We are finally back on patrol cycle. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve been out on a combat patrol. I’m so damn sick of guard. I didn’t come half way around the planet to pull guard for a bunch of lazy ass soldiers that never leave the gate. Somebody at 3rd ID needs to get off their ass and change a few things about guard. Either they need to do it, or 42nd I.D. needs to do it. They’re the National Guard outfit that was given command over our brigade for this deployment. What kind of shit is that. A National Guard unit over a regular Army unit that was the leading force in the initial invasion. They’re from New York, and because we operate in the province they’re in control of, we fall under they’re command. Their slogan is “Never Forget”, referring to the attacks of 9-11. That’s all sweet and everything, but they don’t have a monopoly on the rage that was felt by all of us after 9-11. I guarantee you it affected me just as much or more than somebody living in New York. New York wasn’t being attacked, my country was being attacked. I’m certainly not going to forget. Maybe I should make a personal flag and plant it outside the box I live in. In giant letters it would proclaim to the masses, “I haven't forgot".
So I’m over here pulling an ungodly amount of guard, when I was trained and prepared to go out and kill the pricks that want to destroy this country. If I knew I was going to be pulling guard for half the freakin’ year, I would’ve gone AWOL, sought out some financial backers, and started my own private terrorist cell, designed for the sole purpose to terrorize terrorists. You remember the movie “Unforgiven” don’t you? Remember in the end when Clint has finished off the bottle of whiskey, and killed everyone in the saloon except for the whores and the writer. He did this because they had beaten and killed his friend Ned, played by Morgan Freeman. When Clint found this out, his demeanor changed in the time it took for him to finish off that bottle of whiskey. He was once again the dirty murdering outlaw that he’d been before he got married. Because of his wife, he had changed his ways and become a decent, hard working family man. Well, after ole Clint finishes killing off everyone in the saloon, he walks outside into the poring rain, climbs on his horse, and glances over at the body of his friend Ned, who had been placed upright in a wooden coffin, leaning on the saloon’s front door. They shouldn’t have decorated their saloon with Ned’s body. As he turns to ride away, he yells out for all to hear, so that even the thunderstorm can’t drown out his words. He tells them that they had better bury Ned right, and that if anyone takes a shot at him he will come back and kill every one of them sons of bitches, their families, and burn their house down. They know that he will do this and they fear him. My anti-terrorist terrorist cell would have this quote as it’s slogan and plant flags all over Allah country proclaiming it.
I’m getting off point here. The point is that 42nd I..D. needs to send some of their soldiers down here and have them pull some of this guard. When I went to Anaconda all I saw was a bunch of 42nd I.D. soldiers, with their shiny rainbow patches, looking like they were all on vacation. So why not bring them here to do force protection, so we can go out and hunt the bad guys.
We just came off a few days of force protection, and all of us were tired and worn down from the crazy hours, and the sheer boredom of either sitting on top of a tank or in one of the many guard towers we have around the FOB. Some guys didn’t get through with their guard shift until 1900, and we had a mission at 0100 the next morning. Of course we have to be up at the C.P. at 2330 to do our pci’s. I’ve yet to figure out why we have to be up there an hour and a half early when it only takes me and my driver about 30 minutes to get our shit tight.
I was fortunate enough to have finished my guard shift early and get in a couple of hours of sleep in the early afternoon. They told us to get some sleep before the mission, but by then I was already awake and unable to sleep. I knew I would later regret not getting any sleep that evening. I tried lying down but was consumed with a hundred thoughts that kept me from falling asleep.
Frustrated at my inability to sleep, I got up and tried to write a letter to my wife. Before I knew it, it was time to head up to the C.P. I got on all my gear and headed up to the trucks with thoughts of home on my mind and an empty stomach. I like to eat. I could eat all day and sometimes do. I can’t help it, I have a high metabolism, causing me to be hungry an hour after I’ve already eaten. I’m constantly being ridiculed by my friends for always snacking on something. My plan was to get up there, get my shit ready, and still have time to run over to the chow hall and grab a bite to eat from midnight chow. Midnight chow consists of leftovers from dinner. It’s a luxury that I don’t take for granted.
