6-8 May 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

We did another dismounted patrol this morning. We walked up to Route Tennessee, the road that the OP was on. As we passed through the streets, we hung massive vinyl wanted posters. I’d actually call them banners. They were probably 5 x 7 feet.

The rest of the day, and the next day was business as usual. We did patrols, watched the patrol base perimeter, and sweat through our uniforms.

On the 8th, we took a female journalist from the Washington Post on patrol. We hated having the media around, but it was interesting to see how the Iraqis responded to her. Women smiled at her, while the boys and young men stared.sadr city

The patrol was uneventful; although, we did find some anti-coalition graffiti. Someone had spray painted a man firing an RPG at a Stryker on a wall. sadr city

When we returned to the patrol base, the Iraqi Army was setting up a MEDCAP (Medical Civic Action Program) There was a ton of press in the area for that. Thankfully, the Iraqi soldiers were taking care of most of it, so we didn’t have to jump through hoops to make it happen.

I had to laugh at the CO. I swear he told this reporter his whole life story. He carried her bag for her, talked about where he was from and why he joined the army. I think I stopped listening when he said, “I’m a cowboy at heart.”

He’s been busy writing his change of command speech, which seems like something the higher-ups should be concerned about given our current location. At one point, he asked if he could refer to my son, Jacob, as a “holy terror.” Jacob could be a terror sometimes, but he hadn’t ever been a problem the few times he’d been around the unit with me. I wasn’t sure what Jacob had to do with his change of command speech, and it kind of annoyed me. I’m sure he was just playing around, so I’m not even sure why it bothered me. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t seen Jacob for 5 months already.

Later on the 8th, we moved back out to the OP. I read Kiss the Girls between guard shifts. Rt. Charlie, Rt. Tennessee Overwatch

I called Theresa, and she told me that she’d received a letter from Major General Hammond. It said I’d been decorated and something about courage under fire. I suppose we’d all been under fire a few times by this point, and we’d all done our jobs. I figured it was just a silly form letter, but it felt good for Theresa to hear a little about what I’ve done here, from someone other than me or the wives of other soldiers in my unit. Really, the general doesn’t know a damn thing about me, but it was still nice to get recognition in front of her.

 

5 May 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I woke up to flies buzzing around and landing on my face and arms this morning. My clothes were already wet from sweat.

We headed out on a foot patrol at 0900. 1st squad led out, followed by LT Schardt and Nikjoo, his RTO. Next came SFC AB with the machine guns teams and doc. Frolo, Kirby, Fuller, and I brought up the rear. I left Bridges and Alleman on guard at the patrol base.

We walked through a part of the neighborhood that we’ve walked through before and checked in on the same schools. Our lead element walked past the entrance to the first school and couldn’t figure out how to get in. I finally called and told them that they’d passed the gate.

LT Schardt sent me and my guys in to have a look around. I spoke with the same caretaker, who told me the same thing he’d told me last time we were here.

We moved on.

At the second school, 1st squad went in and did the talking. Then Fraleigh took point and led us back to the patrol base.

It was boring, and I was in a shitty mood. I woke up in a bad mood, and everything here has just pissed me off today.

After we returned, LT Schardt was still trying to get to the bottom of the rooster incident. He pulled everyone from that position in and questioned them. When it was my turn, I told him that I’d been downstairs at the time. I explained that the person in question had shown me where he’d shot the rooster, and that I’d also seen the Iraqi man carry away the dead bird.

Later, someone threw a grenade over the wall into the area where our vehicles were parked. I threw on my vest over my t-shirt and ran out of the gate with my rifle. I was hoping I could catch someone running down the street. Another squad followed saying, “Don’t think you’re gonna have all this fun by yourself.” A few more soldiers came out behind us.

The street was empty, so we went back inside. There, LT Schardt and SFC AB were assessing the damage. Shrapnel had punctured the two right-rear tires on our medical Stryker, but there wasn’t any other damage.

They looked up at a three-story building across the street that overlooked the soccer field we were parking in. One of the…apartments, I guess you could call it, was directly across from where the grenade landed. LT Schardt looked at me and said, “Get your squad into that house.” He didn’t have to tell me twice, I grabbed my guys and ran out of the gate.

As we left the security perimeter, I counted everyone, as always. Some 40-something-year-old E-5, Sergeant Olson, from an army reserve psy-ops unit decided he wanted to come with us. He also brought his interpreter, “Steve.”

