Thursday, May 26, 2005

I'd like to welcome the readers of the St. Augustine Record to Boots In Baghdad. To read the article in today's paper go to

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

another day

I got home to Jacksonville on the 20th and am having a blast. My buddy, Jimmy Bennett from Orlando, had been on leave and got back to Iraq right after I left. He sent me an e-mail letting me know how things are going:

Everyone....This morning at 4am was my first real duty day since being back from R and R. I was at the front gate of Justice with Sgt. Fisher , Lucky and Mencacci. Lucky went to chow at 0630 and Fish went riding around with SSG Burns. Mencacci and I were working the gate and watching the Iraqi National Guard do P.T. and Drill and ceremony when we heard a succession of explosions. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM .....At first we thought they were early morning car bombs or roadside bombs until we heard the whistle of a Mortar bomb fly right over our heads. As soon as we heard them we took cover behind a cement barrier and covered our heads with our hands and waited for the explosions. DUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was a Dud !! The one that landed closest to us was a dud. jeez. It's a good thing all of you are praying for us because I didn't have time to do anything but cover my head and say "oh sh*t" Ya'll should have seen the Iraqi's making a beeline for their building. They were laughing as were Mencacci and I. Laughing , I guess, because we were alright. Here comes the rollercoaster analogy.........You know how when you blast out of the incredible hulk at the Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios, ya get scared and then you can't stop smiling. Well that's the feeling .....almost. My platoon has got more purple hearts and confirmed kills these past 2weeks than in the past 7 months. We are working with Iraqi National Guard and American Special Forces. We are pulling Base security and conducting combat patrols including raids non-stop. This is definitely the front lines of this war.

Bennett, thanks for the update. Don't have too much fun while I'm gone.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Syria, stop or else

For quite a while now I've been wondering why there isn't more pressure on Syria to discontinue its flagrant support for terrorism in Iraq. Syria is instrumental to the insurgency American and Iraqi forces are fighting day in and day out. Dear Baghdad has an interesting post on the subject from the 17th.

The Ba'ath Party in Iraq was toppled two years ago and is now engaged in an increasingly violent insurgency against what they call the "American Occupation." In Syria, the Ba'ath is intact, it is the sole entity that makes policy, policy that seeks to control neighboring Lebanon, policy that supports terrorists in the Palestinian territories, and most visibly, policy that provides funds for the insurgency in Iraq.

On May 11th Dear Baghdad had another great post on the excessive loss of lives in Iraq due to the insurgency.

The fact that we are constantly hit by numbers have simply destroyed our sense of humanity. When a bomb goes off somewhere in Iraq, we ask, "how many were killed?" 1, 2, 5, 17, 60, 400 or whatever. We cannot ask "who was killed?" Who was killed? Was it a father who was standing in line to sign up for the police department? His son or daughter will have to go to bed tonight knowing that "daddy" will never come home again. His widow has to not only come to terms with the loss of her husband but she also is confronted with the harsh fact that she has to raise her kids alone in the not-so-kind place called Iraq.

Who was killed? Was it a young man who happened to be at the market when the bomber decided that it was time for him to go? What was his name? Did he have dreams of a prosperous Iraq where we would start worrying about soccer and girls and a job and a car and a family? All of that is gone, he's dead.

I consider Syria's actions against democracy in Iraq acts of war. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now. Currently Syria has a lot to lose should there be a successful democracy in Iraq. They aren't losing anything by funding and supplying the insurgency in Iraq. There needs to be consequences. Syria needs to be experiencing losses that far exceed whatever they fear from freedom in Iraq. Syria needs some motivation to stay the hell out of Iraq.

Why aren't more people addressing this? Syria is contributing to the deaths of American soldiers. Is that not newsworthy?

Monday, May 16, 2005

one last night of chaos

I had to get a ride from FOB Justice, our new home, to Camp Liberty on Friday so I could go to the necessary briefings held on Saturday morning. The briefings are required before you go home on leave. I was supposed to go back to Justice on Saturday night but ended up getting a ride back on Sunday morning with the BC’s (Battalion Commander) PSD (personal security detail).