Working in the dark with my little headlamp, I get my gear loaded up, my commo up, and my gun lubed. I grabbed my heavy duty Stanley coffee mug and jog over to the chow hall. The coffee around here is thick as oil and strong as hell, giving you a caffeine buzz that beats the hell out of an espresso from Starbucks. I hurried in and headed for the coffee pump, filling my mug with super unleaded. After throwing in a couple of creamers and way too much sugar, I screwed the top back on and headed for the serving line. Everything available is coated in grease and full of cholesterol. Knowing that my arteries might object, I grab a couple of slices of pizza and head for the door. With the crazy shit that can happen outside these gates, why should I be worrying about my cholesterol intake.
Back at the Humvee, I get up in the gunner’s hatch and wait for the others to be ready. My coffee mug and to go plate of pizza is up there with me, keeping my gun company. All of them working together to help me get through the mission. Everyone loads up and we head to the gate to meet up with the Bradley that will be a part of our convoy. We also pick up the interpreter and wait on the IA. The IA never show up, which at this point is fine by me. I’m just ready to go and don’t want to wait on anyone else. I inquire of my Lt. if the IA platoon, that was supposed to accompany us, will be reprimanded in any way for their failure to show up. He tells me that he doesn’t know, and goes on to tell me that a civilian contractor acts as a liaison between our army and theirs. What? For Allah’s sake, what in the hell do we need a civilian liaison for. Can someone in our chain of command not call up someone in their’s and tell them to get their asses over here. Then I remember that it isn’t something that concerns me, that I need to be focusing on the mission. We’re going out on a night mission, with some inherent danger involved, and I’m thinking of home, my finances, and my unborn child. Telling myself that I need not worry about my mutual funds or my family’s financial future, I focus instead on the task of eating. We are still waiting on the Bradley for some reason or another, giving me plenty of time to eat my pizza. Man I’m glad I don’t have to go in the Bradley. Those things are always breaking down. I trained as a Bradley crew member for the last year and a half, but I would love to never have to take one out. Give me a humvee and I’m happy. Bradley’s are IED magnets, and they aren’t near as quick and agile as a humvee.
Finally, under an overcast night sky, we leave the through the gates. I notice that there isn’t much illumination on this night, making it even harder to see through our shitty night vision goggles. This brings another thought to my mind. Why do I see so many support people, the same ones that never leave the FOB, walking around with better night vision goggles than me and my driver. How does the army justify their distribution of equipment. My driver and I have one of the older models of N.V.G.s and some guy in finance is walking around with the latest and greatest. Maybe he has to crunch numbers at night, I don’t know, but it still makes me mad. I feel really bad for my driver, good ole Thomas, who is about to have to speed down a highway with nothing to guide him but a pair of outdated cloudy N.V.G.s that are basically unserviceable. Whatever, I’m not going to cry about it. Let that guy in finance stay inside the FOB and rot for a year. You adapt and get through it, thinking about how those men at Normandy didn’t complain about their plight.
We speed away, passing a couple of IA checkpoints as I chug a can of Mountain Dew. The coffee was for later when I came down from my Mountain Dew high. IA checkpoints at night, man these guys will shoot at anything. Dogs seem to be a primary target, along with firing warning shots at any passing motorist who spook them. I like dogs, but I don’t think Iraqis care too much for them, which seems weird, since there are about a billion dogs roaming every square foot of Iraq.
The wind is heavy and the night is a cloak of darkness as we speed down the highway. At this point we are still using our headlights, waiting to get closer to our objective before turning them off. The only thing keeping us from top speed is the Bradley, whose loud tracks I can hear up ahead of us. The platoon Sgt., for whom I gun, always brings up the rear, so my gun and turret is pointed at our six. We’re cruising down the road about 65 mph, the sound of the tires humming on the pavement. Turning around, I can see the humvees in front of us and the lonely highway stretched out in desolation. This stretch of highway is bordered by tan earth that seems to drop off into a dark eternity as the beams from the headlights knife through the night. The comforting rhythm of the tires and the whine of the humvee’s engine puts me into a trance.
