Monday, October 10, 2005


The Landing Zone at Logistical Support Area Anaconda is quiet as I wait for the Blackhawk flight to take me back to my Forward Operating Base. Standing on the side of the flight-line and looking out over the runway, I begin to realize exactly how massive the LSA is. The base stretches for kilometers in all directions, a collection of reinforced concrete structures, reclaimed Iraqi Air Force Bunkers, and heavily sandbagged tents surrounded by triple strand concertina wire and guard towers.

The LSA is so large that for an instant it almost feels like a stateside base.

Settling back against a low concrete barrier, I readjust my body armor and quickly revise my opinion of the LSA.

No stateside garrison has ever required me to wear my body armor and Kevlar at all times.

As twilight falls, a glowing belt of stars emerges in the sky. It is mid-month, and the growing illumination from the crescent moon has blanketed the world in shades of gray. In the distance I can just make out the blue shadowed form of a C-17 Globemaster as it taxis out onto the runway.

At this distance, the massive cargo jet looks tiny.

Without warning, an F-16 Falcon rockets overhead, its engines screaming and completely invisible in the gathering darkness. As the whine of the jet fades into the distance, a second F-16 thunders thru the sky as it follows its wingman.

As the sound of the F-16 flight fades into the darkness, the Landing Zone becomes quiet once again.

Behind me I can hear Air Force Security Police having a quiet discussion as they guard the entrance to the Airfield. One of the airmen cracks a joke, and his friends subdued laughter echoes out over the airfield and blends in with the distant sounds of a United States military base at war.

Glancing down at my watch I realize that the flight is now 5 minutes late. With a grimace, I stare at the watch until the blue indigo backlight winks out.

It is not really a big surprise.

A sudden flash causes me to shield my eyes as a large truck turns a corner and approaches up the length of the runway. As it rumbles to a stop in front of me, I can see that the flat bed of the truck is piled high with rucksacks. A second set of headlights approaches and a bus pulls up behind the flatbed truck, packed full with soldiers.

The quiet night is suddenly alive with activity.

The bus disgorges a seemingly endless line of soldiers.

As they disembark from the bus, they cross in front of the headlights and their forms are momentarily backlit. As my eyes adjust to the harsh, almost unreal light cast by the halogen bulbs, their black silhouetted forms begin to take clearer shape.

In the darkness, their digital pattern uniforms have taken on a uniform shade of gray. On their left shoulders, they bear the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division.

The soldiers carry their weapons with confidence, and they are armed to the teeth.

Scattered among the M4 Carbines with holographic optics and ACOGS are sniper rifles, shotguns, and short-barreled Squad Assault Weapons. Every weapon seems to have been modified to fit the user, forming a more lethal package.

It is an impressive display of firepower.

As the soldiers walk around, I notice that more than half of them are wearing unit patches on their right shoulder as well as their left. More than half have served more than 30 days in a combat zone.

Combat veterans.

They look lean, fit, and hungry.

They must be Infantry.

As the soldiers mill around the rapidly emptying bus, some order begins to form out of chaos. A tall, dark, squad leader begins to shout, swearing beautifully as only a seasoned NCO can. Responding to the string of expletives, the soldiers immediately begin to form up into something resembling ranks. Over by the truck, a detail of soldiers begin to toss rucksacks onto the ground in front of the formation.

In the brief flash of light of a passing HUMMWV, I recognize a familiar face in the back for the formation.

Swearing softly to myself under my breath, I jump up and walk slowly thru the milling crowd.

Standing quietly on the tarmac is a tall First Lieutenant. His blond hair is cropped short, and he has a serious expression on his face as he watches the soldiers of his unit organize themselves. As I walk up and stand in front of him, it takes a half of a second for him to recognize me before his face breaks out into a grin.

It has been two years.

“Shit man, where the hell did you come from?”

I reach out and shake his hand.

He has a strong grip.

“Hey Chris, I am here taking care of some soldier issues, when did you get here?”

“We just got into country, and are heading out east.”

I smile in the darkness.

I am glad I ran into him.

A West Pointer, he and I were in the same platoon at the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. Two years earlier, during IOBC, I had rolled my ankle painfully on the last mile of a twelve mile ruck march.

In the humid Georgia heat I was carrying a 70lb load, and as my ankle started to swell, I slowly started to fall back from the rest of the platoon.

With a glance Chris had taken in the situation, fallen in next to me, and shortened his lanky stride to keep pace.

When I crossed the finish line a few hundred meters behind the rest of the platoon, I didn’t cross it alone.

It is a simple thing, but it is something that I will never forget.

Reaching over he takes a hold of my left shoulder and turns my uniform so that he can see my patch.

“What unit did you deploy with? How long have you been here?”

“I am still with the same unit I was with during IOBC. We got here about 5 months ago.”

He lets go of my sleeve and looks down.

“How are your guys doing? Holding up?”

“So far so good. Thankfully we haven’t lost anybody. We are trying to keep it that way.”

He nods in the darkness.

At this, I hesitate.

I wonder if he knows.

“Hey Chris, listen, have you heard about Mike Fasnacht?”

His smile falters and his face becomes somber.

“Yeah, I heard. He was killed in Tikrit.”

I nod my head.

1LT Mike Fasnacht was a classmate of ours at IOBC. He was friendly, smart, athletic, and always ready with a smile. He was one of the most technically and tactically competent soldiers in the class.

A friend of mine had been at Ranger school with him. He told me that when Mike had fallen down a steep ravine during the Mountain Phase, he had thought that there was no way Mike could have survived the fall.

Looking down the cliff face, he was astonished when he saw Mike standing down below and dusting himself off with a smile on his face.

That was Mike.

When I found out in an email that he had been killed by an IED, I saw his bright blue eyes and sunburned smiling face in my dreams for a week.

Quietly, I reply.

“It happened four months ago. Just after I got in country.”

Chris falls silent.

I almost hate to ask.

But I have to.

“Chris, have you heard about anybody else?”

The tall Lieutenant steps out of the way of one of his soldiers as he walks by with a rucksack on his back. Around us, the soldiers are distributing the heavy packs, and the pile on the flatbed truck has diminished noticeably.

Chris nods his head.

“Yeah, do you remember Smiley?”

“Sure, one of your West Point classmates, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, he was hurt by an IED a few months ago. I heard it was pretty bad.”


In the sky to the south I can see two Blackhawks begin their approach. They come in hard and fast, dropping rapidly out of the sky. At the last second, the lead bird flares its nose as it approaches and slows down, red lights springing on as it lands and taxis to a stop.

Landing behind the mass of soldiers, I see the crew chief jump out and unwind the black cable that connects his headset to the Blackhawk.

The NCO in charge of the pad runs up to the Crew Chief and shouts in his ear over the deafening roar of the helicopters engine. The crew chief answers him back and the NCO turns and after spotting me in the mass of soldiers, gives me the thumbs up.

It’s my flight.

I turn back to Chris.

“It’s my bird, I have to go.”

He nods his head and looks as if he wants to say something.

I hold out my hand and lean closer so that he can hear me over the scream of the two Blackhawks that have landed behind him. The soldiers in his platoon flow around us like ghosts as they begin to move out into the darkness away from the helicopters.

“Listen Chris, it was great seeing you.”

I fall quiet for a second.

I know I will probably never run into him again.

There is not much to say.

He holds out his hand.

I take it.

“Thanks Adam, it was good to see you too. Take care of yourself.”

“You too man.”

My soul feels heavy as I turn away. Breaking out of the crowd of soldiers, I sling my rifle and head towards the open door of the lead Blackhawk.

As I approach the open door, I close my eyes, and say a quiet prayer.

A prayer for Mike and a prayer for Chris.

A prayer for all of the soldiers I have known in the Army over the years.

A prayer for my brothers-in-arms.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Save the Rainforests

The morning sun has brought with it an unusually cloying heat, and I find myself dosing off in the relative quiet of the Alamo CP. Outside, soldiers pull security on the rooftop and on the front gate, and they fight to stay awake after a long night of running missions.

Inside the Alamo, soldiers that have just come off of a guard shift lay fully clothed on green, sweat stained cots. Two small rooms have been outfitted with air conditioning, and they have crammed a dozen cots into each. Others lay sprawled on the uneven tile floor, their noses buried in month old copies of well-worn magazines and tattered paperback books.

Coming off of my rounds I can’t seem to find the energy to get up and find a spare cot, so I sit in a chair in the CP and doze.

Yawning, I cover my mouth and glance at my watch.


The hottest part of the day.

Leaning back in the chair, I stretch out my tired muscles, close my eyes and think of home.

Outside the window to the CP, there is a deafening explosion.

I am suddenly wide awake.

The soldiers sleeping on the cots jerk awake, looking sleepily at one another in confusion and alarm.

There is a second explosion.


“What the fuck?!”

The soldiers curse as they throw themselves out of their cots and in an organized scramble, snatch up their body armor and run to their battle stations.

Someone outside is shouting.

“Incoming! Incoming!”

We are being mortared.

I find myself on my feet, reaching for the radio.

The I-Com clicks and I hear the excited voice of one of the soldiers on the roof. He is a private, and he shouts excitedly into the radio.

“CP this is Gun 2!”

“Gun 2 this is CP, send it!”

“A house across the street just exploded!”

My whole train of thought stops.

A house just exploded.

What the hell? Outside I can hear the thundering crash of other explosions. They seem to be moving further and further away.

After the fourth explosion there is silence outside.

The silence is deafening.