This fucking guy thought he was on some sort of SWAT team or something. It took all I had to not tell him to stay the fuck out of my way. He was the same ass-hat who had told me in an earlier conversation that psychological operations troops are Spec-Ops, they deploy every other year, and their work is way harder on them and their families than being on active duty. He went on to say that most reservists are older, and that the older generation didn’t mind the harder military life because they just want to serve their country.

In retrospect, I should have said, “Well damn, double-0 shit bird, maybe I should sit this one out. Me and my guys will just go grab an ice cream cone and take a break while you and super-Steve win the war.”

Big shocker, the house was empty. There was a shell casing from a tank round in one of the rooms. Hopefully the explosive projectile isn’t buried in some garbage along one of the alleys around here.

I called LT Schardt to let him know we were heading back, but Papa Olson and decided he needed to stop and talk on the way back around the corner to our gate. He stopped some random Iraqi man, told him that it was his fault that someone threw a grenade at us, and then accused his son of being part of Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia.

Jimmy was pissed. He thought we were going on some city-wide manhunt to track down the guy who threw the grenade. I expected the house to be empty, and I knew we weren’t going to go running through the streets looking for trouble.

Soldier of Fortune finished accusing the Iraqi man’s son of being an insurgent fighter, and then we headed back in to the patrol base. I counted again, to be sure everyone was there.

 

3-4 May 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

We had patrol base security until about 1500, and then we rolled out to the OP at Charlie and Tennessee. Security was a little thin, we only have three Strykers, and Leo’s squad was down to just him and two soldiers.

We consolidated our positions; 1st squad joined my squad in our usual spot. It made the time between guard shifts long, which was okay, except the downtime passed by so slowly.

I wasn’t a huge fan of having another squad in my position. Sometimes, I felt like I was babysitting. One of their soldiers fired bird shot from a shotgun into a satellite dish. There wasn’t any reason for it, and the pellets didn’t even penetrate the metal. We were all angry, and we wanted revenge, but knocking out someone’s TV signal wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

Later, the power came on, and the family in that house came up wanting to adjust their dish. They hadn’t done anything to us since we’d been in that spot, but they were pissed when they saw that we’d shot their satellite. The house we were in had power for a few minutes before it was out again.

I fell asleep that evening, and it seemed like I was sleeping well. I was awaken by an explosion at 4 A.M. It shook the couch I was lying on. I went back to sleep pretty quickly, but I was woken up for guard at 5 A.M. My two-hour shift was boring.

When I was relieved from watch, I went inside and called Theresa. She was at her boss’s house, in Indianapolis, for a party. They were drinking and having a good time, and I was glad she was able to get away and hang out with other adults. We didn’t talk long, but I was glad to have a few minutes to chat with her.

Once we were off the phone, I laid down and went back to sleep. It was after lunch time, when I woke up to a gunshot. The air was still, and the afternoon heat was bad. I pulled my uniform jacket on over my sweat-soaked t-shirt, and went to see what the shot was.

Another squad leader had fired a “warning shot” at some men who were supposedly watching us. In reality, he shot a rooster of the top of a nearby building. I had mentioned earlier, “I’d like to shoot that damn thing. It crows nonstop.” Well, apparently, he decided to shoot it. I was on guard again later when the rooster’s owner picked it’s body up by its feet and carried it away. He glared at me the entire time I could see him.

Later that afternoon, there were accusations that someone from our position had shot a civilian in the head further up the road. We hadn’t. It would’ve been much easier to convince people we hadn’t committed murder if we could have said, No one has even fired a round up here today. Instead, we were on the radio trying to explain why someone fired a round, the angle of the shot from our location, when the shot was taken, where the shot impacted, and all kinds of other shit. Why? Because one guy decided to shoot an annoying chicken. Later, it got out that he had shot a handful of cats and pigeons on other patrols. I was not very happy to be wrapped up in that kind of bullshit.

After that whole thing had been cleared up, 2nd platoon arrived to take our place at the O.P. We rolled into JSS Sadr City to refuel our vehicles and top off our supply of MREs and bottled water, then we headed back to our patrol base at the school where we picked up security detail again. Leo’s two soldiers stayed at JSS Sadr City to help provide guards.

In between our guard shifts, some of us played Spades until we decided to go to bed.

