Last night, we had our nightly meeting, but LT Schardt was still at the company CP working on mission plans for a company-level operation.
Originally, we had expected to leave around 0830 this morning to do a dismounted patorl through Sheikh Jamal Village. Intelligence believes that there is an HVT in the area, and while we weren’t going out looking specifically for him, higher was hoping that we might run into him, and if we do, our orders are to snatch him up..
During our meeting, SFC AB explained to us what LT Schardt was working on. He told us that the company was looking at hitting a meeting place for AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq), and it just so happened that our friendly neighborhood HVT was supposed to be hosting a late night gathering for insurgents in our area. Intelligence had gotten word that they were meeting around 11 P.M., and they wanted us to raid the house at 11:05 P.M. AB said we would have the go or no-go order by 9:30 P.M.
After we finished our meeting, I went and grabbed all of my boys. Most of them were about to call it a night and go to bed; the nightlife in Iraq leaves a little something to be desired. They got dressed again, and we waited. 9:30 P.M. came and went. We waited some more. Finally, it was late enough that we couldn’t have reached the objective by the desired hit time, and we still hadn’t gotten any word on the mission.
Finally, we were told that we could go ahead and get some sleep, but we were directed to sleep in ACUs. It was almost 11 P.M. when LT Schardt came into the room and told Leo and I that the mission had been scrubbed. We told our soldiers what was going on, and started getting ready for bed.
I took my uniform off and put on a pair of boxers to sleep in. As I sat down on my bed, I said, “As soon as we go to bed, they’ll come back and tell us that the mission is a go.”
“Yeah, no shit,” Leo replied with a laugh.
I pulled my blanket, a camouflage poncho liner, up to my neck and reached over to my computer and turned on some Hawaiian music. It was just after midnight when I fell asleep.
BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG
Startled, I jumped out of bed. I opened the door to a very tired and annoyed LT Schardt standing there on the step.
“Get your guys ready to go. The C.O. (Commanding Officer) just woke me up and said the raid is a go. Hit time is 0400,” he said.
I rubbed my eyes and looked at my watch. It was 3:30 A.M. (0330). “Roger that, sir. We’ll get everyone up.”
We scrambled to get everyone up and out to the Strykers on time. It was about 4 A.M. when we rolled out of the vehicle staging area.
It was cold and dark as we passed through Mshahdh on MSR Tampa. Carpenter was having a hard time seeing to drive with the thermal camera because of the temperatures. Our NODs weren’t much help either, because there was no moon this morning. We continued north for another click or so and then turned east off of the highway. As Crapenter made the nearly 180 degree right-hand turn to head southwest down a muddy canal road, our vehicle went off the left side of the road and started to slide down an embankment. Carpenter put his foot on the break, and the vehicle slid to the left another foot or two before stopping. Those of us who were standing out of hatches dropped inside the vehicle and braced ourselves for a rollover. Crapenter started to back up and the vehicle tipped further. He turned the wheels and tried to pull forward. We tipped more as the left side tires spun and dug deeper into the sloppy muck.
“Stop! Let’s get someone out on the ground so we can see what the fuck is happening out there,” I said.
SGT Fraleigh hit the switch to lower the troop ramp. It opened about 2 feet before stopping. He raised it back up and tried to lower it again. It went down a little further this time. We were straddling the edge of the road, and the left side had slide down enough that the hull of our vehicle was on the hump. The ramp was hitting the mud. SGT Fraleigh squeezed out of the narrow opening and walked around the vehicle. As he reached the right side of the truck, he shouted at SGT Taaga. “Hey, T! Two of these fuckin’ wheels on this side awe off the gwound.”
Thankfully, it only took Fraleigh a few minutes to direct Crapenter back onto the road, and we didn’t tip over. There were definitely a few moments in there that we all thought we were going to roll over into the ditch. After the initial scare, we were back up in the hatches, but we all dropped back inside a couple more times. We needed Willy P to give us his Texas rollover brief.
Once back on the road, we tried to lower the ramp to let SGT Fraleigh back in the vehicle. It wouldn’t go down. We flipped the lights on inside and flipped the switch up and down and up and down. Nothing! Finally, we noticed that the cam locks on one side of the ramp were not disengaging. After further investigation, we found that there was a W-4 cable from a radio headset pinched in the door. The added pressure that was putting on the ramp was causing the locks to stick.
