14 January 2016 (ON PATROL)

Leo is sick. He’s been pretty miserable for the last couple of nights, so he went to bed early this evening. I’m sure it’s not helping that the heat in our room isn’t working right. It shuts down during the night and makes some really loud noises. So, on top of being cold in our room, it keeps waking us up. I think we may just shut it off tonight and deal with the dropping temperature. I keep hoping it doesn’t catch on fire or something in the middle of the night.

I went on my 6th patrol today. We made a run up to 14th Ramadan again, and because my Stryker was still in the shop, we only took three of our vehicles. We had an Iraqi Army platoon with us as well.

When we arrived at 14th Ramadan, we did the same thing we did before. We cordoned off the school, and went inside for Lt. Schardt to meet with the local CLC leaders. The Iraqi Army (IA) platoon leader joined in as well.

Because we were short a Stryker, I only took Fraleigh’s fire team. They came into the school with me and the Iraqi soldiers, while Lloyd’s and Leo’s squads patrolled through the village. I walked around the schoolyard and took some photos of the mess I saw the from the first time we were there. The needles hadn’t been picked up, and the box of syringes was still sitting in front of the pharmacy.

 

During our visit to the school, the man in charge

Iraqi Tea

Borrowed image.

prepared some chai tea for us. They served it in glasses that reminded me of a Saki glass I was given by a Japanese soldier at Ft. Benning, Georgia a couple years ago. It was a small clear glass on a dirty china saucer with what looked like a baby spoon. It was good. The bottom was full of sugar and crushed tea leaves, and it was super sweet. I would compare it to southern sweet tea, only hot. I’m looking forward to having it again.
The inside of the school was about as bad as the outside. One of the classrooms had a broken window, and the chalkboard was falling off of the wall. The rooms were filthy, and all of the school supplies were donated.

Going to the school was an interesting experience. I got the impression that the teacher didn’t like us much, and I don’t think he liked having us talk to the kids. I already don’t trust the Iraqi Army, and to make it worse, they are scared of people knowing who they are, so some of them wear masks. The Iraqi platoon leader was wearing a ski mask the entire time.

IA at Ramadan School

Iraqi school children and the lieutenant from the Iraqi Army

 

 

We are training Iraqi soldiers here, so that they can take over security operations in their own country. We are training soldiers in Afghanistan to do the same there. It is hard to train them to take over, when they don’t really take pride in their country. Their loyalty lies with their families or clan leaders and with local war lords, rather than to Iraq and the Iraqi government. They are corrupt, and a lot of them play both sides. Personally, I think we should bring the Afghanistan Army here, and we should send the Iraqi Army to Afghanistan. Let them spend a year away from their own hometowns. Let them spend a year relying on their government, the support of their people, and on one another. That would create a disciplined and cohesive unit that would come back prepared to return home and defend their own countries. That’s an argument for another day, I guess.   

During the meeting in the school, my soldiers talked and joked with the kids. When the kids would get close to us, or if it seemed like they were talking too much, he would crack them on the head with a baton. I guess it is a sort of prod they use for keeping their sheep together.

As we walked out of the school building and headed for our Strykers, the whole scene seemed kind of unreal to me. One of the Iraqi armored vehicles was parked in front of the school, and there was a hungry looking cow standing across the canal from it. It just didn’t look like they belonged in the same place, but the Iraqi people there didn’t seem to mind either of them.Iraqi Army BMP, RamadanAs we were leaving, the Iraqi lieutenant, who looked like an insurgent in his ski mask, insisted that Sheikh Thamer, one of the CLC leaders, is an insurgent. Sheikh Thamer was dressed in an old Iraqi National Guard uniform, on which he wore captain’s bars. I’m not sure what to think about him, but I’m sure we will get to know him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sheikh Thamer in old ING uniform.

We turned our vehicles back toward MSR Tampa and headed for Camp Taji around 11:15 A.M. At the time, we were thinking we might make it back to Taji in time to catch the tail end of lunch at the chow hall. I guess it wasn’t meant to be, though. We were just north of Mshahdh when we got a call asking us to assist our Charlie Company, just south of IA Checkpoint 59A. 

It was just after noon when we met up with a platoon from C Co. An Iraqi Police truck had been hit with an IED not long before we got there, and they were looking for the trigger man. An air weapons teams (pair of Apache attack helicopters) had spotted someone fleeing the scene of the attack, so we stopped to help search the palm groves.

police-in-ramadi-iraq

Borrowed Image

The Iraqi Police guys are rolling around in extended cab pickup trucks, and they usually have them loaded down. The cabs are always full, and there are usually guys sitting in the bed, with one man standing behind a machine gun mounted on a pedestal. This particular truck was a Chevy Silverado with some homemade armor plating. The IED was two 130mm artillery shells stuck in a tire and dropped on the roadway. It killed three Iraqi Policemen and wounded three others.

