28 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

First thing this morning, I took my squad, all six of us, on a dismounted patrol. We zig-zagged back and forth on the streets between Charlie and Delta, and Tennessee and Gold. This time, it was just us, minus Kirby, of course. Quite frankly, I thought that dismounted patrols as an entire platoon were pointless. With those numbers, it seemed pretty unlikely that anyone would start a fight. This time, considering where we were walking, I wasn’t sure that there were enough of us. One well-aimed shot could potentially stop half of us. One casualty would take one or two men out of the fight for first aid and movement to safety. That would leave three of us to cover them, and if it was an ambush, they’d likely get more than one of us right at the start.

The streets were busy at first, and we were swarmed with kids. The walked with us, moving from soldier to soldier to see what goodies they could get from us. There were several side streets where the kids wouldn’t go. They stopped at an intersection and watched. When we reached the other side of those blocks, the kids would start gathering around again. At one point, we went around a block and walked down the same street for a second time. The kids still didn’t follow. Looking back, that was a stupid decision on my part. At the time, we were hoping that someone would try to start a fight, and it seemed like that particular block was the place. It could have gotten one or all of us killed. I honestly expected to take small arms fire on that patrol, but it never came.

While we were out, the owners of the house we were, “borrowing,” came back to move in. We had searched everything, so the place was trashed. Plus, it was sporting some new bullet holes and broken glass. They were surprisingly understanding when we made them leave again. I told them that they could come back later in the day to get some of their belongings, and they did. I counted 9 children in the family.

Around 1300, SPC Peno and I were on rooftop guard when 5 large explosions shook the building. I got on the radio and reported it to LT Schardt and AB. “Ah, 6, 7, this is 2, over.”

“Send it.”

“Roger. Looks like mortar rounds hitting near the traffic circle, or possibly even JSS Sadr City, over.”

A few minutes later we received confirmation that five rounds impacted inside JSS Sadr City. The main building took three direct hits, and the other two rounds landed near the porta-johns between the building and the makeshift motor-pool. Initial reports said that there were mass casualties. Kirby was there, and I hoped that he was good. I asked on the radio if we had any information about our guys, but there wasn’t any information at all at that point. Fortunately, we learned that the casualty situation wasn’t as bad as we had initially been told, and many of the injuries were just concussive injuries from the blasts.

Later, we got information about the incident. A small flatbed truck had been retrofitted with some sort of homemade rack. The rack formed slides for rockets, and insurgents had just parked next to the wall and set them off. They ran, and the truck burned from the rockets’ back blast.

Later, we purchased a block of ice from some kid on the street. Technically, I guess it was a rectangular prism. It was probably 3 feet long and 6 inches tall and deep. We busted it up and put it in a big rice pot with some drinks. Later, we had cold sodas and water. It was a nice change for $2. Certainly worth it.

It was about 1700 when 3rd platoon came to take our place at the O.P. We loaded into our Strykers, and that’s when they told us our refit day at Camp Taji was cancelled. We returned to the patrol base (school), and we assumed guard there.

The other squad leaders and I found some time to play cards for a bit. My stomach was killing me. It’s been feeling a little off for the last couple of days. It sounds like all the guys in my squad have been having some stomach issues for the last day or two. Hopefully it’ll pass soon.

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27 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I slept well. There was some activity late in the night, but it didn’t really bother me too much. At one point, I heard an explosion nearby. I sat up and looked outside, but I laid back down and went right back to sleep. I learned later that a mortar round had impacted about 50 meters away from our building. The effective blast radius of an 82mm mortar is about 40 meters.

We headed out on a dismounted patrol at 0800. 1st squad took the lead on this one, and 3rd was in trail. We walked for about two hours, covering a good chunk of the area between Routes Tennessee and Gold. Since I wasn’t covering the front or rear of the formation, I used the opportunity to snap a lot of photos. We were drenched in sweat by the time we returned, and the salt rings on my pants were ridiculous.

The day was pretty quiet until about 1700, when we walked forward to the O.P. at the intersection of Routes Charlie and Tennessee. A dust storm had blown in and visibility was bad. This one was thicker than the others we’ve dealt with here. The sky usually turns orange, and things get hazy. This one is thick.

