Our convoy to JSS Rasheed, also known as Old MOD (Ministry of Defense under Saddam Hussein’s regime), took just over two hours. We were quite the line of vehicles heading down MSR Tampa: our four vehicles, plus four from 2nd platoon, four from 3rd platoon, the commander’s vehicle, the 1SG’s vehicle, the MGS (Mobile Gun System), the mortar vehicle, a MEV, and maybe one or two others.
Overall, the ride was uneventful, except for an incredibly narrow bridge that we had to cross as we were getting into the city. I was surprised at how Baghdad looked. I had been to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport), and I had flown over the city at night, but it was different there on the streets. Bravo Company’s sector had been primarily in a rural area north of Baghdad, so it was interesting as we rolled into a much more urban area. We left behind tall cane fields, groves of date palms, and mud huts for tall buildings, street lights, and divided highways that were several lanes wide. It could have been the United States’ interstate system heading into any major American city. As we drove through the streets, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the poorer neighborhoods in St. Louis or Chicago. There were store fronts with closed gates over the windows and doors; cars parked on each side of every side street, traffic signals, street lights, and signs advertising products and services all over the place. I really felt like we were driving through some bad neighborhood in the United States. The only difference this time was the amount of firepower I had on my side. In my own Stryker vehicle alone, we had enough weapons and ammunition to challenge a small army.
It was sometime around 2 A.M. when we pulled through a gate and parked in a courtyard surrounded by tall buildings. Our vehicles were crammed in, 4 or 5 deep, and 4 or 5 rows wide, with just enough space to walk between the slat armor. Most of us weren’t even sure where we were. Someone told us it was called Old Mod. It turned out that it had been the Ministry of Defense under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now it housed American troops who regularly patrolled this particular part of Baghdad.
We napped for about 45 minutes or so while the platoon leaders and senior NCOs from each platoon were briefed on the company’s mission in Sadr City. They were given a sit-rep, the latest intelligence on the fighting, and finally some overhead imagery of the susptected POO (Point of origin) sites, where rockets were being fired from. Our job would be to conduct raids on houses near those sites, observe the open areas where the rockets were coming from, and prevent any further attacks on the Green Zone.
The Maggots would take control of two different three-story homes that would offer clear views of the POO sites from their rooftops. With Lloyd on R&R, my squad would take one house, and Leo’s would secure the second.
Just before sunrise my undermanned squad, made up of six men instead of the typical nine, hit our objective. When I say we hit the objective, I mean Crapenter literally crashed into the wall around the property. He was driving with his thermal camera, and he misjudged the distance. It created an opening that was about 10 feet wide, which worked to our advantage, as we later found that all the gates were padlocked from the inside.
SGT Taaga dropped the ramp and we poured out into the street, racing toward the collapsed section of the wall. SGT Fraleigh busted through a door into the home, and we began securing and clearing the rooms. Members of the household were immediately questioned, and the home was searched. We found nothing to be concerned about, and the man of the house was cooperative. After we had crashed through their wall, broken their kitchen door, and dragged them all out of bed he actually offered us breakfast and hot tea. We declined, but thanked him.
I posted men on the rooftop and instructed the family to remain in certain areas of the house. It was then that the waiting game began. We sat for hours waiting to hear what our next move would be.
From the rooftop we could hear automatic weapons, zips and pops as stray bullets passed by, and occasionally the scream of a rocket heading toward the Green Zone. My men were disappointed that there was so much action taking place only a couple of blocks away, and we were stuck babysitting an empty playground on the edge of Sadr City.
It was around 1 P.M., when our Strykers left for JSS Sadr City to get fuel. At about the same time, the head of the household asked if we could please leave his home. I wasn’t sure what to do. He had been very cooperative, and his entire family had been stuck in a bedroom all day. They hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, because we were there in their home. We could have stayed and told him to shut the hell up, but I chose to show some compassion. There was a bigger house a couple of doors down, and it would afford us a better view anyway, so I decided to move down the street.
I briefed my team leaders, and I could tell that they were hesitant to move. Once everyone knew the plan, we picked up and moved down a few doors. Instead of busting the door in, I had George knock on the door.
“Ask if we can get to their rooftop,” I told him.
He relayed the message, and the man shook his head, no.
They talked back and forth for a few seconds, and I finally interrupted, “Tell him that I need to get to his rooftop, now.”
The man still complained and went on about not wanting us in the house.
I pulled out a pair of flex-cuffs and looked at George. “Tell him that he can let us go up to the roof, or I’m going to cuff his ass trash this whole fucking place searching it, and then I’m still going to get to the rooftop. He can let us go, and I’ll leave his shit alone, or he can say no, and I’ll fuckin’ destroy this house.”
George relayed my message, and the man led us to through his house to the stairs.
