My War Journals: Back to the Line! (Sept 2006)

Sunday morning started out as usual. I awake early and prepare for the day. The past few weeks working as the RTO things have been getting a lot easier, only because I am training those around me to troubleshoot their problems before they see me. It seems like when I finally find some time to relax and catch up on rest, things change. As I lie down on my bed for the first time in what seems like forever, my squad leader Staff Sergeant Kevin Pearson comes in the door with a big Kool-Aid smile on his face. “Hardt, do you want the good news or the bad news?” I quickly sit up on my bed awaiting the news of the day, “I want the bad news, Sergeant.”

“Well, Hardt, you’re still the RTO, technically.”
“Roger, Sergeant, but what does technically actually mean in this situation?” “Well, you’re also technically a rifleman in the third squad as well.” “OK, technically, that information is all good news, Sergeant.”“Yeah, I know. I just wanted to see how you see the cup of water, half full or half empty. Oh, by the way, you have a mission in one hour so you might want to get some rest.”

I fall back on my bed, put my hands on my face and mumble, “Man, I was just about to get some good sleep.” My squad leader hears me and starts to laugh.

When prepping for a mission, especially a night mission, one of the most important things is to make sure that all of your night vision, lasers, and tactical lights are up on batteries. You wouldn’t want your equipment going out while in a compromising situation.

My team leader, Sergeant Enrique Murillo, conducts a pre-combat inspection, looking over all of my equipment to make sure that everything is right and serviceable, and then tells me to make way to the link-up point.

Being a veteran, I am knowledgeable of the equipment I need, so my team leader does not seem worried about me.

As we sit in the truck waiting for permission to start our patrol, the squad quickly makes sure all of my equipment is working correctly. After everyone finishes, I give my prediction of what would occur during the patrol. So far, I have been right 60 percent of the time.
“Well, men, this is my prediction for the patrol.”

Every time I give a prediction, it seems like those around stop everything and awaits the prediction. I get a kick out of the squads facial reactions.

“I have a good feeling about this mission.”
We start the patrol in our area of operation (AO). Everything is quiet, and there is not a soul on the street due to the curfew set in place by the government. As we drive around conducting checks, those of us sitting on the uncomfortable steel benches sit just waiting for the word to dismount. The weird thing is as cramped and noisy as it is I always seem to find myself nodding off here and there. The truck quickly comes to a screeching halt. The ramp drops with a thunder.

My team leader yells, “Let’s go, Bravo team.”
Somehow, in the course of the patrol, I ended up in an awkward position, so I struggle out of the truck.

Having no idea what is going on, I dismount the Stryker. We quickly make way to a gray car that’s stopped with its emergency blinkers flashing. The passenger starts to wave a white scarf outside the window frantically, signifying that those in the car mean no harm.

“Hardt, what do you have over there?” Sergeant Murillo asks in a sharp,
concerned voice.

“I have one older man, one lady with a baby in her arms, in the back seat.” “Get them out and separate them and then conduct a search.”

I make my approach to the car nice and slow so that I do not scare those inside the vehicle. I motion for the man to open the door, and he does. I motion for him to go to the other side, where my team leader is standing. I motion for the older woman with the baby to get out and come slowly in my direction. I then begin my search of the car. The car is clean, so it is easy to search.

The funny part is I am slightly inside the car when it starts to roll backward. I quickly put the parking brake on, and it stops. After we search all of the people, we find out from our interpreter that they are in route to the hospital for the baby.

As we finish up we hear a lot of small arms fire in the distance;, instinctively we all take a knee and look for muzzle flashes. Two minutes go by, and the small arms fire seems to be getting closer. We make our way to the truck and start down the road toward the gunfire.

On the radio, I can hear my Platoon Sergeant asking permission to assist those elements that are under small arms attack. We receive the authorization to enter the other element’s AO; this is why it was going to be a good night.

As we haul butt down the road, avoiding everything from power lines, cars, and carts, we suddenly slow down so that the vehicle commander can scan the area with his night vision weapon system.
The squad leader, Staff Sergeant Jessie Johnston, asks quietly, “What do you see?”

The vehicle commander, Sergeant Jared Cate, answers with utter amazement, “I see one guy with an AK-47. No wait, I see three guys; no wait, there are now seven guys, and all are carrying weapons. They seem to be giving each other high fives or something.”
As soon as he finishes his sentence, M-4 shots with precision fire rock into the clear moon night. The guys with weapons didn’t even see us coming; that’s one of the reasons they call us the Ghost Riders.
Johnston turns around quickly. “Men prep for a dismount.” It is as if everyone is hit with a bolt of lightning. Energy is sparked, and the adrenaline starts to pump.

We dismount so smoothly and precisely it is like something you see on an Army Special Forces commercial. We make our way across the field, jumping over wires and piles of trash and at the same time taking time to find cover. We finally make it across the treacherous field of fire; we glance up against the wall, weapons covering every sector as trained.

“OK, we need to make a decision here and real quick before it gets ugly,” Johnston said, breathing heavily. Johnston signals to the Alpha team leader, Sergeant Lawrence to come up. “OK, Sergeant Lawrence, what house did you see these guys run into?”

Sergeant Lawrence looked a little puzzled. “Uh, meeny miny mo, that one.”

Johnston leads the push to the gate, fully determined and highly motivated. “It’s locked,” Johnston said quietly. Sergeant Lawrence makes his way to
the front of the line; he takes four long steps back and without any hesitations or worries of personal harm, runs directly into the metal gate. Boom! The gate goes crashing open, and we all role in, securing the inside area.

The alpha team makes their way to the door, but just before they do, I find myself kneeling next to a little opening that has a red curtain hanging on it. I pull it open and surprise surprise. I find the weapon that had been used to shoot at us — a BKC and links of 120 rounds, similar to our 240. The funny part is the little hole in the wall that they hid the BKC in is a toilet, and there is some ugly stuff on the floor, so the smell is fierce.

“Ha, Sergeant Johnston, look what I found here,” I said as if I won the lotto.

Johnston looks at me, and with his eyes wide open, as if he sees a pot of gold, he turns around to the breach team and says, “Get in that house, and get those guys.”

As Alpha team makes their push into the house, they run into an older man who gives some resistant, so the physical force is the only option. As they continue to clear the house, they come to the back room where two women and some kids had been sleeping. At a second glance, two younger men shaking and sweating profusely are hiding cowardly underneath blankets behind the women and children.

Sergeant Lawrence grabs them and begins to detain them. One of the men gets physical, so physical force is the only choice for detainment. The two show quick remorse for their attempt to kill us, sobbing like babies. One of the men is so scared he defecates in his pants — the smell is harsh.

After a search of the house, other items discovered are precisely and adequately cataloged. The two young men’s trip to court and then promptly to jail is looking good. There may be one in a million chances of actually finding the cowards who shoot at you, but when you are successful at detaining them, everything seems worth it — at least for a day.

After everything concluded, no one had been hurt, and we were successful. We drove off singing the song proudly, “Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when third squad Reapers comes looking for you?”

To be continued…