 

14 Jan. 2008 029We parked our Strykers to block vehicle traffic on MSR Tampa and started walking through the palm groves looking for anyone hiding out there. The firing point was set up in the exact same spot as the IED we found on my first patrol, behind the falling garage. It was a nice low spot in the weeds, with a clear view of the road, and a quick escape route. There are several trails and paths crisscrossing the area behind where the trigger man had been. Judging by the orange peels on the ground, he had been sitting there enjoying some fruit while he waited for a good target to show up. Then he touched a 9-volt battery to his wire…and boom.

Three dead…three wounded; that quickly, and that easily.

People here amaze me. While we blocked traffic with our Stryker vehicles and searched the area, EOD did a blast analysis. Traffic got really crazy. Everyone just wanted to get around. It was business as usual for them, other than us blocking their paths. I can’t imagine how Americans would react to a squad car blown apart on the highway. Maybe I’m giving Americans too much credit. I guess traffic does back up when there are accidents, and people start rubbernecking. Still, I think that the average person might be a little more patient if he realized how serious the incident is. Not here, they just wanted to get on with their lives, and we were preventing them from doing that. Even the other Iraqi policemen didn’t seem overly upset about their fallen comrades. I guess it’s just commonplace here.

As we searched the area, we found several lengths of copper wire. There was also a truckload’s worth of old .50 caliber ammunition.

Rusted ammo cans and charred projectiles were scattered all over the ground. The shell casings were all gone, probably from the ammo cooking off in a fire. Any brass that remained after that was probably picked up by locals. The cans had been blown apart. My best guess is that a logistical convoy was hit by an IED here at some point, and a truck that was carrying a supply of ammunition was the unlucky vehicle. 

SGT Fraleigh and I were itching to find the trigger man. It was kind of exciting, sneaking through the thick trees and grass. We finished clearing the palm grove to the west of the road and set our guys into security positions.

Blast Fragments, Rt. Tampa 14 Jan. 2008

This is what shrapnel looks like.

Crater, Rt. Tampa 14 Jan. 2008

The blast crater.

The road was cratered from the blast, and there were scrapes where the undercarriage of the truck has skidded along the pavement after the wheel was blown off. We found a lot of shell casings from AK 47s all over the road from the IP’s opening fire toward the palm groves. I’m sure they just sprayed everything when they were hit. There was shattered glass from the truck, and shrapnel from the artillery shells in and around the hole, and some of the power lines above the blast site had been severed. Other power lines were hanging, barely connected by one or two strands. Power lines are not as durable here. Many of them have been cut or broken, and then repaired with a twist or a knot.

As I walked around photographing the area, I realized that this IED was probably less than than meters away from the one we found on my first patrol. Apparently this is a popular spot for them.

While we waited for EOD to conduct their post blast analysis and collect all of the data they needed, traffic kept growing worse and worse. We placed traffic cones in the road to maintain some standoff between us and them. People continued to inch closer and closer.  Men kept walking up and giving us reasons that they should be allowed to pass. Even an ambulance driver approached complaining that he had a woman with a broken leg who desperately needed to be seen by a doctor. Everyone had a reason.

Our guidance was that no one was allowed to move through our perimeter. When we got them to stop pulling their vehicles closer, they got out and approached on foot.  It was frustrating. Not only is the language barrier an issue, but also the fact that they don’t want to listen. It’s almost as if they pretend to be stupid and not understand what the interpreter is explaining to them in their own language.

It was 3 1/2 hours later, when we finally grabbed our traffic cones and headed for home. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we grabbed the cones. It was like the start of a race. People climbed into their cars and engines came back to life. Horns beeped and engines revved. I wasn’t sure we would be able to get out of the way fast enough to avoid being run over. Cars started creeping closer and closer to us, jockeying for a good position when the green flag was waved. We ended up moving the Strykers across the lanes of traffic, and didn’t allow people to pass until everyone was safely back inside.

 

There is drama at Camp Taji lately. We were told that some soldiers were abducted from another FOB, so we are having daily accountability formations at 1300 (1 P.M) in front of our company CP. That means we are checking our sensitive items every day at 4:30 A.M. and again at 4:30 P.M. and also making sure we haven’t lost any personnel at 1 P.M.