I was extremely pissed. We were less than half a click from our objective, and we had been held up by going off the road. Now, we couldn’t get all of our people back into the truck, and we wouldn’t be able to get out in a hurry when we arrived at the target house. We were supposed to be the assaulting squad.
Fraleigh climbed back into the truck through the small troop door and starting trying to get the cable out of the ramp opening.
“Maggot 2, this is Maggot 6, over.”
“Send it, 6,” I called back.
“2, since your ramp won’t open, we’re going to have 1st squad hit the objective, over,” he said.
I flipped out. “Get that fucking ramp down, now!”
I yanked my CVC (combat vehicle crew helmet – these have radio headsets built in) off and threw it on the floor. It bounced and hit SGT Taaga’s knee. I don’t think it hit him too hard, but I still feel badly about it.
Our small convoy continued moving toward our objective and my guys in the back kept working on the ramp. We were within 100 meters of the house, and Fraleigh got the lock to loosen up. He hit the switch and the ramp opened a few inches.
“SGT T, we’re good to go!” he called.
“Got it, leave that shit open a little, so the locks don’t get stuck again.”
He opened the ramp about six inches and left it.
“6, this is 2,” I called. “Our ramp in functional, we are good to hit the target, over.”
“Okay,” he called back.
The road was very narrow as we got closer to the target house. On our left, there was a drop off with some fields below. To our right, there was a deep canal. The property where the house was located had a tall wire fence around it. As we pulled up in front of the objective, our slat armor was scraping the fence on the left side of the road, and our right side tires were inches from the edge of the canal. Sometimes, I think our drivers had more guts than any of us.
The original plan was for us to pull right into the driveway, but the tight turn and narrow road made that impossible. As soon as Crapenter stopped our vehicle the ramp was down and we were heading for the house. SGT Fraleigh was in the lead with his fire team following close behind.
It’s important to understand that SGT Fraleigh is big and aggressive. He was our division boxing champ, and he kind of looked like Rocky Balboa with red hair and freckles. He even kind of spoke the same way, although Fraleigh used the word fuck at every opportunity, and he had a little trouble with r-sounds. That just added to his oger like presence. He had several nicknames during our deployment, BAMF (bad ass mother fucker), Frolo, and my personal favorite, Shrek.
Fraleigh hit the door and barely paused. He stepped back, kicked, and the metal door gave way. It bent, and pieces of the lock and door frame flew across the room.
Bridges and Fraleigh quickly cleared the first floor. The place was furnished, but it didn’t really look lived in. One room had been completely gutted by fire. It was all black, and had been full of tires, car parts, fuel cans, and other random stuff. There was an odd collection of things in there, and it made me wonder if someone hadn’t made a mistake while making IEDs.
The smell took me back to my first car. When I was 17, I had a 1987 Ford Tempo. It caught fire one afternoon, and I was on a country highway in the middle of nowhere. Burning cars have a very distinct smell, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. This room smelled just like a burned car.
After the first floor was cleared and secure, SGT Bridges, PFC Colleran, and I moved upstairs. There wasn’t much up there, just a small room with roof access. We checked the rooftop, and then headed back down. The house was empty.
There was another building on the property, so I left Bridges and his team to start searching the house, while I went with Fraleigh’s team to check the outbuilding. There were three rooms in the building, and they were all empty except the last one we came to. The door was secured with a padlock, so we kicked it in. The door bent, the padlock broke, and the metal frame came out of the cement walls. There was a huge pile of fertilizer covering most of the floor. It may have been used for agricultural purposes, but I’m guessing that someone here was making homemade explosives.
I got a call on the radio saying that someone in the vehicles had spotted personnel moving on the roof top of the building. I called back and told LT Schardt that we had been up there, and that the house was cleared and secure. He seemed a little surprised at how quickly we had gotten in and cleared the place.
Lloyd’s squad came in behind us and provided some extra
security while we searched the place for intelligence.
I was moving between the house and the outbuilding when I heard a couple of gunshots nearby. Our 2nd platoon was hitting the neighbor house about 50 meters away, and they had just shot the locks off of a door with a shotgun.
The guys didn’t find much as they searched the house. There were a lot of books and even some notebooks. I found a children’s book about dolphins, and I found another one that looked like an elementary school textbook. I flipped it open and found a picture of Saddam Hussein on the inside cover. I also found a child’s view finder toy. All of the pictures wheels were of destinations in the Middle East. I considered keeping them and giving them to Jacob, but I decided against it.
