18-19 January 2016 (ON PATROL)

We have been busy lately, and I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like.

Yesterday, we had originally planned a dismounted patrol through the area south of 14th Ramadan. After we spent the night supporting Charlie Company’s operation, to include escorting the unneeded recovery vehicle out to them, we were told the mission was scrubbed. We spent the today looking at maps and imagery, trying to figure out what areas, surrounding the village, looked like they might be useful to us. It looked like we would be walking about 5 kilometers, checking out back roads, fields, and remote buildings.

Routines create opportunities for the enemy. If we always take the same roads into and out of the same villages, we are telling the enemy where to attack. The object of this patrol was to look for any weapons caches in the area, but also to check for other roads leading into 14th Ramadan, that are passable by Stryker. We wanted to find new ways in and out of the village, so we aren’t setting a routine. We also wanted to find good locations to set up over-watch positions where we could observe the village from a distance for future operations.

We were just heading to the chow hall on the tonight, when we were told that we were under a “commo blackout.” The guys who had never been deployed before looked around at each other, wondering why on Earth they would take away our phones and internet.

“What the fuck, man? I’m supposed to call my girl tonight,” one soldier complained.

Another replied, “The big green weenie strikes again. Bend over and take it.”

Someone else made a sarcastic remark about taking care of soldiers and morale.

They were new, and didn’t understand what “commo blackout” means. Those of us who had been around for awhile looked around too, wondering who died.

Finally, one of the sergeants in the bunch set the new kids straight, “Quit fucking bitching. They shut down the phones and internet until they can notify some poor bastard’s wife or mother that he won’t be coming home. This is how they keep her from finding out about it from one of you assholes putting it on Facebook or telling your girlfriend about how rough it is over here. I think you can miss your damn phone call for the night.”

The bitching soldiers were quiet and subdued for awhile after that. Reality tends to sink in a little when we hear about things like this. It reminds us of where we are and what can happen.

It turns out that a Stryker from 1-27 Infantry, the “Wolfhounds” was hit with a large deep-buried IED. Three soldiers were badly wounded, and one, SGT Jon Michael Schoolcraft III, didn’t make it. (2nd SBCT Memorial Association) Rest in peace, Wolfhound.

We still haven’t heard anything about the wounded men, but I’d bet they are in Germany by now. We talked about the attack in our meeting tonight, and we were told that it took the dust-off, the medevac helicopter, 45 minutes to arrive on scene. I don’t understand; it’s not even a 45 minute drive from Taji. Why would it take a medevac bird so long?

We weren’t really told what they were doing out there or exactly how it happened, but it sounds like an ineffective IED was detonated under their lead vehicle. Almost immediately after that, the big one blew up under the back of the 2nd vehicle. While we don’t know the details, we do know that this was on the southern edge of our company’s area of operations. It was in our AO. Big IEDs like that are usually buried under the roads and left for later. We drove down that road 8 days ago. We drove over that spot 8 days ago. Who knows how many other patrols have passed by there since. Today, was a bad day for the Wolfhounds.

It was around 11 P.M., and I had just fallen asleep when someone knocked on our door.

Get your squad spun up. We are rolling as soon as we have everyone here. A UAV spotted about 10 people fleeing the scene of the attack on 1-27 earlier today, and they disappeared into a small group of buildings in a field out there. They’ve been watched since then, and no one has left the area.

The attack occurred around 3 P.M., and it was now after 11. I was a little annoyed. Like the medevac helicopters, I thought we were awfully slow to respond.

Leo, Lloyd, and I went to meet with Lt. Schardt and SFC AB and were briefed on the situation. This would be a company operation. We would dismount where 1-27 was hit, and move to the objective on foot under the cover of darkness. Our platoon would take point, leading the company to the objective, and my squad would lead the platoon.

Once the entire company was loaded and ready, we headed out en masse, looking for revenge. We drove across Camp Taji, toward the Iraqi Army’s portion of the camp, and exited the base through the gate on Route Cobra, butted up against the Tigris River.

Our movement up the narrow and winding road seemed slow, cautious. We had time to think about what had happened and what we were going to do about it. We also had time to wonder if there were more IEDs waiting for us. Because I was supposed to be leading the platoon, I had grabbed a handheld GPS, so that I could be sure we were arrived at the correct coordinates. I spent the first 30 minutes of the drive trying to get it to track, and for some reason it wasn’t picking up any satellites. I finally gave up on it.

We reached Tarmiyah, and passed by some of our Alpha Company Strykers patrolling the city. Alpha Company, the “Reapers” are based at JSS Tarmiyah, and spend most of their time patrolling the city streets around the JSS. It is the largest city in our battalion’s area of operations.