From our new position on the rooftop, we continued to hear more and more gunfire from a few blocks away. We heard several explosions too. Our MGS Stryker hit an IED, or possibly a buried landmine but kept rolling. A couple of 3rd platoon’s Strykers were hit as well, and one eventually burned up after being towed. Then a Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit one and couldn’t roll any more.
NOTE: The details I have in my journal about the IED strikes this day are the ones I was told about and wrote down at the time. From what I understand now, there were more. It sounds like our company HQ element was hit with IEDs, RPGs, and small arms fire. 3rd platoon’s lead vehicle was hit with a small IED, and another of their vehicles was hit with an EFP, which penetrated into the engine compartment. 2nd platoon and 1st, my platoon, were also in contact during the day. At the end of the day, Bravo Company had soldiers with minor injuries and burns, and we were down 1 Stryker.
It was nearly 3 P.M., when we heard LT Scardt on the radio. He came in a little broken at first, but as the Strykers raced back to our positions, we could hear him more clearly. We needed to be prepared to move. 2nd platoon was in contact, and they were running low on fuel. We were going to conduct a relief in place, and we needed to get their quickly.
Once our Strykers arrived, we left the buildings, mounted up, and started moving toward 2nd platoon. When we arrived, we found that they had set up a perimeter around a the disabled Bradley. The crew was unhurt and still firing at targets. We pulled up next to the 2nd platoon vehicles, and they left. Once they were gone, we adjusted our perimeter some. We were basically in a coil formation at an intersection with the Bradley in the middle.
All seemed relatively quiet for about 15 minutes or so, and then we made contact. We heard small arms rounds striking the side of our vehicle. Crapenter called out, “I think someone’s shooting at me.” We heard another couple rounds, and he said, “They’re definitely shooting at me!”
By then, I could see rounds hitting the road in front of the Stryker.
SGT Taaga saw a single gunman, about 50 meters down a side street, firing an AK-47 from behind the shell of a stripped out car. Taaga told Carpenter to pull forward a little, and he tried to engage with our mounted .50 caliber machine gun. We had never had a chance to test fire it before, and when he squeezed the trigger on his joystick, it malfunctioned.
He tried several more times, firing a few single rounds between the ka-chunk sounds of more malfunctions. Finally, he got a short burst of rounds through the gunman’s cover. We never found out if he was hit, or if he fled.
About that time SGT Fraleigh, who was standing in the left rear hatch, called out contact to our 4 o’clock, Jimmy, who was in the right rear hatch, called out contact to the rear of our vehicle, and LT Schardt’s vehicle, on our right, opened up at our 1 o’clock. It was our first firefight of the deployment, and the platoon was taking fire from several directions.
The NCOs were calling out contacts to LT Schardt in 1-Vic. Leo and AB were calling out different distances and directions to enemy combatants who were firing on us. After a few minutes of this, LT Schardt called, “Maggot 2, Maggot 2, this is Maggot 6, over.”
“Send it, over,” I said.
“Maggot 2, I’m going to need you to dismount your squad, and try to find a way to get onto one of these rooftops. We need to get to high ground, so we can get an advantage over these guys, over.”
“Roger,” I replied.
I slipped down into my hatch and told my squad that we would be getting out of the vehicle. To my surprise, they were all excited about it; even the new guy Jesse “cowboy” Caballero. He was assigned to first squad, but was working for me while Lloyd was on leave.
SGT Taaga dropped the ramp on the back of our vehicle, and we ran out into the street. There was smoke in the air, and the streets were filled with garbage and sewage. The recovery vehicle had arrived and was sitting next to the Bradley waiting to hook up. On each side of us were three and four story buildings with store fronts on the ground floor. The buildings were bullet riddled from past firefights. There were stripped out cars, and even a dead donkey that had been caught in the crossfire earlier in the day. Frolo began moving forward looking for a way into one of these buildings. About 100 meters up the main street, in front of my platoon leader’s vehicle, there were tires burning on the pavement. The gunner in 1-vic, SPC Eichler was aiming his M2 .50 caliber machine gun with the Stryker’s thermal sites, and was taking down gunmen who thought they were protected by the wall of black smoke. It turned out that they were wrong.
My squad moved up the entire block, and most of the doors were roll-up types. Frolo tried to shoot the locks off of a couple of them, but they just wouldn’t give. A burst of AK rounds zipped past us, and I turned to look at my newest privates. They looked at each other, then at me and smiled. They were loving every minute of this situation. Cowboy called out some people who were running down an alley. I asked if they were armed and he said “no.”
“Wouldn’t you be running away too, if you didn’t have a gun?”
He got the point, and watched them disappear out of sight. When we had reached the end of the block and still found no entrance, SFC AB called Crapenter and told him to make a door so we could get out of the street. He came to our rescue and crashed the Stryker straight through the front wall of the building. It made a tank sized hole in the wall, knocking out a pillar between two roll-up doors. It should have given us room to get in out of the gunfire, but this particular shop was filled with tires and other junk stacked from floor to ceiling. We couldn’t get in.
