Wednesday, August 31, 2005

last post from iraq

Well friends, my time here is reaching an end. I am in my final days in Baghdad. This will be my last post from Iraq. Sometime in October you will hear from me again. If you would like, e-mail me at and I will make sure you are notified when I post again sometime in October. Boots In Baghdad will continue to be up and running from the states. I have a couple hundred pages of journal entries and thousands of pictures. I have a few ideas with what I am going to do with Boots In Baghdad. Regardless, it will be up.

I can’t even begin to describe to you what it feels like to be on the verge of going home and returning to life. This journey began a year ago… an eternity ago. And, for the world I wouldn’t trade the last twelve months of my life.

I was looking back at some of my journal entries over the past year. It is amazing how much I have already forgotten. Perhaps more amazing are the memories that I will never forget. My journey began with B Co, 1-156 Armor. Bravo was attached to 2-156 Infantry for this deployment. Once we arrived in Iraq Bravo was assigned to 141 FA BN as part of a Force Protection Task Force. I spent the first few months at ECP 7 guarding the perimeter of Camp Liberty and the Baghdad Airport.

These first months contained some of the longest days of my life. We were at ECP 7 when the Marines and 1st Cav hit Fallujah. We were doing 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Then we switched to 12 on and 12 off…every single day. I spent Thanksgiving at that gate, I spent Christmas at that gate and I spent New Years 2005 at that gate. I loved the guys I was with, but I hated the job. This is part of a journal entry from November 13, 2004. My romanticized view of war is apparent, displaying more than anything my naivety and youth:

Every time a convoy leaves that gate it breaks my heart. I see them return with wounded. I see their destroyed vehicles dragged back in tow… in pieces. I belong out there. I became a soldier to be out there. I became Infantry to be out there. Out there is home. I came here to sacrifice, to pay for freedom... to bring justice to those who wish to take that away from my nation and my nation’s friends. And to those on the streets of Iraq who wish to harm me and my friends, my country and my countrymen, I say this; you better be prepared, because I have been preparing for this for twenty-one years. I will match your ruthlessness, I will surpass your destruction, I have exceeded your skill in tactics and weapons, your courage crumbles at the thought of mine, and long ago my faith and commitment to my God and my America crushed your petty god and your weak faith. I am coming for you. With a peaceful heart I will destroy you. The whites of my eyes are the last thing you will see before you kiss the feet of my God.

Yeah, just a little piss and vinegar. Here is part of another entry from November 18, 2004:

Yesterday and last night at ECP 7 were uneventful for the most part. Sometime around 1300 or 1400 we took a mortar round. Clark and Mitchell were at the gate, I was under the tower’s stairs, SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson were in the hummer, and SSG Davis and SGT Moore were in the tower. We heard this loud whistle screeching through the sky. It sounded like a jet was headed straight for us. Clark screamed, “I-N-C-O-M-I-N-G!” I was already half way to the ground. Mitchell dove over the bench and landed next to me. SSG Giglio and SGT Johnson weren’t far behind us. It was close. Very close. Luckily, whoever sent it didn’t arm it. They definitely were aiming at us. Later that evening we were around the hummer eating and we heard explosions off in the distance. They were about 800 meters to our 12 o’clock. We heard a boom really close to our 10 and an RPG hit the SF compound about 600 meters away. Then we heard another screeching whistle. We all hit the ground and fast. I bruised me knee. SSG Gig landed right on top of me and Mitchell. Afterward I went up in the tower. I figured if they were going to attack they would do it then. And whoever sent the bastards had eyes on us. After the mortars I get this amazing feeling. I guess it is the adrenaline rush. Sometimes I crave it. I was hoping there would be more, that someone would try to run the gate…

While I was home on leave SSG Giglio’s humvee was hit with an IED (improvisational explosive device). He was sent home with 3rd degree burns. He is an incredible NCO. I wish him nothing but the best.

