Today’s simple patrol to 14th Ramadan turned into a disaster.
We pulled to the side of MSR Tampa just a few clicks (kilometers) south of Route Asp to make room for a route clearance team pass, and our Stryker died. My driver, Specialist Carpenter, affectionately known as Crapenter, said that the oil pressure had just dropped to nothing. He tried several times to start it. Each time it started and immediately died.
I informed Maggot 6 that our vehicle was dead, and he decided to scrub the patrol. Our mission changed from a presence patrol to a vehicle recovery operation. We had trained for this, so it should have been an easy hook up and go. We all knew our roles, and we had practiced plenty of times.
Piece of cake, right?
Wrong! Nothing went as planned or rehearsed. We didn’t even have all of the damned tow equipment we needed to successfully make it back.
First, we had never practiced with an actual dead Stryker. Crapenter had a hell of a time steering the Stryker without power steering. Eight-wheeled vehicles just don’t like to turn.
Secondly, the brakes lose air pressure very quickly when the vehicle isn’t running the compressor. Using tow cables, 3 Vic pulled us into a concrete wall because we couldn’t negotiate the serpentine at an Iraqi Army checkpoint.
Our company is short on towing equipment, but we’ve practiced with tow cables and bars on multiple occasions. Today, nothing was prepared according to our S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure). Just like everyone has his role, everything has its place. We set vehicles up in a specific way so that everyone knows where everything is, and there is no time wasted. You never know when every second may count for survival. Fortunately, we weren’t in any sort of contact while we were trying to un-fuck ourselves today.
As we were pulled back toward Taji, and after hitting the wall at the checkpoint, I wondered if we would be able to make the turns at the entrance to Camp Taji. Once our brakes failed completely, it was no longer safe to pull us with tow cables. Each time the towing vehicle slowed, we bumped the back of it.
We finally had to stop just south of Mshahdh to call for assistance. The only way we were going to make it back to Taji, without tearing up a vehicle, was with a tow bar, and we only had half of one. We called 4th platoon, and they agreed to help us out and run another half of one out to us. We sent them coordinates to our location, and waited.
We were parked for a couple of hours on the side of MSR Tampa, so we set up a dismounted security perimeter to keep people away. I felt like sitting ducks, stuck on the side of the highway. If there were any insurgents in the area with a car bomb, we would be an easy target.
While we sat and scanned the area, I noticed a few men sitting on a rooftop watching us. They were just sitting there, watching, and a couple of them kept making calls on their cell phones. That made us feel a little uneasy. At this point, we are only a couple of patrols in, so in our eyes, everyone is still suspect. They must have gotten bored, but they eventually disappeared out of sight.
My squad was spread out on the west side of the road in some tall grass. We heard a single gunshot to the northwest of our position, and it was followed by a burst of automatic gunfire. We couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it was coming from or what it was directed toward, but it was close enough that a flock of birds in the field to our front scattered.
Nothing happened, and we didn’t hear anymore shooting. 4th platoon eventually dropped off the piece we needed for our tow bar, and we got all hooked up and headed back to Taji.
As we rode along, I could see into a gap between the seat and raised floor in our vehicle. There was oil standing in the hull; enough that it was splashing around with the bumps and turns.
When we got back, Leo, AB, and I were all pissed. We were chewing everyone’s ass, especially Sgt. Capelli, the vehicle squad leader.
Overall, I was pleased with my squad’s performance today. Spc. Alleman, “Bobby Gene”, was bored while pulling security, and he was sitting there kicking mud off of his boots instead of watching his sector. We talked about that, and I got onto Crapenter and Sgt. Bridges for wearing “Monster” tabs on their uniforms. That is part of their little group that is forming in my squad. Personally, I don’t mind the morale patches, but I don’t like the idea of a little club forming within my squad.
I pulled my team leaders aside and told them to get their shit together too. Crapenter is part of their little clique of friends, and he has been calling Sgt. Bridges by his first name. I don’t really care what they do, but in uniform and at work, they need to be professionals and act like soldiers. They got pissy and complained about how things are going in the squad, so I held a squad meeting tonight. I told the guys that I wanted to hear their bitches, gripes, and complaints, so that we could figure out what we needed to do differently.
No one had anything to say.
While we were stuck on the side of MSR Tampa waiting for the tow bar today, I noticed a man at a little roadside stand. It was homemade, with a wooden frame and a sort of thatch covering. It stood out to me because, in the open air along the highway, he was gutting and skinning sheep. There was a skinned carcass hanging from the top of the stand, and there were about a dozen others just standing there, huddled together, watching.
They weren’t in any sort of pen or anything. They were just standing there, waiting for their turn to be slaughtered.
I wonder, Are we like them? Are we sheep?
Here we are, watching, each of us waiting for our turn.