Sunday, March 27, 2005

afternoon patrol

me talking with some of the teenagers on the bridge

a local teenager tries to teach one of us how to ride his motorcycle

foot patrol moving from patrol base to TCP, second day


We just came in from a couple of days and nights in the field. Our mission was to set up night OP’s, daytime TCP’s and night and day foot patrols. We didn’t come into contact with the enemy this time. It seems like things have been cooling down a little bit. I think we have pushed a lot of the bad guys out of our sectors. However, there is a large probability they are just laying low for a little while before they pick things back up. The weather was beautiful. It got a little cold at night, but the skies were clear and the days were warm.

After early morning insertion and a few hours of OP’s we moved a few clicks to a bridge that leads into a decent size village. We set up on the village side of the bridge and searched all traffic entering the village. One vehicle with three men had $15,000 in American cash. We stopped the three or four vehicles behind them half way down the bridge. I went down to the other end of the bridge with our Forward Observer to make sure none of the cars turned around. Just minutes after we went down there two cars came around a bend in the road about 100 meters away. The first car was a small white car with a Man, his wife and four or five small children. Right behind them a black sedan with only a male driver came flying around the corner. He saw us and slammed on his breaks, sat there for a second and peeled out in reverse. The FO and I sprinted toward him in an effort to get the white car with the family out of any line of fire. I was screaming, “OGOF OGOF,” or stop in Arabic. There was no where to fire any warning shots without endangering the civilians.

We ran back to the end of the bridge and screamed to the RTO on the other side, “BLACK SEDAN, a BLACK SEDAN JUST TURNED AROUND!” Vehicles turn around all the time at TCP’s. Ninety-nine percent of the time they just don’t want to sit and wait. The panicked urgency in which this guy turned around was definitely abnormal. Also, not too many people in this area have shiny new black sedans. They are farmers. Most of them very poor. And anytime there is a single male driver your guard definitely goes up. There is no doubt in my mind he was either someone we’ve been looking for or had something he wasn’t supposed to.

The mounted element (humvees) were doing their own TCP not too far away. Higher wanted them to bring their translator over to our TCP to try and figure out why the guys we stopped had $15,000. I was frustrated the black sedan wasn‘t on the priority list. As far as I was concerned, the guys with the money weren’t going anywhere. Let them wait. It’s times like that you just have to say, “roger,” and move on with the mission. The mounted patrol rode up a few minutes later. The man with the money said it was the whole villages money to buy a power generator. Sure enough there was a large truck carrying a power generator that came up a few minutes later. We checked out the generator and the truck carrying it. They were legit. We let them go.

After a couple of hours we shut down the TCP and headed to the patrol base that had been established by the other element of our dismounted patrol. The patrol base was inside a secure compound that used to be the residence of one of Saddam’s uncles. I’m sure it was once beautiful. Now it is a bunch of dried out fishing ponds and swimming pools. After the invasion it was looted by the locals. The main residence is still standing and is used by the local tribal leaders as a meeting place. They have their own guards there. In front of the house there is a statue of a horse. We asked some of the tribal members that were sitting out front if they cared if we took pictures on it. They laughed and in a heavy accent said, “Please, do as you like.”

That night we went out and set up another OP along the edge of our AO. We didn’t see anything unusual. We heard small arms fire in the distance and saw several good size flashes. We continued to monitor for a while then headed back to the patrol base around midnight. The next morning after re-supply we moved out on foot, taking a different route back to the bridge we had set up the TCP on the day before. This time we had both dismounted elements. We set up the TCP again and the other element went around the bend to serve as a concealed blocking element. If another car were to turn around we’d radio them and by the time the car got around the bend there would be about twelve armed soldiers standing behind spike strips.

Some local teenagers came up and talked with us while we ran the TCP. Despite the language barrier we managed to have a good time with them. After a few hours we shut down and found a secluded spot in the shade to eat our gourmet MRE’s (meals ready to eat). After we ate we did a foot patrol the rest of the afternoon, slowly heading to our extraction point. We were taken out just after sunset.

