A War Journal: An Infantryman’s Memoir from the Front Line ( Iraq 2006-2007)

Copyright © 2018

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing: 2013 ISBN:

Author’s Note

This is a work of non-fiction. The events, actions, and experiences were written during my tour in Iraq.
Photographs: David B. Hardt
My War Journals

At the tender age of 8 years old, my brother Danny and I sat in the pews of my father’s church playing games to keep entertained while my dad preached the hell and brimstone sermons from the pulpit. Some of the games we would play would range from staring at a certain person in the church until they looked; whoever could stare the longest would win. Since I was the cute one, I always lost, (sorry Danny, it’s the truth).

My brother was infatuated with war, planes, guns and anything tactical. One service I noticed Danny had a paper and on it he had drawn some little figures that look like little soldiers and also on the paper there were tanks, planes, and designated tree area, this represented cover and concealment.

He drew a line down the middle of the paper dividing both sides. He then folded the paper and then he took his pen and started putting dots everywhere. He did that for about 30 seconds or so then he flipped the paper and did it to another side.

I looked at him in puzzlement and then asked, “What are you doing Danny?” He looked at me squinted his beetle eye’s, pushed his nerdy glasses up and said quietly so that he wouldn’t bring attention to himself, “I am playing GI Joe.” I looked at him more confused. He then opens the paper and just like magic the dots showed through, the little soldiers, tanks, planes that he placed on the paper were either hit or a miss. My brother made sound effects as if there were bullets being shot as well as little rumbling noises resembling explosions going off.

I was so young and pure in mind that the word “war” wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. I was very interested in the game so as the service went on I learned how to play the game. Over the next weeks, my brother and I had a full blown war on the paper; it was similar to the popular game Battleship.

We would keep score and the only way you won was if you killed everyone – in my mind that was the only way war was won. I once asked my brother, “Danny, if you like war so much, why don’t you do something like you do on the paper.” My brother was older and had knowledge of the military structure so he answered me convincingly, “I just like playing war, I don’t think I would be a good GI Joe.” I answered back “Yea, I don’t think shooting someone would be fun, the paper game is fun, what do we call the game?” He replied, “War, we’ll call it war.”

When I turned ten, I became infatuated with playing war out in the woods and in the open dirt fields, often alone but sometimes with my brother or even all the neighborhood kids.

I was into the civil war so it was always the North vis South. I would run in the woods with a stick in my hand or even a squirt gun and act like someone was shooting at me, even making sound effects like I was talking on the radio. I would be lying on a dirt mound and peaking over, looking for the enemy. Just to act like I was getting shot at I was hit the dirt and have it fly up, giving a great effect. I often would try to sneak up on the construction workers that worked diligently on the highway that would later take my field away in the future.

One day while sneaking around way out in the woods I found out that real quick what a gunshot sounded like and what now I know sounded like. I couldn’t believe I was out in the middle of the woods and somewhere out there in front of me was someone with a gun shooting. I wasn’t sure if it was at me, but I knew it was close. I ran through the woods as fast as I could, I was so scared that I was going to die and my parents would never find me. I cut through an unfamiliar part in the woods and within seconds I went from flying like the wind, to falling face first into the mud, but this wasn’t just an ordinary mud, this was quicksand or something like that. It was like cement, but as time was passing I found myself going down slowly.

I tried not to cry, I try to pull myself out of the mud, but I couldn’t I grab the tree lime that was over my head, but go figure it broke. Just like out of the movies a man came out of the bushes. In his hands was what looked like a pig stick of sorts. The man had a big grin on his face and asked me, “Son, you do know where you are?” I was scared to answer but I managed to get an answer. “I was just playing GI Joe.” The man laughed and then replied, “ Son, it’s hunting season and there are real guns being shot out here.” By now the quicksand that I was in had swallowed my leg up to my knees, did he notice, I have no idea, but I had to get out.

