When the Army wants to get something done, they get it done. This past week the company and other elements pulled together and conducted a widespread sector knock and search sweep. Conducting a prevalent knock and search requires attention to detail and massive amounts of detailed planning because when boots hit the ground things need to be in place, so when and if something goes lousy everyone knows what to do and how to do it.
My job on this mission was to do the RTO thing; this would entail walking all over creation with the platoon leader and sending up sit-reps to higher. My joke to men who are up to bat to be the next RTO is, “Can you walk, talk and listen to radio chatter, read a map as well as have situational awareness all at the same time?” I give all of the RTOs significant props for their ability to conduct themselves professionally even under very stressful combat situations regardless of their rank. The first day out of the four was seemingly effortless and secure.
We jumped in our trucks early in the morning and drove around as we always do, getting a first glance into what we were going into. To me, everything looked like the same, just tan houses. Many of the kids asking for chocolates and heaps and heaps of trash everywhere.
So when the ramp hit the ground, I felt like we were entering the same dirty, infested area of operation. The best thing about this whole mission was that before the time that we first went out we had some time to get some rest and eat healthily. One of the many reasons men get heat cramps as well as becoming heat casualties is the lack of water and proper nutrients. I have had the unpleasant experience of being a casualty. When you go down, you do not even see it coming.
As infantrymen, dealing with harsh conditions and learning to have mind over matter is an unspoken motto. The second day brought its difficulties, but as usual, we overcame the situations. The heat was unbearable; we all walked around with the sweat just flowing out of us as if we were a walking Niagara Falls.
Conducting knock and search on 80 houses is not bad, but leading a search on over 149 homes and doing it right takes a lot of energy and motivation. After some time of searching, you could see that men were losing their steam. Occasionally the squads would take a break and try to regain strength, hydrate and refocus.
At the end of the day when everything was ending, the bad news came. Over the radio came the word that the unit we were working for wanted us to continue the mission and clear another sector. Since we did the first sector promptly, they wanted to push on to the rest. I always say, “I believe the mission is first, but in reality, the men on the ground are human, not American machines.” I say that because sometimes going the extra mile can hurt your force and make things worse.
Well, as the next hours went, the men pushed on through the rest of the houses with no griping or visual signs of displeasure. We finally came to the last house; you could see me just sucking.
First Squad went into a house while we pulled security. After a while, it seemed like there was some commotion in the house. One of the First Squad team leaders came out and was requesting some room temperature water; to me that only meant one thing — heat casualties. While pulling security two men had somehow ended up getting very ill. After getting them some water so they could get to the truck, we quickly drove back to the FOB, so that they could get more medical attention.
Well, the day ended, and everyone was so tired there was not much talking. The day was long, but that was just the second day. There was more to come. The next day would not be so bad, but I would still rather be knee-deep swimming in the ocean enjoying the cool breeze hitting my forever aging face.
The next day our job was to be the cordon for the elements conducting the search. After the previous day’s events, this was going to be a good break. As we pulled security, it seemed like every kid in the neighborhood came to visit us. The U.S. Army has been in Iraq for some time, but the kids still think we are the most interesting people on the Earth. They just want to be all over you, asking from everything from your gun and glasses to gum and the most asked for item — chocolate. The morning was not too bad, but as our shade tree disappeared things became increasingly hot once again. The day was long, but having all the kids there made things go by rather quickly, but not quick enough. Nothing eventful happened, so the day went rather well.
The next day we wrapped things up, finishing off the searches without any issues. The one thing that has boggled the men is where the bad guys are hiding their weapons.
Well, we will search and search from dusk till dawn until we accomplish the mission and Iraq is safe from terrorists.