As the platoon made their way to the link-up spot, I noticed some of the men seemed very tired and reluctant to be going on the patrol. For the past week, it seems like every time we are to XFIL from the patrol something comes over the radio, and we end up being out an extra five to eight hours longer.
The whole thing would not be bad if you were not sitting in a truck smashed so close to each other that you can feel every positional change and inhale and exhale of frustration from the guy sitting next to you. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, I slowly and gently closed my tiring eyelids, taking in the soft breeze and warmth against my 30-year-old, wrinkling, stressed face. I had only one wish that the patrol would go as planned, and I could finally get back to the barracks and call my family for the first time in almost a week and a half. There is nothing guaranteed in life and sure as hell not in Baghdad.
As we left the forward operating base, the men in the troop compartment stared straight ahead, showing no expression or visible emotion. It was as if everyone was hypnotized as if awaiting the snap of the finger. As the truck made the right turn exiting the FOB, the driver hit the cow horn; doing this usually stops Iraq nationals from running into the truck. After the cow horn went off, it was as if everyone in the truck had snapped out of the funk, and they started becoming chatty as usual. The big discussion was that we hoped that things would go as planned and we would make it back in time for chow at 11:30 a.m.
As we rolled out the gate, making our way to an open field, the smell of burning tire and contaminated water filled the troop compartment. “Ha, get a whiff of that morning fragrance.”
The men shook their heads in displeasure. Everything was great until the truck all of a sudden sunk into some sewer water, almost plugging the men in the back hatch into the brown, yellow and clumpy sewer water. Well, things already had started to go south. No one wanted to jump out and put the chains on the other Stryker because that would entail walking knee-deep in the poop. After coming up with a plan, the job got done. It was not pretty, but our vehicle commander, Sergeant Sloop, got the job done along with some help. Let’s just say he wasn’t the happiest customer when he jumped back in the truck. I looked down at his boot. Remnants of poop were still hanging there. We finally continued our mission, driving around annotating where the most trash was and how we could facilitate removal.
Everything was going as planned; no bumps in the road. Being that 3rd Squad’s truck was down still, I was unlucky enough to sit again in the troop compartment. As we concluded our fun task, we continued with our regular patrol.
The last couple of days of patrolling had been extremely hostile, and now, for once, there was not much going on as we drove around. Well, that calm sea would start producing some gale winds, and peace would come to a screeching halt.
Over the radio, the lousy news blared loud and clear. “Reaper elements we have an IED over under a tree. Break. Be advised we will set up a cordon and wait for EOD.” It was as if the bomb went off in the truck. “I can’t believe this 30 minutes from going home. It is like these terrorists know we are at the end of the patrol. There goes chow again for the third time.” Now, to most reading this, it may seem like complaining of sorts, but really, you become fed up with last-second enemy tactics. Just show your face, and we’ll battle it out like men. Do not just plant an IED and run off like a coward.
As we cordoned the invisible IED, meaning no one could see it, the IPS said that it was in the trees. Well, oddly enough, after the IPS told us about the IED, the IP trucks that had been there just got up and took off. 2nd Squad had dismounted and did their thing elsewhere, so I jumped in the front hatch, and Sergeant Lawrence and Specialist Murray took the back hatch. It was not more than 10 minutes or so when all hell broke out 50 meters down the road to the rear. I yelled back to Specialist Murray, “Can you believe this crap?”
He looked miserable; he clenched his jaw as he shook his head back and forth in disbelief.
After five minutes or so, a massive explosion rattled the ground, followed by what seemed to be a lot of AK-47 and BKC fire as well as what sounded like a grenade. This time I was not sure what was going on, so I put on my headset and listened in. The radio oddly enough was not blaring much of anything, so I just assumed that the IPS had just decided to shoot up the city and possibly blow something up. I would not put it past them to do something like this.
Then things seemed to get a little worse. Now rounds were flying in our vicinity. This was not to say we were the targets. It was just the return fire from the other party involved. The acting platoon leader, Sergeant First Class Evens, got on the radio and made some quick and hard tactical decisions about what we should do. First, stay put and cordon the IED that no one can see or take an infantry jump into some wild shit again. Well, over the radio came the bad news that the IPS were getting their ass kicked and losing men left and right. The IPS had already lost two men in the five minutes since the whole thing kicked off, and they needed our help.
