Monday, April 11, 2005

shadows in the darkness

We did night operations every night last week. We’d go out shortly after dark and be back at the base as the sun was coming up. Moving from the insertion point with the darkness as our shield, each team moved into the vicinity of a designated grid to conduct an over-watch of their target. These targets may have been a house, a road, a village, anything where there has been or is suspicion of being AIF (Anti Iraqi Forces) activity.

On the night of the 9th our team was to move into a location just outside of a very hostile city to over-watch a heavily traveled road that is notorious for IED’s (improvisational explosive devices). They are more commonly referred to in the civilian world as roadside bombs. As the last man in our team movements, rear and high security is my responsibility. I spend just as much time walking backward as forward. We’d stop periodically, diving down to avoid the headlights of passing cars.

Under the darkness we are like ghosts… nothing but shadows in the darkness. With our faces painted and our movements perfected we are unseen by any potential enemy. Through my left eye I see the world in shades of green and white. With my right eye exposed and acclimated to the darkness I can look through the optic on my rifle and maintain my depth perception. With both eyes working together I have a crystal clear vision that cuts right through the blackness of the night.

After about an hour of movement we reach the area where we need to establish our over-watch. We huddle behind a wall to decide the best place to set up. We quickly maneuver across the street and get in the prone on the side of a berm. We were getting ready to send two guys out to do a tight area recon of the position when SPC S saw a man walking down a path headed right to us through his thermal sights. We immediately got down. I was a little short of breath from running across the road and was trying as hard as I could to breath lightly. The man kept getting closer and closer. He passed within feet of us. He had no idea that just a few steps away lay an infantry fire team. It was definitely a close call. We conducted the recon of the area and found a decent position about thirty meters away.

We maneuvered the whole team to the position and set up 360 degree security. We called in our grid and began scanning. Aside from sporadic small arms fire from the city, the next few hours were uneventful. We all just lay there motionless, silently scanning, watching and listening. Sometime around midnight one of the other teams called in two men digging on the side of a berm. Good people aren’t typically out digging after curfew on the sides of roads. The mounted element began heading in their direction and Apache’s were called in to keep an eye on things from the sky. Apache’s have incredible night vision and thermal sights, not to mention enough firepower to take out a small army.

As soon as we heard the Apache’s heading into the area we popped our IR (infrared) glow sticks. The last thing we wanted was for them to confuse us with the bad guys. Unfortunately, the guys digging managed to escape into the city. The Apache’s circled the area for a while looking for them but didn’t find anyone. Small arms fire erupted from the city… attempting to hit the Apache’s. The Apache's left unscathed.

We went back to what we were doing, keeping a close look out on the area. All of us were just hoping someone would try to put a bomb on the road. The small arms fire from the city picked back up again. Some of it came from pretty close to our position. There was probably a series of small firefights between AIF and Iraqi Police. We weren’t too concerned. The bad guys had no idea where we were… and if one of the other teams were engaged, the gun trucks of the mounted patrol and the Apache’s would be going off like the fourth of July.

We headed back to the extraction point and were taken out before sunrise. We didn’t catch any bad guys that night. But soon, very soon, some little bad guy is going to think he’s slick, slip a 155 round into a hole and out of nowhere he’s going to have some American boys with painted faces all around him. Whether or not he sleeps in jail or sleeps forever is his call. Until that night bad guy, sleep well.