The man took what I thought was a stick and stuck it out so that I could grab on to it. I grabbed and he pulled me out. I notice quickly that he wasn’t carrying a stick; rather he was carrying a gun, a big one. The man wore a yellow vest that to me looked ridicules, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I finally got out of the sand and sure enough, I had lost my shoes and socks and I was just a mess. The man asked me if I want to go back to his truck so he could give me a ride home. I was so lost, so confused and embarrassed I took
the ride.

OK, I know that wasn’t the brightest idea to jump in the truck with someone I didn’t know, but really it was Michigan. I found out later that everyone basically went to my dad’s church and he was one of the members. As I got older my story of playing GI Joe and getting stuck in the quicksand became a novel story at the church, well among the younger kids, especially the girls. It happened to be the man that got me out of the woods that day, I later down the road would be kissing his daughter under the pews.

I wouldn’t go out in the wood again unless I was with my brother or friends. My brother and I later would spend endless hours out in the woods playing war against each other. I seemed to be sneakier and knew where to hide, were as he was more one that would spend a lot a time throwing things at me, like acorns, rocks and sometimes eggs. I could never figure out where it was coming from. This was when I learned from my brother what a sniper was, I never truly understood, but I knew I didn’t like it. My brother didn’t mean to teach me about war, but really he did, in an innocent way.

My brother gave me insight into something later I would reflect back on when in Iraq on my 1st and 2nd tours. When my brother found out I was joining the military, he wasn’t too thrilled, but the only thing he said was “Dave, just keep your head down and remember they are not throwing eggs, it’s war.”

The year that really sticks in my memories from my younger years, was 1985. It was then I started to watch the news, well I tried, sometimes all of it just seemed like a bunch of old people telling stories, but it was at this time I truly started understanding what war and global conflict was and how these issues affected the world that I was in.

President Ronald Reagan, whom I called “Jellybean,” was running the show and every time he was giving a speech on TV I would sit and intently listen. My mom told me that I would sit in front of the TV in a silent trance when the president was on. On June 12, 1987, Reagan challenged Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear the wall down as a symbol of his desire for increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc.

I was so excited I remember jumping up and down right after Reagan said his famous words that later I would look back to for example of a man that fought not just for those that he led, but those in other countries. The following words today still inspire me:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Looking back at the early years when life to me was simple and rather uncomplicated, there was still war and conflict. My parents really never had to explain to me what war was, I found out on my own and from doing that I really learned lessons that to this day follows me and gives me insight on what we call war.

My first Taste of War

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 of 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 person 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.

Pre Deployment Phase

Monday morning started off with a battle training brief, preparing for war: what soldiers should know and do. The brief was specifically designed for specialist and below. This brief may be the most important and essential guide for new soldiers preparing for their first 12-month tour of duty. A Staff Sergeant asked the room of 80 soldiers, “who’s been downrange?” For other veterans, and I cautiously raised our hands.

The first topic discussed was the Nature of Combat. “The first job, regardless of your MOS is to kill the enemy and always have your buddies back,” said Staff Sergeant with conviction. Contrarian, the men responded with a thunderous “Hooah-ah!” The Staff Sergeant Continued with theme topic points, consisting of the nature of deployments, development of the battle mine, mental toughness, “STELL” Your Battle Mind, Listen to Your Leaders, Trust Your Training and Maintaining contact back home.

Surprisingly, the brief concluded in little less than 40 minutes. At first, I wasn’t impressed with the presentation; I felt it wasn’t watered down. But after reflecting back on my previous tour, I concluded that there was no point in scaring men with the realities of war because every man perceives were differently.

It’s imperative that all men have their fighting kits squared and to standard. “If it’s not digitized, make it digitized by the end of the week.” The First Sergeant Chris Ward said. The company supplied the spray paint, and men went to work. We have some real Michael Angelos in this company. While some soldiers do prepare their kits, others did, common areas, which included painting walls and stairs, scrubbing buggers off the toilet and fixing ceiling tiles. I always say there is no job, the infantry can’t do; we are mechanics, plumbers, painters, builders, and demolitionist.