We assumed posts at the O.P., and I asked for an extra man. Another squad sent someone, but they complained about being short-handed. I pushed back. They claimed that they had only five men, but they had seven. The NCOs were trying to get out of guard shifts, and they were pissed that I was taking away from their man power.

LT Schardt had finally reached his limit, and he called for a squad leader meeting. We all had an opportunity to voice our concerns and complaints. We discussed the problems in the platoon. The other squad leaders complained that my team leaders were cocky; we always took the lead; we were always the assaulting element on raids; my men lacked discipline and ignored customs and courtesies; and they even brought up the Bronze Star Medals.

Heckman went on to talk about a platoon sergeant from his previous deployment. This man had risked his life and made the ultimate sacrifice to save his platoon, and he only received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. He wanted to know how we could possibly deserve those medals. I countered with an explanation of my previous unit, 2-35 Infantry, where BSMs were given as service awards. Even office clerks, if they had enough stripes or connections, were given Bronze Stars at the end of that deployment. In 4-31 Infantry, following Operation Anaconda, awards were chosen by rank. Each platoon was supposed to give a certain number of awards, and Army Achievement Medals, Army Commendation Medals, and Bronze Star Medals were all awards according to soldiers’ ranks. Each deployment and each unit came with its own criteria for what constituted an award. I hope everyone feels better after having a chance to be heard. I guess we’ll see.

We hadn’t been in there too long, when my squad started shooting. Someone had fired at them, and a round had passed through the opening in the wall, between a couple of my guys, and lodged in the back wall of the space they were occupying.

After checking on the guys and waiting to see if we were dealing with a real threat, we went back to our meeting. This time, SFC AB went down the list of complaints. Most of the gripes on the list, he said, were our problems to fix. The things that were above our pay-grades, he said simply, weren’t issues. So, basically, he threw it all back on us. He said that we’re too easy on our soldiers; we don’t hold team leaders accountable, and we bitch too much. AB went on to tell us that my squad won’t be the “go-to” squad anymore; the other squads will get a taste of the action.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The dust storm got worse in the evening, and visibility was terrible. The IA were going nuts a couple blocks up the road. The only things we could see were tracers streaking through the sky all over the place.

26 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

We got up and continued guard duty at the patrol base. 2nd platoon is running humanitarian aid operations today.

We did another dismounted patrol today. My squad led the patrol, and 3rd squad was in trail. The drama between the squads continues. 1st and 3rd squads are pissed about mission assignments, orders of march on patrols, and of course the awards. I talked to my team leaders, and encouraged them to be quiet professionals. I also spoke with LT Schardt and SFC AB. AB said, “Fuck ‘em.” LT Schardt said that he and I are on the same page. He told me that he uses my squad because all my guys always want to go, because I require little to no guidance, and because we produce results. He said that Bridges and I deserve the awards we received, and then he added, “When you need a varsity play, you use your varsity players.” He admitted that he needs to use the other squads, and that he relies on my guys too much, partly out of laziness. It’s easier for him to come to me, and my boys never say, “It’s our day off.” He told me that he feels like he has to push the other squads to do things, when my soldiers are always asking to go. He went on to say that given the same situation again, where lives were on the line, he would send my squad without question.

Later, I told Theresa about the awards we received. She asked if I had done something I wasn’t telling her about. I told her that I hadn’t done anything. As LT Schardt put it, when he and I talked about the awards, “You moved up a street and cleared a building under fire.”

I guess we did do that. It sounds different when you tell it like that.

Here’s a stupid fact; I’m in boxer shorts and flip-flops right now, and I’m drenched in sweat. The bottled water we have sitting here is nearly as warm as bath water. My ACUs are hanging to dry, and they have salt rings on the legs and under the arms. I rubbed hydrocortisone cream all over my body in an effort to stop the itching. This is miserable.

25 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I woke up itching all over my body this morning. I’m miserable.