Glancing out of the door to the CP, I can see that all of the cots are empty. The soldiers have moved to their battle positions, and the Alamo is now at full security.

The mortar attack may be the prelude to a VBIED attack or a ground assault.

I key the handset again.

“Gun 2, tell me exactly what you saw.”

This time the calmer voice of the Sergeant of the Guard replies. He had gone to the roof to check for damages and assess the situation.

“Roger Sir, it looks like something hit the building just south of the Alamo. Probably a mortar round. Whatever it was caused an explosion on the roof. We counted four other explosions. All south of the Alamo running in a line moving east to west.”

“Roger, so the house didn’t explode.”

“That’s a negative sir.”

In the background, I hear the private swear in a sheepish voice.

Things are making a hell of a lot more sense.

I can’t help but smile.

“Alright, get a team together and meet me at the front gate. Let’s check out the damage and see if anyone has been hurt.”


After notifying Battalion about the attack, I shrug on the rest of my gear and head out into the harsh sunlight. I instantly break out into an uncomfortable sweat beneath the body armor.

A squad of soldiers is assembled and ready to move out. This soon after a mortar attack the soldiers are still tense. They grip their rifles and scan for trouble as we move out of the chicane.

In the town, people are beginning to emerge from their houses. They walk from house to house and check on one another after the attack.

To the southeast, a skinny, barefoot boy is standing at the corner of an intersection. He has dark, curly hair and is wearing striped blue shorts and a green shirt.

I do a doubletake.

“Save the Rainforests” is printed in bold yellow lettering on his tattered green t-shirt.

The irony is painful.

I turn to the squad leader standing next to me.

“Alright, let’s go check out the house that was hit and see what kind of damage was done.”

He motions to his squad, and they begin to fall into teams, spreading out to provide security on both sides of the street. Turning west, we pass near a small huddle of women, dressed head to toe in an all encompassing black. They fall silent as we pass by, and then they continue their hushed discussion.

There is stillness to the air.

As if the town is holding its breath.

A middle age man walks up to the squad as we move thru a trash strewn alley, stepping gingerly over fetid pools of liquid green waste. He is wearing a long, white cotton robe, with yellow sweat stains under the armpits. His teeth are crooked and they shine a dull yellow in his dark, sagging face.

Walking up, he turns and speaks to Max, the interpreter. Max looks like something of a pirate, with a bandanna pulled up over his face and his dark, expressionless eyes looking out underneath heavy brows. Max has a threatening, brooding presence about him, and the man is hesitant to approach him.

Max turns to me.

“Sir, this is the house of the man that was hit.”

“Ok, tell him to show us his house and show us the damage.”

The man listens to Max, and turns abruptly around heading down the muck strewn street. He keeps a fast pace, his sandaled feet stepping neatly over the heaps of refuse stacked up against the walls of the crumbling yellow brick buildings.

Up ahead, I can see the house described by the Sergeant of the Guard. The two story building rises haphazardly into the sky, as if the second level was added as an afterthought. Still, the house shows signs of wealth, with a pigeon coop on the roof, and clear glass windows.

Approaching the house, I quickly reassess the situation.

There is not a single pane of glass left unbroken.

In fact, there is no glass left unbroken in the windows of the houses on the other side of the street either.

The blast from the mortar round has shattered the flimsy, single paned windows, blowing fragments of jagged glass out into the dirt and dust.

We are lucky that there weren’t any serious casualties.

Looking up, I can see clear blue sky thru a jagged hole in the reinforced cement balcony overhanging the front door. The cement is smashed and scarred, with bent and twisted strips of rebar sticking thru the gaping hole.

The house took a direct hit.

The sandaled man walks directly up to the house and steps over the cracked rubble that has been blasted from his roof. Entering the building he is closely followed by the squad leader and two of the soldiers from his alpha team.

As they enter the building, each of the soldiers look up at the hole, and their upturned faces are briefly illuminated by the powerful sun shining thru the jagged hole.

Outside the building I stop and watch the activity across the street. A construction crew is squatting across the muddy road, watching with wary eyes as the remainder of the soldiers in the patrol secure the perimeter of the home. Squatting on their haunches, they are mixing cement by hand in round shallow dishes. As they mix each batch, the cement is layered onto a row of rough cracked brick, each trowel full slopping over the sides and cementing the ragged rows of brick together.

The crumbling bricks manage to hold themselves together.

I just can’t figure out how.

Directly in front of the wary bricklayers, one man in a blue shirt and loose black pants stained with cement powder walks barefoot on the dirt, sweeping up fragments of glass with a tattered broom.

Although I am sure he can feel my gaze upon him, he never looks in my direction.

Above me I hear a shout, and the backlit head of my squad leader pokes thru the mortar hole in the roof. In his right hand, I can see the fin and tail section of a 60mm mortar round.

He is smiling from ear to ear.

“Hey Sir, I got it. Looks like the back azimuth is 146 degrees.”

“Roger, sounds good. Check for any other damage and then come on back down.”

In my head I do a quick calculation. An azimuth of 146 degrees would put the origin of the mortar across a small canal and in the empty fields of an area that is infrequently patrolled by U.S. forces.

My platoon will have to pay the farmers in that district an unscheduled visit.


The team leader descends the staircase and exits the building, followed close on his heels by his two soldiers and the owner of the house. The owner of the house hesitates for an instant as he looks at Max, and then he approaches me with a depreciating smile on his face.

As he lights a cigarette, he speaks to Max in an insistent voice.

Max flushes with indignation.

“Max, what is it.”

Max turns to me, his face an angry red.

“He says he wants payment.”

I stop in my tracks and turn around.

The man stops walking and lowers the cigarette.

In a quiet voice, I ask Max to translate.

“Max, ask him what exactly he wants payment for?”

Max translates, and the man answers forcefully.

“He says he wants $1,000.00 for the damage to his house. He wants the Americans to pay for it.”

Beside me, one of the soldiers stiffens. Despite his expressionless face and black-mirrored sunglasses, I can tell he wants to say something to the Iraqi.

I raise my hand slightly to forestall any outburst.

I am pissed off enough for the both of us.

“Why does he feel that we owe him money?”

“He says that you owe him money because the insurgents damaged his home with their mortar attack.”

“Then you tell him that he can ask the fucking insurgents for his money. They are the ones that shot at his home.”

“He says that because the insurgents were shooting at you, you are to blame. His house would not have been damaged if you were not here.”

Max finishes translating. Furious with indignation, he starts to swear at the man in a mixture of English and Arabic, but all I can make out is the word “motherfucker.”

For a second I am speechless.

I can’t believe that this man considers the attack our fault.

At that instant, every attack I have ever experienced flashes before my eyes.

Roadside bombs exploding as our patrols pass by.

Soldiers running for cover from incoming mortar rounds.

Charred and flaming armored vehicles, exploding from the inside out.

Automatic weapons fire raking across an open field.

Dead bodies lying in ditches.

And this man is blaming us for the mortar attack.

He is blaming me.

A burst of frustrated emotions erupts inside of me.

Looking directly at the man, I point my finger at him and spit out each word in contempt.

“You listen to me closely. What you say is an insult. We did not attack your home today. We came here to help. We are not to blame. If you want to blame someone, blame the terrorists. Ask the terrorists for the money. Ask them to repair your home, and they will kill you without thinking twice.”

Max’s voice reflects my restrained anger. For the first time that I can remember, he translates almost as quickly as I speak, our words blending together.

The man is standing still, his face ashen.

He takes an unsteady drag on the cigarette, and begins to smile, as if hoping to smooth things over.

“Mister. Mister.”

In a smooth tone, he begins to tell Max that he had not just in fact asked me for money.

That he didn’t know what he was saying.

That it was all just a big misunderstanding.

My hand drops wearily to my side.

The humidity, stress, and lack of sleep is starting to take a toll.

After a moment of silence, I turn around and walk away, inhaling deeply and forcing myself to relax.

This is not worth getting upset about.

As we move east down the road looking for the next impact site, the soldiers of the patrol fall into a lose formation. Checking the formation, the squad leader makes a quick adjustment before turning around and walking on with his lead fire team.

In his gloved right hand he has the body of the 60mm mortar round.

I shake my head and breathe deeply, the anger flowing away.

Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding.

Glancing over my shoulder I see that the man has quickly disappeared from site.

Then I mutter under my breath.


That man knew exactly what he was saying.

And he knew exactly how much of an insult it would be.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


The black up-armored Suburban speeds quietly down the paved road.

On either side of the road, concrete blast walls stretch into the distance, cordoning off sections of the “Green Zone” and protecting sensitive installations. It is a sunny morning, and the weather has cooled enough that there was a slight chill when I crawled out of my bunk on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Despite wearing my full body armor and helmet in the vehicle, I can’t help but smile and stretch out my legs.

Compared to a HUMMWV there is plenty of room.

As the convoy speeds away from the Embassy and down a nearly deserted street, I find myself staring with fascination at a sight that I have never seen before.

A sight that is intimately familiar.

Twin scimitars thrust high into the air, steel grey edges crossing above a wide broad road.

In the distance, two other scimitars rise into the sky, their bleak points piercing the heavens.

The parade field.

It is a scene from my childhood.

From the 1991 gulf war.

Images of thousands of Republican Guard, goose-stepping in formation, their bayonets gleaming in the sunlight.

Images of white clad suicide bombers, declaring themselves Saddam Fedayeen and swearing eternal loyalty.

Images of an endless line of Scud missiles, draped with the black, green, and white of the Iraqi Flag driving past thousands of troops.