I had a lot of good times at ECP 7. I was certainly with some great guys. It wasn’t until February that Bennett (my buddy and fellow volunteer from the Florida Guard) and I were re-assigned to HHC 2-156 scout platoon. Shortly thereafter we were moved into Samurai, HHC’s light infantry platoon. It was apparent after my first Samurai mission that I was finally home… doing the job I loved.

This is my journal entry from February 18, first Samurai mission:

On the afternoon of the 16th Bennett and I met at the HHC TOC to SP for a two day three night mission. It was awesome. We headed out on M113’s (armored personnel carriers). They dropped us off and once night fell we marched 11 clicks, carrying everything we had. There were six teams… each had its own designated OP‘s. All night we observed and then right before dawn we all met at a rally point. The rally point was this bombed out (***OP SEC***). I passed out after doing some looking around and woke up to gun fire. I grabbed my rifle and ran to a window and saw…(Sorry, you’re going to have to wait for this story).

Shortly after 1800 a mortar round hit. It was CLOSE…about 30 meters, right on the other side of the building. Everyone ran and took cover. CPT D sent two fire teams out into a nearby field to question some people and called up the description and direction of a red truck that took off after a second round impacted. Nothing came of it. Around 1930 all the teams regrouped and headed out to the new OP’s. One of the teams called in seeing six armed men around midnight. CPT D called up Demon (D CO) and asked them to come and raid the house that these men were suspected of being in so that we didn’t have to compromise our position. Demon couldn’t do it so we were all called off of our OP’s and all the teams met up at a rally point. Teams one and two pulled the cordon of the house while teams three and four raided the house. I was on team one. Nothing was found…”

We were taken out of sector and got back to the base the next morning. I loved the missions we were doing. Shortly after we joined Samurai, in March, I started Boots In Baghdad. Samurai was one of a handful of units doing the types of missions we did in Iraq. A month or so later the Command Sergeant Major of Coalition Forces Iraq, CSM Mellinger, as well as the Command Sergeant Major of America’s National Guard, CSM Gipe, would join us on the end of a three day mission for a foot patrol…to “see what this Samurai Platoon was all about."

We have accomplished some incredible things and had some close calls.

This is part of another entry of one of those nights that I will never forget. The entry is from June 20th, 2005, shortly after I returned to Baghdad from my two weeks of R and R:

Last night I was in bed about to fall asleep. It was around 2130. SSG Burns came in our room and told us to get our gear and get to the trucks ASAP. We weren’t really sure what was going on. His sense of urgency and his tone made it apparent that something bad was happening.

Within minutes we were on the humvees ready to roll. Our platoon sergeant, SFC Leger, called us in for a briefing. It turned out that there were insurgents, somewhere between fifty and a hundred, running through the streets of Hariya arbitrarily shooting innocent civilians. We had been in Hariya a couple of nights before doing some raids with the Iraqi Army. Hariya definitely isn’t a good neighborhood. There were several families that had been confirmed dead.

I wish I could describe the feeling I had. We all shared it. When I first heard what was happening, my heart started beating faster, deeper. My level of anger, my fury, was at a level inexplainable with words. I pictured the kids. I pictured the families. The only thing they were guilty of was deserving freedom. I was nearly salivating at the opportunity of encountering the ruthless cowards who had resorted to killing innocent women and children because they were too scared to face us.

I got into the dismount seat, the seat behind SSG Hemphill, my truck commander. In the other dismount seat on our humvee, behind SPC Prince, the driver, was SGT Mencacci, our medic. We couldn’t get out of the gate fast enough.

We arrived in the area shortly thereafter. Normally after curfew the dark streets are empty. Last night, there were people out. In the alleys I could see shadows running back and forth. We split our four vehicle patrol into two groups to cover more ground. The Commander took two trucks and SSG Hemphill had our two trucks. There were people just randomly sprinting across the streets. We were rolling through alley ways. We stopped periodically to question people on the street. They claimed to have seen nothing, making it apparent that the bad guys were around somewhere.