I had to grab a few things before I went home and was planning on getting a ride back to Liberty on Monday. The only problem was there wasn’t any patrols going back to Liberty on Monday, so I had to get a ride with the PSD again.

I was walking down the stairs in the building we all live in at Justice carrying my assault pack and duffel bag when I passed SPC Stoves. He asked where I was going. I told him I had to get a ride to Liberty with PSD because I was leaving for the states on Tuesday morning. Turns out he was going on leave Tuesday as well. I suggested we go ask the CO (Commanding Officer of the Company) what he wanted us to do since there was only one extra seat on PSD.

The CO told me to go ahead and go with PSD when they got back from their mission and Stoves would ride with a patrol from the scout platoon. Raider, the scout patrol, headed out for Liberty around 1700 with Stoves. I was sitting out front waiting for PSD when they left. Stoves was gunning, he waived and threw his arms up, thrilled just like me to be going home for a couple of weeks.

PSD came by about twenty or thirty minutes later. I sat in the seat behind the Battalion Commander. Around 1740 we heard over the net that Raider had been hit with a VBIED (vehicle born improvisational explosive device) or car bomb, just a couple of kilometers from the gates of Liberty. The details were unknown, all that was know was one of the gunners were hurt. How bad hadn’t yet been clarified.

The first thing that I thought about was Stoves. I hoped he didn’t get hit right before he was supposed to be going home. I’ve worked a lot with all the guys in Raider, that’s my platoon, I just hoped whoever was hurt was alright. We sped up to try and get there to help them out. We were moving down a heavily traveled road when we slowed down next to one of A Co.’s Bradley fighting vehicles.

At this point I wasn’t sure what was going on because I could hardly hear the radio. I assumed the Battalion Commander was telling the Bradley to pack up and head over to Raider’s location. That’s when I heard the rapid thud of small arms fire. Our first vehicle’s 50 cal gunner was engaged, as well as elements of A Co.

Turns out there was a bad guy shooting at everyone. He had shot out one of A Co.’s humvee tires when we had first pulled up. The BC had his driver move us into a clearer line of sight so he could see what was happening. A Co. had dismounts on the ground conducting a BDA (battle damage assessment) and securing the area.

One of A Co.’s dismounts came over the net, “we have one KIA.” The Battalion Commander asked, “friendly or AIF (anti-Iraqi forces).” There was a brief pause. My heart sank. I hoped all of our guys were alright. A Co. came back, “AIF, one AIF KIA. Hey, we could use some help securing the area.”

We dismounted and headed over in teams to secure the area. The bad guy had definitely lost this one. Once we rolled up, there were two Bradley fighting vehicles and seven armored humvees. That is a lot of firepower to try and take on with an AK-47. At this point, however, there was no way of knowing if there were other bad guys around.

Our teams split up and began searching nearby houses and interviewing people. After about forty minutes we figured out the bad guy didn’t know anyone here and didn’t have any friends in the area. We continued to pull security until the Iraqi Police came to get the body and the bad guy’s weapon.

We headed over to where Raider had gotten hit. By now they were long gone, but there were still units picking up debris and keeping the area secure. There were pieces of charred metal and concrete from the road everywhere. I started to worry again about the gunner. From how the scene looked, I didn’t know how the injuries could be minor.

We got back to Liberty and went to eat dinner. In the chow hall I saw SGT Anderson. Anderson was the TC (truck commander) of the vehicle that got hit. He said Nezat was gunning and needed some stitches, but he’d be okay. Everyone was alright. The truck was pretty messed up.

(Anderson is a volunteer from the Minnesota Guard. He came with another one of our friends Ewalt. Ewalt, Anderson, Bennett (my roommate and buddy from the Florida Guard) and I all hung out during train up at Ft. Hood and have been good friends since.)