As our convoy turned west onto Route Coyote, we got held up when our MEV (Medical Evacuation Vehicle – Basically a Stryker Ambulance) got caught up in some concertina wire. It wrapped around a couple of the axles and had to be cut and pulled away. Once the vehicle was freed up, we continued west on Route Coyote toward our objective.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere and got the call to dismount. Sgt. Taaga dropped the ramp, and we spilled out onto the road. Through our NODs (Night Observation Device – Night vision goggles), we could see vehicles on the road a couple hundred yards ahead. We got ourselves organized in the correct order of march, made sure we had everyone, and started walking toward those vehicles.

When we arrived, we were all a little surprised at what we found. The crater in the roadway was large enough to hide my Toyota Corolla in, and there was a crane lifting the mangled remains of a Stryker vehicle out of the crater and putting it onto a flatbed trailer. I didn’t get a really good look at the Stryker, but I could see enough to know that it wasn’t good.

It was between 3 and 3:30 A.M. before the entire company was on the ground and ready to move toward the target houses. Lt. Schardt gave me the go ahead, and I directed my 6 man squad to begin moving. Sgt. Fraleigh and his team took the lead. I followed close behind, and Sgt. Bridges and his team followed behind me. We started walking down a dirt road into the fields. Lloyd’s squad was behind my guys, then the PL and RTO, Leo’s squad, and finally SFC AB and the medic. Captain Veath and his entourage was back there somewhere with 2nd platoon, and 1SG Angulo was on the ground too.

Lt. Schardt called on the radio, “Maggot 2, this is Maggot 6. Over.”

“This is 2. Send it Maggot 6. Over,” I replied.

“2, when you reach the objective, be sure to confirm the grid coordinates. Over,” he said.

“Roger that,” I called back.

Fuck, I thought. How am I supposed to do that when I didn’t even bring that damn GPS? 

I did have a printout of an aerial photo from Google maps, and some gird coordinates written in the margins. Without a military map, the grids weren’t really going to do me any good anyway.

We moved along several dirt lanes and canal roads, zigzagging through the fields. Using my overhead imagery, I told Sgt. Fraleigh where to turn each time, and each time I changed direction, I informed Lt. Schardt on the radio. He asked me to confirm my gird coordinates about half-a-dozen times during our movement, and I told him every time that the GPS wasn’t tracking, so I didn’t bring it. Frustrated, I told him that I would be happy to give him the grid coordinates that were written on the piece of paper I was carrying.

Finally, I told Sgt. Fraleigh to stop. I used hand signals to call a halt, and I got Lt. Schardt on the radio. “6, this is 2. We’re here, over.”

Dogs were barking in the distance, and I was worried that the people in the houses would know we were coming.

I was instructed to set my squad into an over watch position, and I did so. I was disappointed that I was leading the company to an objective for a raid, but I was going to be watching from the sidelines while someone else got to go and kick in doors. Lloyd’s squad, 1st, and Leo’s squad, 3rd, each had a target house to clear, and 2nd platoon would be our main assault effort.

The assault began. 1st squad moved through my squad’s position and hit the first target house. They stacked on the wall, kicked the door in, and went inside. There was a woman and some children inside.

Lt. Schardt was clearly annoyed at me. I was lying in the prone, watching the raid unfold, and he came running up to me. “You stopped us short,” he said. “We need to move further down this road. This isn’t our objective!”

I disagreed. “Sir, this is it.”

“How can you say for sure that this is our objective without a GPS?” he asked.

“Before we left I marked the grids for each turn we needed to make and calculated the distance between them. I kept a pace count. I know where I am.”

He’s the platoon leader, and he wasn’t satisfied with my explanation, so we picked up and started moving further forward.

I walked about 15 yards and signaled for another halt. Lt. Schardt was convinced that I was lost, so he was close behind me. I turned around walked back to where he had taken a knee and said, “Sir, if we move any further forward, we are going to walk right up to the target house.” Bridges and Fraleigh both agreed that we were about to walk onto the objective.

He stood up and looked around. I could tell he was getting pissed. “Just keep moving,” he said. “We need to push further west.”

I walked back to my team leaders. They were looking at me, waiting to see what our next move would be. They protested when I told them that we were going to continue moving forward.

“I know. I know,” I said. “Just tell the guys to be alert and keep their fucking eyes open.”

They told their teams what we were doing, and I signaled for everyone to pick up and start moving again. We hadn’t even made it a hundred meters when the PL call me on the radio, “2, this is 6. STOP. Over.”

I signaled for my guys to stop and get down. Lt. Schardt came shuffling up and knelt next to me. “Hey, we need to turn around. Take your squad back to the last place we stopped, and set in your over watch. This is our objective.”

No fucking shit, I thought.

I didn’t say anything, but I really wanted to. I signaled my team leaders to move their teams back to the last place we had stopped. From there, things went pretty smoothly.

The target area that we were supposed to clear and search looked much larger in the photos. Some of the buildings had fallen down since the photo was taken too. 1st and 3rd squads moved into covered positions and provided support while 2nd platoon moved into the main target houses.