The house really seemed like no one lived there, but it also appeared that they whoever had lived there, hadn’t taken much with them when they left. They had plastic taped over all of the vents, which I thought was odd. After moving some of the plastic, I decided that they were trying to block the smell from the burned room.
After my squad finished searching the place, I walked around double checking some things. I just wanted to make sure that nothing had been missed. As I walked out of, what i assumed was, the master bedroom, I saw a plastic bag on the bottom shelf of a small end table. When I picked it up and opened it, I found a lot of documents. There were several passports, photos, ID cards and blueprints. Bingo! Most of the documents belonged to the guy we were looking for. We didn’t find him, but we did know we were in the right place at least.
We went through the house one last time, and I inventoried and photographed everything. SFC AB and LT Schardt were giving me a hard time, calling me names like, “Chief Taylor” and “Horatio Caine,” a reference to the detective in CSI Miami.
Later, we learned that 4th platoon, who was supposed to be setting up an outer cordon had gotten lost. Leo’s squad was on the ground making sure that no one approached our position from the south. Apparently, one of 4th platoon’s squads was to our south, pulling security on Leo’s squad. I’m glad they were paying attention, and eventually realized that they were looking at other American soldiers.
Second platoon detained one man and seized a bunch of stuff. They took an old bolt action rifle, and I saw that they had a Play Station with “Grand Theft Auto III” and “Ace Combat” games. I didn’t really understand why they took the video game system; it obviously wasn’t of any military value. The training we have gone through makes soldiers suspicious of every electronic device we encounter. I highly doubt that they have started using Play Stations to set off IEDs. People get jumpy every time they see someone talking on a phone here. I always remind my soldiers that they have all of these things in their houses and barracks rooms too. We all have cell phones. While we need to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and devices, we also have to realize that people have cell phones here.
Once we were satisfied with our search, we loaded up into our vehicles and started to make the trip back to Camp Taji.
Fourth platoon stayed out in sector and responded to a call about a rocket or a bomb or something that someone had found.
We got back to Camp Taji around noon. Our actual hit time ended up being 0622, not 2305, and not 0400.
1SG Angulo seemed to be excited about the passports and other documents that I brought. SFC Brown, the NCO from battalion who was taking possession of all of the stuff, was more interested in 2nd platoon’s haul. I finally handed all of my stuff off to LT Dudek, 2nd platoon’s platoon leader, and I went back to my CHU.
LT Schardt told me several times that he just couldn’t believe how quickly we had cleared the house, and how well-organized and fast our sensitive site exploitation was. “You guys set the standard for the conduct of SSE,” he said.
At least he tells us when he thinks we are doing a good job. Sometimes it’s nice to hear. Other times, you just want to say, “Shut the fuck up. I’m just doing my job.”
I got back to my room around 1:45 P.M., and went to take a shower. I smelled like burned car. I crawled into bed and took a nap from about 2:30 until 5 or so.
After Leo and I walked over to the chow hall for dinner, we had our usual nightly meeting. 5 minutes after the meeting was over, we were called back for another meeting.
“Our mission for tomorrow, is to support 4th platoon,” LT Schardt said.
I grumbled about how they had fucked up today’s mission.
“C.O. says we need to ‘let them grow’, and that we need to let them run their mission,” he said.
At this point, 4th platoon’s plan sucks! It’s what we NCOs would call a Polish Ambush. I brought this up, but I was shut down.
Our guidance from Captain Veath was, “be patient with them, and keep your mouths shut unless it becomes a safety concern.”
Their plan put the objective directly between our platoons. We would be the backstop for their rounds if they fired into the objective, and vice versa.
In other news, we heard that 4th platoon has been recommended for combat infantry badges (CIBs) and combat action badges (CABs) for the non-infantry types. Apparently, they found an IED, and they were within the kill radius when they found it. That’s some bullshit if you ask me.
Apparently they are also being investigated for shooting a dump truck this morning. I guess it got too close to their convoy, so they fucking shot it. I joked with my team leaders and Leo that this mission might be their first live fire exercise. In training they always screwed up so badly that they only got to use blanks.
They are definitely the black sheep of our company right now.
Tomorrow, they are supposed to be looking for someone who is believed to have some surface to air rockets. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
As Theresa always says, “Stay tuned.”