26 January 2008 (ON PATROL)

We did a patrol to 14th Ramadan today. This time we pushed further east than we have gone before so that we could take some engineers out to a bridge on Route Asp. It’s a narrow broken down slab of concrete, and they wanted to determine if it is sturdy enough to drive our Strykers over.

On our way out there, we were told to do a defile drill. This is where we spread out on both sides of the road and walk in a giant V. The idea is that the guys on the ground will spot a trigger man or command wires before anyone on or near the road is in the kill zone. The V-shape makes it so that the soldiers furthest from an IED threat are the farthest forward in the formation. So, the open end of the V is at the front.

As we moved along the sides of the road, CPT Veath, LT Schardt, and PFC Nikjoo, the RTO, stayed on the road ahead of our lead vehicle. The road was elevated about 5 or 6 feet above the muddy fields on either side, so they were already silhouetting themselves, but they also had a smooth surface to walk on. They kept getting ahead of us because the rest of us were trudging through mud and slop, and it was making us a little slow. Not only were they higher than the rest of us and getting ahead, but they all had headsets on, which makes them look like a pretty good target, if you ask me.

I called LT Schardt on the radio, “Sir, if the three of you are ahead of us, the IED will find you before we find a wire, over.”

I was about 20 meters away, and I heard CPT Veath start laughing.

“Umm. Roger. Thanks,” came the response.

We talked with CLCs at the bridge checkpoint while the engineers did their thing. Some of the guys looked around the bridge too. Really, we were supposed to be providing security for the survey team, but it’s so open and flat out there, that we really didn’t have much to worry about. As long as we were paying attention to what was going on around us, it would have been really hard for someone to sneak up on us.

While we waited, I noticed a small boy standing with his father at the checkpoint. He was probably about Jacob’s age, 3 or so. I held out a small package of Oreo cookies. The whole situation reminded me of the scene from Band of Brothers, when the American soldiers handed a young boy a piece of chocolate. Just like the film, the boy was curious but frightened and unsure. He wanted to take what I was offering, but he was too afraid to reach for it. When he finally got the courage to grab it, his father looked down and told him, “say thank you.” I was really surprised by that, and then the father smiled at me and thanked me as well. That just doesn’t usually happen here.

A little later, I was walking over to check out something on the bridge, and I noticed the boy was having a hard time opening the cookies. I knelt down next to him and opened them for him. He smiled up at me. He was a cute kid; filthy, covered in dirt from head to toe, and he had bright green snot running running down his lip, but still a cute kid. Times like that really make me miss Jacob.

The kid that I gave the Oreo’s to didn’t ask for them, but the damn CLCs were begging for shit today. One teenage boy with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder walked up to me and asked me for a pen for school. What the fuck, I thought. This kid is carrying a fully automatic weapon, and he’s asking me for a fucking ink pen. Unreal! I guessed that he was about 14.

Some of the other CLCs wanted to trade their weapons for ours. When I declined, they asked if they could at least shoot an M4. Again, I told them that it wasn’t going to happen. I need to learn enough Arabic to tell them, in their own language, that these weapons are property of the United States Army, and they simply cannot be given away or traded.

The engineers wrapped up their inspection, and told us that the bridge was most likely passable by Stryker. They did add; however, that they wouldn’t recommend trying it.

CPT Veath said, “Well, at least we know we can use that bridge now.”

Perfect, I thought.

We are going out again tomorrow to meet with some CLC leaders. Apparently, they are signed some sort of contract to be paid for their services. We didn’t really know anything about that, but we were told that it had been arranged by someone at battalion. It would be nice if they would let us know about what’s going on in our AO. Oh well.

More later…

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