While my mind is busy with a thousand thoughts, I’m brought back to reality when my back slams against the edge of the turret. “Jackass!”, Sgt. W. yells as Thomas slams on the brakes. “I should’ve just run him over”, Thomas says, “What if he had two 155 rounds on his back and a wire running out his ass”, Sgt. W. replies as I laugh at the two of them, acting like father and son. It was indeed a jackass that we had almost plowed into. Another donkey walking aimlessly through the wild west that is Iraq. I recall how the terrorists have used donkeys in the past as carriers of IED’s. This was no terrorist donkey, he was just breaking curfew.
That’s what this mission is about, curfew breakers and armed bandits hijacking civilian trucks carrying our supplies. In the past few weeks there had been numerous hijackings and some killings on this highway that intersects a small town in our patrol sector. We were going to try to find them. With 15 minutes of driving time left before we reached the town, we pulled over and prepped our N.V.G.s. It was time to turn the lights out and drive under the cover of darkness. In this flat part of Iraq, our lights would be seen from miles away, warning any bad guys of our presence. I had my night vision on as well and immediately noticed how truly dark out it was. There was absolutely no illumination in the night sky, with heavy cloud cover as the culprit. Coupled with the fierce wind, I knew a storm must be approaching. Good for the farmers who need all the rain they can get, but bad for our night operations.
I knew Thomas was going to have a hard time seeing the road and as we continued on I realized that the drivers in front of us were having the same problem. The Bradley in the front slowed us down more than anything. We had to pull over once again when the Bradley’s driver’s night sight fell out of its mount, rendering him blind. Once back on the road it was still slow going with each driver struggling to stay in the middle. I stood up in the gunner’s hatch most of the way to guide Thomas, yelling down in to the humvee whenever he got close to the edge. My night vision wasn’t much better, and I could barely see the humvees in front of us. Our pace was down to a crawl and after another half hour we were finally at our stopping point.
The plan was to drop off two squads about 2 km south of the town, with all four vehicles spread out to overwatch their movement. They were going into the town on foot to see if anyone was out in the streets. Through my night vision I could see their infrared bug lights, faintly flickering like beacons, enabling us to track their progress. Once they got close to town these beacons were drowned out by the bright lights, which saturated our night vision with bright green light. Their approach and subsequent patrol through town lasted about an hour. I busied myself with scanning the surrounding farmland in which we sat, while sipping the now luke warm coffee I’d gotten earlier. Sgt. W., Thomas, and the medic in the back talked about everything from women to re-enlistment. The interpreter also sitting in the rear was content to remain silent, no doubt finding humor in the conversation around him. Sgt. W. was futilely trying to convince Thomas to re-enlist, focusing his sales pitch on the tax free bonus we could received for re-enlisting in Iraq. He knew that Thomas and I were both getting out when we got home, having already been extended for this deployment. Both of us wanted to be over here, but neither of us wanted to re-enlist. My time in the army has been rewarding, but I never intended to make it a career.
Finished with their patrol through town, the Lt. came over the radio and told us to take up our position back on the road. We were going to set up a TCP(traffic control point) on both sides of town. The Bradley and another humvee were going to the north of town to meet up with the Lt. and the two squads, while my humvee and the other one would remain on the south side of town. We were going to randomly search any vehicles that came through our point.