SPC Walker, who was driving the humvee that got hit, was kind enough to dictate his experience to me:

We had already been out earlier today to gather some intelligence on AIF (anti-Iraqi forces) activity in our AO (area of operations). We were told when we got back that we needed to do a routine run to Liberty. We do it all the time, it was no big deal.

We rolled out the gate of Justice at around 1700. The roads were full of traffic and the ride was for the most part uneventful until the last leg of the trip. We were the fourth humvee out of four. We had just turned onto the last road leading to Liberty. We were about two kilometers away.

I usually drive right down the center of the road and for some reason I was closer than usual to the center median. The roads were littered with cars. All of the sudden there was an extremely bright white blinding flash and an earth shattering boom coming from the right side of the road.

I looked out the windows and all I could see was fire. We were completely engulfed with flames. I looked over my shoulder and saw Nezat dangling in the Gunner’s hatch. Blood was covering the back of his neck. Horror struck.

Everyone started screaming GO, GO, GO. No matter how hard I hit the gas the humvee just wouldn’t speed up. All we could see was flames. We thought we were on fire. The foam on the inside of the armored doors was melting. I just started yelling, “GET THE F**K OUT, GET OUT.” LaValley, our dismount, was behind me yanking on the handle of the door trying to get it open with no success. We finally rolled out of the flames and as the sunlight broke through the thick black smoke I could see shrapnel raining down.

SSG Parm, who was in the first vehicle was screaming over the radio, “ARE YOU GUYS OKAY, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?" SGT Anderson checked us to make sure we were all alright. Nezat, who we now realized was clearly conscience told us he was fine, other than a deep gash in his neck.

Anderson called Parm and our patrol leader LT Dugas and confirmed there ware no serious injuries to personnel but our humvee was pretty messed up. He told me to pull up about 400 meters and stop. By now the first and second vehicles had turned around and begun pulling rear security. The third vehicle was pulling security to the front. Me and Anderson looked at each other and laughed, thanking God that we were all alright.

We got out of the humvee to check the vehicle, the tires were all blown and there were chunks of armor missing. SGT Domingue, our medic, was running up to help Nezat. We set up a 360 degree perimeter around Nezat and the humvee and waited for support.

The Iraqi Police showed up and established a perimeter around the VBIED (vehicle born improvisational explosive device) car bomb. Suddenly in the distance we heard Small Arms fire coming from two directions. One of them was the other guys in our Battalion (PSD and ALPHA).

All that was left of the car carrying the bomb was the front bumper. The engine block was on the other side of the highway, about a hundred meters away. The road all around was littered with tiny pieces of charred metal, which at one point had been red hot shrapnel.

Thank God we're all alright!

Thanks to SPC Justin Ryan Walker for giving his perspective. (He is 18 and single for all you ladies.)

Nezat came by about an hour ago and showed me his stitches. The rest of Raider went back this morning but the Physician’s Assistant wanted to check Nezat’s neck again this afternoon. To see pictures of Walker and Anerson's humvee after it got hit go to Boots In Baghdad Photographs.

I’m glad all my boys are alright and hope nothing happens while I’m gone. I am certainly ready to be in Jacksonville for a couple weeks of rest and relaxation… and believe me, that is exactly what I’m going to be doing.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

i'm going home

I found out a couple of days ago that I'm going home for two weeks of leave on the 17th. I should be in Jacksonville, Florida on the 19th or 20th. I CAN'T WAIT! I'll keep you updated on what I'm doing at home as well as what my unit is doing in Iraq while I'm gone.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Friday, May 06, 2005

from the suburbs to downtown

Again, I apologize for the infrequency of my postings lately. As anyone who has been in the military understands all too well, any decent size changes take some time. The Army's meticulous attention to detail, especially under our present circumstances, adds to the necessity of flexibility and more importantly to the commitment to operational security.

My Battalion has changed its Area of Operations from the rural suburbs of Baghdad to some of the city's most downtown sectors. This change has included the permanent relocation of some personnel, including myself, to a new base in the heart of Baghdad. We have been working around the clock, continuing missions, getting moved in as well as pulling various details. Despite the constant changes and endless work, everyone has stayed postitive and done more than their part with efficiency a expediency.

