Saturday, April 23, 2005


It was a really good week. We had a lot of fun, made some good contacts and gathered some solid information. We went out several times doing daylight dismounted patrols. Our mission was pretty basic. We were to make our presence known, interact with the locals, find out if they needed anything and try to gather some intelligence. I love daytime foot patrols. It’s almost a form of therapy for me. On foot your observational abilities are substantially increased. Your interaction with people is on a much more personal level. An armored humvee sitting behind you can be pretty intimidating. On foot, it’s just you and the people. It is a lot easier to read people… to pick up on their vibes.

I got an M203 (grenade launcher) added to my M-4 (rifle). Carrying the extra ammo along with the dismounted element’s radio can get heavy. I like carrying the radio though. Relaying traffic between whoever is in charge, whether the Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant or Company Commander means I always know exactly what’s going on and where.

We went out yesterday afternoon. It was a hot yet beautiful day. The skies were crystal clear. We got dropped off and patrolled for a little over an hour, stopping to talk with some of the locals and give candy to the kids along the way. We then stopped on the side of a berm to rest. Two little Iraqi boys had followed us and hung out with us for a while. They spoke broken English but we were able to communicate pretty well with them. After we got to know them we asked them where Ali Baba (bad guys) were. They looked around and one of them said, “Mista, guns there.” He quickly pointed and then pretended to be wiping his face.

We thanked him and began moving in the direction he pointed. There was a large warehouse surrounded by some small shacks. We were careful not to head straight in that direction. We didn’t want it to be obvious to anyone watching from a distance that the kids had just told us something. I called the mounted patrol, gave them our grid and told them we had some information on possible weapons in the area. They had a hard time seeing us because we were between a wall and a wheat field. I got to use my M203 (grenade launcher) to shoot a green smoke canister. They came right to us.

We moved to the warehouse with the humvees pulling outer security around its perimeter. The warehouse was locked so I climbed a home made latter that was laying near the fence to look in one of the windows. The warehouse was full of neatly stacked boxes. We went to some of the surrounding shacks to find the owner of the warehouse. A teenage boy came and unlocked the door. After a thorough search of the warehouse and the surrounding shacks all we found were building supplies.

A hundred meters or so from the warehouse we continued our foot patrol down a fairly busy road. As we were walking I noticed an Iraqi woman standing just inside a gate. I made eye contact with her and something told me to approach her. I crossed the street and she disappeared behind the wall. A second later, she peeked out the gate and motioned for me to go over there. I realized she was hiding from the passing cars. I grabbed SGT H who was already on that side of the road to go over to her with me. Another few cars passed. We waited until the road was relatively clear and went up to the gate. The woman put her hand on my shoulder and guided me inside the wall with SGT H right behind me. She quickly closed the gate behind us. Behind the wall there was another woman, quite a bit older, I presume either her mother or mother in law.

The younger woman began to speak frantically in Arabic, her hands trembling with nervousness. Her eyes were deep. She was extremely concerned about being seen talking to us. I radioed the mounted element and informed them of the situation. SSG P, the NCOIC of the mounted element, snuck behind the wall with us. We removed our Kevlar helmets and eye protection, a gesture of trust, and did our best to figure out what she was trying to tell us.

She continuously grabbed her wedding ring and said, “insurgents, Ali Baba (bad guys).” At first I thought maybe her husband had been arrested and was being held in a prison by coalition forces. This was the only day this week we didn’t have a translator with us. SSG P radioed battalion requesting a translator. Another unit a few miles away had one available. SSG P had me and SGT H stay with the women while he took two of the five humvees that made up the mounted element to go and get the translator. The rest of the dismounted element was about a hundred meters down the road pulling security on our location with the three humvees that stayed. They did a great job of being discreet and not revealing there was any of us behind the wall.

SGT H and I continued to communicate with the women while we were waiting on the translator. We did our best to calm them down and establish trust. It is amazing how well you can communicate with just your eyes and body language. In a matter of minutes I felt like I had know these women my entire life. It was apparent they were getting the same feeling from us. I could see the pain and the fear in their eyes. Buried beneath the layers of desperation was some of the purest sincerity I have come across in my nearly twenty-two years of existence. I now knew, without a doubt, whatever she had to tell us was substantial, substantial enough to get her killed for telling us.

About ten minutes passed before SSG P and the translator returned. The women requested not to be photographed or videotaped, so we only recorded the audio from their conversation. The information the women gave us was colossal. It was detailed, in-depth first hand intelligence we were able to verify through her specific and calculated accounts of recent events. I wish I could go into it. Due to operational security and concern for her personal safety, I‘ll have to save the details for another day. I will say however, she informed us of where insurgents had been going to launch rockets. Literally seconds after she told us this we heard the screeching roar of a rocket ripping through the air.