After about thirty minutes the CO called us all back together. Somewhere out there D Co was patrolling as well. We were to provide support for each other if something were to happen. When we met up with the CO we started stopping to search cars. We pulled up on a van full of Iraqi males. All the dismounts maneuvered on it. I was covering down a side street when there was a burst of machine gun fire. It was close.

SPC Castle, the lead gunner, had fired warning shots at a car that wouldn’t slow down. The driver was drunk, oblivious to anything and everything around him. All we could do was turn him around and tell him to go home.

At this point we all started heading for the trucks to move on with the mission. As I was walking to my humvee I heard more gun fire…. Again, close as hell. This time it was from the rear vehicle. A small pick up truck was heading straight for us. SPC Luquette and SGT LeJune had fired warning shots. Then the truck kept going so SPC Miller and SPC Evans hit the engine. When the truck kept coming Lejune and Luquette lit up the cab. When the gun fire stopped the truck was still rolling, slowly coming to a stop.

SGT Champagne and I were the first dismounts to the truck. With everyone covering us we each took a side of the truck. The driver got out. I grabbed him and checked him out…we still didn’t know who they were, why they were out past curfew, and why they were barreling straight for us. Then I looked up. There was a teenage kid with blood gushing out of his face and head. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that he wasn’t going to be alive much longer. He was screaming frantically and grabbing at his face. His right eye had glass in it. It was bad. I screamed for the medic.

SGT Mencacci came running with his bag and started working on the kid. The dad, clearly intoxicated, ran to get his family. The family ran up, screaming. SFC Leger came up and kept the family back so Mencacci could do his job. We all took up positions pulling security. I scanned down the main street. I was numb, pissed, frustrated. I felt sick. Periodically I would glance back and watch the kids mother leaning over her son, crying, screaming, as he bled there on the pavement.

Mencacci was able to stop the bleeding. It turned out the bullet had more than likely been a ricochet from the hood. It went in his cheek, bounced around in his mouth, knocked out some teeth and then came out above the cheek bone on the other side. It turned out he would live. He probably wouldn’t see out of his eye again. He was lucky to be alive. We put the kid in my seat, where Mencacci could keep an eye on him, and drove him to the hospital. I got a ride back with D Co.

As bad as it was, we did everything right. We shined spot lights, then fired warning shots, fired into the engine, then into the cab. We were in a bad neighborhood well past curfew in the car bomb capital of the world. No matter how many times I replay the incident in my head there isn’t anything we should have done different. It is just extremely unfortunate that things worked out the way they did.

I constantly look back on that night. I probably will my whole life.

Serving in first B Co and now HHC, with the 256 Brigade Combat Team, Louisiana Army National Guard, has been a tremendous experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better unit to be a part of in combat.

Over the past year, the 256 Brigade Combat Team has suffered many casualties. The families and friends of these soldiers know all too well the cost of freedom. These fallen soldiers have gone on to serve forever in the armies of the heavens. They are examples to us all that only through sacrifice is freedom obtained and the American way of life preserved. The American people cannot afford to ever forget these soldiers or the many that fell before them. I assure their families that their losses, while tragic, were for a worthy and noble cause… your sacrifice ensures the peace that millions of other American families enjoy generation after generation. Thank you and God be with you.

To the Iraqi nationals who have opened their arms and embraced me and my friends, specifically the soldiers of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Brigade,
Shu Kran, Fi Aman Allah.

To the faithful readers of Boots In Baghdad, thank you all for your endless support, your encouragement and your prayers.

To the men and women of the 256 Brigade Combat Team... It has been an honor.

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

With sincerity and respect,

Mark Partridge Miner
Boots In Baghdad

Monday, August 22, 2005

Kadhimiya car bombs, FOB Justice mortar attack and new video of America unleashing HELL

On the night of the 21st two VBIED's (car bombs) were detonated in Kadhimiya, just outside the gates of our base. Our platoon, Samurai, was sent to the scene of one of them to assess the situation. A very nice and popular family restaurant was destroyed. Several innocent Iraqis were killed, including children. The peaceful citizens of Kadhimiya were outraged. By the end of the night the local citizens had turned in all individuals involved to the Iraqi Army. Kadhimiya is one of the safest areas in Baghdad because the people that live here stick together and don't tolerate terrorism.