I myself have been extremely excited about the changes. For starters we are in downtown Baghdad! We are living in buildings that have decades of history. Before we were living in dress right dress white trailers. They were comfortable, complete with air conditioning and electricity, but they lacked any sense of individuality or character. The buildings we now occupy were only a few years ago the backbone of Saddam Hussein's regime. Just looking out the windows and seeing American soldiers working with the new Iraqi police officers and Iraqi soldiers is a constant reminder of progress.

In some ways literally but in more ways symbolically Baghdad is the heart of Iraq. It serves as the epicenter of life, the core of change. With a profound history and a challenging future, the entire world measures the success of a nation which consists of 437,072 sq km of diverse landscapes and unique cultures by the daily happeneings within this remarkable city.

Baghdad as a guage of progress for the rest of Iraq isn't always fair, considering the successes and setbacks within the city aren't always consistent with those of the rest of the country. However, it is impossible to deny the significance of this city as it houses the creation of the first real and credible democracy this region of the world has seen in decades.

We've been out several times doing dismounted patrols. There is no doubt a heightened level of intensity as we walk through streets whose histories are full of blood. People are everywhere. Life goes on all around us. We get an occasional smile or wave. Sometimes a nod with a hand over heart, a gesture of gratitude and respect. The children, as always, are quick to embrace us. Despite the many distractions we are constantly scanning. The rooftops, the balconies, the crowds, the cars, the kids, the market stands. Anything and everything must be analyzed, considered and ruled out as a threat in a split second. And when that split second is over and your assesment has been made you begin the process all over again, "Why is he nervous? That man is staring from that doorway. Why are they walking so fast? That taxi is moving pretty slow. What is she holding? Three guys are on the balcony to the right. Who is he on the phone with? There's a man in the window up ahead. What's in her backpack?" Constantly scanning. Awareness means control. Control means survival. Even when nothing happens, you're pretty drained when you get back in the wire.

I spent the night of my twenty-second birthday on the roof of what used to be the Ba'ath party headquarters in an overwatch position. The view was utterly amazing. Straight ahead was Baghdad. Looking to my left was the Tigris river and Sadr City. On the right was the downtown markets and the Grand Mosque. The mosque was surrounded by a glowing haze from its bright and colorful lights. Throughout the city were distant flashes and deep rumbles from various explosions. Sporatic small arms fire accompanied by thin red and orange bursts of fire from tracer rounds ripped the black night sky apart. Each projectile moving fiercely fast toward its target... all too ready to fulfill its destiny. None of this new or unusual within this city of perseverance. I sat there quietly, somehow feeling peaceful and relaxed as I absorbed the distant sights and sounds of war.

With this new area comes many new challenges and experiences. New challenges and experiences will bring us new contacts and new relationships as well as many new opportunities. We will do our best to leave here having made this area better off than it is today. The outgoing unit we are taking control of these sectors from has done a great job and we plan on continuing their successes. Something that makes this opportunity unique is that when we leave, there won't be another American unit taking command of this area. The new Iraqi Army will take it over from us. This is the first time since the invasion the Iraqis will be patrolling and working in their own area of operations. History is in the making. We are honored to be a part of it. I look forward to bringing you along with us.

Monday, May 02, 2005

weaving through traffic

passing by market

mid-day traffic... it's crazy

securing a local government building while our Commander meets with local leaders inside

standing in the troop hatch of M113 (armored personnel carrier) me and SSG H

me on rooftop across from the building with Commander and local leaders in it

weapons cache after we blew it up

weapons cache, inside hole

one of the weapons cache's that the Iraqi woman told us about

mosque at night, downtown

market after curfew, downtown

Sunday, May 01, 2005

bear with me

I apologize that I don't have a new post for you yet. I will have some recent occurrences up for you within the next several days complete with some pictures you may enjoy. My unit is in the process of undergoing some minor changes that I can't discuss until after the fact. Again, I apologize. Please check back soon.