Monday, February 02, 2004

Drawing Fire and Killing Time in Baghdad's Nights

Well, I’m about to go to sleep so I can wake up at 0545 for exercise. I wonder if they did PT in Vietnam or in the Gulf War? Tonight we were out in our zone 23 and all the streets were flooded with rainwater and sewage. Trash and other debris were all over too. We drove around and SGM Walker shined his flashlight (super bright) at everyone. So we went around and harassed locals with our bright lights. And we wonder why support for American soldiers here is lukewarm. These people aren’t stupid – they know we should be out on the highways or stopping suspicious vehicles instead of blinding them. Shots were fired tonight too, I heard at least 2 very close to me. Probably AK-47 fire. I didn’t hear and “POP” of impact or see any dirt fly up – so I don’t think we were targets. A lot happened today – but I’m going to sleep. I love you – I’m glad to live another day.

Foley and I spent more than a few nights together on mounted patrol with Sergeant Major Walker. We were a good team, and the laughs were plenty. The above journal entry was written after our small patrol drove through the market area of zone 23. It was there that we first heard gunshots. Foley was sitting in the gunner’s turret of the Hummer and scanning for gunmen on the rooftops. He didn’t see any, but we were sure someone was up there. SGM Walker insisted that we drive around the block and drive down the same stretch of road again. He called it “drawing fire.” So, we drove back down the road again. Gunfire sounded again as we passed the same point. Foley was up in the turret getting antsy. They were shooting because we were there. SGM Walker then told me to drive around a third time, down the same route. We did so, and received the same Kalashnikov welcome. Foley and I would laugh at the absurdity of our road trip, but the whole time I was seriously worried about him catching a bullet – the likelihood of that happening increasing with each ride down that same street.
We would drive around aimlessly, trying to kill time. The Baghdad nights were eerie. Driving through that night was even eerier. You knew it was a dangerous place, you knew it could take your life, but somehow you concentrated and just drove right into its night. You drove right into the place that could take you away forever – for what? We drove the same predictable routes every night, drove with the same bright headlights on, and rarely employed any kind of stealth. We were just a rolling target that you could count on being in the area between the hours of 2000 and 2300. I thought it was insane sometimes, to be rolling around like that. There was a false sense of security though, a “We own this shit” attitude that seemed to detract from the real danger. I remember one night driving down a four lane highway when I noticed a white Suburban on an overpass. All the guys in the truck trained their weapons on the vehicle. It was the middle of the night, a still night, and here was this truck just sitting on an overpass. My heart beat a little faster. As we neared the overpass, the Suburban began to creep forward. I wish we would have exited and tried to search the vehicle, because he was up to no good. But no, we continued towards the overpass. As we closed in on the overpass, the Suburban gunned its engine and disappeared. I peered into the gloomy night, a night that stank of human shit and trash, and tried to find some kind of threat. There was a reason that Suburban was there. I could see nothing among the houses in the distance that would cause alarm. All of a sudden, just as we went under the overpass – scanning the overpass diligently with our rifles – the highway lights shut off. Maybe it doesn’t sound too disturbing, but the combination of the mysterious truck, the overpass, the quiet night, and then the lights simply cutting off was enough to make my stomach sink. I think others in the routine night convoy were wary as well. There was nothing we could do about it though, we had to continue down the road. We had to continue into the darkness, even though it could be a trap. We exited at the next possible exit and began our foot patrol in zone 23. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.


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