Wednesday, August 31, 2005

last post from iraq

Well friends, my time here is reaching an end. I am in my final days in Baghdad. This will be my last post from Iraq. Sometime in October you will hear from me again. If you would like, e-mail me at and I will make sure you are notified when I post again sometime in October. Boots In Baghdad will continue to be up and running from the states. I have a couple hundred pages of journal entries and thousands of pictures. I have a few ideas with what I am going to do with Boots In Baghdad. Regardless, it will be up.

I can’t even begin to describe to you what it feels like to be on the verge of going home and returning to life. This journey began a year ago… an eternity ago. And, for the world I wouldn’t trade the last twelve months of my life.

I was looking back at some of my journal entries over the past year. It is amazing how much I have already forgotten. Perhaps more amazing are the memories that I will never forget. My journey began with B Co, 1-156 Armor. Bravo was attached to 2-156 Infantry for this deployment. Once we arrived in Iraq Bravo was assigned to 141 FA BN as part of a Force Protection Task Force. I spent the first few months at ECP 7 guarding the perimeter of Camp Liberty and the Baghdad Airport.

These first months contained some of the longest days of my life. We were at ECP 7 when the Marines and 1st Cav hit Fallujah. We were doing 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Then we switched to 12 on and 12 off…every single day. I spent Thanksgiving at that gate, I spent Christmas at that gate and I spent New Years 2005 at that gate. I loved the guys I was with, but I hated the job. This is part of a journal entry from November 13, 2004. My romanticized view of war is apparent, displaying more than anything my naivety and youth:

Every time a convoy leaves that gate it breaks my heart. I see them return with wounded. I see their destroyed vehicles dragged back in tow… in pieces. I belong out there. I became a soldier to be out there. I became Infantry to be out there. Out there is home. I came here to sacrifice, to pay for freedom... to bring justice to those who wish to take that away from my nation and my nation’s friends. And to those on the streets of Iraq who wish to harm me and my friends, my country and my countrymen, I say this; you better be prepared, because I have been preparing for this for twenty-one years. I will match your ruthlessness, I will surpass your destruction, I have exceeded your skill in tactics and weapons, your courage crumbles at the thought of mine, and long ago my faith and commitment to my God and my America crushed your petty god and your weak faith. I am coming for you. With a peaceful heart I will destroy you. The whites of my eyes are the last thing you will see before you kiss the feet of my God.

Yeah, just a little piss and vinegar. Here is part of another entry from November 18, 2004:

Yesterday and last night at ECP 7 were uneventful for the most part. Sometime around 1300 or 1400 we took a mortar round. Clark and Mitchell were at the gate, I was under the tower’s stairs, SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson were in the hummer, and SSG Davis and SGT Moore were in the tower. We heard this loud whistle screeching through the sky. It sounded like a jet was headed straight for us. Clark screamed, “I-N-C-O-M-I-N-G!” I was already half way to the ground. Mitchell dove over the bench and landed next to me. SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson weren’t far behind us. It was close. Very close. Luckily, whoever sent it didn’t arm it. They definitely were aiming at us. Later that evening we were around the hummer eating and we heard explosions off in the distance. They were about 800 meters to our 12 o’clock. We heard a boom really close to our 10 and an RPG hit the SF compound about 600 meters away. Then we heard another screeching whistle. We all hit the ground and fast. I bruised me knee. SSG Gig landed right on top of me and Mitchell. Afterward I went up in the tower. I figured if they were going to attack they would do it then. And whoever sent the bastards had eyes on us. After the mortars I get this amazing feeling. I guess it is the adrenaline rush. Sometimes I crave it. I was hoping there would be more, that someone would try to run the gate…

While I was home on leave SSG Giglio’s humvee was hit with an IED (improvisational explosive device). He was sent home with 3rd degree burns. He is an incredible NCO. I wish him nothing but the best.

I had a lot of good times at ECP 7. I was certainly with some great guys. It wasn’t until February that Bennett (my buddy and fellow volunteer from the Florida Guard) and I were re-assigned to HHC 2-156 scout platoon. Shortly thereafter we were moved into Samurai, HHC’s light infantry platoon. It was apparent after my first Samurai mission that I was finally home… doing the job I loved.

This is my journal entry from February 18, first Samurai mission:

On the afternoon of the 16th Bennett and I met at the HHC TOC to SP for a two day three night mission. It was awesome. We headed out on M113’s (armored personnel carriers). They dropped us off and once night fell we marched 11 clicks, carrying everything we had. There were six teams… each had its own designated OP‘s. All night we observed and then right before dawn we all met at a rally point. The rally point was this bombed out (***OP SEC***). I passed out after doing some looking around and woke up to gun fire. I grabbed my rifle and ran to a window and saw…(Sorry, you’re going to have to wait for this story).

Shortly after 1800 a mortar round hit. It was CLOSE…about 30 meters, right on the other side of the building. Everyone ran and took cover. CPT D sent two fire teams out into a nearby field to question some people and called up the description and direction of a red truck that took off after a second round impacted. Nothing came of it. Around 1930 all the teams regrouped and headed out to the new OP’s. One of the teams called in seeing six armed men around midnight. CPT D called up Demon (D CO) and asked them to come and raid the house that these men were suspected of being in so that we didn’t have to compromise our position. Demon couldn’t do it so we were all called off of our OP’s and all the teams met up at a rally point. Teams one and two pulled the cordon of the house while teams three and four raided the house. I was on team one. Nothing was found…”

We were taken out of sector and got back to the base the next morning. I loved the missions we were doing. Shortly after we joined Samurai, in March, I started Boots In Baghdad. Samurai was one of a handful of units doing the types of missions we did in Iraq. A month or so later the Command Sergeant Major of Coalition Forces Iraq, CSM Mellinger, as well as the Command Sergeant Major of America’s National Guard, CSM Gipe, would join us on the end of a three day mission for a foot patrol…to “see what this Samurai Platoon was all about."

