In the morning my squad was taking it pretty easy; we were lounging around, swatting flies, and dreading the heat of the day. We heard some commotion in the C.P. around 10 A.M., and someone came running through the building saying that we had casualties coming in. Some of the soldiers and NCOs got excited and started frantically trying to get ready to received the wounded. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. We were in a dusty school with only basic medical supplies. If their wounds were much more than a small cut, they wouldn’t be treated here anyway.
An IED had detonated next to Captain Veath’s Stryker, and Howard and Lofgran, his vehicle crew, were inside, and there were some other soldiers on the ground nearby.
SFC AB came in and told me to get my vehicle ready to roll. I grabbed Taaga and Crapenter and told them to get spun up. I wasn’t sure if he wanted my entire squad to get ready to roll out, so I went to find out what we were doing. He told me that he and I were going to take our two Strykers up to the contact, with two soldiers each, and that we were going to help evacuate casualties. As I was starting to grab a couple soldiers, Juice (1st squad) and Daggett (3rd squad) volunteered to go with me. I told them to tell their squad leaders and get their shit.
As we were loading up our vehicles, three Strykers tore into the compound and nearly skidded to a stop. When the ramps dropped, Dunbar stumbled out with blood running down his neck and his hand wrapped in a blood-soaked bandages. He looked bewildered and frightened.
SPC Lofgran was helped out of the vehicle next. He was obviously in pain, and visibly shaken from what had just happened. Everything that he said came out as a yell, and I quickly realized he couldn’t hear. He kept yelling about his back hurting.
Next, they brought Howard out. He looked terrified. His arm and back were burned, and he was screaming out in pain. His left pant leg was cut away, and there was blood on his shirt, pants, and in splotches pretty much all over. We heard later that he ran out of his Stryker in flames after the IED detonated. SFC Locklear looked like he’d seen a ghost. He was visibly upset and looked like he was about to break down.
Once the confusion had subsided, my Stryker, along with AB’s and the MGS Stryker, with its left side tires flattened, left the school and sped toward Route Gold where Captain Veath was still on the ground.
When we made the turn onto Route Gold, everything seemed to be shrouded in thick black smoke. Through the fog of war, I could see muzzle flashes from rooftops and windows of the buildings on the north side of Gold. We started taking fire almost immediately, rounds bouncing off of the armor on our truck.
Juice called over the vehicle’s communication system, “Sgt. T, I see a guy with an AK on a rooftop. He’s shooting at us.”
“Shoot back,” I said.
The next sound I heard was, “THUNK,” the sound of an M203 40mm grenade launcher firing. It was followed by an immediate, BOOM!
I said, “Did you just…?”
Before I could finish, Juice replied, “Got him.”
He fired 3 more rounds into the building where the shots had been coming from, and that seemed to slow things down.
Once we stopped, AB called and told us to turn around and face our machine gun back the way we had come from. He was worried that insurgents would use the smoke and chaos to plant IEDs in our egress route. We were on the unfriendly of the infamous Sadr City concrete wall, so there wasn’t any other way out, other than back the way we came. Captain Veath’s Stryker was just a couple blocks further up Route Gold still on fire and billowing black smoke.
Once we were in position, it was hard to see, with all of the haze and smoke. The MGS was firing rounds into buildings. Willy P was rocking his M-2 .50 caliber machine gun. Mosa, in the back of the 4 vic was dumping 7.62mm rounds into windows and doors. When our .50 caliber wasn’t making a loud ka-chunk, each time it misfired, Taaga was dumping rounds into the buildings as well.
I sat on the roof of my Stryker, with my feet dangling inside the hatch. I scanned down an alleyway with my ACOG, watching for squirters or insurgent reinforcements. Anytime someone came into view, I fired near them, sending them back the way they came. One Iraqi man started to run cross the alley, and I fired a couple rounds into a truck right next to him. He fell down in a panic and scrambled back out of sight to where he had come from.
AB came over the radio that we were all heading back to the school for more ammunition and the rest of our platoon. We continued taking fire all the way back to the traffic circle at Route Aeros.
When we reached Aeros, Captain Veath jumped into my truck. We rolled back to the school without incident. There, we grabbed more 40 mm grenades and cans of machine gun ammo for the .50s and the 240. Once everyone was restocked on ammo, and the rest of the platoon was loaded, we headed back for Route Gold, with B-80, another company HQ truck, rolling with us.