Today, we’re at Thawra II. It’s an Iraqi Police compound, but the Iraqi Army soldiers have totally wrecked the place. We keep soldiers here from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. From what I understand, a lot of the shooting we hear at night is coming from here. It sounds like they get hit hard almost every night. For now, we’re just chilling. SGT Taaga is keeping eyes on the RWS (Remote Weapon System). We were given some huge packets of tuna and a couple loaves of wheat bread, so we’re sitting in our Stryker eating tuna sandwiches. It’s a nice break from MREs. As usual, we’ve got an iPod hooked up to the comm’s, so we have some island music playing inside the truck.

I realized how much sitting around and sweating we’ve been doing, when I noticed how bad my prickly heat is. It’s really bad where I sit and under my body armor. It sucks!

About 2 P.M. we received a call that a Major General Hammond would be coming out to visit. Company leadership started pushing down directives to make sure that everyone was clean shaven, had no rolled sleeve cuffs, and was wearing all the proper protective equipment. We figured it would be another dog and pony show where we put on fake smiles to tell a flag officer how motivated and happy we are to be here. The higher-ups always like to hear how great things are going. They also like to hear how we have everything that we need and could possibly want to be comfortable while completing our missions.

General Hammond and his entourage arrived, and about 30 minutes later, LT Schardt called over the radio. He asked for me, Jimmy, Eichler, and AB. Then he reminded us again about wearing full battle rattle and all of the proper gear. I put on a pair of gloves, unrolled my sleeves, ran someone’s shitty electric razor over most my face, and strapped a knee-pad over one knee before Jimmy and I headed for the main building. I didn’t really know what we were going up there for, other than to feed the general a line of bullshit. Eichler got out of his truck about the same time as Jimmy and I, and he told me that LT Schardt said it was, “for something good.” We went insdie the building the Iraqi Army was using, and we lined up against a wall. I joked, “Eichler must be getting a coin for shooting those guys, and Bridges is probably getting one for becoming a ‘terp’.”

Once everyone was inside, Captain Veath introduced each of us to the general, and he provided them with a bit of background information about our performance since we’d been in Sadr City. General Hammond spoke to each of us briefly, and when he reached the end of the line, he said, “attention to orders!” Everyone in the room snapped to the position of attention, and that’s when I noticed a captain with a handful of Bronze Star Medals. I wasn’t expecting that, and later Jimmy shared the same thoughts. He was as surprised as I was. General Hammond pinned each of us with a Bronze Star Medal, and told us that he’d get the paperwork taken care of later. To be completely honest, I’m not sure we’ll ever actually see the orders. After the impromptu awards ceremony was over, MG Hammond asked for the name and address of the person at home who loves us the most. He said he wanted to send them personal letters about this day. I’ll be interested to see the letter if I get home. Hell, I’d just like to see the bullet points and the citation on the award recommendation form.

I congratulated LT Schardt on his own BSM, and he said it was all us. He made a comment about how he feels about 2nd squad. I didn’t even catch it all, but I knew what he meant. He’s a good platoon leader. He’s modest, and he gives us credit for his successes. He even thanked us NCOs after he got good comments from the battalion commander on his OER (Officer Evaluation Report). Maybe part of his success is because of us, but it’s also him. I suppose the same goes for my NCOER. My boys make or break me.

Jimmy and I walked back to our Stryker in shock. When we climbed back in, SGT Fraleigh asked, “What was that all about?”

SGT Bridges held up his medal, just as I said, “Bronze Stars.”

Fraleigh said, “Where’s my Bronze Star? That’s fucked up!”

Bridges looked at him and said, “If you got a Bronze Star, and I didn’t, I’d just be happy for you.”

I have to admit, it was nice to hear Captain Veath tell a division commander that my squad is the go-to squad when it comes to getting things done. Who knows, he probably said that about every squad leader who got an award over here.

There’s been some talk about shuffling some NCOs within the platoon. I’m not really sure how I feel about it. Some guys in the vehicle crews want and need some experience on the line. Others could probably stand to have some time off the line. I’m not a huge fan of the SGT that may be coming to me, but I don’t really have a whole lot of a choice anyway. SFC AB thinks he’s doing a great job. I think he sucks. At the end of the day, AB’s the boss. AB will be going on R&R on May 20th, so I’ll be platoon sergeant for about a month. That’ll be a nice change, stressful, but something different at least.

