We went on a platoon “mission” today. We were supposed to be taking some back roads from Camp Taji to Abayachi. (Abaiji, according to google.com/maps) We called it Ah-buy-ah-chee. One there, we were supposed to establish blocking positions, so that 4/9 could locate and secure the Iraqi police station there. Once secured, LTC Boccardi (Dragon 6 – our battalion commander) and the 4/9 battalion commander were going to meet with local leaders.
We got all of the specifics for the mission around 9:30 P.M. last night, and we were told to up at 3:30 A.M. to get ready to roll out. We got loaded, did our commo checks, and headed toward Stryker Village, where 4/9 is located. When we got there, we were told that they would not be going. That figures.
We sat around and waited for hours, until our 2nd platoon and a route clearance team reached Route Garden, about halfway to Abayachi. It was almost 9 A.M. before we got cleared to leave the wire. When we finally reached Route Garden ourselves, we had to stop and wait again.
Route Garden is mostly dirt with some patches of asphalt. It has 2 narrow lanes which are divided by a cement-lined irrigation ditch.
Lt. Schardt got the go ahead to continue movement, so our vehicles pulled onto the east side of Route Garden, and we dismounted to check and clear the fields on either side of the road. More palm trees, and more tall grass. There were several herds of sheep, and I was surprised by the amount of cows and farmland I saw. I suppose this is the Fertile Crescent.
Specialist (SPC) Haney found some copper wire to the west, and it came over the radio that 3rd squad, Leo’s squad, had located a command wire leading toward the road.
Our company first sergeant was riding along in Leo’s Stryker, and he was all over him about why he wasn’t using small Motorola radios to direct his team leaders. I think we would all appreciate it if he would stay in his office at the company CP (Command Post).
Leo tried explaining that we were told personal 2-way radios aren’t authorized for use in theater, because they aren’t secure. In addition, we aren’t supplied with them, so if we were going to break the rules and use them, we have to buy our own. 1SG kept pushing, and finally Leo said, “What about that, 1SG?” pointing at his Duke System.
The Duke system is an electronic communications interference system that prevents remote signals, to include communications, from passing within a certain range of a vehicle. That was the end of that conversation.
NOTE: I was concerned that this information might be classified, so I did a little research before posting in the blog. I found a brochure online that describes the components and capabilities of the equipment.
After further investigation the wire turned out to be nothing. It was just wire. We were there waiting for nearly 2 hours before we got a call from our company commander, Captain Veath, telling us that he wanted us to switch to the west side of the canal and continue moving. There was a lot of bitching about changing sides, and everyone wanted to know why it mattered. I had a hunch, but I kept my mouth shut. Regardless, there was no way for us to cross the canal without backing up a few miles, so we continued moving forward. We decided that we could cross at the next intersection. We didn’t come to any crossings.
Eventually, we caught up to the route clearance team that was moving ahead of us. They weren’t sure what to expect from this area, because the only information and intelligence that we had came from early in 2005. The long line of mine resistant trucks and Strykers was rolling along at a crawling pace as they checked for IEDs on the west side of the canal. At each bridge, the convoy stopped and engineers inspected bridges to be sure they could support our 20+ ton Stryker vehicles. As we approached their string of vehicles, we were on the opposite side of the canal from them. Captain Veath wanted us to switch, because our side wasn’t being cleared. That’s what I had figured when we got the call to change sides. There weren’t any booms, so I guess our side was clear too.
We finally arrived in the city of Abayachi and dismounted to patrol on foot. Lloyd’s squad led the way, and my squad followed. There were several CLC checkpoints around the edge of the town, and the Iraqi Police station was about the third building in on the main street. We cleared the building while 3rd squad established a blocking position.
Once everyone was set in, I took my squad, followed by a squad from 2nd platoon and then Lloyd’s squad, down the main street of the town. As we walked through, a few people waved, some stared, and others glared at us. Some even pulled their kids in from the street and shut their gates. Overall though, it wasn’t as bad as we were told to expect. The briefings we got made it sound like we would need to fight our way in to the city. The town is a shit hole for sure. There is trash and even sewage all over the place. It’s a mess.
When we reached the southern end of the town, we stopped and were immediately swarmed by kids and curious people. Most of the kids know a few English words. They call us, “mistah”, and they always ask for the same things: “foot ball,” “chocolate,” and “pen.” My personal favorite is, “Mistah, you give me!” as they point to our equipment. They don’t ask for shit; they demand it. I keep thinking, my three year old has manners. How hard can it be? I did have a few lifesavers in my pocket, so I handed them to kids who weren’t asking for or demanding stuff.
The others continued to ask for everything. They pointed at magazines full of ammo, hand grenades, my pistol, my camera, even my glasses. They all seem to want something. It gets irritating. I want to tell them to get out of my bubble, and give me some space to move.
While we were waiting for the meeting to end and our vehicles to join us, I noticed a burlap sack near the edge of the road. I walked over and opened it to look inside. A boy, probably 12 or 13-years-old, walked up and pointed at it. He looked at me and said, “Boom!” and then started laughing as he walked away. He knew exactly what I was doing, and the little shit thought it was funny.