1SG Angulo is still demanding that we take “combat showers.” You may be wondering what a “combat shower” entails.

  • Step 1: Enter the shower and turn on the water. The water should only remain on long enough to wet your body, soap, and washcloth.
  • Step 2: Turn off the water and wash your body.
  • Step 3: Turn the water on again, allowing enough time to rinse the soap from your body, and not a second more.

It’s the most ridiculous shit I’ve ever heard. I understand that there are places and situations where this type of personal hygiene may be required, but this is not one of those times or places. We are on a large camp, and we are well supplied. Hell, we even have Pizza Hut and Popeye’s Chicken. Do we really need to be that over the top on water conservation? We are the only company that is practicing such strict water conservation, and I’m just not going to spend the next 15 months doing it. I’ve been walking to a different shower point, just to avoid our 1SG. I don’t mind conserving water. I don’t take very long showers anyway, but I’m not taking “combat showers.”

4th platoon pushed out on patrol for the 2nd time today. It seems like something comes up every time they are supposed to leave the wire. Apparently 1SG Angulo called 4th platoon’s platoon sergeant a “pussy” a few days back, and now we are hearing that 4th platoon’s leaders aren’t wanting anyone out of the vehicles while on patrol. I’m not sure what’s going on with that.

One last bit of drama for today. There have been an incredibly high number of negligent discharges throughout the MND-B (Multi-National Divison-Baghdad) area of operations. MND-B is our higher command. As a result, the MND-B commander has decided that all soldiers will receive training on proper weapons status and clearing procedures. The different levels of readiness, or weapons statuses, are red, amber, and green. Red, or red direct means the weapon is locked and loaded. Amber means that the weapon has a magazine inserted into the magazine well, but there is not a round in the chamber. For an automatic weapon, like an M249 SAW or the M240B, there is a belt of ammunition loaded, but the bolt is in the forward position. Green status means that the weapon is completely unloaded. In all cases, the weapon should be on safe until it is ready to be fired. We will be spending some time each day relearning these statuses and proper weapons clearing procedures.

Some of the funniest shit I’ve heard since I’ve been here: I rode in 4-Vic today, with SFC AB, since my Stryker is down. 4-Vic’s crew consists of PFC Crowley, the driver, and SPC Williams “Willy P,” the VC (Vehicle commander/gunner). Before rolling out, Willy P gave his mandatory patrol safety briefing. We have super awesome safety placards that are taped inside every vehicle, (because we have time to read those in an emergency) but our vehicle commanders tell the passengers what to do in the event of a fire, roll over, or water evacuation before each patrol.

Willy P is a short and chubby Texan, and he is about as redneck as he could be. Williams Photos 008 (4)As a Texan, he has quite the southern drawl that just adds to his personality. His briefing today, went something like this.

Now, if y’all hear me say, oh shit; we’re rollin’ over. If I say, oh fuck; we’re on far, and if I say, motherfucker; we’ rollin’ over in some water. If we are on far, the foam will come outta these fire extinguishers. That doesn’t mean it’s time for a Playboy foam party. That means it’s time to un-ass the truck, cuz that shit will suck the oxygen right outta your lungs.

I’ve decided that I’m starting to feel old. I’ve got aches and pains all over. Every time we come back in from a patrol, I feel completely run down and exhausted. It doesn’t matter if I work my ass off, of if I’m just standing in the hatch of a Stryker. I just come back feeling beat. I’m sure that part of it is from wearing this heavy ass gear. Maybe the rest of it is from being alert all the time. I think our adrenaline is always pumping, even when we don’t realize it. I think we are all pretty wound up most of the time.

More later.

It’s later.

I talked with Theresa earlier tonight. I forgot to take my SPAWAR PIN with me, so I just called from my Iraqna cell. We didn’t talk for very long, and I think she was upset with me about that. I hope she’s not too upset. I’ll head back over and call her in the morning. The time difference makes it difficult to keep in touch with people at home.

I’ve decided that there are some people who get too excited and talk to much in our platoon. While we were searching the palm groves earlier today, one of the squad leaders called up that he had found a command wire. He called everyone on the radio to let them know about it, then took the wire to SFC AB, and then he walked it over to EOD to show them.

This is just a thought, but if it isn’t attached to explosives, it isn’t a damn command wire. I looked at it later, and it was a coil from an electric motor. Radio controlled cars, slot cars, electric weed eaters…they all have these. It is copper wire, but it would be a pain in the ass to unspool and use. I just don’t think we need to get excited about everything we come across here.

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