1-2 May 2008 (Camp Taji, Iraq)

We loaded our gear in the trucks and headed back. I think the higher-ups were in a hurry to get us out of the AO. It was a restful at Camp Taji; we didn’t have anything to do. We had just repacked our gear the day before; everyone had clean clothes and everything from our previous visit. For the most part, our vehicles didn’t need anything. It really was down time, but I could tell that I was on edge. I think we all were.

An air weapons team firing at the range made me feel uneasy and jumpy. It’s funny how gunfire and explosions in Sadr City didn’t bother us at all, but loud noises here did.  Explosions and gunshots here seemed out of place. To be honest, I’m not sure what bothered me more; though, the Apaches at the range, or the quiet when they stopped shooting. It was hard to get to sleep without small arms fire in the distance.

The next day, the differences between us and the people who stayed at Taji were even more apparent. Seeing soldiers walking around Taji, living through their deployment, and wearing their combat patches really rubbed me wrong. What did they really know about “combat?” Some of our first-timers got a taste of it also. A few of them had only been in-country for a month or two, but they realized that their wartime experience was very different from the soldiers who never step out of the wire. They spent their entire deployment protected by guys like us.

When it was close to the end of our 24 hours of downtime, we gathered for a formation. LTC Boccardi and CSM Ordonio came out and promoted SGT Capelli to staff sergeant.  CSM Ordonio talked to use afterwards, and his remarks were super inspirational, as usual. “You have to treat each patrol like it’s the first time. Things like this happen when we let our guard down.” I think what we all heard was, this was your fault, and it could have been prevented. 

LTC Boccardi spoke about more of the battalion coming down to Sadr City. He talked about the possibility of the rest of our company, plus Charlie Company, and maybe even a company from 1-27 Infantry joining us. It sounded like we were done messing around on the outskirts of Sadr City; this time we would be on the offensive, taking ground in the city and helping to write history. History books aside, it’s what we all wanted. We wanted to push into Sadr City where we weren’t supposed to go. We wanted to roll right into the center of their city and show them that they couldn’t do anything about it. We go where we want, when we want, and we do what we want. That was the message we wanted to deliver to Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia. Honestly, I think we wanted to send that message to the Iraqi army and police forces too.

Personally, I think it’ll be worse for us if the entire battalion heads down to Sadr City. Plus, I don’t buy it. I don’t think we’ll do anything new. We’ll be assigned to a new sector, away from where 1-2 SCR has us, and we’ll do patrols and watch intersections.

Once the speeches were over, we loaded our gear, fueled our trucks, and got ready to go. It was late when we finally got back to the patrol base. Chaplain Burton was at the school when we got there. Downtime was over; we assumed security at the school.

Welcome back to reality.

 

1 May 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

We were supposed to take over the position at Delta and Gold at 0600, but it was closer to 0830 when we arrived. Our route clearance escort hit an IED on the way, and we were delayed while they cleared the area and got their damaged vehicle ready to be towed.

1 Vic and 2 Vic, the platoon leader’s vehicle with first squad and my vehicle with my squad, took the first three-hour shift at the intersection of Routes Delta and Gold. Fight at Delta-Gold #1 (2)

We took up a position facing northeast, looking up Route Delta and down Route Gold toward where Captain Veath’s Stryker had burned a couple days earlier. I could see the end of the infamous concrete wall several blocks away; there hadn’t been any progress made on that since we were there.

LT Schardt’s truck was facing northwest, also watching up Route Delta and the opposite direction on Route Gold. The soldiers in our rear hatches were covering our asses down Route Delta, the way we had come. We also had troops in a guard tower at Thawra II, an Iraqi Army outpost, ready to call in Apache gunships, fighters, or indirect fire as needed.

When we arrived, we set out some concertina wire around the front of our truck to provide a little standoff. It would keep any potential suicide bombers, and possibly even car bombs from being able to get too close to us. It was an inconvenience for the locals going on about their daily business, but that was the least of my concern.

Like most of the buildings in this city, these too showed the signs of earlier violence. Windows were broken, and walls were pockmarked with bullet damage and shrapnel wounds. Many of the doors that remained had bullet holes in them. It was easy to see where bursts of automatic small arms fire had struck around windows and doors. Power lines dangled on the streets, and decorative fences along the median had been demolished by tanks and IED explosions.

Surprisingly, there was a lot of traffic that morning. While there was some vehicle traffic, it was mostly people moving about on foot or driving horse or donkey-drawn wagons filled with grocery items one might expect to find in a convenience store.