Some of the adults in the town who speak English too. Those I spoke with seemed happy to see us. They explained that things have been going well lately, but they did add that there were some real problems with outsiders last year. From what they told me, they like the CLCs, and they want an American presence in their town.
We also talked with some of the CLCs we passed. They complained about needing supplies and equipment. Most of them carried AK 47s or other assault rifles, and almost all of them asked for ammunition. Some of them only had a few rounds in their magazines.
I still can’t imagine what it must be like to raise a child, or to grow up in a place like this. Like other places I’ve been, this place is poverty stricken, and it’s a war zone.
In the crowd of kids around us at one point today, one of the boys had a stick. He kept hitting a smaller boy with it. Keep in mind, it’s pretty damn cold here today, and most of these kids are in sandals. He just kept on hitting the smaller boy’s toes and legs with the stick. I wanted to take the stick from him and beat the shit out of him with it. I noticed that the bigger boy’s pants were unzipped, so I pointed it out to the smaller kid who was getting hit. He pointed it out, and all of the other kids laughed at the bully. I think I made a friend. The embarrassed boy took off down the road, and several of the other kids laughed and gave me thumbs up.
A few hours passed before the battalion TAC (Tactical Action Center) finally left the area. We followed soon after on Route Cobra, a narrow and winding road along the Tigris River, that leads back to the other side of Camp Taji.
We were about halfway back to the base, when we decided to stop and check out an area. There was a curve in the road, with the river to the west, and a large field with scattered palm trees to the east. The sun was setting in the West over the river, and it was starting to get dark. It was a perfect place to set up an IED ambush, so we dismounted and walked through the field before sending the vehicles through the area.
Moving through the field, I came up on an area of waist-high grass. As I stepped into the grass, I noticed a large area that was flattened out, so I walked over to investigate. I thought there might have been a weapons cache or some sort of hiding spot there. I was pushing grass around with my feet, looking at the ground below, when a large bird, something like a pheasant, flew up right in front of me. I jump and shouted, “Holy shit!” My heart was pounding in my chest.
One of my soldiers called over to me, “You alright, Sar’nt?”
“I’m fine,” I replied, laughing. “That fuckin’ bird is lucky I’m not carrying the shotgun though, or I would have blasted his ass.”
The guys close enough to hear me laughed.
We continued clearing the area, and didn’t find anything. We did learn that the red lasers on our weapons will get dogs to leave us alone. There were a couple of dogs barking at us, and when we pointed the lasers in their eyes, they left.
Night was setting in quickly as we crossed the field. Only the faintest hints of daylight remained in the western sky, and shadows devoured everything, turning colors to different shades of gray and eventually making palm trees into dark silhouettes. Our Strykers, still on the road, had stopped at the edge of the open area, and the lead vehicle was following our progress thermal cameras. They too had become dark silhouettes blending in with the dark surroundings. When we reached the tree line at the end of the field, I turned my squad and moved toward the road.
I keyed the mic on my radio, “Maggot 6, this is Maggot 2, over.”
“Go head, Maggot 2.”
“Maggot 6, field is clear. We are moving to the road for pick-up. Over.”
“Roger, Maggot 2. En-route.”
I heard the engine in our lead Stryker, call-sign 1 Vic, rev as Specialist Eichler put it in gear and started moving forward. Our convoy of four Stryker vehicles crawled around the curve and approached our position.
As they got closer, I heard another sound. I stepped up onto the road just as a car came speeding around the curve toward our Strykers. I raised my weapon and squeezed the switch on my laser, sending a red beam through the windshield and into the driver’s face.
He nearly lost control as he slammed on the breaks and skidded to a stop on the broken pavement and gravel not far from where I was standing. Dust swirled around the car, glowing red and white in its lights. I walked toward the vehicle, my M4 still leveled and the red dot of my laser still glowing on the driver. His eyes were fixed on me as I moved closer. Just then, 1 Vic rolled out of the darkness and into the area lit by his headlights; its .50 caliber machine gun pointed down toward the car. The driver’s eyes got big, and he seemed to hold his breath.
With my free hand, I pointed at his car and then to the side of the road. He very slowly moved over leaving room for our vehicles to pass. Once our last vehicle has moved past his vehicle, I waved him on, and we loaded back into our truck.
As we continued toward Taji, we passed through the city of Tarmiyah, where our Alpha Company is based. There were warming fires all along the roads with people huddled around them, and the whole place seemed to smell like burning garbage.
Specialist Almazan, nicknamed Mo-suh, said in his Filipino accent, “Dis place is worser dan da Philippines.”
It was a little after 7 P.M. when we got back to our parking area and unloaded our gear. We dropped our gear off in our housing areas and headed for the chow hall. Our clothes and body armor smelled like smoke and trash, and when I wiped my face off with a napkin, it was black.
Care for some lung cancer, anyone?