Sunday, April 17, 2005

brick wall rolling

I want to begin by thanking everyone for their e-mails and comments regarding my last post, YES, we CAN win this war. It was great hearing everyone’s varying thoughts and opinions on how things are going over here. Anyone interested in an incredible book on America’s involvement in Iraq might want to check out The Threatening Storm, by Kenneth M. Pollack. This was the book that inspired me to enlist and volunteer to come over here. Today in the mail I got another one of Pollack’s books, The Persian Puzzle, The Conflict Between Iran and America. I have no doubt it will be another in-depth and insightful account of U.S. policy in the middle east. In my opinion, Kenneth Pollack is hands down one of the most qualified experts on both the history and the future of American foreign policy in this region. He presently serves as the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 1995 to 1996 and 1999 to 2001 he served as director for Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council. Before working with the Clinton administration he served under Bush 41 as a Persian Gulf military analyst for the CIA. I promise you, no matter what your political persuasion, Pollack’s exacting and in-depth research will provide even the most advanced scholar an incredible education.

This week, like them all, was pretty busy. We did several night missions near the hostile city I spoke of in Shadows in the Darkness. A couple of nights ago my Battalion did a cordon and search of the city. All network news channels were there but I don’t think it got much coverage… there were no casualties and things went surprisingly well. The dismounted platoon I’m in was put on humvees for the operation, several of us were given the night off because there just wasn’t room. I wasn’t about to miss a Battalion movement, so I hopped on with another company. It worked out well because the humvee I was dismounting for led the movement into the city. I must say that in my time here thus far, rolling into the slums of the city and looking back to see a dust storm from hundreds of gun trucks and the skies littered with attack helicopters was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I have had. It is moments like that when everything is worth it. The U.S. Army at its finest.

The element I was with rolled straight through the city to the other side, units broke off to their objectives as we advanced. All the routes out of the city had been blocked off by ground units. The Apache’s assisted in maintaining the perimeter, provided air support if necessary and scanned the surrounding villages for rocket or mortar launches. As we rolled through the heart of the city we passed an Iraqi Police station. There were dozens of IP’s outside. They stood on the rooftops and at the gates, they were ready. This particular police station has it rough. I didn’t realize how often they get in fire fights until we started running night ops in the area. I wondered how this whole thing looked from their eyes. I’m sure that this particular night, like us, they were feeling as if all their hard work and sacrifice was worth it. We were rolling fast and we were rolling hard. The ground was literally rumbling. We were a brick wall followed by a sea of dust with the sun setting behind us.

Our objective was a decent size house just outside of the city surrounded by fields. I was in the lead platoon. Once we hit the field each humvee moved to its pre-determined location. We caught air a couple of times, hitting small trenches and holes in the field from farming. We got in place in the south east corner just outside a small house on the same property as the target house. Myself and SSG B quickly dismounted and stacked on the wall outside the house. The humvee’s driver, SPC H and its gunner, SGT M would stay on the humvee throughout the entire mission. They would be ready to move and engage in a seconds notice. SSG B and I decided it would be better to clear the small house quickly by ourselves rather than wait for other dismounts to come and lose the element of suprise. We maneuvered around the side of the house to the front door, ducking under the windows so as not to make targets out of ourselves or reveal our entry point. I went to the left of the door with SSG B on the right. Luckily it was unlocked. I slammed it open and SSG B went in first. I was right behind him. There was only three rooms. No one was inside.

We signaled to one of the other platoon's humvees that was pulling up to the house that it was clear. We began moving toward the target house where some humvees were still getting in position. We cleared all the sheds and out-houses on the way. By the time we got to the back of the target house the other dismounts had already cleared it of personnel. The men were separated and the women and children were kept together. We are always careful to make sure that the men can see their families so they know that they are being treated well. After the property was cleared of all eminent threats, we began the search.

The search was extremely thorough. While we were inside the property one of the other platoons searched all of the fields with the assistance of a civilian explosives expert and his bomb dog. We had positively identified one of the men from our wanted list. It was important we handled all evidence perfectly to make sure it could be used in his trial. With two evidence experts present to make sure everything was handled properly, every square inch of the house was searched. Everything was photographed and all evidence was organized in bags by room number. Nothing was damaged, but a mess was made. All the blankets were unfolded, furniture moved, pictures taken off the walls, cabinets emptied. It sounds extreme but in the end it paid off. We found lots of documentation, abnormal amounts of cash and some weapons. After we were done searching the house the women and children were allowed to enter. I was assigned to keep an eye on them while the men were questioned and things were finishing up. When the women and children entered the house and saw what we had done they just cried. The unit commander and SSG B got the elder man and the translator and went to talk to the women. The commander handled the situation very well. He explained why we had to do what we did, assured them that nothing was broken and explained why we had to take some of the evidence. After they were all calmed down SSG B and I continued to talk to the man. The only detainee we were going to bring back with us was his little brother. The man thanked us for being polite and professional. We assured him his brother would be treated fairly and fed well. There was no doubt in my mind we had the bad guys.

It was nearly nine hours later that we were on our way back to the base. We were rolling black out (no white lights, drivers use night vision). I just stared out the window looking through my night vision. I had a lot on my mind. It was a good night. We got our guy. We had some solid evidence. I wondered how things went for the rest of the Battalion. I was very impressed with the Company commanders and NCOs. The orchestration of several company level elements in conjunction with Iraqi Police and Air units is a very complex and challenging task, especially in an urban environment. The Battalion commander did a great job in planning the whole operation. Every aspect was covered. It was thorough planning and rehearsing that ensured things went well. Had they gone awry, there were several back up plans. Everyone’s hard work, hard training and discipline made the mission a success.