Like when we had first arrived in the city, many people walked with their hands raised over their heads, or holding white rags in the air to show that they didn’t want any trouble. We knew from those days; however, that fighters stashed their weapons and used these same non-combatant signals to move to and from areas where the fighting was taking place.Coming from the market with food

I spent most of the morning sitting on the top of the truck with my feet dangling down into my hatch. I got my video camera out and recorded a little, and we had some music playing on the iPod that was spliced into our vehicle’s communication system. It was a pretty boring spot to sit for hours on end.

At 11:30, SFC AB’s truck, 4-Vic, relieved us, and Leo’s truck, 3-Vic, took over for LT Schardt and 1st squad. Once they’d gotten into position, we rolled back down Route Delta and into the entrance of Thawra II. There were a few Iraqi tanks several Iraqi soldiers hanging out around the break in the concrete barriers that surrounded their outpost. Once inside, we parked along one of the walls, and 1SG Angulo parked nearby with his MRAP crew.

I was tired, so I napped some. We were inside the protected perimeter of a compound, so we didn’t have to provide our own security. It seemed that every time I managed to drift off to sleep, some other unit’s radio chatter came over our net. I was starting to get agitated; I just wanted a little nap. I had no desire whatsoever to listen to their patrol communications, especially since they were at the limit of our range; much of what they were saying came across all broken up, or simply as static.

As we sat, General Hammond and LTC Barnett pulled in. Thankfully, I didn’t have to get out of the truck. I figured I’d have to go and talk to the general, but I didn’t.

We were supposed to take over the positions at the intersection again at 1430, but we were held up a little by General Hammond and his entourage. We weren’t dealing with them, but they were around, so we were told to just hold our positions until they left.

It was only a few minutes after 1430 when they left the outpost, and we rolled out almost immediately behind them to relieve the other half of our platoon at the intersection. We hadn’t even gotten out of the gate and onto Route Delta when we heard an explosion. I saw dust and smoke fly up over the tall cement walls from the direction of the intersection. Taaga’s eyes were big, and he looked at me. “Dat’s tree!” he said through the vehicle’s communication system in his Samoan accent.

He was right.

The radio came to life, frantic calls between Leo, SFC AB, and the vehicle commanders Capelli and Williams. We sped through the serpentine barriers at the entrance to the compound and rushed to back up the other vehicles.

Confusion!

We heard a call that everyone in 3-Vic was okay.

As we approached the intersection, I saw SFC AB and Doc Bosley, with his aid bag, running from 4-Vic to 3-Vic. The intersection was still shrouded in smoke and dust.

In contrast to the early morning, the streets were deserted. There were no vehicles, no foot traffic, nothing. Even the birds were gone. It was as if everyone knew what was coming.

Another call, “It’s Sgt. Daggett; he’s hit bad!”

Before AB and Doc could get to 3rd squad’s truck, they backed up, turned around, and started moving away from the intersection.

“We’re heading to JSS Sadr City. We can’t wait!”

AB and Doc turned around, sprinting back toward their own truck, trying to figure out what 3rd squad was doing.

AB comes over the radio, “CASEVAC to COP Callahan, not JSS Sadr City. Go to COP Callahan!”

“Take the lead, I’m not sure how to get there!”

“Maggot 3, this is Maggot 7. Go to grid EF12345678.”

Someone else came on and said, “SGT Daggett is done!”

“There’s no pulse. We’ve got no pulse!”

“Stuard is hit too!”

“Get to Callahan!”

“Wait, we’ve got a pulse! Somebody take the lead’ we’ll follow!”

4-Vic pulled in front, and they sped away.

We moved forward to our original position, and LT Schardt’s vehicle moved into theirs. We weren’t sure what the explosion was; an RPG? A mortar round? Where did it hit? How did it happen?

LT Schardt’s gunner opened up first, .50 caliber machine gun fire strafed the windows and rooftops of the buildings that overlooked their side of the intersection. Everyone else followed suit, machine guns firing into the buildings. More broken windows, more bullet holes, more smoke and dust in the air.

General Hammond’s convoy hadn’t gotten far when they heard the explosion, and he was listening to the situation develop over the radio. He came onto our channel and told us we had clearance for whatever firepower we needed.