Within five minutes the beautiful rumbling thuds of Apache’s coming in low and fast was right on us. They were circling the entire area looking for whoever launched the rocket. Since SSG P was on my radio updating Battalion of the situation on the ground with both the women and the rockets, we didn’t have direct communication with the rest of the dismounted element and the humvees. SSG P had me run out and tell three of the humvees to go to the proximity grid where the rockets were fired from.

I waited for the road to clear of passing cars and ran out the gate, sprinting to the closest humvee. I relayed the order, gave them the grid and told them we’d be back on internal net in about five minutes. The humvees moved out to work with the Apache’s in a sweep of the area.

The dismounted element was then called in to assist in the sweep. SSG P stayed with the translator and two of the humvees to continue questioning the women. The dismounted element started moving out at a fast pace toward the grid we were given. I was monitoring the net traffic between the mounted element and the Apache’s. The Apache's had eyes on three men on the edge of a canal between two berms... but the humvees were unable to get across the canal.

We didn’t have a visual of the humvees yet but we could see the Apache’s circling the area and hovering in some spots. We were running though a field when we hit the canal and saw a trail of dust flying toward us. It was the mounted element. They blew past us on the road running parallel to the canal. About five hundred meters down the road they stopped and started getting out. We couldn’t see over the berm on the other side of the canal, but the three men were right across from the humvees. I jumped in the canal but couldn’t make it up the other side, its banks were too steep. The black water was about thigh high. I started to just slosh through the disgusting muck down the canal toward the humvees when SPC P and CPL N came up to the edge and screamed, “are you crazy, that's human shit in there.” I grabbed the barrel of my rifle and reached out to CPL N who grabbed the butt stock, SPC P was holding CPL N’s arm and together they pulled me out. It was one of those times I wished I didn’t have the radio on my back. We continued running down the road toward the humvees. The mounted guys threw a wire across the canal so they could pull themselves up the other side. Once we got to the wire I jumped back in the canal, used the wire to pull myself up and ran up the berm. They already had the three guys coming up the other side and were bringing them to the edge of the canal.

We searched the area where they had been. It turns out all they had been doing was fishing. We had them sit with us for a few minutes until SSG P and the interpreter arrived so we could question them. They denied seeing anything but admitted to have been fishing for several hours. The rocket definitely came from that area. They had to have seen something but adamantly denied even hearing the rocket. We reminded them that one of these days one of those rockets could easily hit their house or their kids, and the only way to stop that from happening is to let us know what they see and hear. The sun was setting. Our day was done. We let the three fisherman go, packed up and headed back to the base. At least I wouldn't be the only one smelling terrible on the ride home.

What amazes me is the courage that the previously mentioned woman showed. The information she gave us has since been verified by the proper authorities within Battalion and Brigade. The risk she is subjecting herself to is a brutal and miserable death. Her entire life has consisted of totalitarianism, fear, death and brutality. Without ever having experienced the pleasures of freedom, without a tangible example of common decency… a gage to base right and wrong on, she has somehow managed to overcome her incomprehensible fears and pressures and do what is right. She grew up under Saddam Hussein who brainwashed and manipulated these people. He controlled all aspects of their life. For the past few years she has experienced terrorism and war, hell all around her. For her to have the intestinal fortitude to come forward just amazes me. One thing is for sure; the ability to know what is right and the courage to act on it is instilled somewhere in us all. I know that I will never forget this woman and the example she set for me. For the rest of my life, when I think I have it rough or am put in a situation where doing the right thing seems difficult, I’ll think back to yesterday afternoon and the humble Iraqi woman who showed me what courage was first hand.

*******While writing the last paragraph I was just notified by my team leader that one of the locations the woman gave us was searched by another element of our Company. They found tunnels buried in a field that were full of 155mm artillery rounds (used in road side bombs), rocket propelled grenades, rocket launchers, mortars and numerous other weapons and explosives. That find right there just saved a lot of lives.*******

Seldom is the average American subjected to decisions of right and wrong where consequences result in death. That’s a good thing… don’t get me wrong. I just wish more American’s realized how lucky they have it and how miniscule most problems we stress out about are compared to the rest of the world. I guess, in closing, next time your stressing out about something… ask yourself, “is this going to kill me, is this going to get my family killed?” Sometimes putting things in perspective can help you realize how great your life really is.

I’ll let you know how incredible the information this woman gave us is and how she knows what she does as soon as I can. If only you knew.