The days at the observation point (OP) below Chateau Beaufort went by in the slowest of manners. Four hours on guard in the observation tower followed by eight hours of soldier chores, eating and sleeping. There were four of us out there, and we had two weeks to kill before being unceremoniously relieved by four other brought in by truck.
Second Lieutenant Lehn was in charge of three privates. I was one of them. Always the busybody Lehn, he would have us groom and broom the 100 square metres of dug-in U.N. presence until we could eat our French combat rations and drink our Belgian freeze dried coffee right there off the dry, red south Lebanese soil.
It was April, it was the mediterranean lowlands and the day temperatures settled on 40 degrees celsius coming out of the sun directly above. Save for the poker games in the evenings and the day to day tasks of maintaining equipment, it was boring as hell. Burning off the piss tube and betting on whether the Israeli Air Force F-15 and Kfir recce runs would make a sonic boom or not became the highlight of whatever waking hours you had.
Then there was the observation tower. A two square metres vantage point with a really big set of German binoculars on a tripod. It was the whole point of us being there. The OP was right at the northern edge of the then Israeli security zone, and inside Israel occupied territory. Every couple of days you could see a self propelled artillery piece or a bus full of soldiers going by, crossing the Litani river going into or coming out of Lebanon proper. At nights we were held under scrutiny by the flying chainsaws; remotely controlled flying live cameras. In the dark, producing a sound like that, you were never sure what direction they came from. We always made a point of waving and saluting the buzzing visitor, and I'm sure the guys from IDF waved back from their remote control truck somewhere.
But nothing much happened.
Just after noon one day Lehn rang the alarm for perimeter defence. As it happened, he was on guard in the tower, spotting an M113 armored personnel carrier from the South Lebanon Army. It appeared from the north, from outside the security zone. The SLA were a hodgepodge of locals, recruited by IDF in order to maintain a stronger presence in the security zone. Officially SLA only had christian arabs, but everybody knew that the steady pay attracted a large contingent of muslims and others in want of family support. The United Nations had decided not to recognize the SLA as a party in the conflict, and gave them the rather bureaucratic name "DFF" - De Facto Forces. It didn't mean squat to us. They still had guns and unsettled issues on their own. Not everyone fancied the presence of the United Nations.
The greyish blue M113 crossed the Khardala bridge into the security zone, turned left and proceeded down the far bank of the river, just behind our own special place in the sun. From my tiny opening in the wall of sandbags I could see the soldier behind the machine gun in the hatch, less than 100 metres away. Lehn shouted from across the position that I should ready the M-72; a disposable one-off anti armor weapon. The 66mm rocket inside could penetrate 30cm (a foot) of armour from this range, something the M113 didn't quite have.
The M113 suddenly stopped, turned about face and caterpillared back up along the river. Once at the bridge the thinly armored personnel carrier stopped again. Over the faint noise of the idling diesel engine, we could hear a heated exchange of words. The machine gun guy in the hatch were pointing up and down the river while clearly arguing with someone inside. He sounded a little pissed off to me.
After crossing the bridge into the security zone, the M113 drove slowly along the southern bank of the Litani, away from us. I was sweating generously inside the blue steel helmet, small droplets findig its way down my back and in between my buttocks.
Were they looking for something? Were they scouting? What was going on?
It stopped again, this time at an old ford in the river. The soldier in the hatch disappeared inside. Lehn shouted from behind his portable binoculars and, yes, I shouted back - the M-72 was still primed and ready. A moment later the steel belted bluish thing stood still in the shallow ford just upstream of the bridge, its 5 litres of diesel engine in silence.
The rear hatch of the M113 were slowly lowered. 150 metres away, the rear opening in the APC were in the M-72 crosshairs, my index finger somewhat doubtingly off the trigger. My ears were thumping from the pulse.
As soon as the first naked SLA soldier jumped into the soothing water of the Litani river, Lehn called off the alarm.
Right then, I could have used a bath too.
Lehn snapped a photo of me coming out of the bunker that day. He told me to "pose for the grandchildren". You can see it at http://geekinfo.net/files/4-18.jpg