“Reaper elements be advised, we are going to this fight. Hurry up and load up. The longer we wait, the more IP is going to be getting wasted.” 2nd Squad ran to the truck and quickly loaded up. The looks on the faces of the men were different this time — more casual and unnerved. I firmly believe that the men are becoming more focused and experienced in this everyday occurrence.
We started making our way down the road, and the fire-fight seemed to continue, but there wasn’t the sound of American forces shooting, so our guns were silent for once. After sitting at the corner for a while waiting for permission to go into the fight, I just set my head on my weapon and closed my eyes. For once, I was not excited about the whole thing; I could not believe this had happened three days in a row. After a good 10 minutes, we received the word to go in and help in any way we could.
We hit the corner and made our way down the battle-torn street. The truck stopped, and the ramp dropped. The 2nd Squad made their way to the wall and then in a stealth-like way to a position where they could have some effect on the battle. I jumped in the front hatch and started looking around. “Holy crap, it looks like we missed the fun, Murray.” He answered, “Yeah, from the looks of it, we missed the fun.” I scanned around and saw the black smoke from what looked like an impact from an explosive and burning trash billowing in the blue sky as we drove slowly what I saw next put some things into perspective. There was an IP truck on fire, and the heat was radiating out, making a beautiful cool day hot.
“OK, what just happened here?” I saw a lot of brass and some screaming women and two disgruntled men. We stopped and stayed in place for security. The house to the left of us had a woman in a red top and white pajamas crying and bracing the Quran. A couple of minutes later, some national police came running out of the house carrying a young woman who was visibly injured. The men loaded her in the car and sped away with their siren blaring.
The biggest threat at that moment was the sniper. The hardest thing to defend yourself from is something you cannot see. The time that coalition forces have been in Iraq, there has always been that threat. It’s just a matter of luck if the sniper gets the lucky shot.
Time started to drag, and I began to get annoyed at the whole thing. On the radio, it was as if the entire Army had shown up for this one event, so I knew we would be there a while, and we were. Hours went by, and nothing was happening, so everyone in the truck started to piece this whole mess together. I am all about conspiracy and all that, so I started. “Well, what I think is that someone planted the IED to divert us from what was going to happen at this mosque. I also think that the mosque could have possibly been defending itself from whatever was happening on the outside.” Then Sergeant Lawrence had his take and then Specialist Murray. There’s always a flip to the story, but it would take my doing some heavy investigating, and since I went into the Army to be infantrymen, I will leave all that to someone else.
After some time the word came across that the IPS had received permission to enter the mosque, so they did. On the battlefield the mosque is untouchable, and the insurgents use this to their advantage. The one thing that displeases me the most in this situation is that politics, even in this form, is possibly limiting the war on terror. I do respect the mosque and what it represents to the good people of this country. However, those insurgents who muscle the ones doing good make me heated.
As the long day continued, the word of a grenade near one of the trucks made a bad situation even worse. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD, had already been in the area for the invisible IED and made its way over to the grenade. One of the personnel jumped out, walked up to the grenade, picked it up, and walked away. Over the radio came, “Ha, that was really technical; wouldn’t you say?” So things seemed to be wrapping up with the IPS, and the MPs started to get in their trucks as well as our guys.
We got the word to XFIL, so we all started, and then there had to be another bump in the road. The company commander’s truck had wheel problems, and it was not looking good. The first things I thought was, “OK, take off the tire, chain it up, and then hope to God we get back, and all this before the next day.” Well, the crew did a great job of getting the problem fixed, and we headed back home. What was supposed to a four-hour day ended up another 10.
To conclude this masterpiece of disaster, I do not know all of the details of this whole fire-fight between the IPS and the mosque or IPS against the insurgents or whatever it was. I do know two police officers died, and there was not much found upon entry into the mosque. I will let the world speculate and think. I am not paid to think only respond — if there is any difference.