Both of our trucks continued to fire machine guns, rifles, and 40mm grenades into the surrounding buildings. Our forward observers in the guard tower directed the air weapons team (AWT) to engage with hellfire missiles. They buzzed our heads in their AH 64 Apache Attack Helicopters, firing their missiles into the buildings, impacting so close that the explosions shook our trucks. Next, our company quick reaction force arrived. The MGS Stryker dumped 105mm Howitzer rounds into the buildings along Route Gold. While helicopters still buzzed overhead and machine guns were still rattling back and forth, one of 1st squad’s soldiers stepped out of his vehicle and fired an AT4 rocket into the city.

I was standing out of the top of the truck, trying to keep track of where and what my guys were shooting at, when I noticed a van turn onto Route Delta and start driving toward us. There wasn’t any other traffic moving anywhere that we could see, but here came this van driving straight toward the gunfire. It was between 300 and 400 yards away when I raised my rifle and fired three rounds.

The van rolled to a stop and sat for a minute. Since the explosion on top of 3-Vic, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, so I have no idea how long the van actually stopped. Eventually, it backed up and turned left off of Route Delta. I didn’t see it again.

The next thing we hear on the radio is that there are two fighter jets on station, and they’re armed with JDAMS (guided bombs). Our forward observers (FOs) called in coordinates for the air strike, and they dropped low yield bombs on the buildings. We cheered, flipping our middle fingers toward the city.

After they dropped those bombs, we were directed to move back to the entrance of Thawra II. Our FOs guided the fighters to drop their remaining bombs on targets on Route Gold on both sides of the intersection. It was one hell of a sight. Each time the fighters screamed by, their jet engines making our chests vibrate, they released their bombs, destroying buildings one at a time. Huge explosions, debris flying through the air, buildings collapsing, in flames and black smoke so thick that it swallowed up whatever was left.

After some time, we heard Maggot 7 on the radio again. They had returned to JSS Sadr City and were waiting on 3-Vic to get cleaned out and checked over by the mechanics.

Soon, we were relieved by another platoon, and we rolled back to our school building patrol base. The other men in our company were clearly down when we arrived. They didn’t want to make eye contact with us, and it seemed almost like they felt sorry for us.

None of us knew what had become of SGT Daggett or Stuard.

LT Schardt sat down in a chair and stared at nothing. He was a great leader, and I knew he was replaying the whole scenario in his mind, trying to figure out where things went wrong, what we could have done differently. I’d bet he also considered the fact that we were late getting there that morning, that our rotations were off-schedule, and General Hammond’s visit had also delayed our switch-out. If we’d been on schedule, LT Schardt’s truck would have been parked where 3-Vic was. Which soldiers might have been standing in his rear hatches if we’d been there on time?

Good leaders take ownership when their subordinates fail. Good leaders also give their subordinates the credit when they’re successful. In war, it’s easy to forget that the enemy also gets a vote. I could tell LT Schardt was taking it hard, and I worried that he was trying to shoulder the blame.

SFC AB came and told the platoon that SGT Daggett had suffered severe trauma, and his condition was critical. First reports on Stuard suggested that he had some broken bones and several shrapnel wounds.

3-Vic was in pretty rough shape. It looked like a bomb had detonated on top of it, which was basically what had happened. There was shrapnel damage to the top deck of the truck and inside where the hatches had been open. The camo-netting that hid is from snipers was mostly torn away. The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) that was mounted on the back of the truck had holes in the receiver and pieces missing. There was a cut on the inside of Leo’s hatch, which, like all of our hatches, was in the upright position, so we could see out. It looked like a fin from the tail of an RPG had probably cut across the inside of his hatch as it passed just inches over his head before hitting the back of the truck and detonating.

Some of the other soldiers from 3-Vic suffered from hearing loss and potentially TBI from the concussion produced by the blast. Those soldiers were held back to be sent to Balad to get checked out. It sounded like Daggett was medevacked quickly, and would be headed to Germany as quickly as possible.

Captain Veath informed us that we’d be returning to Camp Taji for 24 hours. They wanted us to rest, decompress, and get our minds straight.

Before we could even leave, there were rumors of our entire battalion taking over a sector somewhere around Sadr City, and our company possibly being sent back north, since we’d had some casualties.

I don’t really know what sort of damage we inflicted on the insurgents, but I know that the guys in my truck alone took out a handful of fighters near that intersection.