During the week, my squad leader told us that we would be having a diagnostic PT test. I have never failed a PT test, but I’ve come close. This time I did 60 push-ups, 63 sit-ups, and 14:45 on the two-mile run, coming out to 245 on the Army PT standard chart. The real PT test is later in the month so I will see if I can improve. The week ended with a 6:30 AM with a battalion run. Every time we do one of these it’s like running in a big accordion. The last time I did this my calves were on fire, but besides that. It was a good workout.

The days are getting shorter, and the weeks are flying by, drawing us closer to the inevitable-a date with 115-degree weather. Sounds enticing, huh? The next couple weeks will consist of final preps and making adjustments for deployment

Arabic for Dummies

Cultural awareness is a 30 our four-day class that teaches shoulders to become more familiar with Middle Eastern culture and complicated Arabic language. The first day the teacher went over the Arabic alphabet.

Greetings, culture and helpful words and phrases. At first, I focused on trying to gather as much as I could, but about three hours in. I was just trying to stay awake. It was almost impossible to stay awake when you’re in a room that’s practically dark.

The second day we went or Arabic number system days a week signs and warnings and concluded with cultural phrases. After just four hours I have concluded that this may be worse than going to the dentist or shopping with my wife. I already had knowledge of words used primarily for traffic control points, such as: “awgaf,” meaning stop, and “Lazem in-fet-shek,” we must search you.

After a while, in class, I was concerned only with combat as the central pillar. After a while, in class, I was only concerned with combat essential vocabulary.

Moving on to the third day. We went over directions, telling time and learning locations. By this time I was frustrated with the fact that we hadn’t spent more time on survival words. Rather than spending time on things I knew we wouldn’t be using. Things changed a little though when the NCOIC brought in a lady who had a wide range of experiences, and full understanding of Iraqi culture. It woke the men up and stimulated some good questions.

The lady shared a story about her uncle being taken away by Saddam’s people and then being brutally executed by the Baath party. At that point, could have heard a pin drop. I could tell by the crackle in her voice that she was becoming emotional. She shared with us why it was important not to look at Iraqi women and also how to conduct searches on women. After two monotonous days, it was refreshing to hear her speak.

I was happy when Friday rolled around. The final day, we concluded by reviewing everything we had learned during the grueling 30 hours spread over four days. Learning more about Islam and Muslims was good, but I still have a hard time grasping all the principles in their faith. I guess when they look at our culture; they would be perplexed also, so all is fair.
All in all, I did learn some good stuff that I will bring with me to Iraq on this next deployment. Next week we will be slowing down a little and focusing on hip pocket training and packing to leave. I plan on spending time with my wife; the Army is good about facilitating that for deployments. I conclude with: Maa-e-ssalma and allah ysalmak (Thank you and may good bless you)

Gone Fishing

I finally find time to relax, slowly closing my eyes taking a minute to enjoy the refreshing breeze and ever evading sun. Suddenly, the ground rumbles from artillery rounds crashing violently to the earth, seemingly a short distance away, as well as long sporadically firing. I quickly glanced over at my friend, Bill Sanders, fishing on the deck, and sarcastically say, “Bill this is good training; might as well get used to it where we are going.” Bill responds with a chuckle, “Yep, good times.” Fishing over by the artillery range is always fun. To me, it’s what you do before you leave that resonates with you while in during difficult times on the tour. Now that we’ve concluded and finalized all the per- deployment phases, I find myself divulging in everything from fishing, playing basketball, taking all my dogs and eating like a champ.

