Friday, December 19, 2003

How to Get Hit With an IED; How to Let the Alleged Bomber Get Away

19 December 03 2200

I’ve been very busy over the past few months, but now I want to explain what happened in the IED attack I was in the other night. I was driving HQ-3
[1] with SSG Siegel, Nelson, and Villarreal in the back pulling security. It was around 2000 and dark in Baghdad. We were checking to make sure Alpha Company was properly conducting their observation points. An OP consists of one tank along the roads and highways there bombs are now a severe problem. Many lives have been taken on these roads. We are finally starting to move from spotting IEDs to preventing their placement. It only took us over 40 IEDs in our sector to trigger a plan to prevent them from taking any more American lives.
One main road in our sector goes through town and past a large market, the market USAID is promising to fix. On this road we were traveling, HWY 5, as we’ve done before. I had my 9mm pistol in one hand and the steering wheel in my other hand. You have to drive like that. If you don’t, someone may approach you and stab you in traffic. I make sure my pistol can be seen to dissuade anyone who wants to come near. On HWY 5, a few days before, a G.I. was killed along with two Iraqis (including a photo shop owner who was developing some film that I turned in – I got it back 7 days later). It’s a very urban and built up area. As we were driving, there was a sudden crack and boom and indescribable shock through everything – and grey. I saw grey again, just as I did in the grenade attack. It was on my side of the truck.
“IED!” Sergeant Siegel yelled. “NELSON! NELSON!” Sergeant Siegel and I yelled.
“He’s OK,” Villarreal responded shaken. This is all happening in a 5 second time window. Major Ramirez and Foley were in front of me in an armored Hummer, and I was in an open, light Hummer. Foley slowed down as I hit the gas, and I almost passed him. He sped up again and soon we were rolling down the road. As all this was going on, Sergeant Siegel was yelling,
“THOMPSON! ARE YOU OK?! ANSWER ME, YOU OK?!” I was breathing shakily, and wasn’t sure if I was OK. I couldn’t feel my left leg at all and I was deaf in my left ear. I distinctly remember the strange, new taste in my mouth. I knew something wasn’t right. It was a chemical and metallic taste. I knew the explosion was very close to me and I would probably have some shrapnel in my thigh or elsewhere. As I was accelerating the Hummer, I checked the side of my vest (there are no plates in our vest there). I clearly remember thinking, ‘You are probably hit, but it’s good you can’t feel it yet – make sure you aren’t losing blood.’ I knew my left leg was numb, and I knew that couldn’t be right. I knew my mouth tasted funny and thought it was blood or some fluid caused by injury. I was shaking from the shock of adrenaline that took over my body, just as happened in the grenade attack. You have to control your breathing. Foley was driving the truck in front of me and had the exact same reaction, minus the taste of the blast. As he was regaining awareness, he slowed down a bit. As soon as the explosion went off, I slammed my foot on the gas. I thought, ‘Get out of the kill zone.’ Kill zone is an ambush term. Get away and out of the explosion site as soon as possible. An RPG attack or small arms fire could follow. God, I can write all day about it, but you can’t adequately describe what it is really like to get hit. I didn’t think of God and dying until after we pulled off the road about half a kilometer away. Sergeant Siegel evaluated all of us for injuries quickly.
“Thompson,” he said, “I thought I lost you, I thought your face would be blown off. The blast was next to you, I could see the debris pass as I looked over at you.” I stood spread eagle as he checked carefully to make sure I wasn’t hit.
Foley came over to me as we looked over our vehicles to find any damage. We were in an urban canyon, and had to keep our weapons at ready position and scan the rooftops. If two or three people wanted to, they could have killed us by firing from the hundreds of anonymous positions. People looked at us nervously. One man came up to our truck and I had to yell at him and raise my pistol to get him away from our trucks. We were calling up our grid location on the radio and trying to piece together what happened.
“I can’t feel my leg,” Foley said rubbing his left thigh.
‘Na, me neither, it must have been the blast,’ I said while scanning all the people around. I could see the Kiowa scout helicopters coming to provide cover for us. They suddenly passed over very low. You can’t see them though, just hear the all too familiar bumble bee drone of their rotors. My left ear was numb. I made a circle with my thumb and forefinger (we call it the circle game) and Foley looked at it (the object of the elementary school game is to fool someone into looking at the circle. It’s a long tradition in S-3 for as long as I can remember). ‘AHA! Combat circle game!’ I cried. We both laughed wholeheartedly. We knew how lucky we were to be alive. Sergeant Hugo was the gunner on top of Foley’s vehicle and also with me when we got in that grenade attack (so was Major Ramirez). So this time, we were not as shocked, because we encountered it before. We were still shocked a bit though.
We waited for back up to arrive from Apache scouts (Blue Platoon and Sergeant Grey, the Brit). The Iraqi police then told us that they had the bomber in custody. We noticed a lot of IP activity after the explosion, but thought it was just in response to the explosion (that was heard miles away at the monument). They said that they had plain clothed IP officers on the street due to the IED attacks on these roads. They found a remote detonator on the man they found. We went to the New Baghdad IP station in a convoy with IPs. There the suspect was beaten ‘till he was bloodied. I didn’t witness this. I don’t know if our guys beat him either. All of us guys waited outside of the IP station while Sergeant Siegel and Major Ramirez were inside with the prisoner. Eventually they came out. Sergeant Siegel had the prisoner by the neck, and the prisoner looked stunned.
“I’ve got the detonator,” the major said. Here was a guy they said tried to kill us. Of course, there is a great deal of doubt as to if he was really the attacker – because it sounded a little too good to be true. Maybe a device was planted on him. Maybe the IPs wanted some recognition. Anyways, I wasn’t sure if they got the right guy. His life was changed forever though – or would be. Wrong place, wrong time.
‘Well, the court system will determine if he’s guilty or not,’ I said. I was trying to rationalize that even if he was plucked by the IPs, if he truly didn’t do it, he would be released.
We got back to our base, and since this suspect may have attacked Americans, the Army gets to hold him in its war prisoner program.

Next morning:

“The prisoner escaped! Get your shit and help find this guy,” someone yelled into the command post. Yup, the bomber escaped! Come to find out they put the guy in jail and then went to play X-Box video games in another room. Well, they last checked the cell at 0100 and then again at 0700. So the prisoner had 6 hours to escape.

[1] Most vehicles in our unit have a number designation. The number assigned to the vehicle identifies who it belongs to. In this case, the number 3 designates the operations leader as the owner.


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