We made the turn from Aeros to Gold, and the road ahead was still filled with dust and black smoke rolling from Captain Veath’s Stryker, the fog of war. We moved up to Route Bravo, this time on our side of the concrete barrier that separated Sadr City proper from the surrounding neighborhoods. Route Gold was already a divided street, and we were still in the process of building the wall right down the middle. Captain Veath’s Stryker was on the far side of Route Gold and just past the end of the wall. We were all a little pissed that they stuck us behind the barriers, instead of on the enemies’ side. It was the same spot we had just been in contact in, only now there were 10-foot concrete barriers separating us from the militia fighters who had been shooting at us 30 minutes earlier. We were angry, and we wanted to take the fight to them.
It was chaotic as we set into our security positions. There were several units in the area, and somehow it seemed none of us could talk directly to each other via radio. There were tanks, a route clearance team, and other units that kept rolling up, and we kept getting shuffled around, until it seemed like we had a decent perimeter, well, as decent as it can be when you’re on city streets surrounded by civilians and enemy insurgents who could be hiding in any of the 2 and 3-story buildings that line every street. There was still a lot of activity near what was left of B-66, and AB came over the radio several times saying that there were explosions, probably RPGs, hitting the barriers from the other side.
We spent a good part of our day sitting in those spots waiting for a vehicle that was capable of recovering the burned out shell of B-66. I moved back and forth from my usual position, sitting on the roof with my feet dangling in my hatch, to standing with my upper body sticking out of the hatch. I would stand until I was tired of standing. Then I would sit on the top until my ass went to sleep.
All of a sudden, I heard a crack and saw dust fly off of the RWS (machine gun). I thought Taaga had fired a round at someone, especially since our machine gun usually jammed after each round. Before I could even ask, another loud crack, and the targeting screen on the RWS went black. Taaga started hitting buttons attempting to restart the computer system, and Bobby Gene and Frolo in the back started cussing and jumping around. A couple rounds had passed through the camo net over their heads and between them, and a couple more bounced off the blast shield on the back of the truck. One round passed directly between Taaga and I. Thankfully, I was standing at that point, and not sitting on top. It was so close that I swear it felt like someone tapped me on the shoulder. Taaga still couldn’t get the gun system to function, so he spun it around in my direction while I climbed up to see if I could find a problem. There was a hole in the metal shield above the camera lens, and it looked like it’d been hit with a hammer. The big lens was shattered; pieces of thick glass were scattered all over the front part of the Stryker. I could see where the first round had hit just above and to the right of the lens.
A few minutes later, Jimmy pointed out a hole that went through our tool bag, my case of lemon tea, a bag of trash, and our two 1,000 foot spools of detonating cord. That was the bullet that was so close I felt it. I was thankful that det. cord is pretty stable and requires a blasting cap to be set off. Although, doing a little research 10 years later, and I found this,
“Fire and Explosion Hazards:
May detonate if exposed to friction, impact, sparks, heat, or shock.”
Maybe we were just lucky. 2,000 feet of tightly spooled det. cord and the 25-or so blocks of C4 we had sitting up there would have probably opened our truck up like a sardine can if it had been set off.
Somehow, Fuller, who was sitting down inside the truck directly behind my hatch, caught a bullet fragment or a piece of the blast shield or something. Out of nowhere, he had a spot of blood about the size of a quarter on his pant leg. I still haven’t figured out how it managed to hit him down there.
The whole area around us looked like a scene from a war movie. There were buildings with missing walls. In some cases, there was furniture hanging out of holes in walls. Every building was filled with bullet holes, and there were several that looked like they had been on fire at some point or other. One corner of the intersection has six or eight inches of water standing with an oil slick over the top.
As we sat, some general showed up with his entourage. They walked around, checking things out and trying to see what was going on. I figured it was some desk jockey trying to get a Combat Action Badge added to his repertoire. He probably rode up, walked around for a few minutes, rode back, and claimed combat experience.
Not long after they left, LT Schardt called over the radio about what appeared to be a blind man walking through the area. When Bridges and Frolo saw him, they got out and escorted him away. What a time to help a blind man cross the street, in the middle of a gunfight. When they returned to the truck, they noticed an unexploded 82mm mortar round lying on the road next to our truck. It wasn’t unusual to see marks on the roads where mortar rounds had landed. This was was dented, but it hadn’t exploded. I assume that it had been there when we parked; surely it didn’t land while we were sitting there. Frolo decided to be funny, or perhaps stupid, and he picked up the mortar and spun around like he was doing the hammer throw before flinging it away from our truck. I heard Jimmy yell, “Who the fuck does that?, as he ran for cover. Later, Frolo said that he regretted his decision just as soon as he’d let it go. Thankfully, it really was a dud. It landed on the road, but there was no detonation.