Barely ten minutes had passed when the Lt. came back on the radio again and told us to get up to his position ASAP. A truck passing through their TCP had told them he had been shot at just up the road from their position. The bullet holes in the side of his cab had erased any doubt they might have had in his story. Almost at the point of dozing from my lack of sleep, I immediately became wide awake. The familiar mixture of adrenaline and butterflies, the same feeling I had so often felt during the war, once again coursed through my veins and settled in my stomach, giving me a nervous euphoric feeling that made me alert with anticipation. Hell yeah, this could be fun. Forgetting about my wife, my unborn son, and our financial future, I became focused on the gunmen, their cowardly actions filling me with rage. As we are speeding up to their vehicles I throw a dip in my mouth, adding nicotine to the already toxic mixture coursing through my veins.
We get up to the Lt.’s position and the interpreter gets out to confirm the trucker’s story. By this time other trucks stopped behind him are waving anxiously back in the direction they had come. They had been shot at as well. The gunmen are only a few hundred meters up the road. Knowing that we must get up there quickly, everyone runs back to their vehicles and jump in. Sgt W., pissed off, cussing, and wanting to kill, gets back in the humvee and tells Thomas to haul ass. Leaving the Bradley behind, we speed in the direction of the gunmen, our vehicle now behind the Lt’s, which is leading the march. Without even thinking about it, I turn the turret so that my gun is facing over the right side.
My eyes are drawn towards a white pick up truck pulling out on the road to our left. It’s still curfew hours and the man driving shouldn’t be out driving. The Lt’s vehicle swerves over to cut him off, the Lt. and two other getting out with guns drawn and pointing at the man. My gun has already been moved to that direction but is pointing in the air so as not to flag my buddies. They have him get out of his truck and lie down on the ground. They’re busy searching his truck and his body when another big truck pulls up and starts yelling and pointing down the road. Oh shit, wrong guy, a hapless victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone jumps back in the humvees, leaving the man with his pick up. As we were speeding away, the wind slamming into my face, I look back at the man and yell “Afwan” as loud as I can. Feeling sorry for the man, and not wanting him to hate us, the Arabic word for sorry miraculously comes to my mind. It either means that or pardon, either way I hope my point got across.
Knowing we are about to have contact, I turn my gun back over the right side, for some reason expecting the gunmen to be on this side. The red tail lights of the Lt’s humvee are bright in my eyes. They become even brighter as they slam on the breaks, the back of their humvee rising up violently as the their forward momentum suddenly came screeching to a halt. My eyes move from these red tail lights to the bright white headlights where a dark figure is now running away from the road. I see a weapon drop from his hands, and in the foreground, the guys are already out of the vehicle. While watching this, my gun was moving to the left, pointing at the running man. Sgt W. had jumped out as soon as we screeched to a halt, adding another man to the three already on the ground. Shots erupt from Sgt. H’s M4, kicking up dust in front of the mans feet, who in a Matrix like move, feet dancing in fear, goes down to the ground. I never even thought of shooting, the guys on the ground once again in my line of fire.
What the hell was that? Were they trying to kill the guy or make him dance a jig. Sgt. H. is now yelling at him to get the fuck down with his barrel in the man’s face. I’m thinking, how is this asshole not dead. The runner is lying on the ground when Sgt H. jumps on top of him. He gets his hands behind his back and binds them together with flexi-cuffs. He then grabs him by the collar and drags him up to a flat part of the ground. The Lt., thinking that everything is under control, starts yelling at the gunners to scan the area for more gunmen. No shit, what do you think I’m doing up here, looking for some prime real estate? Two guys guard the gunmen while another secures his AK. Trucks have begun to back up on both sides of the road. The drivers are smiling and pumping their fists in the air in celebration, another indication that we are indeed wanted and liked by the majority of the people here. At least we’ve made their life a little easier today.