 

30 April 2008 (Camp Taji, Iraq)

We woke up on the 30th and sat around our patrol base for awhile. Word came down that Bravo Company had no mission for the day, and we were told to pack our gear for Camp Taji. Everyone was excited at the thought of fresh uniforms, showers, and a hot meal.

The ride to Taji was calm. It seemed that everyone relaxed some as we got further and further from Sadr City. Looking back, it’s funny. We all wanted to stay there. We were happy being in the action, and we wanted to stay right there in the thick of it. I’ve already mentioned this, but I don’t think any of us realized just how tightly wound we were until we left that city.

We headed out, and swung by JSS Sadr City to pick up Taaga and Crapenter and 2-Vic. No one had left for Taji yet, so we jumped in our own truck and headed north. We arrived in Taji around 12:30 and were told that we had 8 hours. We’d been living, working, fighting, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom in pretty tight quarters for just over a month at this point. I was ready for some time to myself.

I took a shower, and then walked up to the PX area on the camp. There were some picnic tables under camo nets, a coffee shop, and a few fast food joints set up in portable buildings. I walked up to the window for Popeye’s chicken and ordered some fried chicken. I sat at a table and ate lunch by myself. There were lots of other soldiers around, many who had the luxury of eating a hot meal every day. Many of them never left the camp. Their war came with daily showers, a barber shop and spa, wifi, salsa lessons, karaoke, movie nights, air conditioning, gyms, and lots of other creature comforts. Not to say that we didn’t take advantage of those things when we had the opportunity, but those things weren’t the norm for us.

After lunch, I walked back to the room that Leo and I shared when we were at Taji and dumped my rucksack. I threw my funky uniforms into a laundry bag and took them over to the laundry point. I had a bag waiting to be picked up from the last time we were there. Once I had my laundry swapped, I walked back to the room and repacked for Sadr again.

A little later, Nikjoo knocked at the door. “PL says squad leaders need to have their squads at the A-Lock at 1715 for a PAI. Basically, we had to verify that all of our soldiers were accounted for, and we had to verify that everyone still had possession of their ID cards and dog tags.

Once we had finished those checks, we were told to report to the company CP. At the CP, they issued each soldier two combat T-shirts. I had no desire to use these, even though some of my guys had purchased their own and loved them. The quality of the army-issued shirts was far inferior to the purchased ones. Many of them fell apart on the first wear.

Taaga came into the CP, and I could tell he was really pissed. They had “fixed” our weapon system, but somehow, they were unable to get the gun aligned with the cross hairs on the gunner’s RWS screen. Capelli came in and told me that the repair guys said that the gun could be off as much as 20 meters at a range of 200 meters. There really wasn’t any reason we couldn’t have delayed our return trip to Sadr City by a couple more hours to give them more time to work, but that wasn’t in the cards. We were told to roll with it as it was. Hell, it hadn’t hardly worked since we got it anyway.

CSM Ordonio came down to speak to us before we started doing our final checks to roll out again. His speech was, to say the least, lacking. Some of the things he told us, should have been said before we ever headed into Sadr City to begin with. All of the advice he offered was for situations we had already found ourselves in over the last four or five weeks. “Men, if someone shoots at you…” As he was wrapping up, he said, “The best way to fight a coward is to fight like a coward.” I think I knew what he was getting at, but I might have worded it a little differently had I been in his shoes. Hell, maybe I don’t know what point he was trying to make. Half of what he said didn’t make sense.

Once he’d finished his remarks, he gave battalion coins to Juice, SPC Peno, and Kirby. When AB explained Kirby’s actions during the attack at JSS Sadr City, CSM Ordonio said, “Kirby?” then grabbed Kirby’s head and shook it a bit. “Is it screwed tight now?” The kid had been through some shit and done his job, and the best our sergeant major could do was a backhanded compliment.

Once that was over, we loaded up and headed south. It was late when we returned to the patrol base. We got the guys bedded down pretty quickly. Wake-up would be at 0515, and we’d be assuming the post at Thawra II first thing in the morning.

One section would park and over watch the intersection of Routes Delta and Gold, while the other section acted as a reserve inside the walls of the compound at Thawra II.

29 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

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.T manning the .50 Cal

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.Fight on Rt. Gold #1

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.Fight on Rt. Gold #2

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.Fight on Rt. Gold #3

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.Fight at Bravo-Gold #3

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.Fight at Bravo-Gold #4

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.”Close Call

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.B66 #1

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.