Getting Started: Casualties of War (August 2006)

When you come to a new area of operation, you do not just jump off the plane, jump in your truck, drive around, and figure things out on your own. You learn from those who have experience in that Area of Operation, or AO. Getting to know your AO is similar to when you first buy a house in an unfamiliar area. You quickly want to become familiar with the city. Driving around and discovering what is what, as well as learning easy routes to areas of interest is imperative.

One critical objective, or shall I say obligation, is to get to know the people you are serving. Not every Baghdad resident feels hatred toward coalition forces, nor does every Baghdad resident have the evil desire to blow you up or shoot you down. There, of course, some good citizens can dramatically affect your day-to-day operations. Granted, in the past those who helped the coalition forces experienced retribution from the local insurgents, resulting in some good Iraqi citizens losing their lives. In war, there is always a tragedy, but sometimes through tragedy people find the will and passionate desire to become more united and to fight those who oppress them.

On the other side of this, some Iraqi citizens approach the situations very differently. Sectarian violence is prevalent in many of the provinces of Iraq. No one knew what to expect on our first mission, but we knew that once we crossed the wire things would become increasingly tense. Everyone loaded up and made way to the front gate. The look on the soldiers’ faces that had never been on a real combat mission was priceless. Platoon Sergeant, Staff First Class Sergeant Evans came over the radio with a spark of enthusiasm. “Roger, Reaper elements, we are REDCON one, lock and load SP time now.” I grab for my magazine, lock, and load, and then quickly sit back; I close my eyes and say a little prayer.

The last time I said that same little prayer I ended up blown up and landing on my rear. The squad reminds me of that particularly memorable moment every so often, so I was hoping for a better first mission this time around. The trick to getting a peek at the surroundings is you need to be the first one in the hatch when those who occupy it get off the truck to conduct their operations. I could tell we were driving through the city; the wretched smell of burning tires and sewer permeated the inside of the Stryker compartment. You really cannot do much to avoid it, so you accept it. About a half hour into the mission, we came to a quick stop.

Over the radio the Platoon Leader, First Lieutenant Christian Derda said, “We have possible sectarian violence; possible mortar has hit some kids playing.” I thought to myself, “How the hell could these people continue to kill innocent young boys and girls?.” To answer my own questions, mortars and bombs have no faces or names. These cowardly acts are performed by those who feel nothing, or possibly, they see nothing. Pure adulterated evil is what I classify this sectarian terrorism.

As the mission continued, the soldiers in the truck seemed to take the mortaring that occurred to heart. The squad that I am now in consists of four married men. Two of the soldiers’ wives have just given birth while their husbands were deployed, so this tragedy sunk deep into them. As we drove away from the scene, I saw a father sobbing while carrying his blood-soaked, lifeless baby boy away from the scene. I looked at the soldier across from me and with anger, and my eyes bulging said, “It just isn’t fair; those kids were just playing.” The young soldier answered non-verbally by putting his head down, as if to say to me, “I have no answer.” There are no answers to many of the things we see and hear over here, but the images will play back in our minds forever, regardless of how mentally strong a person you think you are.

For those fathers with children or fathers with a child on the way, it makes one want to embrace your child and gently kiss your child’s head, just to let him or her know that he or she are loved and always protected. Unfortunately, hearing a quick phone call or an e-mail from home will have to suffice. We will not lose our cool but instead stand fast for the cause. Sometimes biting your tongue, rather than raising your weapon, is the right thing to do. Justice will prevail — especially with the well-trained discipline of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Rock, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry’s Charlie Rock 2nd platoon battle hard Reaper element.

To Be continued