Images of Saddam Hussein firing his gold plated AK-47 into the air.

A chill runs down my back as the convoy drives past the now abandoned symbols of one man’s pride.

I can’t believe I am actually here.

Shaking my head, I focus on the road ahead of me. Up ahead, the first of the Chevrolet suburbans in the convoy has pulled off the road, and the soldiers are cautiously getting out. I can see them scanning up and down the road, looking for oncoming traffic.

As my vehicle pulls to a stop, I take the covering off of my optic and turn the laser sight on.

Baghdad is unfamiliar territory.

Following the other soldiers thru a door in the concrete blast wall, I find myself walking thru the remains of a park. To my front, a hideous concrete structure rises into the air. The circular concrete building is capped by a ruined clock tower. The clock is shattered and charred, a burnt-out relic of the fighting during the invasion.

The whole structure is surrounded by poured concrete benches, faded green grass and the pale green palm trees of a desolate park.

Turning to the soldier next to me, I ask quietly.

“Hey, what is that thing?”

The soldier turns to me with a smile.

I realize with a start that he is not a soldier.

He is a sailor.

A Naval JAG officer.

The JAG officer is wearing a spotless uniform, and his boots look brand new. His body armor is clean and neat, and I notice that he holds his weapon awkwardly while clutching at a sheaf of papers in his left hand.

His dark features display a young and earnest face.

He is one of the prosecutors in Iraq’s Central Criminal Court.

“As far as I have heard, it used to be a museum that housed the presents that people of Iraq gave to Saddam Hussein.”

As he looks at the building, the smile fades slightly.

Then he speaks as if to himself.

“I use the term ‘presents’ lightly. Most people gave Saddam gifts so that he would not kill off their families.”

He falls silent, and sets his shoulders, looking straight ahead.

Looking up at the gray concrete building towering above me, I find myself fighting a feeling of revulsion.

Sometimes it feels like this entire country is built on blood.

Entering Iraq’s Central Criminal Court building, I walk past armed Iraqi guards, and thru a metal detector manned by uniformed Iraqi Police. Despite carrying two firearms, a knife, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and wearing a body armor and a helmet, the metal detector does not go off.

I hope to god that thing works.

Inside the building, the grey concrete dome rises high into the air, and I find myself in a wide circular hallway with stairs leading up to the tower and down to the remains of a theatre in the basement.

Down in the basement, the JAG officer shows me where to put my body armor and rifle along with the other soldiers that have come to testify.

My 9mm Beretta, I tuck prominently into my belt, John Wayne style.

With this many armed Iraqis around I cannot afford to take any chances.

One of the soldiers glances over at the theatre. The stage has been ripped up and only the concrete support pillars remain. The theatre seats have been reduced to bent scrap metal.

He turns to me and speaks in a low voice.

“I heard that when the first troops found this place, the stage was set up as a torture chamber, and in between torturing people, Saddam used it to show snuff films to his friends.”

I suppress a shudder looking at the stage.

I wouldn’t put it past him.

The JAG officer walks up in his body armor.

“Alright, the trial is going to begin in a little bit. Let me take you upstairs and show you where to go.”

Turning, I follow him silently up the fake marble stairs to a waiting area just outside a courtroom.

The courtroom is small, and built out of a dark, richly stained wood. Several of these small courtrooms line the walls, built to accommodate a judge, desk, four chairs, and a wooden bench.

Outside the courtrooms, court appointed lawyers stand around talking quietly. Iraqi men and women, either family members of defendants, or witnesses present to testify, stand about with numbered signs around their necks in various stages of unease.

Against the back wall, I see the first female Iraqi police officer I have ever seen. The darkly pretty woman is wearing a light blue headscarf to match her blue police shirt, and a long blue denim skirt.

She is wearing heels.

It is a striking combination.

She notices me looking at her, and gazes boldly back, a slight smile on her lips.

I quickly turn away.

Standing every few feet is a U.S. Military Policeman, keeping a careful eye on the proceedings. They are clad in full body armor and in such mundane surroundings they look strangely intimidating.

The JAG officer looks up from his file of notes.

“I am going to go get the detainees. We are going to be in the courtroom on the left, and the Judge for the case is named Hassan. Just remember what we talked about last night and we should be good to go.”

I nod my head.

“So this Judge, Hassan, is going to decide what the facts are?”

The JAG officer puts down his notes and runs a hand briefly across his eyes.

“Yes, you see, this is a civil law system. You have to explain the facts of the case to the Judge, and then other witnesses will also explain their version of the events. The defendants will then be allowed to speak.”

He drops his hand and continues.

“The Judge, as the arbiter of all that is good and wise, is supposed to be able to sort thru the different stories and make a decision as to exactly what the facts are.”

“What happens then?”

“Well at that point, the Judge’s version of those facts is then forwarded up to a panel of three judges, who read the ‘facts’ and make a determination of guilt or innocence. A lot depends on the Judge's slant to the facts, and he is going to be looking at your body language and mannerisms to decide if you are telling the truth. I am acting as the prosecutor in the case, and I will be working to ensure that an accurate version of the events is presented, and to make sure that the Judge understands that version of the events.”

He falls quiet for a second and adjusts his immaculate body armor.

It doesn’t seem to fit him very well.

“Unfortunately, the Judge can put any spin on it he wants, and the three Judge panel will be influenced by his version of the events.”

In Iraq’s Central Criminal Court, even the slightest discrepancy about the facts can get the case dismissed.

Not the desired outcome.

I nod my head and he motions for me to stay put as he heads back down the stairs to get the detainees.

It doesn’t take long.

Turning around I recognize a familiar face coming up the steps wearing a yellow jumpsuit and handcuffs. For some reason the dark face, rough beard and disfigured fingers stand out like a beacon among all of the other detainees wearing yellow jumpsuits.

I haven’t seen him in four months.

Not since my patrol stopped his car at a snap check point, and he pulled a rocket hidden in white burlap sack out of the vehicle.

Not since an EOD Sergeant told me that what I had was a “righteous catch.”

With a flicker of recognition his eyes fix on my face. I feel certain that he recognizes me as one of the soldiers that captured him and sent him to Abu Ghraib.

He has waited there for the last four months, awaiting trial.

Behind him, I see a second figure in a yellow jump suit. He is younger, and looks like he has lost some weight.

It is the driver of the vehicle.

The driver and the passenger don’t look at one another.

The JAG officer appears again behind the detainees with a harried look on his face. He shakes my hand and then escorts me into the courtroom. The two detainees follow and sit side-by-side on the wooden bench at the back of the room, carefully watched by a Military Policeman.

The JAG officer sits opposite me.

Iraq’s Central Criminal Court is the only Court in the entire country that hears cases involving terrorist or insurgent activity.

Any insurgent detained anywhere in the country will eventually find his way to this courthouse.

One Court for an entire country filled with insurgent and criminal activity.

It is an incredibly daunting task.

No wonder he looks so tired.

I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

In the seat next to me sits the court appointed lawyer for the defendant. He is a small, nervous man, and is constantly patting his balding head, and twitching in his seat.

I dislike him instantly.

After a few minutes, during which the JAG officer reads a file on the facts of the case, the Judge walks into the room and takes a seat behind his desk.

He is a serious young man, with manicured fingers and a neatly trimmed moustache. Fresh out of judge school, he is wearing a gray suit and tie, with a gold watch and matching gold rimmed glasses.

To his right, an older, graying, slightly bent man takes his seat. Blank sheets of writing paper and a neat stack of carbon paper form a pile in front of him.

As the court reporter, he will write down everything that is said by each witness and the defendant.

The JAG officer looks up from his notes, glances at the judge, and then stands on his feet.

As everyone else rises, so do I.

The JAG officer says:

“Do you swear to tell the truth, so help you god?”

As he swears me in, the Iraqi judge nods his head with a serious expression on his face.

It is almost as if he thinks that there is a chance I will say no.

“I do.”

“You may be seated.”

With that, the trial begins.

“Are the two men you apprehended here in this room?”

I turn in my seat and point at the two individuals.

“Yes sir, he was the driver, and he was the passenger.”

The two men gaze blankly back at me.

“Please give me the facts of the case.”

“On or about . . .”

Speaking slowly and quietly, with long periods of silence in between each sentence to allow for the translation, I explain the entire story to the interpreter.

The interpreter translates my explanation into Arabic, and tells it to the Judge.

The Judge turns to the court reporter and tells him what to write down, thereby establishing the official facts of the case.

It is a slow and tedious process.

The JAG officer quietly guides the story as I speak, to ensure I hit upon all of the important facts.

When I finish he will also be allowed to cross-examine the defendants when they appear before the Judge.

After about 15 minutes of testimony, I finally get to the good part.

Raising my voice, I conclude:

“ . . . at that point, I detained him!”

For some reason, I was told that if I didn’t say those words, the charges would not stick.

I say the words with relish.

I note with disappointment that the entire effect is lost in translation.

After answering some final questions posed by the Judge, and signing copies of my testimony, I am escorted from the room. The Judge calls for a ten minute break, and the JAG officer follows, ready to call his next witness after the break and repeat the same procedure all over again.

Once outside the courtroom and in the hallway, he turns to me with a smile and another handshake.

“Hey Lieutenant, you did a great job! You are National Guard, right? What did you say you do in the civilian world?”

I have to smile at this.

“I am a lawyer.”

He looks blankly at me for a second, and his jaw drops open. Recovering quickly, his smile gets even wider.