1SG came up to me asking all kinds of questions. “What building number is this? Where is 2nd platoon? Have they moved in yet?”

He just kept going on and on. I’d been standing there talking to him for probably 5 or 10 minutes, when he called me Sgt. Tyler. We have a Sgt. Tyler in our company. He’s an African American E-5, and a chemical NCO. He’s our company NBC NCO.

I’m a squad leader in this company, and my first sergeant doesn’t even know my name? Awesome! 

Being called by the wrong name sent a pretty clear message to me about how important my 1SG thinks he is, or perhaps how unimportant I am to him and his company.

Most of the company first sergeants I have worked for in previous units have known all of the men that served under them, especially the NCOs, and certainly the squad leaders. He doesn’t even know the correct pronunciation of SFC Arambula’s name. He’s 1 of 4 platoon sergeants in the company, and our first sergeant can’t be bothered to know his name. Unbelievable!

Second platoon cleared their target houses and came up empty-handed. They didn’t find any evidence of IED production, and the individuals there appeared to be the people who lived on and farmed the land. They didn’t seem to be suspicious at all, so the platoon leader reported to Cpt. Veath that there wasn’t anything here.

Captain Veath relayed the information to Lieutenant Colonel Boccardi, our battalion commander, who then directed us to conduct a sensitive site exploitation.

They searched again. Still nothing.

LTC Boccardi was not satisfied, and so he said that we would need to remain in place until daylight, so that 2nd platoon could search the area again. This time, Cpt. Veath pushed back a little, telling the battalion commander that there simply wasn’t anything to be found. LTC Boccardi insisted that we just weren’t looking hard enough.

While the rest of the company was up searching the area, my squad was stated near the first house that had been cleared. I stood there, walking around checking on my soldiers, and I saw someone’s IR (infrared) laser hit the house and the scan back and forth a couple of times.

I made a radio call over our platoon’s frequency, “This is Maggot 2. Someone is aiming their laser in my direction, over.”

“2, this is 6. I saw that also, over,” Lt. Schardt called back.

Leo responded too,”2, this is 3. I saw that as well, but I couldn’t tell where it came from, over.”

I flashed the IR beacon on my NODs, to let whoever it was know that we were there, and that we were friendlies. The dumb ass apparently didn’t get the idea, because it happened again. This time his laser slid across the house, and the dot moved right across my body. I raised my rifle and pointed my laser back in the direction it came from. I have a new type of laser called an AN/PEQ-15. It’s much brighter than the old lasers, and in addition to IR, it has a red laser. Once I did that, we didn’t see anymore lasers coming our way.

Later that morning, Leo would tell me, “You know, I was standing next to Hermida when someone’s laser from your squad hit him. I think it freaked him out.”

An air weapons team circled overhead, and the gunners kept calling Cpt. Veath, telling him that they had heat signatures all over the place around us. Every time they pointed something out from the air, 2nd platoon had to run all over and check it out.

If the individuals responsible for that attack were in those houses, I’m sure they fled before we got there. We were still over half a click away when the dogs around the area started barking. While we waited on 2nd platoon to search and search it again, I thought one dog might come across the canal at us. It kept coming closer and closer. I finally pointed to a strip of tall grass along the canal and told the guys nearest to it, “if that fucking dog comes any closer than that, shoot it.”

While we waited and watching the dog pace back and forth, frost formed around us and mud puddles turned to ice. It was miserable, and we weren’t wearing cold weather gear because we didn’t know what might happen. By morning we could hardly walk because our toes were frozen. It was excruciating.

When the mission was over and we walked back to our Strykers on Route Coyote, my toes felt like they were on fire. It was like stepping into a hot shower when your toes are really cold. After being on our feet all night and having our toes frozen, it was good to be back in some heat, and it was good to sit down.

The sun was up when we arrived back at Route Coyote, and we got a good look at the crater. It was big and deep, and there were Stryker parts lying all around and in it. There was a differential at the edge of the crater and an axle sitting on the pavement. I even saw what looked like a piece from the top, lying at the edge of the road. I sure hope that none of our boys encounter anything like that.

We brought two locals from the target houses back with us for additional questioning. They weren’t being detained. They were just asked to come back with us.

I was struggling to stay awake standing in the hatch of the Stryker on the way back to base. My eyes were heavy, and they would slowly shut. Then my knees would buckle, and I’d catch myself before falling. Sgt. Taaga had been in teh Stryker on watch all night too. He was tired, and we were both struggling. He finally pulled out a bag of candy, and we started throwing it to kids on along the way. It was something to keep us awake.

It was a few minutes before 11 A.M. when we got back to Camp Taji. We had a quick meeting, and Lt. Schardt told us that we were cancelling the day’s patrol so the men could get some rest, and I was glad for that.

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