Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Nasty War Begins; The Dream of Conquest and Celebration Comes to an Abrupt Halt

6 Aug 03

I’m sitting at my desk right now, it’s about 3:14 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m waiting for another call reporting a murder, or another disaster. Coldplay’s “Yellow” is playing right now and I am thinking of you so much. The past few days have been pretty busy. I’ve been checking on the puppies, they’re doing really good despite the extremely hot temperatures. I’ve been feeding the mom, and she’s been very grateful. Usually, I feed her Jambalaya MRE, and she eats it in about 5 seconds flat. It’s really amazing seeing how life works, with the puppies, the watermelon plants, the kids. You don’t even realize the earth is constantly growing, life is dying, and life is renewed. Then you think about what a miracle life is, how it grows, develops from a single cell to complex organism. Science can explain how it happens, but why does life happen, what force drives it to reproduce and grow, move towards its individual destiny? I believe it’s God. Despite all the trouble in the world, there is new life growing and blooming. That’s the beauty of life, and it’s a positive force, not completely destructive. It’s refreshing to see these things even though I deal with death almost every day. There is a beauty to be found always – and that to me is God.
Well, I said I was waiting for something to happen, and it did. The ice factory was robbed and one person was shot. Charlie Company broke down 300 meters from the crime scene, so they weren’t able to respond. It was in another unit’s sector though, we were just doing them a favor. The past two days have been tragic though. Most notable was the IED explosion last night.
“KNIGHT X-RAY – SHADOW ZERO!” SSG Skaggs called me on the radio. I could tell by the tone of his voice that something was wrong. “IED! JUST WENT OFF!” An IED is you nemesis here. You can’t see them, and you only know that they are there once they explode. They sit on the side of the road and are often detonated by remote control. We haven’t been targeted yet, but almost every unit has had someone killed or wounded. We are in the middle of Baghdad and haven’t had any problems (well, no one killed or wounded). Well, Shadow 0 and the other scout truck were just up the road from our camp on “Canal Road” when they were traveling in the middle lane going north. They then switched into the left lane and attempted to pass some cars. At some point, they came abreast of a semi-truck full of bricks. This is an account of what happened from SGT Sill:
“We were driving along at about 60 MPH then we go to the far left lane. All of a sudden there was a shock and all was brown – like a flash from a tank firing. I couldn’t hear a thing, my ears popped and a rock hit me right in the jaw. When the explosion went off, it rocked the trucks and made us swerve to the left. I couldn’t hear, but we kept speeding ahead. I looked back and saw a semitruck slowing down to stop. He was hit.”
What happened was someone targeted our trucks to kill. It seems our trucks were able to escape the explosion because the brick truck was between them. We never found out what happened to the truck driver. Our guys escaped though. We have been so blessed.
“Did someone hear an explosion?” someone asked as they came into our office from outside. This time it was our guys. Thank God they are safe. Most IED, RPG, Grenade attacks are fatal. I radioed Apache section and they headed for the explosion area to search for attackers. Also, I got 2 helicopters to help, so we were all working together to find someone. Well, we didn’t find anyone. Apache on the ground did find an abandoned building that overlooked the explosion and a room with cots and wire inside. A possible outpost. Apache continued their search. Palehorse (the helicopters) then called me and told me a mob of people were surrounding one man at the power sub-station (this time was dark). The pilot told me the surrounded man was waving to the helicopter. So I sent Apache there to help the man. They arrived minutes later. It turned out the Iraqis were angry because they had no power. We actually had Iraqis angry at us at our camp because we have power and they don’t. We have power because of generator power. They think we took their electricity. The reality is that they lost power days ago because they’ve been splicing and dicing wires hooked to the main power grid. Most Iraqis pay for electricity, and these angry people are squatting on former Army housings and they steal power. They are starting to complain more, but they don’t realize how much worse it could be.
Well, in the past 2 days, I’ve been working a lot with helicopters and people on the ground it’s pretty interesting. What’s sad is that it’s usually because of a murder. For the past two days, I’ve dealt with 4 murders, 3 or 4 attempted murders. 2 days ago, I got a report of 3 dead bodies that were drug into the streets. It turned out to be two women and one two year old boy. They were shot to death by someone, and that person dragged the bodies into the street. It was horrible. Ironically, the first group of soldiers on the scene were the same group of soldiers I talked about earlier, with the demon-like laughs. Well, that was gone from their faces now. I felt sorry for them a bit. They had seen something so horrible – some reality hit them that beating Iraqis hadn’t.
“I’ve got pictures of the murders, the kid’s face is gone,” said the MP. He looked disturbed. Some crime like this would be on national news in the U.S.A. Here, it is just another day. I can’t imagine what would drive someone to be so violent. This place spawns it, the heat, the insecurity, the lack of law.