The tempo of the action in the area continued to rise and fall like waves. It would pick up, then die down. From time to time, AB would call up impacts on the concrete barriers. It seemed that the insurgents were hoping to get an RPG to penetrate or break down wall. We thought they might succeed before the whole thing was said and done.
We’d been sitting awhile when a route clearance team came through. They were on the far side of the barrier, moving along Route Gold when their Husky hit an IED. LT Schardt could see them, and he was sure that there would be casualties after such an explosion. The route clearance team immediately opened fire on the nearby buildings. It was nuts, machine gun fire seemed to be going in every direction, and rounds were impacting all over, hitting every building around. Leo was frantic on the radio, telling LT. Schardt that they were shooting right over his truck, and that he needed to call them off. The PL didn’t sound too excited when he said he’d relay the message through Captain Veath.
Leo’s truck, 3 vic was close enough to the IED that shrapnel had flattened their right-front tire, and it even punctured the wheel hub. Once the smoke cleared, LT Schardt called over the radio that he could see the Husky backing up. I saw it later, and it was in rough shape. All four tires were flat, and it was pretty beat up. The armor held though.
Eventually, some tanks showed up, and some soldiers from Heckman’s squad hooked the remains of B-66 up to be dragged out. The vehicle was a giant mess. There were holes in the armor, and everything had burned. We followed the tank as it dragged the black smoking shell down the road. Later, we found that Howard’s M4 was partially melted to the top of the truck.
After we got B-66 off of Route Gold, we headed for JSS Sadr City. Two of our platoon’s trucks were damaged, and they all needed fuel.
While they were trying to patch our trucks up, I went to find Kirby. The original building they’d been using as a TOC was abandoned. The rocket attack had damaged the roof and one wall of the multistory building.
I looked around a bit and found LT Schardt and SFC AB at the new TOC. I grabbed a cold Diet Coke and sat down. I didn’t realize how wound up I was, but I physically felt my whole body relax when I sat. It was like my shoulders and back had just been partially flexed for the entire day, and suddenly they just let go. We were there for quite awhile waiting on the vehicle repairs. They stuck a new tire and hub on Leo’s truck, but they told us they couldn’t fix our gun system. The whole scene at JSS Sadr City was a little unreal. If you’ve seen the movie Pearl Harbor, when Ben Affleck’s character is flying with the Eagle Squadron in England, then you can image what this might have looked like. It’s a big gravel space that’s either super dusty or muddy, depending on the weather, but it’s jam packed with tanks, Strykers, and military trucks of all kinds. Like the flight line in the movie, there are mechanics out there around the clock trying to patch vehicles up well enough to get them back into the fight. It just made me think of the scene in the movie when the mechanic is talking about what’s wrong with each plane, but they’re still flying them.
1SG Angulo, along with Schardt and AB were all trying to get our platoon a refit to Camp Taji. Their requests were denied. Instead, we left Taaga and Crapenter at JSS Sadr City, so that they could drive the 2-Vic back with the next unit that headed toward Taji. The rest of us moved all of our gear in to the 4-Vic, with AB, so that we could head back out into the city. Before we left, we started seeing flashes in the sky. 1SG Angulo put his helmet on and moved closer to one of the concrete barriers nearby. A little while later, the wind picked up. There was a lightning storm, and it kicked up a ton of dust. I was in the rear hatch as we rolled back toward our patrol base at the school. I couldn’t hardly see anything, and trying to breathe was just as difficult.
I hated not being in my truck. I didn’t have my gunner. I didn’t have things in places that I wanted them. Nothing was set up the way I liked it, and I was stuck in the back. I liked being up and out, where I could see what was going on and have a handle on the situation.
Thunder and lightning lasted most of the night, and it sprinkled off and on. We welcomed the temperature drop. It wasn’t cool, but certainly cooler than it had been.
Once back at the school, I called Theresa. She was working, but I just wanted to talk to her for a minute. She was a little frustrated that I hadn’t called for awhile, and I kind of snapped at her about how my day had been. It didn’t really hit me until I said the words, “I almost got shot today,” just how close I’d really been to getting hit.