Sunday, October 16, 2005
Back to Iraq
• The rotor wash of the UH-60 Black Hawk tossed dead weeds and sand around us like a warm tornado as we sped to gather ourselves and our gear off the dependable bird. We were greeted by our company XO at the airfield. A stout, bright-eyed first lieutenant with a slight Northeastern accent, he greeted me with a firm handshake: “Welcome to your FOB [forward operating base]. Go ahead and load up your bags, and I’ll escort you to your new home.”
The second my feet touched the Iraqi earth, I felt as I often did when I’d return home for an overdue visit during college. A comforting feeling of the familiar, only without the reassurance that the visit would be short-lived.
The brief journey ended at the doorstep of an old Iraqi ammo bunker. A concrete hangar was fortified by steep mounds of sand and rock, much too small to house 24 grown men. I grounded my gear and immediately reconnoitered our new home. KBR had been busy the last year. Electric outlets, a big-screen television with satellite, air- conditioning units, outhouses, and portable showers. I was happy as a pig in shit.
I eventually began talking to members of the National Guard unit we were to RIP [relieve in place]. Their eyes were heavy with the burdens of combat they never thought they’d have to endure. They were tired, homesick, and ready to wash themselves clean of this place. I could tell the sight of us and our energy disgusted them. Thus far, their battalion had suffered fifteen KIA and over two hundred wounded. Killed by IEDs, indirect mortar and rocket fire, and snipers.
The majority of poop we received from the Guard ran along the lines of how worthless the IA [Iraqi army] company was. They entertained us with stories about how the IA has no reliable support system; their commander steals from the company; they run when they’re engaged; they’re always late, never want to train, lie, cheat, steal, have no honor, no integrity, and are related to the insurgents. “Our condolences to you guys. It’s going to be the longest year of your life.”
Music to my ears.
At night I went on top of our bunker and looked at a city lying five hundred meters away in a blackout. The night is incandescent, and a luminous moon casts shadows onto the coarse ground, turning it into a still, gray lake. It’s beautiful. Speakers from a dark mosque break the quietness of the evening and fill it with prayer. Right on time. Two neon green lights powered by an independent source light up its tower. We hear they use the lights to orient their rockets and mortars in the direction of the FOB. How ingenious.
Monday, November 7, 2005
Home of Civilization
• Time has flown by. It’s hard to believe, with all the frustrations. Because we are a specialty platoon, we are only authorized a certain number of soldiers, which makes us one of the smallest platoons in the battalion. We are very competent, and I am blessed with the most dependable squad leaders and soldiers. We consider it an honor to be a part of this group, and if one cannot pull his weight, he is removed from our platoon and sent to the line companies without haste.
I made my way out of the wire for the first time Monday morning. I was a bit apprehensive but exhilarated nevertheless. After hearing all the horror stories for a week, I was ready to see what this part of Iraq was all about. When I was last here, for my first deployment, we didn’t worry about IEDs and land mines; we worried about RPGs and AK-47’s. We headed out the gate and made our way on a southern route through the desert. Our M1114 up-armored Humvee hummed down the blacktop, and I immediately felt like a cowboy back on his favorite horse.
The pace has been frantic. My platoon has already been hit by an IED. A 155mm artillery rocket, remote-detonated by the side of the road, covered our truck in shrapnel and a cloud of black dirt and smoke. My heart sank until the debris settled, and I got the word no one was hurt. We were the first hit in the battalion. In the ten days since, our battalion has been hit with over twenty IEDs and roadside bombs, found and destroyed a dozen others, had ten wounded and one KIA. Our battalion commander walked into an ambush—we believe it was planned by the town mayor and senior sheik—and on top of everything else, we take indirect mortar and rocket fire daily.
We spent the last eighteen months training for a deployment, with the promise we’d be aggressive. We haven’t. It feels like we’ve done little but shoot some innocent civilians who appeared suspicious in some very tense moments. There’s little hope that our commanders will make any significant difference or that any real good will be done here. Yet.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
• We headed out to search a neighborhood where several IEDs have been found or detonated. Army intelligence believes the weapons are made, bought, and sold there. My platoon was to cordon off an assigned portion of the area, roughly five square blocks, and I was to escort the IA through the area, searching and seizing anyone or anything that was suspicious.
We arrived to our blocking positions in time to find the area all but deserted. I suggested to my platoon leader that we chain the doors of the shops and pull them open with the trucks. He agreed. We’d pulled open and searched about five stores when we were ordered by one of our commanding staff officers to stop destroying the doors.
Standing a good head taller than me, his breath stinking of Berry Blend Skoal, he spoke to me like a child he had just spanked.
“Is this necessary, Sergeant?”
“It’s either chain them up