Spending quality time with family, that is where my main focus is these last couple pre-deployment days.
During the week while getting lunch I ran into my commander, Captain Curt Roland. We had a brief but enlightening conversation. He gave me end state on our mission, “Remember Hardt, we’re not going over to just kill or capture terrorists, but also train Iraqi forces, so we can start hanging over Provinces to the Iraqis.” This answer was in response to me saying that I just wanted to take out as many terrorists that I possibly could.

I sometimes can be ignorant and close- minded. I am proud to have a commander who has complete direction and can make rational decisions rather than an emotional decision. You don’t always get a chance to talk to the commander because he is busy, but when you do, you can see why he’s in charge.

The man beams with confidence and determination, which directly affects and empowers the men who fight under him.
General George S. Patton had some good quotes about war that ring true
at this time.

“No sane man is unafraid in battle, but discipline produces in him a form of vicarious courage.” The tour will challenge every man in different ways. We will all miss our families, friend’s daily luxuries, and most of all the purity of freedom. Let the long journey began.

The Final Stretch

Coming off Memorial weekend, some of the men seem refreshed and ready to continue the pre-deployment phases. I, on the other hand, just want to go back to bed. It was going to be a short week, so I anticipated that every day would be saturated with an extensive outline of events. After a good physical training session at the local YMCA, the squad received the brief of the day. Our first objective was to make way to the Evergreen Theatre for more deployment briefings.

This brief was more intriguing and essential for deployment success. Some of the topics that were discussed: laws of war, rules of engagement, new developments and political arena and other important issues. Retrospectively speaking, the information disseminated could be readily incorporated into daily combat situations.

The next day’s task was to conduct a 12-mile road march within four hours. A breeze, right? In the past month, we had completed two other road marches. Those road marches dealt a devastating and shocking result on some of the guys’ feet, but nobody quit, and we finished ahead of time given by our Platoon Sergeant.

Going on these road marches is substantially similar to the way. Going on these road marches is substantially similar to the way I strategize while running a marathon. Breathing, hydration, and excretion of kinetic energy play important roles in success.

The first part of the road march, everyone showed evidence of good momentum. When we hit mile six at 1:40:00 I finally sensed that I needed to start focusing on the mental aspect of the road march. On the way back I knew that I either needed to divulge myself in dialogue or concentrated on happy thoughts. I elected talking to one of my buddies; it helped immensely.

The one thing that I never look forward to is ceremonies because every ceremony means rehearsal and standing around. General Dubik gave an awesome emotional speech; you could hear him choke up in between presenting this speech. To me, that meant there was a real man standing in front of a sharing with us how he really felt about the man he served.

The farewell ceremony put the deployment further into perspective, drawing the deployment date closer on the calendar. The way I see it now, I need to take care of my household priorities, which means spending more

time doing what I’ve put off when I get lazy. Instead of saying “I’ll do it tomorrow,” I need to get it done now. Soon, time will be up, and I’ll be knee-deep in combat again doing what I signed up for- fighting the bad guys next to my brothers

Under the Cover Of the Night

Under the cover of the night. I glance at my wristwatch and become aware it that hour of departure is approaching rapidly. As I drive to the base, my wife and I have a normal conversation, talking about future endeavors and the again plan while I am gone. My wife and I certainly have established a unique way of dealing with these deployments. Leaving is hard and never easy to do. Quickly getting a grip on reality seems to be the answer for this deployment.
The whole platoon stands and formation awaiting the final manifest roll call. The platoon Sergeant First Class Eric Evens reads off everyone’s name and concludes with, “Get it on; let’s go.” I picked up all my gear and stumbled through the open field under the cover of the night, making way to the gym where we would say our final goodbyes to our loved ones. Wives, fiancés, and other family members stand behind the roped of the assembly area.

After dropping our gear, the Platoon Sergeant gives us permission to say our final goodbyes before we board the buses and make way to McCord Air Force Base for our 19-hour plane trip to Kuwait.