We’ve been here for a few hours, and we just turned off the Stryker to save fuel. It’s only been a couple of minutes, and I’m already soaking wet. Sweat is running everywhere, and I’m filthy from all the dust and dirt anyway. Even my pants are soaking wet. We’re sitting in a dark metal box with no air conditioning in the Middle-freaking-East.

I was just sitting here thinking, and it hit me; my army career will be over in 13 or 14 months, if I survive that long.

Around 9 P.M., I took a shower! It was air temperature, which was warm, and there was no pressure, but it sure was nice. I got right back into my dirty sweat-soaked uniform, but I definitely feel better.

I tried to call Theresa, but she’s working, and her boss is visiting. She couldn’t talk, but she sent a text. I sent one back; having this Iraqna cell phone has definitely paid off since we’ve been down here near Baghdad. I decided to call mom for a bit. I told her about my Bronze Star, and she asked what it was for. I told her the truth; I don’t really know. She mentioned that my stepdad, Dave, was heading to the high school later to present awards at the Army JROTC awards ceremony. I asked her to have Dave tell LTC (Ret.) Yelk, my old JROTC instructor, about my BSM. Maybe I haven’t done enough to deserve it, but maybe I have. I’m not sure what to think about it. I’m not going to lie; the action in Iraq right now is in Sadr City. I like the idea of people in my hometown knowing that I’m here and knowing about what we’re doing here. I don’t want to brag about it, but you know, this is war, and we’re here living it. I guess I want people from home, people who don’t know what it’s like, to realize that they know someone who’s in it. I kind of enjoy the reaction I get when I tell people that this is my 4th deployment. I like it when people from my little Midwestern town know that I’ve done something.

Fraleigh started bitching about the Bronze Stars again. I told him, full of sarcasm, “calm down! It takes longer for the Congressional Medal of Honor to be approved.” Several of the guys here have congratulated us for getting these awards. My peers, the other squad leaders, haven’t said anything. Honestly, I think they’re more pissed about it than Fraleigh.

Some of the soldiers from the other squads have started complaining about never getting to do anything. I get it. I would feel the same way. I would also argue that my squad is more experienced; this is my 4th deployment, and both of my team leaders have been in combat before this tour. I think that all of the squads in our platoon are capable, but my guys are smoother when it comes to being under fire or assaulting an objective. Leo and Heckman have been both deployed before, but their team leaders haven’t been overseas before this. I don’t know what the solution is, but I wouldn’t trade my squad for anything.

24 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I couldn’t sleep last night. The platoon was out on barrier emplacement, with the exception of my squad. I was still awake at 2 A.M. when it was my turn for guard. Fuller came to relieve me at 03:30, but I still couldn’t sleep. It was a little after 5, when I finally dozed off. The platoon got back in around 7:30, and I was up again by 8. It’s just so hot in our buildings.  and then I was still awake until a little after 5 A.M. The platoon got in around 7:30, and I was up again by 8. It’s just been so hot in the building. Even when it cools off outside, it’s like the building just radiates the heat of the day. We just lie there and sweat through our uniforms.

Guard wasn’t too bad at 2 A.M. It was cool-ish and quiet outside. The sky was clear, and everything seemed peaceful, well, except for the occasional explosion or burst of machine gun fire. I think it seemed peaceful because I was alone. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been alone.

When I woke up this morning, my guys were discussing the differences between deployment and prison and which they felt might be better. Understand that none of them have ever spent any time in prison, so they don’t really have anything other than movies and TV to go off of.

Deployment Prison
Snacks and MREs

Extreme temperatures

Unreliable electricity (if any at all)

No running water

No real toilets

No bed (usually)

No television

No gym (in our current setting)

Hazardous duty pay

No time for college

Privacy (sort of)

3 hot meals per day

Climate controlled

Electricity

Running water

Toilets

Bed

TV

Gym

No money

Educational opportunities

No privacy

* I deleted a few things from the list. I’m a teacher now, and this blog is connected to my Facebook and Twitter.

My favorite answer of them all came from Bobby Gene; and the number one reason prison is better than deployment, is when you’re in prison, someone else does all the guard shifts.