We returned to our base to get a couple of hours of rest before we headed back out at midnight. Around 2015 (8:15pm), I was outside talking with SPC Castle and SPC Ransonet when five mortar rounds impacted on our base and the defensive positions along the river were engaged with small arms fire. The attack was launched from right across the Tigris River.

The beautiful sound of heavy machine guns returning fire is almost as beautiful as hundreds of red tracers piercing the night sky. Luckily, SPC Daigle was on the roof of the building we live in. He was able to record the tail end of America unleashing HELL on some terrorists. You'll notice the terrorists quit returning fire. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of this. It is an awesome clip. To see it click here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Samurai Platoon

Row 3 left to right; me, SSG Hemphill, CPL Luquette, Row 2 left to right; SPC Castle, SGT Fisher, SGT Shanks, SGT LeJune, SGT Hawker, SGT Champagne, SSG Burns, Row 1 left to right; SFC Leger, SPC LaValley, SPC Miller, SGT Mason, SGT Hart, SPC Suire

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

an abundance of American ignorance

You can expect some negative comments on Boots In Baghdad. I stumbled across WhyWeHateBush. So, I went there and wrote this:

you are all incredibly stupid

Wow, I don't even know where to start. I suppose I should start with Iraq, because I am here right now. So you say Saddam had no WMD's? Perhaps you should ask the hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Kuwaitis, Kurds and Iraqis that suffered their wrath. So you say that Saddam Hussein didn't have links to terrorism? We have arrested dozens and dozens of members of Al Queida members in Iraq, not to mention the foreign fighters coming in from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Jordan all linked to various terror cells. If any of you really cared about what was happening in Iraq you would attempt to educate yourselves a little bit. Since the invasion the U.S. and other members of the coalition have helped accomplish the following: Build over 3,000 schools, now there are over 20,000 schools up and running with over 6,000,000 students being taught by over 300,000 teachers. We have given life saving vaccinations to over 3,000,000 children. Over 26,000 Iraqi businesses have been started. The Iraqi people have received over $25 billion dollars in oil revenues. Over 1,000 construction projects have been completed and 2,500 projects are underway. There are over 76,000 soldiers in the new Iraqi Army, another 12,000 in training. There are over 92,000 Iraqi Police Officers on the streets with 3,500 coming out of training every day. Iraq's stock exchange has been up and running for over a year. Not to mention a ruthless tyrant has been jailed and a nation liberated.

I am an American Soldier. I dropped out of college and volunteered to come to Iraq. I have been here for eleven months. I can say without any doubt in my mind that I have accomplished great things this year. I have touched many lives and made a difference. I have defended the people of Baghdad (who want us here) from terrorists that want more than anything for the U.S. to leave prematurely so that democracy fails in Iraq. I have visited hundreds and hundreds of schools and hospitals and given them supplies and medications. I have trained and worked side by side with the brave soldiers of the Iraqi Army. I, with my friends in the U.S. Armed Forces have accomplished great things in Iraq for the people of Iraq. More importantly, we have been defending your freedoms. We have been sacrificing so that you can sit and insult us without consequence. So enjoy it. Because I can tell you first hand it isn't free.

Unfortunately, the majority of my generation shares the ignorant sentiments represented at WhyWeHateBush. I started this web page specifically for them. They, however, are too busy talking to listen.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

understanding the unknown

The most eloquent series of words couldn’t ever accurately describe the feeling you have when you hear a falling mortar just seconds after one has impacted less than thirty meters away. No matter how hard anyone tries to explain it, you’ll never know what it is like to hurriedly scramble to the base of a palm tree, put your arms over your head and wait for that falling round to hit. Some experiences, no matter how hard you attempt to grasp and understand, cannot be fully comprehended until you experience them yourself.