Once we realized we weren’t getting in, we moved further up the street and rounded a corner into an alley. We found a door, a regular fucking door, and Fraleigh tried to open it. He had his weapon pointed at the door, and there was a woman behind it screaming. Fraleigh was screaming at her in English and Arabic to open the door, and she finally did. Once inside, the old woman was panicking, frantically trying to get us to look at the identification cards hanging from lanyards around her children’s necks. We pushed her and the kids into an interior room and pulled the door shut. We did a hasty search of the home to make sure there was no danger to us inside and to see if we could find stairs to get to the upper floors and the roof. We didn’t find anything concerning in the home. I jerked a door open, and checked a dark room with the tactical flashlight mounted on my rifle. It seemed like a scene from a war movie, when I flung the door open, several young women and small children screamed. I put my finger to my lips, and made the “shhh” sound. I motioned for them to get to the back of the room and stay low. I closed the door behind me as I left. Jimmy was coming out of another room at the same time, and we both spotted a staircase leading from a courtyard to the rooftop. Unfortunately, we were under the steps, looking through a narrow gap between the cement stairs and a wall. Through the gap, we could see a door at the base of the steps. It opened into the alley, but it was barred from the inside.
Iraqi buildings, especially in the overcrowded blocks of Sadr City, are nothing like what we are used to in the United States. The homes are connected like townhouses, but sometimes there are doors connecting upper floors, and the flat rooftops are connected. Plus, city blocks have homes that open to the streets, while others are completely within the interior of the block, with entrances through small courtyards or narrow passages.
We needed to get someone through the gap between the wall and the stairs to get the doors to the alley opened up, but our gear made us too big. If we got those doors open, Leo’s squad and our snipers could dismount and get into positions on the rooftop. Fraleigh suggested we make one of the kids go and open the door. All I could think of was Jacob. I couldn’t imagine sending a kid to open a door to an alley where a gun fight was going down.
I dropped my helmet and unfastened my body armor. I pulled it off over my head and laid it down on the ground, and I dropped my M4 on top of it.
Jimmy looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Are you at least going to take your 9?”
I grabbed the Beretta from my holster and squeezed through the gap between the wall and the stairs. There was a window along the wall overlooking the courtyard. As I approached I turned quickly, with my pistol in front of me, to clear window, and I found myself looking at Fraleigh. My pistol was pointed at his face, and his rifle was aimed at my chest. We both let out a sigh of relief, and I moved on to the door. Once there, I called for Leo and the snipers to come up.
Leo called as they rounded the corner, and I pulled the latch on the doors to let them in. Once they were in, I directed my squad to move back out into the alley and follow 3rd squad upstairs. As they went up, AK fire erupted into the courtyard from a nearby rooftop. They hauled ass up the stairs and dove into an open door on the second floor. I went back through the gap for my gear, and Jimmy was there waiting for me. He waited while I donned my body armory and helmet, then we ran out into the alley to catch up.
Leo and the snipers crawled up onto the rooftop, and immediately started taking fire. They called LT Schardt and told him that this was not a good position. At that moment, some colonel from another unit called and told us that we were a block further north than we were supposed to be. He directed us to pull back to the next street.
We had done all that for nothing.
We moved back to the Ministry of Education building, and we were told to set up a platoon patrol base there. I started clearing it, but it was way too big. SFC AB came in and agree that it was just too big for the number of soldiers we had. It would have been too difficult to clear and keep secure through the night.
We decided that a tall apartment building across the street was a much better location. We knocked on the door and asked to use the rooftop. The man inside invited us in. There were 6 or 8 apartments there. The man that invited us in brought chai up to us a little later, and offered to prepare food for us. We had chai, but again declined the food. We just wanted to rest as our adrenaline faded. I talked with some of the families in the building, and they assured us that we were safe there. They said that the dangerous areas were to the north and east. I told them that we had already been up there, and that we were just here to rest. I asked that for their own safety, they stay down from the rooftop.
We sat on the roof, four floors above the streets of Sadr City, and an explosion rocked the building. A hell of a firefight broke out in the streets below. We got word that another Bradley had taken an IED and was burning. Initially, we thought there were four soldiers inside, but we got word that everyone had gotten out safely.
NOTE: SPC Hogan, one of our company snipers took three videos from the rooftop. They don’t show much, but be sure to turn your volume up. In addition to the shooting, you’ll hear SGT Fraleigh complaining that we need to go. You’ll hear SGT Akard, another sniper, talking about someone being in trouble. You’ll here radio chatter, and then you’ll hear me call my squad together to tell them that we may get the call to go. LANGUAGE WARNING
We set up a plan for security, and settled in for a night of much needed rest. Tomorrow would likely be just as busy.