Friday, March 26, 2004

The Luckiest Soldier in Baghdad, Rocket Attack Laughs, and Cheating Death as Combat

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26 March, 2004 2130 Butler Range

“BOOM!” an explosion rang out two nights ago as I listened to BBC in my room and prepared to write you. Immediately when I heard the nearby blast, I knew it was an attack. I went straight for my rifle and video camera, but by then, two more loud explosions went off next to my building. ‘That is close!’ I realized with a great deal of seriousness. I ran downstairs to the command center room. I needed to get off the second floor because a round could penetrate the roof – and the rounds were targeting our camp for sure. I don’t know why, but it was almost exciting – for nearly everyone – like a hurricane party or something. No more explosions occurred. I counted 3 explosions.
I went down to the entrance of our building and noticed terrified soldiers in PT uniform running for cover or running into our building. I stood with some other soldiers and everyone was joking around. I noticed Sergeant Marshal come in looking upset. His hand had some bright red blood on it, but not too much. ‘Are you OK?’ I asked immediately.
“Yeah,” he said with an air of disbelief. “I was on the roof, talking to my wife on the phone, and all of a sudden explosions start going off around me, sparks flying, everything! ‘What was that?’ my wife asked, hearing the first explosion on the phone. ‘Nothing,’ I said and hung up the phone.”
It was indeed an attack, but the missiles landed outside the perimeter fence and into the river. All except for one.
The “Knight Bordello” is a house on our part of the camp that we spent $10,000 renovating for entertaining guests, incoming replacement soldiers, and soldiers needing a break. I don’t think the “giving soldiers a break” plan lasted too long, and the house remained vacant the majority of our time here. Some called it the “Knight Whorehouse,” not because it harbored women – it didn’t, nor did it ever, but because it was so gaudy and seemed shady just by virtue of its existence – how do you justify $10,000 on such a project? A project seeming fit for the mafia (joking). It was actually a nice place – that is until a 127mm rocket flew through one of the bedroom windows, disturbing not a whore, but an Army captain from his relaxing reading on his bed. The missile entered his window at the foot of his bed, passed only a few feet away from him through the opposite wall, going into the reception area of the house and plowing into the floor. The tail section snapped off and flew like a saw blade through a wooden door leading to the living room, into the living room, through an easy chair, and exiting the opposite wall of the house leaving a messy exit wound. When I got into the house with my camera, the smell of gunpowder or rocket propellant was still strong, and a smoky haze filled the house and a ghostly mist surrounded the house, illuminated by the house floodlights, the wiring unaffected by the missile. I went inside and was amazed at the way the missile buried itself into the concrete floor – even after punching through a wall, with the other half ripping through everything in it path. I couldn’t believe that the 1st CAV captain was in the bedroom that the missile flew into! It was amazing!
The captain walked around wide-eyed and dazed. It was the same 1st CAV captain I was talking to the anti-climatic nighttime operation called “Operation Iron Promise” on the streets of east Baghdad (more on that later). I found him in a state of disbelief. He recognized me right away. ‘Hey Sir, now you can sew on your combat patch,’ I said. He laughed. He should have been dead though. Strange…in other “wars,” you usually were rewarded for valor and units engaged the enemy and overcame. You come to Iraq and you get respect for surviving attacks. Yeah, catching bad guys is good, but a rare event. So, it’s not “How many bad guys did you get?” but “How many times have you been shot at, or blown-up, or hit with a grenade?” and so on. You get a combat patch for cheating death, you get a Combat Infantry Badge for getting shot at, and (rightfully so) you get a Combat Medical Badge for pulling smashed bodies from the U.N. building or taking Sergio de Mello’s last words as he dies. I don’t know if that is combat, it’s just survival. Anyways, the captain was lucky to be alive, and God smiled on the Knights – again.
The Australian bomb team came to the house and began to investigate the scene and the crater in the floor of the house. “Um, everyone out!” the Aussie said suddenly and nervously. He, while digging into the concrete floor (exposed under the wall to wall carpeting) with a pickaxe, hit the warhead section of the missile. When the missile impacted, the explosive failed to detonate, and instead dug itself into the floor of the house. The missile was a dud. 5 missiles were fired – 4 exploded, 1 didn’t explode. Luckily, the captain’s missile didn’t. It’s more than luck though. 1st CAV still has 12 months to go. Welcome to Baghdad.
Tonight , out at the range, the night was beautiful, an Arabian night. You can see clearly the belt of the Hunter, and the Big Dipper. It’s an amazing night. I can’t wait to be under these same stars with you Nora. I love you so, and I am thinking about you always!


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