I sat last night at BDOC, the Iraqi Army’s Base Defense Operations Center, reading Lolita In Tehran by Asar Nafisi. I found the book at Iraqi In America. Azar Nafisi, who now resides in the U.S., used to teach literature in Tehran. The book is the story of how she and several of her most dedicated female students would secretly gather at her home and read and discuss literature that was banned by the Iranian government. The book offers an in-depth window not only into the oppressive nature of post-revolution Iran, but how difficult life can be for women in extreme Islamic cultures. The world Azar Nafisi showed to her small group of students, much as the world we try to understand through her well articulated writing, are worlds almost incomprehensible to each other. Azar explains:

I formulated certain general questions for them to consider, the most central of which was how these great works of imagination could help us in our present trapped situation as women. We were not looking for blueprints, for an easy solution, but we did hope to find a link between the open spaces the novels provided and the closed ones we were confined to. I remember reading to my girls Nabokov’s claim that “readers were born free and ought to remain free."

Later on it is described what female students went through when entering the university.

I would first be checked to see if I have the right clothes; the color of my coat, the length of my uniform, the thickness of my scarf, the form of my shoes, the objects in my bag, the visible traces of even the mildest makeup, the size of my rings and their level of attractiveness, all would be checked before I could enter the campus of the university, the same university in which men also study. And to them the main door with its immense portals and emblems and flags, is generously open.

As hard as I tried to imagine an oppressive environment like this in the U.S., at one of the schools I went to, I just wasn’t able to fathom it. We can try to put ourselves in a situation like that, but until it is reality we can’t ever come close to understanding.

A book about Iranian women secretly reading literature might seem like an odd choice for a twenty-two year old American Infantryman. I suppose it’s interesting to me because I have spent hours upon hours talking with male Iraqi soldiers, translators, farmers, business owners, students, teenagers and kids about their lives both past and present. But, I can only recall two times I have spoken directly to Iraqi women. Having been here eleven months, that just goes to show the differences in our cultures.

I’ll never forget driving from Camp Buehring in Kuwait through the desert to the firing ranges before we came into Iraq. I’d seen deserts on maps and could have given you the Webster definition of vast. Looking out into the wide open emptiness of the Kuwaiti desert and seeing nothing for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see, was the first time I could truly comprehend the vastness of the desert.

Sometimes it just isn’t possible to truly understand and comprehend certain experiences, places or emotions from watching or reading about them. I’d seen mortar attacks in movies and documentaries and read about them in books. Until one is falling on you, you just can’t understand.

Walking through a crowded market in Baghdad. The first time I heard a mosque’s call for prayer. Waking up to outgoing artillery. Jumping out of a Blackhawk into sector. Helplessly hearing your friends taking heavy fire three clicks away. Low crawling through the mud in the rain to get on a roof before the power comes back on. Watching a mother scream and cry while leaning over her wounded son. Experiencing Iraq.

I guess what I am trying to say is if there is one thing I’ve learned this year, reading may serve as the foundation to education. However, the void of comprehension and understanding can only be filled by experience. I suppose that once you reach a suitable balance of the two, you begin to realize just how much you don’t know and just how big this world can be.

We as American’s are extremely fortunate to have the freedoms and opportunities we do. We live in a place where dreams are obtainable and anything is possible. No matter what our race, gender or beliefs we are treated equally and with respect. Hopefully we never truly understand how great we have it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Cliff Knizley

Make sure you check out He is an incredible musician and aside from the song available for your listening below, his web page provides some absolutely incredible and complex guitar playing.

This is a great song that was written and composed by Cliff Knizley from Florida. I hope you all enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

great web page

Chances are if you've been to Boots In Baghdad more than once or twice you may enjoy GoInfantry. I would encourage you to check it out and consider joining the forum. It is free and it is fun. I joined and there are some really great discussions. Anytime there is an opportunity to learn a little and teach a little it is hard to lose. If you do join make sure you let them know you heard about it here.

