It was April 14, 2004, when my perspective on the on the war on terror drastically changed. Arriving in country two months after the unit had already deployed, I knew I would encounter social integration issues. I was assigned to 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, C Company 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade. The squad was already battle hard having fought in Operation Precision Sweep in Samarra in the latter part of December. For the first time in my adult life I wasn’t teaching young people, but rather being educated by young men on the essentials of conducting day-to-day combat operations.
I had been there 13 days, and I had only been on just two patrols. My team leader Sergeant David Fitzgerald, better known as Fitz, spent time with me teaching me weapons systems and patrol awareness, which would soon be put to use. On the day 14 Sergeant Fitz told me to get my gear together; I was going on a mission that evening.
It was 6 p.m., and the sun was slowly setting. I had been on one other night mission, so I wasn’t aware how hostile the area would be a night. Our mission was to patrol down the road directly in front of our Forward Operating Base, cut down a small alley, and then take an overwatch position in on one of the houses. From that overwatch position we were to watch for a guy riding on a red motorcycle; he had been causing our unit some problems.
We made it to the house and secured it without incident. Sergeant Fitz instructed some of the more experienced people to go upstairs, while Specialist Jared Cate, who was the squads SAW gunner, and I did room security.
Boon…Boom…Boom. As soon as those mortars started to fall it was like a herd of cows was coming down the stairs. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just patiently awaited instructions from my team leader. My mind was racing with terrible thoughts of what had happened outside. Sweat continued down face; my eye protection became fogged, and at that moment Sergeant Fitz gave me the orders to move out. I gathered myself and shuffled to the door, where I ran into a huffing and sweating specialist Cate. This moment at the door would directly affect the next minutes of my life.
I looked quickly at the specialist Cate, “You can go first; I will follow you.” Specialist Cate responded sharp and convincing, “No you go!” I took a deep breath peeked out the door and looked both ways, and then made my way out the door into the dark night.
Sergeant Fitz was 5 meters in front of me. He was gracefully moving at a good pace, so I had to get a move on. I struggled to keep up with him; I constantly scanned the rooftops looking for anything unusual. It was a clear summer night, and the moon was bright casting a slight shadow on the flat rooftops. Sergeant Fitz turned around quickly and barked out, “Dead meat, make sure you scan the roofs and keep your interval.”
My nickname at that time was Dead Meat. Something about that name gave me the creeps.
The next couple of minutes may have passed by quickly, but in my mind, it was all in slow motion. I was in the middle of scanning the roof when I heard what sounded like someone running; I glanced forward and I saw what looked like Sergeant Fitz running quickly off to the right of the road behind a wall.
BOOOOOOM. I was rocked off my feet and landed on my back directly on my breach kit. My glasses were shattered, and my weapon sling was sliced, leaving my weapon lying in the middle of the street. After being out of consciousness for what felt like 2 minutes I quickly rolled over and looked to find my weapon. There lying in the middle of the street was my rifle. If there was one thing I learned during basic training it was to low crawl.
I quickly low crawled to my weapon. I could see tracers flying everywhere through my night vision goggles. As I crawled to my weapon I noticed that the tracers were coming closer. It was apparent that I was a target. Because I was in the middle of the road the soldier behind me couldn’t fire, I was in the way.
I finally grabbed my weapon and quickly low crawled to a mound of dirt and then slid behind an old blown up car. As I made behind the car the sky lit up like the fourth of July. I check my rifle to make sure everything was there. Coincidently specialist Cate ended up taking cover behind the car as well. After everything calmed down I got up and tried to locate Sergeant Fitz who had just seemingly disappeared. While I was looking down the road my squad leader Staff Sergeant Eric Evans got my attention.
“Are you OK, Hardt? Did you get any shrapnel or anything?” My heart was beating fast and my adrenaline was still racing so I couldn’t really any feel anything.
“I don’t think I was hit, but my finger hurts and my elbow stings.”
“Pull security, I will check you out.” I looked down the road and it seemed so peaceful as if nothing ever happen.
Staff Sergeant Evans identified a hole in my uniform and some blood spots beginning to form. I had been hit and the hot shrapnel went into my elbow and also in my hands. Sergeant Fitz managed to survive the ambush but was received wounds from the blast.
He mentioned to me the next day that he yelled out that there was a grenade dropped. With all the sounds of gunfire going on I missed it. I would make way back to the forward operating base to get looked at.
Getting ready for this tour took a lot of thought about how I would perceive the enemy. Fortunately, I have been trained and equipped with the knowledge over the past year and a half, so I feel confident I will do my job better.
This is the story of a long hard 15-month tour. I wrote for 15 months on the events that took place while in combat, and the also some of the training we went through before we deployed. This is the true story of my second deployment to Iraq. I wrote the entire book while deployed.