”You’re shitting me! What the hell are you doing in the Infantry? Why aren’t you JAG? You’re an Infantry officer and a lawyer? That’s hot shit! I don’t know how you do it. No wonder . . .”

He falls silent for a second, a calculating look on his face.

“What do you practice?”

“Most of what I do is litigation.”

“Where are you licensed?”


He gazes at me with a speculative look in his eyes. Then quietly and deliberately, he hefts one of the manila folders in his hand and looks directly at me.

“So would you like to prosecute a case?”

His tone is casual.

My heart skips a beat.

I can’t believe what he is offering me.

I don’t hesitate for a second.


I can’t contain the excitement in my voice.

To get to appear before the Central Criminal Court of Iraq and prosecute an insurgent is almost like a dream come true.

But then a thought occurs to me.

“Look, I am not admitted here. I know nothing of the procedures. I am not even a JAG officer. Can I appear Ad Hac Vice before the court?”

He looks down at his watch and then he hefts the manila folder in his hand again.

“I am going to ask the judge if you can appear for this one particular occasion. You take the folder and familiarize yourself with the case. Don’t worry about the procedures. They haven’t really developed their procedural process yet. Just repeat what you saw me do while I was questioning you. Do the same for each witness, make sure they hit on the salient points, and then question the defendant. Don’t go after him too hard, or the Judge will get annoyed. Just poke a hole in his story, make sure the Judge understands that hole, and then cut it short. The entire trial should only take a little more than an hour.”

He hands me the file and points to another room across the hallway.

“I will go get your first two witnesses and the defendant, and meet you in that courtroom over there. The trial is supposed to begin in about 15 minutes. That should be plenty of time to learn the facts.”

He disappears back down the steps, off to get the two witnesses and the Military Police with the defendant.

Flipping open the manila folder, I quickly review a summary of the facts. Then I read thru the sworn statements made by the witnesses and a summary of the points that need to be made.

A weapons dealer was caught selling machine guns out of the trunk of his car.

The two soldiers that caught him are here to testify against him.

The dealer denies everything and claims that the soldiers planted the weapons on him, and let their interpreter beat him up.


For an instant, I close my eyes.

I feel like I am back in law school, having to read a brief on the fly and answer questions about the case posed by a law professor practicing the Socratic method.

Taking out my notepad, I jot down all of the important points I think the witnesses will need to hit.

I find myself shaking my head.

This is surreal.

The JAG officer appears back up the stairs with the two witnesses in tow. He is slightly out of breath from the climb in his body armor. Both of the witnesses are Sergeants, and I had spoken with them earlier that morning in the green zone.

The JAG officer introduces me.

“Sergeant, this it the prosecutor for the case. Just listen to what he tells you, remember what we talked about last night, and everything should go smoothly.”

The Sergeant looks at me questioningly.

As far as he knew, I was a witness like him and had never been to the Court before.

Out of the corner of his mouth he whispers.

“Hey Sir, are you a lawyer or something?”

I nod my head while keeping an eye on the notes in the manila folder as I memorize the facts of the case.

“Yes, I am.”

He looks relieved.

“Shit Sir, I thought you were Infantry.”

Despite myself, I can’t help but smile.

Behind us, a hard faced man in a yellow jumpsuit walks up the stairs escorted by the Military Police.

I recognize him from the photographs in the file.

The weapons dealer.

The Sergeant, who seemed about to say something, notices the weapons dealer and falls silent, his steady glare fixed on the face of the man he captured months earlier.

The door to the Courtroom opens, and the JAG officer beckons me forward.

“Alright, you ready? Good. Bring the witnesses and the defendant. I will talk to the Judge.”

I walk into the courtroom and sit in the chair reserved for the prosecutor, indicating to the Sergeant where he should sit. Behind me, the defendant sits on the wooden bench, a military policeman hovering nearby.

The Judge looks up from his notes. He is an older man, with distinguished features and graying hair. He keeps his silver glasses perched low on his nose, and seems to look over them more than thru them. On his desk in front of him, is a now familiar pile of photographs.

The JAG officer speaks to the interpreter, who turns to the Judge.

“Sir, this is Lieutenant Adam. We ask permission that this officer appear as prosecutor before the Court. He is an attorney in the United States, and is licensed in the State of Florida.”

The Judge looks at me quietly. His gaze holds mine for an instant, and then he curtly nods his head.

“Yes, he may appear as prosecutor.”

I feel a small shock of excitement.

I just got admitted to practice in the highest Court in Iraq.

I am only two years out of law school.

Hot damn.

With a final nod, the JAG officer looks back down at his watch.

“I have to get back to my hearing. Do you have any more questions? No? Okay, I will be back when you are done.”

With that, he smiles encouragingly, and walks out of the room.

The room seems smaller than the court room in which I had been a witness.

The walls seem a little closer in, and it feels like there is slightly less air.

But then again, maybe it’s just me.

The Judge looks the Sergeant up and down, and asks for the Sergeant’s last name, state of residence, and rank.

Then he turns to me, his silver glasses flashing in the harsh fluorescent lighting.

The room is quiet.


Looking around, I remember the sequence of events from the earlier trial.

Then I stand up, and raise my right hand, preparing to administer the oath.

The Sergeant, watching me, also stands and raises his right hand.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, so help you god?”

The Sergeant nods his head.

“I do.”

I drop my right hand.

“You may be seated.”

And with that, my second trial in Iraq’s Central Criminal Court has begun.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Day Like Any Other

It is a day like any other.

The sun has risen quickly, and in a few short minutes banished the early morning gloom. Looking to the east, the newly risen sun hangs like a huge fiery disk low over the rooftops of brick farm houses and the shaded groves of green trees. This early in the morning, the air is still cool, and the slight breeze blowing from the west is clean and refreshing.

Lying behind a chalky dirt berm, I readjust my position to get a better view of the road to the west. The partially paved road runs north and south alongside a major canal, and is pockmarked by the shattered asphalt and burnt-out craters from IED explosions.

Just a few days ago an IED buried beneath the road exploded and completely destroyed an armored HUMMWV, the front end of the vehicle shattered and the engine block sent flying in pieces thru the air.

We are here to capture or kill the insurgents digging the holes and laying the explosives.

Before dawn, my patrol has set up a traffic control point. Lying in wait, unsuspecting vehicles drive right up to the patrol’s position. When they get close enough, soldiers jump out of their hide site, and flash the vehicles with white lights. The vehicles are then stopped and searched. The key is to remain hidden until the vehicle is too close to turn and run.

It is a risky technique, but one that has proven to be very effective in the past.

To the south, about a kilometer away, the second half of my Platoon led by the Platoon Sergeant, has set up another traffic control point. This morning we are controlling access on two of the three main roads leading into a town known to shelter insurgents.

A Sergeant is lying next to me on the dirt berm, staring intently at something on the road.

“Hey Sir, look at this.”

A black, four door Daewoo Prince has approached our position, and has slowed down considerably.

I can see the occupants of the vehicle staring in our direction. It is possible that someone in the vehicle has spotted a soldier, or one of the HUMMWV antennas that stick out over the concealment offered by the dirt berm. The vehicle continues to slow, and almost rolls to complete stop, when all of a sudden the driver guns the engine, and the vehicle speeds south down the road.

Right towards the second half of my Platoon.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 2/6, we have a black, four door Prince that may have spotted us and just took off at a high rate of speed south along Route ‘Bull.’ He should be approaching your position.”

The radio clicks as the Platoon Sergeant responds.

“Roger, we’ll stop him.”

Lying on the berm and waiting for another vehicle to approach our checkpoint, I listen to the radio traffic between the three vehicles of the Platoon Sergeant’s patrol.

And then I hear something unexpected.

“This is Warrior 2/2, we are taking fire! Moving to engage!”

To the south, an element of my Platoon is being shot at.

Jumping up from the berm, I head to my vehicle. Picking up the handset on the more powerful vehicle radio, I call the Platoon Sergeant.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 2/6, what is your status?”

“Roger Sir, Warrior 2/2 has taken fire, we are moving to his position now.”

In the background I can hear the gunner of his vehicle crew shouting something.

I can also hear automatic weapons fire.

“2/7 this is 2/6, I need a grid coordinate to your position!”

“Roger, wait one.”

My entire patrol has stood up and moved to their vehicles, all eyes oriented south, the checkpoint operation abandoned.

Suddenly, my gunner exclaims under his breath.

“Oh Shit.”

A green star cluster has exploded in the southern sky, showering the area with luminescent phosphorous and marking an enemy targets position.

I key the radio again.

“Thundebolt X-Ray this is Warrior 2/6! My 2/7 element is in contact and is taking small arms fire. Approximate grid coordinates are MN 345 876. Are there any aviation assets available?”

The Battalion Command Center is more than 20 kilometers from my position, and communication is sketchy. The Battle Captain in the TOC comes thru audibly, but is broken and distorted.

“Warrior 2/6…. Negative… will call Brigade… vector aviation assets… standbye.”

So no air on station, but some is on the way.

That is better than nothing.

To the south another star cluster explodes in the sky.

Every fiber in my body screams at me to load up my patrol and head towards the sound of the fighting.

Instead, I wait.

My training tells me that without knowing the enemy situation, the location of friendly forces, and the direction to the enemy, rolling in with our guns blazing, without an informed plan could possibly be one of the worst things I could do.

The army calls it “tactical patience.”

I call it the longest ten minutes of my life.

The radio squeals with feedback.

“2/6 this is 2/7! We are being engaged from multiple positions to the east! We have one “Tango” down. Grid MN 3457 8761! Cross the canal to the east!”