The next day, the locals outside our fence got into a fight because one of them wanted to marry one girl. I don’t know the details, but I know our guys went to tell the crowd to go away, then, before we were able to do anything, one of the men involved in the fight pulled out an AK-47 bayonet and stabbed the man in the left shoulder.
“Call an AMBULANCE!” Sergeant Smith yelled to me on the radio. I got them and the MP’s. The stabbing victim was treated and arrested, both of them. This was only the beginning though. Already, before my shift, we were chasing a black Mercedes with a helicopter piloted by the wife of the commander of the Apache scout unit doing the ground chase. The Mercedes was suspected of firing an RPG or setting off a bomb that hit an MP Hummer and damaged the armored truck, nails stuck in the tires. The people inside were all shocked by the blast. They were evacuated. This all happened at our police station at sector 14, Alpha Company’s area. The police station has been a constant target for mayhem. As the day developed, this was reported to me:
“Knight X-Ray, we are observing a dead body, appears to be a woman, in the middle of the street. She’s still being shot at.”
‘This is Knight X-Ray,’ I said, ‘you report that the dead body is still getting fired at?’ I couldn’t believe they were shooting an already dead woman.
“Roger, the body is still getting fired at,” the pilot said.
Then, the report came in that 2 women were killed, and two men injured. The coordination involved in handling a helicopter squad and ground units is something I like doing, if it’s to catch a murderer. Our guys got on the ground and found there was one woman killed, her blood-covered body baking to the street. The other woman wasn’t dead, she was wounded by some grenade shrapnel to the abdomen. As soon as our evacuation team arrived, the helicopter was able to leave to fuel up. The woman piloting the helicopter was the wife of the commander on the ground. Around, or at some point, the Associated Press showed up. This was a good chance to tell the story of husband and wife warriors.
“Ask Apache 6 if the Associated Press is still there, that would make a good story – she can come in and land, haha!” said Knight 5. It was funny, and he was joking, of course about her landing. The mortars
[1] got the wounded woman they thought was dead. As the medic went to cut away the injured woman’s clothes in order to get to the severe wound underneath, her son came up (the woman was already put in the back of an armored personnel carrier) and became animated, protesting dramatically, signing the medic that he shouldn’t cut her clothes away to get to the wound. So the medic carefully cut a patch of cloth off to get to the serious wound. The mortars then drove to the Army hospital at our camp and turned her in for treatment. I believe her son was able to go too. Later on in the day, I got a report that Apache:
“We’ve got a severely injured male, his hands and feet are tied up. It looks like he was thrown from the fourth story,” he told me. “Request permission to take him to the hospital.”
‘Roger,’ I said, ‘Take him.’
I got on the radio with A Company and coordinated for the Iraqi Protection Force to go to the hospital to see if they could get information from the victim. We are trying to involve Iraqi police more and more. It seems that they are doing better and better. That is a relief. The Iraqis say crime is always bad this time of year, because of the heat.
Also, I saw the Goof Troop gearing up. The same group – SSG Ramos, SGT Rush, SFC Smith along with a group of unwilling S3 shop irregulars. Some shots were fired at a wedding. Shooing a rifle in the air is normal here, but the Goof Troop wanted to crash a wedding to make Baghdad safer. Luckily they got there too late and everyone was clear. Glory would have to wait another day.
I called you, Spatzi, and it was so good to talk to you. I cried so hard, and it’s been a while since I’ve done that. It’s so good to talk to you Nora, especially on a day like this. You need to know beauty exists, that the world of relative peace I left is still there, and that you are safe. I love you so truly. Nora, you are the best, you should know that. You’ve done so much for me.

The Tactical Operations Center (TOC) is the nervous system of the battalion. Even though it sounds embellished a bit, it is true that during this period, for many hours during the day, the TOC sat empty. Senior leaders were usually busy in the city, but the enlisted supervisors spent much of the time sitting outside and smoking cigarettes and causing a raucous. They were on vacation, away from their wives and domestic responsibilities. Foley and I sat before the battalion radios for hours on end moving combat forces according to the commander’s guidance and approving and disapproving requests from commanders on the ground. There were honestly some hairy situations where Foley and I would look at each other and make split second decisions for our units without anyone else knowing about it. We could move tanks, move helicopters, move men...all at the push of a microphone button. Of course, this was never done arbitrarily. It was also never done, during this time, with the oversight of a sergeant. The leadership seemed pleased with the results though. Foley would never get over the fact that he could manage such a task.

[1] “Mortars” can also be used to refer to soldiers in the mortar platoon


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