27 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I slept well. There was some activity late in the night, but it didn’t really bother me too much. At one point, I heard an explosion nearby. I sat up and looked outside, but I laid back down and went right back to sleep. I learned later that a mortar round had impacted about 50 meters away from our building. The effective blast radius of an 82mm mortar is about 40 meters.

We headed out on a dismounted patrol at 0800. 1st squad took the lead on this one, and 3rd was in trail. We walked for about two hours, covering a good chunk of the area between Routes Tennessee and Gold. Since I wasn’t covering the front or rear of the formation, I used the opportunity to snap a lot of photos. We were drenched in sweat by the time we returned, and the salt rings on my pants were ridiculous.

The day was pretty quiet until about 1700, when we walked forward to the O.P. at the intersection of Routes Charlie and Tennessee. A dust storm had blown in and visibility was bad. This one was thicker than the others we’ve dealt with here. The sky usually turns orange, and things get hazy. This one is thick.

We assumed posts at the O.P., and I asked for an extra man. Another squad sent someone, but they complained about being short-handed. I pushed back. They claimed that they had only five men, but they had seven. The NCOs were trying to get out of guard shifts, and they were pissed that I was taking away from their man power.

LT Schardt had finally reached his limit, and he called for a squad leader meeting. We all had an opportunity to voice our concerns and complaints. We discussed the problems in the platoon. The other squad leaders complained that my team leaders were cocky; we always took the lead; we were always the assaulting element on raids; my men lacked discipline and ignored customs and courtesies; and they even brought up the Bronze Star Medals.

Heckman went on to talk about a platoon sergeant from his previous deployment. This man had risked his life and made the ultimate sacrifice to save his platoon, and he only received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. He wanted to know how we could possibly deserve those medals. I countered with an explanation of my previous unit, 2-35 Infantry, where BSMs were given as service awards. Even office clerks, if they had enough stripes or connections, were given Bronze Stars at the end of that deployment. In 4-31 Infantry, following Operation Anaconda, awards were chosen by rank. Each platoon was supposed to give a certain number of awards, and Army Achievement Medals, Army Commendation Medals, and Bronze Star Medals were all awards according to soldiers’ ranks. Each deployment and each unit came with its own criteria for what constituted an award. I hope everyone feels better after having a chance to be heard. I guess we’ll see.

We hadn’t been in there too long, when my squad started shooting. Someone had fired at them, and a round had passed through the opening in the wall, between a couple of my guys, and lodged in the back wall of the space they were occupying.

After checking on the guys and waiting to see if we were dealing with a real threat, we went back to our meeting. This time, SFC AB went down the list of complaints. Most of the gripes on the list, he said, were our problems to fix. The things that were above our pay-grades, he said simply, weren’t issues. So, basically, he threw it all back on us. He said that we’re too easy on our soldiers; we don’t hold team leaders accountable, and we bitch too much. AB went on to tell us that my squad won’t be the “go-to” squad anymore; the other squads will get a taste of the action.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The dust storm got worse in the evening, and visibility was terrible. The IA were going nuts a couple blocks up the road. The only things we could see were tracers streaking through the sky all over the place.

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