He is out of breath. His voice almost frantic.

In the background, I can hear someone shouting and the sound of sustained machine gun fire.

One “Tango” down.

The soldiers have killed someone.

The gunner of White 3, listening to the transmission, can hold it in no longer, and from his turret he shouts at no one in particular.

“Let’s fucking go!”

The soldiers are eager to get to their brothers that are taking fire.

So am I.

I key the handset.

“Alright Move! Watch for fire from the East! Head over the Canal and then turn south onto the Canal Road.”

“This is White 3, Roger.”

The lead vehicle takes off speeding down the road. The engine of my vehicle whines as the driver floors the gas pedal. We should be in sight of the action within 2 or 3 minutes.

I take a deep breath and calm myself down, then I take a second to check my weapon.

Now is not the time to make a mistake.

“Thunderbolt X-Ray, this is Warrior 2/6! 2/6 element is moving to MN 3457 8761 to link up with 2/7! 2/7 reports one Tango down!”

With the engine of the vehicle screaming at our high rate of speed, I cannot make out Battalion’s reply.

The patrol rounds a bend in the road and crosses the main canal.

The sound of machine gun fire is intense.

As my vehicle comes to a screeching halt, I pick up my I-Com and yell, “Let’s go!”

Without waiting for a response, I open the heavy armored door and step out onto the hard packed dirt. Taking cover behind my vehicle, I survey the scene.

To my right and left, the squad of dismounted infantry flies out of their vehicles, and moves to take up positions along the berm of a second, smaller canal. The soldiers are scanning for targets, their weapons held at the ready and oriented toward the sound of the firing.

This second canal is separating us from the rest of my Platoon.

This close to the canal the farms are well irrigated. There is too much overgrowth and scrub brush to be able to see more than a few dozen meters. The insurgents are too well concealed for me to positively identify an enemy target.

I have no targets.

Without positive identification, I cannot engage.

We have to move.

Over the I-Com, I hear a transmission from the other patrol.

“Smoke to mark the target! We are taking fire from the small shack! Firing HE rounds!”

High Explosive Rounds.


Without warning, the gunner in the vehicle behind me stands almost straight up in his turret, and begins to engage with his M4, the single, sharp cracks distinct amidst all of the other noise.

He is shooting single shots at a target moving in the tree-line.

A target that I can’t see.

Shouting over the din of the fire, I raise my right hand over my head and spin it in a circular motion.

“Load up!”

The soldiers see the signal and dash back to their vehicles, no questions asked.

I key the hand-mike on my I-Com.

“2/7 this is 2/6! We are crossing the second canal now and are moving to your position.”

I have got to get to the rest of my Platoon.

The heavy armored HUMMWV kicks up a massive cloud of dust as it turns around on the narrow, dirt packed strip running north and south between the two canals. Gunning the engine, the vehicle lurches forward, turns east, and crosses over the second canal bridge. As it turns south and heads down a narrow road bordered on both sides by a chain link fence, I hear my gunner and RTO begin cursing in the back.

“Shit! Small arms fire and red marking smoke to our 9 o’clock!”

“Sir, we have got small arms fire to our 9 o’clock.”

To the east, at the 9 o’clock rounds are flying past the vehicle.

I hear them, but my attention is focused ahead.

Up ahead, the first vehicle in my convoy begins to engage a target, the gunner laying down well aimed suppressive fire. Up ahead on the road are the three vehicles from the other patrol. As my convoy pulls up to their rear vehicle, I get out and run up to the front of the column.

Behind the rear HUMMWV is the driver. He is a Specialist, and he is older than he looks. He is standing behind his vehicle, facing towards the sound of the gunfire, and keeping an eye on the tree-line.

“Hey, where are the rest of the dismounts? Where is the fire coming from?”

Adrenaline has surged thru my body, and everything seems sharper and more in-focus.

I speak to the Specialist as calmly as I possibly can, despite the violent pounding of my heart.

And at this moment, time stops.

Looking over my left shoulder, I see a line of dirt being kicked up by rounds impacting in a dry, dusty field. I look impassionedly at the small explosions of dirt and dust. A part of me absently tracks the line of incoming fire, watching the rounds hit the ground further away, and then move closer and closer to my position.

The rounds are impacting in a line that runs parallel to the vehicles.

Then I hear a cracking sound.

It is the sound of rounds breaking the sound barrier as they pass over my head.

Someone is shooting at me.

I scan the tree-line, my M-4 Carbine held at the ready and the Close Combat Optic leveled at the pale green grove of trees.

No targets.


Behind me, the Gunner of White 3 is still laying down suppressive fire, the sharp cracks of his rifle drowning out the more distant, yet distinct AK-47 fire.

I turn away from the sound of the firing.

Turning away is not an easy thing to do.

My instinct is to move towards the fighting and engage the enemy.

Right now, that is not my job.

Gaining situational awareness and maneuvering my Platoon is.

I look at the wide eyed soldier in front of me. He is staring in the direction of the firefight. I wave my hand in front of his face, and his eyes snap back in my direction.

“Where is the rest of the Platoon? Who are they engaging?”

“Sir, three or four guys with AK-47s were in a vehicle. The vehicle saw us, reversed, and then slammed into this fence and the guys bailed out! I don’t know how many of them there were! There are black ski masks, an AK-47, and a muddy shovel in the vehicle!”

He points to a battered black vehicle only a few meters away, tangled up in the remains of a chain link fence. The windows of the vehicle have shattered, scattering sharp glass everywhere, and the trunk of the vehicle is smashed in where it impacted a concrete fence post.

The engine is still running.

Glancing back at me, he continues while fingering his rifle.

“There is a two story house just over this fence and we shot a guy that was engaging us from the roof! I am not sure if he is dead or just wounded, but if you go down this road, and hang a right, you can get to the house. I know that 2/2 and some of our dismounts are in there.”

That is what I needed to know.

Turning around, I survey the field. The sound of gunfire has tapered off, and the rounds have stopped impacting on the field in front of my vehicle.

I can no longer hear any sharp cracks in the air.

Either the insurgents have fled, or they have been suppressed by the fire from White 3.

I key the handset on my I-Com.

“2/3 this is 2/6, get your men to my position. Bring along White 1! 2/2 this is 2/6, we are moving to your position now.”

Behind me, the squad of dismounted infantrymen breaks into two fire teams, each fire team taking an opposite side of the road. The soldiers are tense, their eyes scanning the undergrowth and fields for signs of movement. I find myself gripping my rifle a little too hard, and I have to force myself to relax.

I feel a surge of pride as I look at them. They look good. There is no hesitation in their movements as they close with the enemy.

Not one of them has flinched at the sound of gunfire.

I couldn’t possibly ask for finer soldiers.

Moving quickly, the squad heads north, and then east towards the sound of the gunfire, reduced now to the occasional single shot. Behind a tall chain link fence outlining an overgrown compound, I can see a two story farmhouse at the end of a narrow strip of dirt road.

The sporadic fire is coming from inside the compound, from the two story house.

My men are in that house.

The fence separating us is chained and padlocked.

No problem.

I turn and shout to the Squad Leader, pointing to the HUMMWV.

“Smash the fence!”

Without a moment of hesitation, the driver of the HUMMWV backs the six ton vehicle up and guns the engine. The heavy steel bumper on the front grill smashes into the sturdy chain-link fence head on, and with a shuddering crash the front gates of the fence shatter as the chain parts and the hinges give way.

We are thru.

Moving into the choking cloud of dust that has been kicked up by the impact, I am followed closely by the squad of dismounts scanning for movement.

Moving rapidly, I get up to the front porch of the two story house, where I can see members of my Platoon taking cover. The building is solidly built, with arching windows and tall columns on the front porch. The usual yellow clay brick walls are plastered over and the front door is an ornate wood. One of the expensive looking windows is smashed out, and protruding from the window is the short, deadly barrel of a squad automatic weapon.

The building is a veritable fortress.

Around me, the rest of the dismounted squad takes up positions that provide good observation and fields of fire. The Squad Leader is shouting at his squad, organizing them into position and getting them ready to move forward.

From inside the house, one of my team leaders approaches me. He is crouched low and moves quickly. His face is bright red and is covered with sweat. He is breathing heavily, as if he has just gone running in his body armor.

Despite his sweat slicked face, the team leader smiles as he gets to me.

“It is good to see you Sir!”

“It is good to see you too! Where is the fire coming from?”

He looks briefly around. His slight Latin American accent is more obvious than usual as he replies in a clipped voice.

“It is coming from everywhere! In fact, you might want to get down!”

That’s probably a good idea.

I take a knee.

“Where is the rest of the Platoon?”

He points to the east.

“We were taking fire from that shack, but we put some HE rounds into it and the firing stopped. Right now, 2/7 has his vehicle in the field to the east of the shack, and he is engaging targets up there! In the building we have one enemy wounded. He has been shot several times and is in a bad way! They are working on him right now, but he is going to need to be evacuated.”

“Roger. Get him stabilized as best you can. We can’t call a bird in yet, the LZ is still too hot!”

I am not going to endanger one of the Blackhawks by calling it into a hot Landing Zone.

At least, I am not going to do it just to evacuate an insurgent.

The Team Leader nods his head.

“Yes Sir, just let us know and we will work on calling a bird in.”

Turning away from the team leader, I move down the porch steps and up to the Squad Leader that is taking cover by White 1.

“Hey Sergeant, get your squad online! We are going to move thru this field to the right by fire-team, and link up with 2/7.”