Thomas is now out of the humvee and guarding the gunman with our medic. Sgt W., the Lt., and some other guys are searching the immediate area for any hidden gunmen or weapons. Thomas and the medic aren’t touching the man, but they are damn sure letting him know what a pathetic piece of shit he is. He speaks English, so he understands everything they say. They tell him what a coward he is for running and ask him why he didn’t stay and fight. I yell down from my perch and ask him why he ran, when he could’ve already been meeting all his whores in paradise. I’m sorry this man isn’t dead. He deserves to be for shooting at innocent civilians trying to do their job. My brain also is smart enough to realize that this guy is better to us alive than dead. We Americans, the only soldiers that abide by the Geneva Convention, had refrained from killing an unarmed man. It didn’t matter that he had been armed when we drove up, running from us like the cowardly shit that he is. Technically no one would have gotten in trouble for killing him, since he hadn’t actually surrendered. Sgt H. later told me that he was purposefully shooting at the ground in front of him to make him stop running. I’m wondering if he was saying this so no one would make fun of his poor marksmanship. Whatever, the guy should’ve been killed. I know he would have killed us if given the chance. Look, I don’t have an intense desire to kill another human being, but this piece of shit, and his terrorist brothers, need to die, plain and simple.
Thomas replaces me up on the gun so I can get down and have a little chat with the runner. Not yelling and in a calm voice I ask him why he ran. He is wearing a pair of fake New Balances, green pants and grey shirt. His face is covered except for his mouth. I tell them that his New Balance’s are appropriate for a runner like him. I ask him again why he didn’t stay and fight like a man. I can see his mouth curve into a smile. So he’s a smart ass too. He knows we won’t hurt him and he’s smiling at us. God, I wanted to hit him in his stained teeth. This guy’s laughing at us. In a calm voice, not letting him get me mad, I tell him that I hope he is released soon, that with the way things work, he probably will be released soon. I tell him I’ll be here for a year, plenty of time for him to get released. Come back here and do this again I say. Please, for Allah and all the virgins sake, let us find you out here shooting at truckers or us again. I promise I won’t let you down next time. Next time there will be nobody blocking my line of fire, no one will stand between you and my gun. I promise. Tell your brothers to come out and play too. I didn’t come over to this God forsaken place to see shitheads like you go to jail. His mouth is no longer displaying a smile. We then tell him that once in the hands of the Iraqi Army there is no guarantee that he won’t be beaten. After hearing this he looks visibly shaken, knowing that there are some truth to those words.
I’m finished with the runner and his smart ass smile. I’m back to being a nice guy again. With Thomas still on the gun, Sgt. W and I begin randomly searching some of the cars coming through. One car was packed with five men. I stopped them and made them get out. As they were getting out a little boy I hadn’t seen got out with them. His wide eyes looked up at me with fear. As I searched their car, I prayed that he wasn’t scared of me. As they were getting back into their car I handed him a pack of gum I had stashed away in my pocket. With a smile on my face, I looked into his eyes and tried wordlessly to convey to him that we were the good guys. Don’t fear me little boy, I’m on your side. You’re the reason I don’t mind being over here. The runner is the only person that should fear me. He took it from my hand, looked up at his dad for approval, and looked back at me with a grin on his face. I went from wanting to see a man dead to wanting nothing more than to see a kid smile. I got one wish today, which was all I needed to count the day a success.
We threw the runner in the back of the Bradley and headed back home. It was only 0830 in the morning when we finally returned. The day had already been a long one, and we weren’t close to calling it quits. We had two hours before leaving on another mission. Just enough time to eat breakfast, shave, and lie down for a few minutes. This mission wasn’t like the last one though. We were going to visit a school and the small town next to it to pass out school supplies and visit the people. The mission was a success with almost every child getting some kind of gift. I gave a couple of young boys a frisbee and a nerf football that had been sent to me in the mail. They didn’t know what to do with the frisbee, but they were happy nonetheless. Even the normally shy females could be seen waving to us as we passed.
Enduring the rain that had begun falling in the early afternoon and struggling to stay awake, we drove back home for the second time that day. I went to my room, ate some Ramen noodles, and collapsed on my bed. I slept like a dead man for more than three hours, missing dinner chow in the process. After finishing another bowl of Ramen, I stayed up for a couple of hours writing before going back to bed for the night, thoughts of family and mutual funds putting me to sleep.