We board the bus, turning our backs on everything we love and live for. Young children yelling emotionally, “I love you, daddy; come home safe.” A pregnant woman waves at her husband with one hand on her stomach and the other handle blowing a kiss, as tears streamed down her face. We board the bus and sit quietly in our seats. I glance over and see a soldier grabbing his computer bag tightly as if it was a child and begin to cry. I just looked out the window and stare out into the night, taking in as much as I can.

We get on the plane, and I tried to make myself comfortable, but having a flak vest, my computer and my radio bag, things were not looking too good. To make the long plane trip we land a couple of times to refuel and then progress onto the wonderful country of Kuwait.

We disembark the plane, and as soon as I hit the door. It is like walking into a windy furnace. I just put my head down and make my way to the bus that awaits us. We board the bus and make way to Camp Buehring. We finally arrived at the camp, after what seems to be three hours of endless, bumpy roads. We get off the bus and made our way to the luggage located by our new home- 35-9.

During the week, conducting classes and being acclimated to the weather is the priority. Our first chance at being acclimated to the weather it was going to the zero range. This range was scheduled for the whole battalion. It was like playing war games on the Sun. The temperature at 0730 stood devilishly at 101° wearing a 70+ pounds of gear and trying to be hoo-ah about what is going on is almost impossible to do.

The range concluded by doing a final brass and animal check. I cannot even explain how hot I was, only to say that if you would have seen me I might have looked like a fireball room in the Kuwait desert.

Corrective Training

One of the subjects that leaders have enforced over the years of peace and wartime is having accountability for your equipment. While serving in Iraq, you are required to carry your assigned weapon every day, all day until you go to sleep, and even then, your weapon will be in arm’s reach. Caring your weapon 24/7 is not bad unless you are carrying an M240. Since this weapon is awkward, the leadership allows soldiers to carry a 9 mm instead.

This week some of us have become too lax and have started to forget things. I have been guilty of this infraction also. The rule is if you forget something you will pay the price. Unfortunately, I made that mistake along with four other members of the squad. We ended up doing rifle physical training in the 110-degree weather.

“OK, if you want to leave things unsecured this will be your corrective training. I don’t want to do this, but there’s only one way to learn — through pain,” Staff Kevin Sergeant Pearson, our detailed ordinated squad leader said in a stern and unwavering voice. All four of us lined up in-between the tents, next to some air conditioners that were sending out waves of heat. The squad leader presented his case and then concluded with instruction.

“We will be doing rifle PT. Extend you’re rife out in front of you, and then bend your knees. While you do that pull the cocking handle to the rear; then release it; then come up.” What seemed to last forever really only went on about 30 minutes. The heat and that air conditioner burning my face with waves of heat made for a terrible experience, but it was a valid lesson learned.
The weather in Kuwait seems to be the same every day — hot and windy. Lately, the temperatures have ranged from 120 degrees in the early afternoon to 80 degrees in the evening. During the day the platoon conducts training outside, and every minute outside results in a shower of sweat.

Over the period of a week, I have already lost 10 pounds. The good thing about being here is you can get some good PT at the gym — that is if you want to walk a mile to the gym. By the time I get home, I am going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as having a “Baywatch” tan.

In the coming week, the platoon will be conducting combat essential training and getting our gear up to combat speed. As of late, I have not heard much about what has been going on in Iraq, but I am sure the terrorists are continuing to create work for the coalition forces.

As time draws closer for the battalion to make the push into combat, the men are completely confident and clearly focused on the task presented to us. When I look around the tent I see American soldiers — young and old
coming together for a great purpose. We may never know how we have directly had an effect on the overall war on terror, but we all know we are a part of history.

I look forward to the push into combat. This is not to say that I am not a little concerned about bullets and RPGs flinging my way, but I will do just fine. LET THE FUN BE

Operation Fly a kit

Preparing for combat entails the highest degree of attention to detail. Every day for the last two laborious weeks, Charlie Companies vehicle squads have relentlessly worked fervently to get the Stryker variants to combat ready. Having been on a vehicle squad the last tour for a while, I can fully appreciate the long hours and sleepless nights that come with the job. While fixing the Strikers on occasion the men take breaks, relax, and shoot the breeze.