Moving rapidly, the soldiers get online, separated from one another by 3-5 meters in this highly restrictive terrain. With the squad in position, the Squad Leader waves his right hand forward, and the squad begins to sweep by fire-team up thru an open field.

As we move, I continue to scan the hedgerow bordering the far end of the field. The hedgerow runs alongside a small irrigation canal, and is thick and full of brambles and reeds. Somewhere beyond the hedgerow is the rest of my Platoon and the remaining insurgents.

I cannot see beyond the hedgerow to outlying field.

I still do not know exactly what is out there.

The day is starting to get warm, and the heat is causing the sweat to run in rivulets down my face. My sunglasses have begun to fog up, making it hard to see. While I move, I take the dark ballistic glasses off and wipe them on my uniform.

It helps . . . some.

Approaching the hedgerow, the squad stops as our movement is blocked by an eight foot deep, water filled canal.

I key the I-Com hanging from my body armor.

“2-7, this is 2-6! We are in position along the first hedgerow to the east of the building at 2/2s position! What is your current location?!”

“2-6, I am about 25 meters to the north of your position. Keep your squad there! We have taken fire from the next hedgerow across the field and we have Apache support. The birds are coming in hot!”

Quietly, I move north along the row of silent, grim faced soldiers. On the other side of a short, chain-link fence is White 7, the Platoon Sergeants vehicle.

As I get up to the vehicle, I can hear the Platoon Sergeant talking on the radio with the Apaches. Behind him, the Platoon medic looks tensely out of the vehicles armored glass windows. In the turret, a young Specialist has his M240B machine gun moving and scanning for targets.

I notice that hundreds of spent shell casings litter the turret and the hood of the vehicle. The Gunner has fired hundreds of rounds.

Then I hear the Apaches.

The sleek, deadly machines drop out of the sky from the south, lined up on the hedgerow that runs north and south parallel to the open field to my front. As the Apache drops down low, I can see the 40mm cannon slung under the cockpit traverse, and a deep, ripping sound emanates from across the field as the Apache strafes the far hedgerow.

Immediately behind it, a second Apache drops low, and again, the violent ripping sound echoes across the field. A haze of dust rises from where the rounds have impacted in the pale green hedgerow.

The sound of the Apache’s cannon has a shocking finality to it.

I release a quiet breath.

Very little could have lived thru that.

As the echoing roar of the cannons fade, the field sounds unnaturally quiet.

High above, the sun glinting off their canopies and flashing in the morning light, the Apaches move into a holding pattern, circling above our position and watching for movement.

I give them a quick wave of thanks, and turn to the Platoon Sergeant.

"Where do you want us?"

The Platoon Sergeant faces me, his face flush with excitement.

“Sir, we have to clear out this open area.”

He points north, out across the hood of his vehicle.

"Roger, we were taking fire back by the house- the rounds were kicking up right in front of the vehicles."

He nods his head.

"We were taking fire from there also, and we just took fire from that house across the field."

Looking out across the fallow field, I see two separate cultivated fields bordered on both sides by fences and hedgerows. To the southeast is the house his position took fire from.

“Okay. I brought you two more dismounts to plus up your squad. Take first squad and sweep around to the right. I will take third Squad and flank around to the left. If anyone is still out there, we will either find their bodies or flush them out.”

Radioing 2/2, I give him permission to call for the Medivac to come and pick up the wounded insurgent. Within ten minutes of the call, a Blackhawk with a distinct red-cross painted on it's side lands in an open field that the Platoon has secured.

Despite the powerful prop wash, the soldiers rush to the Blackhawk carrying a stretcher with the wounded insurgent to the waiting Medics. One of my soldiers, also a trained Medic, boards the aircraft to accompany the insurgent to the hospital. In a whirl of dust and debris, the Medivac bird takes off and heads to the south, escorted by an Apache Gunship.

An hour later, the Platoon has swept the surrounding fields and raided farmhouses in the area. It is tense, exhausting work, as the soldiers scale fences in body armor, and move rapidly thru the dense terrain and the dusty, open fields.

Constantly scanning, the troops look for movement and watch for insurgents.

Any clump of trees could conceal an ambush.

Ambushes often have fatal consequences.

In 115 degree heat, the squads clear section after section of broken farmland and fenced in compounds.

But the hard work pays off.

In a clump of bushes, we find a bandoleer of AK-47 magazines, and the trail of one of the fleeing insurgents.

He has been wounded.

And he was not alone.

Heavy drag marks leading into and out of the deep, muddy canals show where one of the insurgents has managed to flee thru the irrigation system.

He had to have been helped.

Carried or pulled along by a fellow insurgent.

Despite our efforts, the two insurgents manage to get away.

The Platoon has lost their trail on a hardball road.

But not for long.

Later that evening, word reaches the unit that an insurgent has shown up at a Baghdad area hospital with multiple gunshot wounds, including one that was inflicted by the 40mm cannon of an Apache.

Before he dies, he admits to being involved in the fire-fight.

That same afternoon, at a different hospital, word reaches us that the insurgent evacuated by air has died after being operated on.

Despite doing all we could to try and save him, he could not recover from a massive loss of blood.

Thankfully, all of the Platoon’s soldiers have come thru without a scratch, and we have stopped, at least for a while, a group of insurgents that were burying IEDs on Route "Bull."

It is only later I realize that during the entire engagement, I never fired a single shot.

In Iraq, it really is a day like any other.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Roadblock

The sky has turned a striking shade of purple and red as the sun begins to set in the west.

To the east of the Alamo, the tall blue and green minaret of the Shia mosque is lit up with a single string of white lights. The mosque, standing alone in "no-mans land," has only been partially completed, and the unfinished sections of brick wall look ominously down over the crumbling city in the falling light.

Across from the mosque, in a small woodworking shop, a man has just been murdered.

An hour ago, three insurgents entered his shop and shot him in the head. The weapon was held so close to his head, that the muzzle blast burned and blackened his ear.

Only 300 meters from the Alamo, he was left to die, four AK-47 shell casings lying next to his body.

He is the second man to be executed within sight of the Alamo in as many days.

The city is restless tonight.

In front of the Alamo, in the falling darkness, a squad of soldiers work to improve the fixed defenses. A single HUMMWV sits on the road, it’s hood stacked high with concertina wire, and a soldier crouched low in the turret, scanning the surrounding darkness with his night vision.

The soldiers work quietly in the darkness. Triple strands of razor sharp wire are stretched across the road, and weighed down with sandbags. Concrete barriers are maneuvered into place. Spike strips are laid across avenues of approach.

All designed to stop a suicide car bomb.

As I walk out from between the concrete barriers and onto the main street in front of the Alamo, I can see a soldier with a flashlight waving at oncoming traffic. As his squad erects the barrier, he is signalling cars to turn off onto a side street.

Every one of those cars is a threat.

Further out in the dark, a blue van stops for a second, it’s driver confused by the roadblock.

The soldier with the flashlight tenses, and he raises his rifle up to cover the driver of the blue van.

On the corner sits a white and orange taxi, its lights turned off. The taxicab driver shouts helpful directions at the driver of the blue van, and the blue van pulls down the side street.

I can see the soldier relax, his shoulders slumping beneath his heavy body armor.

It is a Thursday night, and this type of traffic is normal. In the falling night, men walk from house to house for a cigarette or a cup of tea with their neighbors. Cheap tobacco smoke permeates the air as the men cluster on doorsteps smoking French Gallouises.

Across from the Alamo, a small convenience shop is doing a brisk business, and a crowd of men are gathered outside. Signaling two soldiers to accompany me, I walk across the street and up to the group of men standing out front of the small shop.

In front of the shop is an older man with a careworn face and a full white beard. He is wearing a flowing white robe, which contrasts sharply with the darkness of his skin.

The man's eyes are dark and shadowed in the harsh light of the fluorescent bulb hanging from the wall of the shop.

Touching my hand to my chest, I give him the traditional greeting.

“Salaam Alechem.”

The old man returns the greeting with a slight smile. Beside him, a young man gets up from a worn wooden bench. He is strangely pale and overweight, and his hand nervously grips plastic prayer beads.

The small red beads click together quietly as he methodically counts them.

The old man begins to speak in Arabic, and my interpreter, Tornado, listens to him politely before turning to me to translate.

“He is asking about the hurricane Katrina.”

This was the last thing that I had expected to hear.

“Really? What does he know about Katrina?”

The old mans face grows solemn.

“We heard that 10,000 people have been killed, and that the city is destroyed. We have heard that there is disease and fighting.”

Behind him, the younger man smiles at me. In the shop behind him, I can hear the muted sound of a strident Arabic voice on the radio.

“And how did you hear about this?”

“We have a satellite. It told us all about the hurricane Katrina.”

“Do you have such hurricanes here in Iraq?”

The younger man’s smile widens. It seems that he wants to tell me something, and as he leans forward, his hands briefly touch as he makes a dusting motion.

“No, we do not have such things as hurricanes in Iraq. We do not have them because we are protected by Allah. We have the shrines of the Prophet, and Allah does not permit such tragedies here.”

He leans back as if he has gotten something important off of his chest.

This is the point he wanted to make.

It sounds like a theory out of the dark ages.

As if on cue, the sound of automatic weapons fire erupts in the northern sector of town. It is a series of sharp reports, one after the other. In response, another automatic weapon opens up, its higher pitched whine audible over the lower, more guttural single shots.

Turning around I scan the low hulking shadows of the houses across no mans land for any sudden muzzle flashes that would indicate the shooters position.