We’ve all started getting bug bites since we’ve been here in the patrol base. Everyone seems to have little, itchy, blistery, red bumps all over. Doc says they’re from sand fleas. The funny thing about that is what CPT Veath supposedly told some of the guys. He played Spades with some of them last night, and apparently he said that CSM Ordonio told some of 3rd platoon’s soldiers that Charlie Company is way worse off than we are. Apparently, they have an infestation of sand fleas at their JSS up north. He also said that if Charlie Company had been given the opportunity, they would have done just as well as we have down here in Sadr City.

Great, but Charlie Company isn’t here; are they, asshole? What a dick!

I swear Bravo Company is the least-liked company in the battalion. News like that is such a morale killer. These guys feel like they’re doing something down here, and that just takes the wind right out of their sails. It’s messed up.

Speaking of 3rd platoon, we caught hell today because SGT (Name withheld) showed up on the cover of Stars and Stripes during a firefight in a t-shirt. I guess he had his body armor on, but no uniform top, helmet, gloves, or eye-protection. Apparently he’s holding his M4 like a pool cue, with his non-firing hand stretched out almost to the muzzle. So, we’re now under a microscope when it comes to wearing the proper uniform. If we get killed here, we had better be wearing gloves and eye-protection.

I had a good lunch today. I had a tuna sandwich, a fruit cup, some cookie sticks with chocolate dip, and some other snacks that have come in care packages. Anything beats MREs.

We spent a good part of the day sitting around. 3rd platoon was at the OP, and 2nd platoon was conducting patrols in the area. We were told that we’d have to give up one soldier for security at JSS Sadr City. It seems ridiculous; we’re out here in the streets where the fighting is. We go back there for supplies and fuel, but we have to provide manpower to help guard their walls? Like we don’t need all available soldiers out here where the fighting is happening? Give me a break!

LT Schardt fell asleep this afternoon, and SFC AB put a little stuffed tiger next to him on the floor. Some colonel, a brigade commander from 4th ID, came in and saw it. We laughed our asses off. Later, he, the colonel, gave Nikjoo a commander’s coin.

Our platoon spent most of the day and night resting and rotating through different guard posts around our patrol base. When 2nd platoon came in from patrols, they packed up and headed toward Taji for another refit day.

The BDE Chaplain and CSM talked with 1SG for a bit. He was blowing smoke up their asses. The chaplain walked over to Leo and I and said, “Okay, we’ve heard the political side of things; what’s really going on here?” We gave him a different, yet still censored version of the truth. I appreciate his asking, but he didn’t really want to know.

*It’s been 10 years since this happened. Chaplain Burton lost has battle with cancer on July 28th, 2017. Of all the chaplains I ever served with, he was the only one I got to know. He was a great guy, and he’ll be missed.

Leo, Heckman, Capelli, and I sat around sweating and bullshitting with SFC AB for most of the evening. When it was late enough, I found an empty room in the school and called home to Theresa. We talked for quite a while, and it was nice. Before going to bed, I finished reading another book.

The latest invention in the bathroom here is made up of two toddler-sized chairs next to the Iraqi toilets. There is one for each cheek. I’m not sure it’s much better than squatting.

Fun, right?

23 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I really should call Theresa again and tell her that I’m still alive, especially after the gunfire during our phone call from the other night.

We did the MEDCAP today. The doctors saw just over 300 Iraqi civilians. It was chaos. All these people wanted to get inside to see the doctors. They were pushing and shouting. We tried to explain that everyone who needed to see a doctor would be seen, but they didn’t care. It was unbelievable.

I pointed out that we were going to need a female soldier to search the Iraqi women who were coming in, and they sent us a female lieutenant colonel. I guess that’s why she makes the big bucks.

I got everything set up this morning, and Jimmy Bridges asked if our squad was in charge of the whole thing. “No,” I said, “but I’d rather do it myself now than fix it later.”

I also told LT Schardt that the Iraqi soldiers need to stop shooting video and taking photos of our Strykers. Some major from civil affairs got pissy about it and asked what it was going to do to our Strykers. “Well, sir,” I said, “it isn’t going to do anything to our Strykers, but they’re all open, and there is sensitive and secret equipment inside.” He shut up, and I walked away. Things ran smoother than I had anticipated.