We have accomplished some incredible things and had some close calls.

This is part of another entry of one of those nights that I will never forget. The entry is from June 20th, 2005, shortly after I returned to Baghdad from my two weeks of R and R:

Last night I was in bed about to fall asleep. It was around 2130. SSG Burns came in our room and told us to get our gear and get to the trucks ASAP. We weren’t really sure what was going on. His sense of urgency and his tone made it apparent that something bad was happening.

Within minutes we were on the humvees ready to roll. Our platoon sergeant, SFC Leger, called us in for a briefing. It turned out that there were insurgents, somewhere between fifty and a hundred, running through the streets of Hariya arbitrarily shooting innocent civilians. We had been in Hariya a couple of nights before doing some raids with the Iraqi Army. Hariya definitely isn’t a good neighborhood. There were several families that had been confirmed dead.

I wish I could describe the feeling I had. We all shared it. When I first heard what was happening, my heart started beating faster, deeper. My level of anger, my fury, was at a level inexplainable with words. I pictured the kids. I pictured the families. The only thing they were guilty of was deserving freedom. I was nearly salivating at the opportunity of encountering the ruthless cowards who had resorted to killing innocent women and children because they were too scared to face us.

I got into the dismount seat, the seat behind SSG Hemphill, my truck commander. In the other dismount seat on our humvee, behind SPC Prince, the driver, was SGT Mencacci, our medic. We couldn’t get out of the gate fast enough.

We arrived in the area shortly thereafter. Normally after curfew the dark streets are empty. Last night, there were people out. In the alleys I could see shadows running back and forth. We split our four vehicle patrol into two groups to cover more ground. The Commander took two trucks and SSG Hemphill had our two trucks. There were people just randomly sprinting across the streets. We were rolling through alley ways. We stopped periodically to question people on the street. They claimed to have seen nothing, making it apparent that the bad guys were around somewhere.

After about thirty minutes the CO called us all back together. Somewhere out there D Co was patrolling as well. We were to provide support for each other if something were to happen. When we met up with the CO we started stopping to search cars. We pulled up on a van full of Iraqi males. All the dismounts maneuvered on it. I was covering down a side street when there was a burst of machine gun fire. It was close.

SPC Castle, the lead gunner, had fired warning shots at a car that wouldn’t slow down. The driver was drunk, oblivious to anything and everything around him. All we could do was turn him around and tell him to go home.

At this point we all started heading for the trucks to move on with the mission. As I was walking to my humvee I heard more gun fire…. Again, close as hell. This time it was from the rear vehicle. A small pick up truck was heading straight for us. SPC Luquette and SGT LeJune had fired warning shots. Then the truck kept going so SPC Miller and SPC Evans hit the engine. When the truck kept coming Lejune and Luquette lit up the cab. When the gun fire stopped the truck was still rolling, slowly coming to a stop.

SGT Champagne and I were the first dismounts to the truck. With everyone covering us we each took a side of the truck. The driver got out. I grabbed him and checked him out…we still didn’t know who they were, why they were out past curfew, and why they were barreling straight for us. Then I looked up. There was a teenage kid with blood gushing out of his face and head. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that he wasn’t going to be alive much longer. He was screaming frantically and grabbing at his face. His right eye had glass in it. It was bad. I screamed for the medic.

SGT Mencacci came running with his bag and started working on the kid. The dad, clearly intoxicated, ran to get his family. The family ran up, screaming. SFC Leger came up and kept the family back so Mencacci could do his job. We all took up positions pulling security. I scanned down the main street. I was numb, pissed, frustrated. I felt sick. Periodically I would glance back and watch the kids mother leaning over her son, crying, screaming, as he bled there on the pavement.

Mencacci was able to stop the bleeding. It turned out the bullet had more than likely been a ricochet from the hood. It went in his cheek, bounced around in his mouth, knocked out some teeth and then came out above the cheek bone on the other side. It turned out he would live. He probably wouldn’t see out of his eye again. He was lucky to be alive. We put the kid in my seat, where Mencacci could keep an eye on him, and drove him to the hospital. I got a ride back with D Co.

As bad as it was, we did everything right. We shined spot lights, then fired warning shots, fired into the engine, then into the cab. We were in a bad neighborhood well past curfew in the car bomb capital of the world. No matter how many times I replay the incident in my head there isn’t anything we should have done different. It is just extremely unfortunate that things worked out the way they did.

I constantly look back on that night. I probably will my whole life.

Serving in first B Co and now HHC, with the 256 Brigade Combat Team, Louisiana Army National Guard, has been a tremendous experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better unit to be a part of in combat.

Over the past year, the 256 Brigade Combat Team has suffered many casualties. The families and friends of these soldiers know all too well the cost of freedom. These fallen soldiers have gone on to serve forever in the armies of the heavens. They are examples to us all that only through sacrifice is freedom obtained and the American way of life preserved. The American people cannot afford to ever forget these soldiers or the many that fell before them. I assure their families that their losses, while tragic, were for a worthy and noble cause… your sacrifice ensures the peace that millions of other American families enjoy generation after generation. Thank you and God be with you.

To the Iraqi nationals who have opened their arms and embraced me and my friends, specifically the soldiers of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Brigade,
Shu Kran, Fi Aman Allah.

To the faithful readers of Boots In Baghdad, thank you all for your endless support, your encouragement and your prayers.

To the men and women of the 256 Brigade Combat Team... It has been an honor.

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

With sincerity and respect,

Mark Partridge Miner
Boots In Baghdad