There is a gun battle going on, no more than 400 meters from the Alamo.

The sky and the buildings to the north remain dark.

To my left, one of the soldiers, a young private, flips down his night vision and scans the darkness of an alleyway for movement. He is fidgeting nervously from foot to foot.

Anybody could be out there tonight.

Turning back, I face the younger man.

“Are you saying that America had a hurricane because there are no shrines in America to the prophet? Because most Americans do not follow Islam?”

He nods his head, pleased that I understand him.

“Yes, it is God’s will. In America there are no shrines so Allah does not protect Americans. Here there are no tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes or hurricanes. If there were more of Islam in America, such things as hurricanes would not happen.”

The gunfire in the north sounds as if it has doubled in intensity.

This man is telling me that Iraqis are protected by God because of their faith in Allah, and that America, because of a lack of faith, deserves to be hit by a hurricane.

With the gunfire in the background, the irony of this has not escaped me.

The comment has also pissed me off.

I take a step forward.

He takes a step back.

“So God protects Iraqis from hurricanes? What about the violence? The fighting? The murders and executions? The poverty? Look around you! A man was murdered a few hundred meters away tonight! If God is protecting Iraq, why does God permit such violence here?”

Tornado hears the passion and anger in my voice, and he echoes my harsh language in his translation.

The young man goes pale in the fluorescent light. He begins to speak, falters, and then goes quiet.

He looks as if he has swallowed something unpleasant.

To the north, the gunfire has tapered quickly off. The stillness is only broken by single, sporadic shots in the distance.

We stare at each other in the darkness.

The old man, pulling contemplatively on his white beard, takes a hesitant step forward and gently pushes the younger man back. Then the old man turns towards me and smiles apologetically, revealing rotten, yellow teeth.

“In’Shallah. All of that is in God’s hands. It is for Allah to know who lives and who dies. It is not for us to question or explain the will of Allah. He gives help to those that ask, but in the end all of our fate is in his hands.”

He touches his right hand to his chest, turns, and without looking back, quickly ushers the younger man back inside the shop. The young man, still pale, turns and enters the shop, his prayer beads clicking in his right hand.

Taking a deep breath, I turn and stand quietly in the darkness, watching the armored HUMMWV slowly roll past in the shadowed street.

I need a second to cool down.

The hood of the HUMMWV has been emptied of concertina wire, and the two soldiers escorting it are taking off their tough, rawhide gloves. To the west, I can see that the wire roadblock has been stacked three strands high, and tied tightly into the rusted steel bars of a power line.

Any vehicle trying to drive thru that is going to come to a sudden stop, tangled up in a mass of steel razor wire.

At least it is something.

Turning away from the now quiet shop, I walk over to the roadblock to finish inspecting the reinforced obstacles. A few feet behind me, I hear the young private that was pulling security during my conversation mutter quietly under his breath.

“Well I’ll take his help if he is offering it, but I am not leaving anything that I don’t have to in Allah’s hands.”

Pulling on the concertina wire and checking for any gaps in the defenses, I can’t help but smile at the young private in the darkness.

Those are my thoughts exactly.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Matriarch

This far out in the countryside, the stench of the cities has faded, and the fresh, fragrant breeze blowing from the north brings with it the slight scent of citrus. The morning breeze is cool and the countryside looks peaceful in the warm, yellow glow of the sun.

It is the first beautiful morning that I can remember.

It actually feels like spring.

The canal path stretches east to west, an elevated platform just large enough for a HMMWV. For 500 meters up and down the path, the gunners in the turrets of the six armored vehicles of my platoon provide cover for my two dismounted squads. All told, I have brought 33 soldiers of my platoon into this morning’s search operation.

This is our fourth straight day of combat operations, and the second day in a row that I have not had the time for sleep.

To the north and south of the canal path, a grassy field leads down to well kept houses and lawns shaded by pale green groves of trees. Walking down the embankment and into the field, I can see the soldiers spreading out and beginning to search the houses for weapons or other signs of the insurgency.

To the north, Apaches circle around a target, providing air cover for the operation, which began at 2:00 am this morning. The operation involves hundreds of troops, both US and Iraqi, and my platoon plays only a small part in the overall picture.

The radio warbles for a second, and then a crystal clear transmission comes thru.

“Warrior 2/6, this is Warrior 2/1, where is our medic at?”

I key the small black I-Com radio I carry on my body armor.

“Warrior 2/1, this is Warrior 2/6, Doc is over at White 7 with Warrior 2/7.”

“Roger, there is a woman here that appears to need some medical assistance, can you send him over here?

At this my Platoon Sergeant, who has been monitoring the traffic breaks in.

“Warrior 2/1, this is 2/7, I see you over by that group of people. I have Doc with me and I will bring him right over.”


Looking further south, past the field filled with farm animals and livestock, I can see a small crowd gathering by a two story house in a grassy lot to the south. It appears to be a family, and they are clustered around a little old woman in a black burkha, sitting on a colorful blanket on the grassy ground.

Surrounding the matriarch throng young children with dirty bare feet, their toothy smiles unmarred by their poverty. The unmarried girls wear purple and blue burkhas, a relief from the stark black of the older women.

Gathered in a small cluster, bearded old men with nicotine stained fingers stand and watch, their heads lowered in quiet conversation.

Turning, I gesture to Max, my interpreter, and he follows me down the embankment and across the field towards the small crowd.

As I arrive, I see our Platoon Medic, or “Doc” as he is affectionately known by the troops, beginning to kneel down by the elderly lady on the blanket. Behind him, stands my Platoon Sergeant, talking with one of the older men. They are surrounded by a dozen family members watching Doc intently as he and Max talk to the Matriarch.

Looking down at the Matriarch of the family, I am startled by hold old she appears.

Her face is shrunken, toothless and lined with age. A headscarf covers her hair, and her tiny, shriveled form huddles on the blanket, wrapped in black.

Taking off my dark sunglasses, I stand quietly in the shade watching Doc talk to the Matriarch.

She stops talking to Doc and looks up at me.

I find myself riveted.

Her eyes are amazing.

Startling blue eyes gaze up at me. In her small, shrunken face, her blue eyes appear larger than life. Her eyes widen briefly as she looks into mine, and then she smiles, a toothless, mirthful grin.

Reaching a wrinkled, shrunken hand up, she points at her eyes and then points at mine.

Behind her, two careworn women, kneeling on a small red rug look up into my face. They whisper and smile, pointing at my eyes, and then pointing at the Matriarch. The family begins talking excitedly, and some of them begin to laugh in delight.

A small girl, shy in her pink dress giggles and whispers behind her hand to her father as she points at my eyes.

I too have blue eyes.

All of the other members of the family have brown eyes.

For these simple people, blue eyes, eyes that are the same color as that of the family Matriarch, are a rare and special thing.

I can’t help but to smile back.

Hearing some talking behind me, I turn and see my Company First Sergeant speaking with a group of women about his family. To these rural farm women, the family is everything. None of the women can read or write, and from marriage at the age of 14, they have as many children as they can to help work the farms.

From childhood, the family is all that they know.

The Company First Sergeant, or “Top” as he is known to the soldiers, is a grizzled former Marine, looking fiercely stern beneath his dark goggles and helmet.

Today, his usually stern expression is softened as he takes out a photo of his youngest daughter, a blond haired, blue eyed, four year old named Katie.

The women are enthralled.

They giggle and laugh at the photo of the little blond girl. Talking excitedly, they discuss the color of her hair, and they pass the photograph around to one another, exclaiming in Arabic in delight.

The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, despite the soldiers searching the houses around us. It is almost as if we are in a small pocket of calm, in an otherwise tense and stressful world.

This family has accepted us, delightedly comparing their families with our own.

It is a common bond that we all can share.

Turning to the First Sergeant, I catch his eye as he watches the women look at the photo of his daughter.

“Hey Top, how about I fetch my RTO over here.”

He looks at me quietly for a second, and then nods his head with a smile.

Pulling out my radio, I request the presence of my RTO, a young, freckle-faced, 18 year-old soldier. He is the lowest ranking soldier in the Company, and is only 8 months out of basic training.

He is also the First Sergeant’s son.

To the north, along the canal road, I can see my RTO approach, a look of confusion on his face. On his body armor, he has slung dozens of shotgun shells for the pump-action shotgun he is carrying. On his back, he has slung his M4 Carbine, for engaging more distant targets. Beneath his helmet and dark glasses, he looks every bit like an infantryman, well equipped and ready for action.

I can tell that he is wondering why he was pulled from a search team and told to come here.

The First Sergeant walks up to his son and whispers something to him. Then he puts his arm around his son’s shoulder, and turns to address the crowd of curious family members.

Without looking at the interpreter, he tells him.

“Max, tell them that this is my oldest son.”

Max, who has served with our unit for months, is momentarily speechless.

Although their two names are the same, he had never made the connection that the highest ranking, and the lowest ranking soldiers in the Company were even related.

Let alone father and son.

Max translates in a quiet Arabic, and the people fall silent, staring at the First Sergeant and my RTO.

They are stunned.

It has never occurred to them that such a thing was possible.

In the quiet, I can hear a slight, quavering voice call out. Behind the clustered crowd of people, the Matriarch of the family is asking that the First Sergeant and his son be brought forward thru the crowd of people to where she can see them.

The crowd respectfully parts, providing a clear path from the First Sergeant to the Matriarch.