During breaks, the squads always seem to find something creative to do. This time since the wind was blowing, the men decided to make a kite. This kite would be nothing like any other kite that I have seen. The men used three broke down meal ready to eat boxes, one white trash bag, number of hefty tie downs, 5-5o cord, coloring markers for design and hundred mile an hour tape for stability.

After 15-minutes of infantry creativity the kite, which the men named the Kuwaiti bat out of hell, flew gracefully high into the blue sky. Little things like this improve camaraderie among the men.

During the week the whole brigade gathered for the uncovering of the colors. This event had everyone waking at 0300 in the morning, for a 0400 ceremony. As we walked from the tent to the formation area, I noticed that many men seemed to be walking like zombies through the desert – it was rather comically. Our company formed up and patiently waited for the ceremony to start. I unfortunately always seem to find myself behind the formation, so of course, I could not hear a word of the speech. The uncovering of the flags ceremony concluded just in time before the sun started to make things uncomfortable. The rest of the day, the platoon squad leaders conducted classes such as first responder class, 9-line medical evacuation and conclude with understanding ROE and applying strict discipline while in compromising Situations.

Everyone has a job to do in the platoon, presently I’m the communication person. If you have ever had worked with radios you would know that when one thing goes wrong, there is always more to come. The task this time; get the trucks radios filled then conduct a radio check in 30 minutes. OK, now that is easy to do, but when you have a whole company doing the same thing, you must accept that something will go wrong.

One of the requirements of the RTO is to be proactive. Personally, I like working on my own, so this job suits me well. Before I joined the Army my strong suit was teaching history and coaching basketball, now I find my self-being an electrician of sorts.

1630 rolls around and all the C co trucks are online. I gather the vehicle squads together and conduct the communications brief. “OK guys this is what needs to be facilitated; drivers turn the power on in the trucks, Vehicle commanders prep radios for my fills, as well, let’s get it done.”

Now in my mind, this whole process would be rather simple. Make long night short, everything that could go wrong went wrong. After running around like a chicken with his head cut off, fixing every problem that could exist, I finally finished 3 hours later

Our stay in this safe is coming to an end shortly – I am now in mentally prepared for the next step. The days here have gone fast; we have all learned a great deal about ourselves, and the complexity of living with 80 other men. I would like the supporting families’ members, on the home front to acknowledge the fact, that this is no picnic or vacation, but indeed men overcoming situations and applying warrior ethos in every aspect of their life

Hurry up and wait

In the Army, plans are always changing; One day you may be doing one thing, and the next day you can be getting ready to go to play with Eskimos in Alaska. This tour it has been comically on how many things have changed. Our Direct leadership is not to blame for the changes that occur on a daily basis, this is just the way a deployment goes; it is completely out their pay rank.
The most comical change of plans occurred this week, as we patiently
awaited the word to leave for Iraq.

“OK men get your gear together your leaving for Iraq in 30 minutes,” First Sergeant Ward said with an urgent voice.
Immediately, everyone in the tent started getting their gear together, breaking down their beds, stacked the duffle bags and assault bags by the door, and awaited the truck to arrive so we could load and go.

My squad leader, Staff Sergeant Pearson a day earlier hinted to us to get our stuff together, just in case this would occur. I did not have much to do except gather loose ends and pack extra radio gear, so I was done rather quickly.

The whole platoon and some attachments made way to the 1-14 Cav manifest holding area. I gathered all my gear and started out the door. The walk, or shall I say the comical stumble down to the tent was rough. Wearing about 100 plus pounds of gear can wreak havoc on your body.

After 20 minutes, I finally made to my tent. I walked in and dumped all my gear. I slumped down, whipped my face, and started drinking some nice hot bottle of water. Sergeant First Class Evans Came over, “Hardt it looks as if you took a full shower, while fully dressed.”

