4 February 2008 (ON PATROL)

We have been out twice since I wrote an entry yesterday. I had planned to take a nap before our mission last night, but that never happened. We had several meetings, and our plans kept changing. About the time we were supposed to be leaving, we were told the mission had changed again. We ended up getting about a half a dozen sit rep’s (situation reports) before every getting any real intelligence about what was happening.

Our new task, was to reinforce 2nd platoon on Route No Names. Apparently, they had a Stryker stuck in the mud, and it was on the verge of tipping over into a canal.

Been there, done that, I thought.

Higher went on to tell us that 2nd platoon was taking fire and couldn’t recover their vehicle because of enemy contact.

A few minutes later squad leaders were pulled aside and told the following.

One of our convoys has taken an IED Strike near IA checkpoint 59A on MSR Tampa. A medevac bird is en route. At this time, 2nd platoon is still stuck and taking contact, and Iraqi Army checkpoint 107 on Route Coyotes is also receiving small arms fire.

We will escort recovery assets to Checkpoint 59A before proceeding to Checkpoint 107. Once we have the situation at the checkpoint under control, we will move on foot to support 2nd platoon.

Adrenaline was pumping, and we kicked it into high gear to get out there as quickly as possible. I could tell that my soldiers had their game faces on. Some of them were excited.

Fraleigh clapped one of his guys on the back and yelled, “Fuck yeah! We’re gonna get into some shit.”

Others looked like they were excited, but I could tell that they were scared too. The looks on some of their faces said, Oh shit. This is about to get real.

I was somewhere in between. I was looking forward to doing something, but at the same time, I was worried about my soldiers’ safety.

In the end, we escorted a KBR (Kellog, Brown, and Root) wrecker out to Checkpoint 59A. It was a convoy of KBR contractors, and the “IED” was actually just a motor vehicle accident. One of their trucks had hit a concrete barrier at the checkpoint. We were told that the driver had been killed, but I’m not sure how accurate that is.

When we reached CP 107, we were told that there had been unconfirmed reports of gun fire in the area, but nothing had been directed at the soldiers manning the checkpoint. We dismounted from our vehicles and started moving to 2nd platoon’s location. We walked, in a reverse wedge, looking for IEDs wires or trigger men, and our Strykers and an M88 tracked recovery vehicle followed close behind.

M88

Borrowed image of an M88 recovery vehicle.

We finally came to a point where the road passed through the middle of two large ponds. There was nowhere for us to walk, so we got back in our vehicles for the remainder of the trip.

As we pulled up to 2nd platoon, we saw that their Stryker really was on the verge of rolling over into the canal. The slat armor had gotten wedged against a rock and had kept it from rolling the rest of the way. 2nd platoon had used the winches on two of their other vehicles to try and pull it back up, but they weren’t having any luck. The cables were still connecting, and basically there to keep it from tipping any further.

The M88 moved into position and had no trouble whatsoever getting the Stryker back onto the roadway. Once the recovery was complete, we moved back to Rt. Coyotes. The M88 had actually been brought out on a flatbed semi trailer, unloaded at the intersection of Route Coyotes and Route No Names, and we had left a security element behind with the semi truck. When we arrived at Route Coyotes, they recovery team started loading the M88 back onto the trailer. Once they were loaded, we started to head for Camp Taji.

M88 on trailer

Borrowed image of an M88 being loaded onto a flatbed in Iraq.

I don’t know what went wrong, but as soon as we started to pull away, the flatbed started blowing tires, one after another. We stopped, and tried to figure out what was happening. Finally, the truck driver said he would just try to make it. By the time we reached the gate at Camp Taji, they had lost four or five tires. They were smoking, and we really thought they might catch on fire. They eventually fell apart or worked their way off of the rims.

Our initial plan had us arriving back at Camp Taji around 0130, but it was closer to 0430 when we got back. We went to bed and woke up around lunchtime. After eating, we started prepping for today’s patrol.

This time, our task was to take our Company XO (executive officer) out to look at locations that might be suitable for us to build a company JSS (Joint Security Station). He had a few houses and other pieces of property marked on a map, and he wanted to see all of them. He needed to get an idea of how much space their was, if the buildings were usable, and he wanted to photograph everything.

The first place we stopped was the house with the burned room, that we had raided previously. My squad went in and cleared the house again, for the 3rd time. They keep reminding us about house-born IEDs, where a house is rigged to blow up when soldiers enter, but they have us going back to the same house every two or three days. If I were an insurgent, I’d probably start thinking about turning this house into a bomb.

Realistically, this house would be a decent spot for a JSS. It’s centrally located in our AO, and there is plenty of room on this property. The roads might be problematic, because they are narrow, and it would take some work to make it so that vehicles could get in and out of a gate easily.

