the chapatis and poured the curry into the folds, dripping all over their chins and dust covered cams. They were doing justice with relish to the food provided by the Indians.
I swigged the beer from the bottle and walked around, the sentries were already in location in pairs with their ight vision googles on, they had eaten. The Condor had taken it's position forward of our sleepuing area, it willbe the first line of defence along with our sentries if at all the Indian troops on the outer perimeter were overwhelmed. Which was very unlikely to happen. I was more worried about infiltration. I wanted my boys to get used to this new environment.
I talked to the Indian soldiers and toured their defences which they were not at all hesitant in showing. The Indians had tracked BMP's in place for quick reaction. I continued talking until I decided to call it a night and went to sleep. Right : An Indian Infantry Fighting Vehicle of 3rd Mech (BMP)