Just as I was just getting comfortable the First Sergeant Ward came straggling in looking like someone just shot his dog.
“OK men here’s the deal. There’s been a change, we are not leaving on the bird yet, so gather your gear and make your way back to the tent, and await my next instructions.”

A look of disbelief showered the room. I gathered up my gear and made my way back to the tent. I finally started to fall asleep when I heard what sounded like the First Sergeant saying “Men gather up your stuff there’s been another change of plans”

I thought it was a joke. Not so lucky. I gathered up my gear and made the trek through the desert again, back to the manifest area. I dropped my gear and I was just about to sit down when the First Sergeant Ward came in the door. I knew by the look on his face what was next.
“Guys it changed again, I am sorry about this,” he said. I just shook my head, took a deep breath, and grabbed my gear back to the tent.

A day later, boarded the C1-30 for Baghdad. Having been in Kuwait for so long, I am relieved to leave and start the journey.

Where’s Welcome Wagon?

Welcome to Iraq, again. Flying in the C-130 is similar to riding on a roller coaster. The difference is the ride is a lot longer, conditions inside the aircraft are sweltering, and there is a lot of turbulence. We load the bird wearing full battle rattle, so space was extremely tight. The soldier next to me had never experience flying in a C-130, so he was nervous. When the C-130 started the incline, everyone started cheering and taking pictures. The rest of the trip was great.

Only one person actually threw up, but that was due to the plane descending fast for the approach to Baghdad International Airport,
The best thing about this trip was we did not stay in one place too long. After the brief for the next part of the tour, I just sat next to my gear and took a quick infantry nap.

Unfortunately, the small arms fire in the distance, as well as a mortar dropping far off into the darkness rudely, awakened me. It was not long before we would be boarding a Chinook and continuing the journey to a forward operating base somewhere in Baghdad.

We boarded the Chinook and settled in for a ride. As we taxied down the runway all I could think was “Man, I hope this thing doesn’t fall apart.” The Chinook is not the quietest aircraft in the military, hence the whooping of the blades and the roaring engines. As we started to descend, the rear crew member dropped the back-loading ramp; he then attached a line harness and walked gracefully out a little, and the kneeled down.

I thought to myself: You wouldn’t catch me hanging outside of a bird.” As soon as I said that a red flare of some sort came flying by, making the crew member duck. The soldier across from me clinched the net hanging behind him and said with a grim look on his face, “ Man, we haven’t even been here 20 minutes and these dudes are all already firing at us.” I did not know what to think of the red flare, but I reacted because the crew member ducked as if to acknowledge we had people shooting at us. Shooting flares are something they just do we found out. A little heads up would have been appreciated though.

When you come to a new place, you expect that there is going to be someone there to greet you and give you some guidance. We unloaded all of the gear of the Chinook, and then as quickly as we land the Chinooks flew off, leaving us all there standing in the pitch dark.
“So what do we do?” Someone said quietly.
I chimed in with, “Welcome to Baghdad, Iraq. Make yourself at home; that’s if you can find it.”
The soldier next to me snapped, “Someone didn’t get the freaking memo we were coming.”

Everyone started laughing, and then within seconds, some men began to get frustrated. Staff Sergeant Corey Reeves, the leader of the third squad decided that he should go figure out what was going on, so he started to make way toward what looked like a red chem light. After five minutes his voice broke through the darkness: “Men, get your stuff and come toward the chem light.” Walking through terrain that you are not familiar with is rough, especially if you carrying a lot of gear. Everyone eventually made it to the rally point.

As we formed up, the big question on my mind was: where are we staying? Since the Fob falcons Barracks were full, our new home would be a beautiful World War II tent. During the night explosions and small arms fire rocked in the distance. As I lay on my cot I could only think “Man, it would suck if a mortar came through here.”

Getting Started 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.