It’s miserably hot again, but I made sun tea this afternoon. It won’t be super cold, but it’ll be something different to drink. I made sun tea when I was in Africa too. It’s like a throw back from my childhood.

1st squad volunteered to do the barrier emplacement tonight. 3rd was supposed to be off, but they got assigned at the last minute. The whole platoon went except my squad. That’s not really helping to get rid of the perception that there is favoritism. I’ll probably lead my own patrol tomorrow while they’re resting from the night shift.

When they left, they went out with four cranes instead of the usual two. When they got back, they had set up 120 barriers. Emplacement teams usually only manged 50 to 60 each night.

We’ve heard a lot of gunfire close to the patrol base tonight. It’s been loud enough, at times, that it’s been difficult to even have a conversation in our building.

22 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

A cavalry unit relieved us this morning around 7 A.M. Once we arrived back at our patrol base, we were tasked with a dismounted patrol. I saw LT Schardt walking toward me with a map, and I told him, “I don’t want to go, sir.” There had been some drama in the platoon recently, and I was over it.

He said, “1st squad said it’s their day off. Besides, I know you guys want to go, and you know that I want you to go.”

“That’s fine, sir,” I said. “I’m happy to go, but I don’t want to hear anyone bitching about it.”

We did our patrol, and we visited some of the shops along the way. I passed out Smarties to some of the kids, and I bought some sodas. I got 7 Mountain Dews, in glass bottles, for $5. I asked how much, hoping for 2 Mountain Dews and a can of Diet Pepsi. Ude, the interpreter, was done negotiating before I could even fully explain what I wanted.

Business is slow for all of these shops right now, so the owners really appreciate that we are stopping in to buy snacks and drinks. They’re definitely making money off of us.

As we returned from patrol, we saw route clearance towing another disabled Husky. The driver was still inside, and all the tires were flat and wobbling. The whole outside of the vehicle was blackened, and there was a softball-sized hole right through the middle of the truck. Several smaller holes surrounded it. It was obviously an EFP. It looked like the projectile had gone straight through the engine, and fortunately, it had missed the cockpit.

We spent the rest of the day playing Spades and Dominos.

1SG came in this evening, and told us that we can’t stay in the classroom we’ve been sleeping in anymore. Apparently, the powers that be are concerned about insurgents throwing hand grenades over the outer wall toward our windows. The room they moved us to isn’t any better. Like our original room, it has a wall full of windows. This room was actually closer to the outer wall, only about 10 feet.

Our whole platoon was standing in the hallway, annoyed and waiting to be told exactly where we were supposed to go when 1SG Angulo walked by. He walked up to Bridges and playfully hit him in the stomach, then he made a comment about how we all looked like we were feeling down. Looking at SGT Bridges, 1SG asked, “you doing okay?” Bridges shrugged and said, “I’m good, 1SG. It’s whatever.”

1SG immediately went to AB and said, “SGT AB, I don’t need this kind of attitude from your NCOs.” We didn’t even understand what he was talking about.

Later, we ended up moving all of our shit back into the room we were just told to leave.

It’s gotten hotter and hotter as the day goes on. I’m soaked from head to toe in sweat. It’s like the roads and the buildings held the heat all day, and now that it’s dark, the heat is coming out. It feels like we are sitting in a sauna, or maybe even an oven.

I haven’t been eating much lately. Today, I had a tube of Girl Scout shortbread cookies, 2 packs of cheese and pretzels, some candy, and some Spam and rice. Seems healthy, for sure. With all of the walking and sweating, my pants are starting to get really baggy.

I woke up a few hours after I fell asleep, when something ran across my legs. I couldn’t decide if it was a rat or a cat. Bobby Gene said he thought it was a rat. He had been sleeping when it ran across his face. Apparently, his mouth was open, and its tail slid through his open mouth. He said it didn’t feel like a cat’s tail. Talk about disgusting! It reminded me of my first tour in Afghanistan. I was sleeping against a rock, when someone told me not to move. Just then, a large lizard scurried over my shoulder, across my body, and down my leg. At least nothing went in my mouth. Blah!

More later!