Every time you cross the wire you come back in with a new appreciation for America and the way of life we are so fortunate to have. The living conditions these people have in many instances are just terrible. The odors, the sanitation…. it’s awful. But, it’s all they know. Most of the people we talk to are excited to see us. They ask us about America, where we are from. These past few years, for the first time in decades, they have a light at the end of the tunnel. They have something to work for and look forward to. THEY ARE FREE. More and more they are realizing that with freedom comes responsibility. As long as that realization is met then progress is inevitable. Many American’s fail to realize this themselves. Sometimes I don’t think that the western press gives enough credit to the accomplishments made thus far. I don’t see how anyone could deny the successes and the progress after the elections here. There is a hell of a lot of work left to do on everyone’s part. But we are constantly moving forward.

Overall this mission went well. We were hoping to find something or someone. But just being out there on foot and making a presence does a lot. The locals are used to mounted patrols. Seeing us come out of a woodline or over a berm on foot catches them a little off guard. They always ask in the best English they can manage, “where humvee, where humvee?” We just smile and move on. It was a good couple of days. It was definitely nice to get back, take a hot shower and eat a good meal.

a statue in a ditch at the compound where Saddam's uncle used to live...most of it was destroyed by looters

the horse statue at the compound where Saddam's uncle used to live

foot patrol, movement from TCP to patrol base

finding the $15,000 in American cash

searching car, TCP

moving to TCP sight at bridge

Saturday, March 26, 2005

humvees scanning sectors

playful Iraqi kids

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

so here we are

Well I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to go about this whole web log thing. I’ve thought about doing it for a while and I guess I just figured, why not. I am certainly not an expert in English. In advance, please pardon any spelling and grammar errors you may find. Please keep in mind my commitment is to my unit and my mission. Maintaining OPSEC (operational security) is priority. Therefore I may have to be pretty vague at times. Also, my schedule tends to be somewhat irregular, so I’m not sure how often or consistent this will be updated. You’ll just have to bear with me.

I’ve been in Iraq since early November. I volunteered to come here with a friend of mine. We had to do state transfers to get over here. I spent the first few months at an ECP (enduring check point) outside of the Baghdad International Airport attached to an Armor company. I hated it. I volunteered to come here and fight a war and couldn’t believe they wouldn’t let me go out and do just that. I’m infantry…I lust for the blood of America’s enemies. Don’t get me wrong… the guys out there on ECP’s and other elements of FOB security and force protection work hard and have very important jobs. But I couldn’t take not being out there on the streets with my boots on death ground.

In February I finally got my wish. My buddy and I got moved into a new unit. A unit that goes out and does a variety of different missions. We do anything ranging from convoy escort, TCP’s (tactical check points), mounted and dismounted patrols, raven flights, OP’s (observation posts) and whatever they tell us to. Rather than attempt to catch you up on what exactly I have been doing since I got here, I’m just going to pick up right here. For everything else you’re going to have to wait and buy the book.

More recently my unit has been doing some pretty good missions. The type of missions a grunt dreams about doing in a combat zone. We’ll take Black Hawks out to sector and stay out for several days at a time. Just us and our rucks. What exactly we do out there varies. We may patrol for IED’s (improvisational explosive devices), set up OP’s, raid some houses or just patrol. Nonetheless I’m loving it. There is nothing like carrying everything you’re going to need for three days on your back, holding your rifle at the ready and walking in a wedge through fields and villages with guys you’d gladly take a bullet for. There are certainly times when I can’t help but think, “why the hell did I volunteer for this?” But laying in my sleeping bag and staring up at the stars, listening to the calls for prayer from nearby mosques echoing over distant small arms fire just has a way of taking me back. Taking me back to last summer when I was laying on the beach in St. Augustine, staring at the stars and listening to the waves… wishing I was in Iraq, defending freedom.

team resting next to bombed out Iraqi Army building

pretending i know what i'm doing

the helipad

school's out

evening patrol