I added another video to Boots In Baghdad Films. The video was taken by CPL Wes Mathews of a weapons cache getting destroyed by EOD. If you recall the post Courage, about an Iraqi woman that approached us while on a foot patrol with all sorts of great information, this was the cache of weapons found the next day thanks to her.

To view the explosion fast forward to about four minutes and forty seconds. Be advised there is explicit language.

On April 12, 2005, Membrain posted the following post on his blog The View From Here

Cpl. Glenn Watkins
This is a follow-up post to my last regarding the tragic death of Cpl. Watkins. I found this information on Red2Alpha's blog 'This is Your War'. I can't recommend his blog to highly. His writing style is unique and riveting and offers a different perspective than some of the other Soldier's Blogs I've been following. Here is Red2Alpha's account of the Memorial Service for Cpl. Glenn Watkins.
Saturday, April 09, 2005

Saying Goodbye

The memorial for CPL Glenn Watkins was held on the dusty basketball court near Battalion Headquarters. Bars of sunlight stabbed through the steel grey layer of clouds, shifting with the winds aloft.

C for Charlie sat on rough wood bleachers, in front of us sat Alpha Company on folding metal chairs. I felt like and intruder, like walking in on a family fight at your friends house. This was Alpha's private grief and I wouldn't have wanted all these outsiders watching as I said goodbye to one of my buddies. For the most part it was a good memorial, the Battalion Commander, LT COL. Tall, spoke, the Chaplin, Major Blessing, and two of CPL Watkins buddies - both of whom were visibly upset. What bothered me most. Though, was all the pomp that went with it. It could have been much simpler, a formation, the field cross, and some words about the man. This was to parade ground, it was somebody's idea of how to have a memorial, like a movie set and we were all just actors in the scene. The video cameras and photographers didn't help either. To me it cheapened the man's life and all he sacrificed by extending an extra year so he could serve with his old friends in Alpha. CPL Watkins was married, with four children. And he stayed here, in Iraq, so he could be with his old unit... And paid for it with his life. Think about that next time you have to stay late at the office or some other bullshit that you think is a burden to do in your safe civilian life.

Nobody spoke in the crowd, which is unusual for a group of Grunts. Usually somebody will make some kind of comment on something. I thought a lot about my reasons for being here, about my Dad, and Wendy. I wondered, if I were him would I stay an extra year? I tried to feel something for this Soldier that I had never met. I did feel a nameless loss, there was and empty place in my chest for the loss his family feels but I was never really sad until the end when the Alpha

Company 1SGT called roll.
"PVT Smith!"
"Here First Sergeant!"
"SGT Jackson!"
"Here First Sergeant!"
"SPC Alpert!"
"Here First Sergeant!"
"CPL Watkins!"

Everyone stands at attention, in the quiet a flight of Blackhawk helicoptors peels off to the north.
"CPL Glenn Watkins!"
I can feel my throat tighten up and tears come to my eyes.
"CPL Glenn James Watkins!"

At the end, we all stood and waited for or turn to saulte the memory of the man, embodied in the field cross. A pair of dusty desert boots, at the base of his M-203, muzzle down, helmet placed on the stock. Watkins dog tags fluttered and clanked in the breeze. We all saluted the cross and photos of him at the base, some knelt and bowed their heads in prayer, others left something, spent casings, notes, pictures. I had nothing to offer, though I wanted to leave something. Instead, as it came to be my turn, I promised to not forget this man or those he left behind.It's the least I can do."Everybody's acting like we can do anything and it don't matter what we do.

"Maybe we gotta' be extra careful because maybe it matters more than we even know." - PVT Eriksson, from the movie 'Casualties of War'

Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid
Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears
Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me
Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a Germans gun
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

Where before many more have gone

Joseph Kilna McKenzie: Lyrics

Thanks to Membrain for the good find. I got chills when I read it.

Web pages to check out:
Jack Army
Mudville Gazette
The Armed Forces Site Ring