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.