We brought a different interpreter with us today. I don’t like him. He started digging through drawers and stuff in the house, and he was just throwing things on the floor. Someone asked what the fuck he was doing, and he said he was helping us search the place. I’m pretty sure he was looking for shit to steal.

Next we moved to 14th Ramadan’s soccer field. We have walked through that field before, and it’s a weird wet sandy soil that seems to be very salty. It reminds me a little of the land near the coast in Djibouti. The sand has a lot of salt in it, so it appears solid, but it holds a lot of moisture. If you step on it, it’s slick and your feet sink. I told AB before that I wouldn’t recommend putting a Stryker in that field.

Well, we tried to turn around in that field today, and my Stryker started sinking. We ended up so deep in the mud that one side of our slat armor was touching the ground. I think the whole damn town came out to watch us unfuck ourselves. I climbed out of the Stryker to see if I could figure out how to get us unstuck, and it didn’t really register that I was the only one on the ground with all of these locals standing around. I left my M4 in the truck, so I pulled my pistol out, chambered a round, and then holstered it.

3-vic backed up and tried to pull us out, and they ended up almost as stuck as we were. We finally managed to get out by attaching winch cables from 1 and 4-vics to the front of 3-vic. Once Leo’s truck was out, they hooked up to us and got us out too.

B-12 Ramadan #2

L to R: Leo, Lloyd, Me, SGT Taaga up with the gun.

B-12 Ramadan #1

After getting out of that mess, we went to one more house that is located just north of Route Asp along MSR Tampa.

Of all the places, it seems like the least likely location for a JSS. The house there is small and run down, and it is surrounded by flat ground that sits a little lower than the highway. Plus, it’s right on the edge of the northern boundary of our AO. Once we finished up there, we turned south and headed for Camp Taji.

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In other news today, SGT Bridges came into my CHU, and he was covered from head to toe in wet dripping mud. I was getting my gear on, and most of the guys had already gone out to the vehicles for our patrol.

He looked at me, dropped his rack on the floor, and said, “SGT T, I’m done.” He turned around and ran out of the door and down the path between our platoon’s CHUs. I went out the door behind him and ran after, trying to understand what the hell was happening.

“SGT Bridges, stop! What’s going on?” I shouted behind him.

He yelled, “I’m about to beat his fuckin’ ass!”

Just as we reached the opening in the Hesco barriers that surrounded our living area, I finally got him to stop. He looked at me, and I could see 1SG Angulo and SFC AB standing in front of one of our Strykers.

“Come here!” 1SG shouted.

SGT Bridges spun around and yelled back, “Fuck you!”

Apparently, 1SG Angulo had gotten on to one of our soldiers about something, and then he overheard SGT Bridges say something that he felt was disrespectful toward him. 1SG was pissed, so he decided to make SGT Bridges roll around and do push-ups in a mud hole near our trucks.

So, one of our NCOs was getting smoked and rolling around in the mud in front of his own soldiers. I was pissed. One of my team leaders, a fellow NCO, being made to roll around in the mud in all of his gear before we go out on a combat patrol, was absolutely ridiculous. Everything was covered in slop. Even his magazines were caked with mud. That shit would have made his weapon malfunction on the first shot, if he had needed to use it, and then what; Someone gets killed because a senior NCO felt the need to humiliate a junior NCO in front of his soldiers?

I got Bridges calmed down, and AB told me to leave him behind when we went out, so he could have some time to cool down. Now, I’ve got to take SGT Bridges up to see 1SG later, so I’m sure that’ll be a fun little conference. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but I’m sure it won’t be good for Bridges.

I can see where SGT Bridges was wrong, but I wouldn’t have even made a private roll in the mud in his gear before a combat patrol. What happens if we make contact, and that kid needs to fight? What happens when he can’t because his gear is all fucked up? Was is really necessary to do that to an NCO in front of the whole platoon?

I really wanted to tell 1SG what I thought. I wanted to tell him that what he did was fucked up and completely uncalled for. I don’t have a problem with disciplining soldiers, but when it impacts the safety of my soldiers outside the wire, it is unacceptable. I knew better than to open my mouth about my opinions though. He’s the 1SG, and there isn’t any winning with the man. I did tell AB that what he did was fucked up, and he said he would go and talk with him later.

I messaged back and forth with my mom for a bit today. She actually came online when I only had a few minutes left, but we still got to talk a bit. She sent some photos of an anniversary party at a bar called the Castle Inn in Mattoon. The owner is a Vietnam vet, and I gave him a flag that I flew on a pole in Kandahar in 2005. He finally hung the flag and the certificate that went with it on the wall in the bar. It looks like they have added some photos of local service members and stuff too, so that’s cool. Maybe I can find something from here to send back.

Well, I’m going to get some sleep. We have a patrol tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll have to go and see the 1SG before we head out.

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