The First Sergeant walks forward, and his son, standing several inches taller than him, trails a step behind. They stop in front of the elderly lady, and the First Sergeant puts his left hand on his son’s shoulder again.

With his right hand, he respectfully touches his breast as he quietly addresses the Matriarch and her attendees.

“Ma’am, this is my oldest son. We made the decision together, to come to this country and help the people of Iraq.”

Her piercing blue eyes gaze up at the First Sergeant and his son.

For a moment, all is quiet.

Then I notice.

Tears are coursing down her cheeks.

The sight of the First Sergeant and his son is too much for this gentle woman.

Thru her tears, she speaks quietly in Arabic in her wavering voice.

“I am crying for your mother. May she be blessed by Allah. For you to be here with your father, and for your poor mother to be at home without you. Without her son.”

Then she looks up, her finger pointing towards heaven.

“May Allah watch over you. May Allah watch over your mother, as she misses you. As she misses both of you.”

For an instant I am chilled.

The blessing has power behind it.

I can feel it.

Turning away from the Matriarch’s tear stained face, I walk out of the crowd and take a deep breath of the cool, scented air.

Walking up to the canal path, I stop and do a quick survey of the area, checking on my Platoon’s progress.

Then I quietly say a prayer, one that I have heard my mother say countless times.

“May it be from her mouth to God’s ears.”

Friday, August 26, 2005


I can not believe what I am hearing.

The screaming over the radio is horrifying.

Something, somewhere, is seriously wrong.

At the first sound of the scream, all movement in the Alamo CP stops. My eyes are riveted on the green radios sitting on the top of the old wooden desk. A quick glance around the room tells me that every other soldier is frozen in place.

The radio static is heavy, the voice making the transmission frantic.

I can barely make out a few words.

“This is Titan 5 . . . an RPG . . . Ambush . . . Casualties . . . Grid Coordinate . . . UX 2468 7531 . . .”

It is enough.

Jumping to my feet I run over to the map against the wall. I quickly pinpoint the grid coordinates that I have just heard thru the static and the gunshots.

For some reason they are seared into my memory.

The grid coordinates are a straight shot west for about 6 Kilometers.

We are not far.

Turning around, I see that the other soldiers in the Alamo CP are all still frozen, waiting for the next transmission. I exchange glances with the other Platoon Leader, and announce to no one in particular.

“I’m going out there.”

Without a second glance back, I turn and grab my gear. Shrugging on my body armor, I run into the Hallway shouting.

“Let’s go! Get to the vehicles! There is a unit in contact that needs help! Move!”

The soldiers in my patrol tumble out of their cots where they had been lying, exhausted, and taking up their gear they take up the shout.

“Come on, get your shit on!”

“Fucking move!”

The soldiers are not yet sure what is going on, but they know they need to get to the vehicles.

Unfortunately, I don’t know much more than they do.
The heat hits me like a blast furnace as I run out of the building, still pulling my body armor on. Behind me, the soldiers are flying down the steps and running to their positions in the vehicles. Climbing into my seat and fastening my helmet chinstrap, I can hear the guttural roar of the engines of the other vehicles in the patrol.

We are in the vehicles and out of the gate within 4 minutes.

The HUMMWVs speed out of the concrete and concertina wire obstacles erected in front of the Alamo. My driver takes the turn around the concrete barrier so sharply, that for an instant I am certain that we are going to hit the barrier.

The front bumper clears by an inch, and we are thru.

As we begin to speed down the broad paved main street I pick up the handset for the Platoon net and gather my thoughts.

“Alright, this is what is going on. A unit was hit about six klicks west of here on ASR ‘Robins.’ From what I could tell, it sounds like they have been hit with RPGs and small arms fire, and have several casualties.”

There is silence in my vehicle as my crew listens in on the conversation.

“One more thing, we may be targeted as we respond. Be on the lookout for an ambush, especially a VBIED.”

Insurgents have been known to hit units that have moved to assist a unit in contact.

Overhead, I hear the metallic clacking of my gunner charging the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun. He has racked a five inch round into the chamber of the long barreled, lethal weapon system.

The M2 has a rate of fire of more than 10 rounds per second, and the rounds can easily punch thru concrete walls.

It is a reassuring sound.

Turning west onto route “Robins” and we begin to pick up speed.

“Thunderbold X-Ray this is Warrior 2/6, we are headed west on route “Robins,” moving to Titan 5’s position. We should be there in about 5 Mikes. Do you have an update on Titan 5?”

In front of us, civilian traffic is hastily pulling out of the way as the patrol runs screaming down the road.

I can tell that my driver has his foot clamped all the way down on the accelerator. The clear, paved road stretches west into the distance, empty and desolate except for scrub brush and trash lining the sand berms on both sides of the road.

It is a stretch of empty desert between two towns, and out here, traffic is thin.

Over the Battalion net, I can hear Titan 5 calling for a Medivac to pickup his casualties.

Someone has been seriously wounded.

Above me, I hear my gunner swear an oath under his breath.

Looking up, I can see a plume of thick black smoke in the sky.

It can only mean one thing.

Something is burning.

Adrenaline floods my system and my heart starts pounding rapidly as we round a bend in the road.

A HUMMWV is completely engulfed in flames.

Flames billow from the windows, and black, choking plumes of smoke rise high into the air. The smoke is thick and acrid from the burning tires.

A chill runs down my back, and I realize that there are no soldiers anywhere to be seen.

Nothing moves.

It is terrifying.

Like something out of a nightmare.

Where are all of the soldiers?

100 meters past the burning armored vehicle, I can see the charred, torn and twisted remains of a pickup truck. What used to be a gray Mazda is now scattered all over the road.

I key the Battalion handset.

“Thunderbolt X-Ray this is Warrior 2/6! We have arrived onsite. There is a burning HUMMWV and what it looks like the remains of a VBIED. There are no soldiers anywhere! What is the current location of the Titan element?! Where are the wounded soldiers?!”

My only thought is to get to the troops that need help, and secure their position.

The only problem is, I can’t find them.

“Alright, stop here! Secure this location! White 1, move out about 300 meters and block off the west end. White 3, set up a blocking position 300 meters away on the east side. Tell your gunners to watch for follow on VBIEDs, and do a good dismounted sweep for IEDs!”

My vehicle comes to a screeching halt, 75 meters from the burning armored vehicle.

Dismounting, I hear a loud staccato popping sound.

The ammunition stored in the vehicle is cooking off, the bullets stored in the vehicle exploding in the heat of the fire.

I key the handset again.

“Thunderbolt X-Ray this is Warrior 2/6, I need the location of the Titan element! Where are they?”

There is a moment of silence, and then Thunder X-Ray replies:

“Wait one.”

Surveying the scene, I can see that the ground is littered with spent brass and links. There has been a major firefight here, and it looks like hundreds, if not thousands of rounds have been fired.

The berm to the north is separated from the road by a 20 meter stretch of empty ground, and rises 15 feet in the air.

It is the most likely place to set up an ambush.

Lying on the road, I notice a half-filled, 30 round magazine amidst the scattered brass and shell casings.

Reaching down, I pick up the battered magazine and place it in my cargo pocket.

With a flash of sunlight off of a canopy, the Apaches fly out of the sun. They are so quiet I do not even hear them until they are circling in a tight formation above my location. The circle is so tight that the Apache looks like it is standing on its side. I can see the pilot looking down over his right shoulder at the carnage below.

“Apache flight, this is Warrior 2/6, what is your call-sign?”

“Warrior 2/6 this is Blue Max 2.”

“Blue Max 2, this is Warrior 2/6, I need you to sweep the area to the north and west! Look for insurgents and also check for American troops, I know that Titan is here somewhere and is set up for a Medivac, but I can’t find him.”

The Apache pilot immediately banks north, and I get his crisp and clean “Roger” over the net.

Looking east and west down the road, I can see that the other vehicles in my patrol have moved into position. To the east, another three vehicle patrol has arrived, responding to the urgent calls over the radio.

With a tremendous explosion the burning armored HUMMWV explodes from the inside out and shreds itself into pieces of shattered and twisted steel.

The armored glass explodes outwards, and large heavy chunks of armor go catapulting thru the air, landing 20 or 30 meters away.

The sound of the explosion is almost deafening, and it takes me a second to realize that something inside the vehicle . . . likely a claymore or several grenades, have exploded due to the heat of the fire.

My driver comes running up to me, his rifle held at the ready.

“Sir, I don’t know how to say this. I think I saw a body in the back passenger seat, before the vehicle exploded.”

My heart stops.

Looking up, I can see that the HUMMWV is just a mass of charred steel, flames and smoke.

I force myself to speak.

“Are you sure? Are you sure that is what you saw?”

My driver falters.

“Sir, I . . . I don’t know. It could have been the headrest or something else. I just thought I saw a body slumped over.”

I clear my throat and key the handmike.

“Thunder X-Ray, this is Warrior 2/6, the HUMMWV has just been destroyed by secondaries. Do we have a location for Titan 5 yet?”

This time Thunder X-Ray responds quickly.

“Warrior 2/6, this is Thunder X-Ray, roger. Titan 5 has headed south along route “Maples” and has linked up with an element from Avalanche. They are secure and are conducting air-evac of wounded personnel right now. Continue to secure the site, more units are enroute.”

“Roger Thunder X-Ray, are all Titan 5 personnel accounted for?”

“Warrior 2/6 this is Thunder X-Ray, that’s affirmative, all Titan 5 personnel are accounted for.”

Closing my eyes, I breathe a sigh of relief.

My driver must have seen something else.

The hollow knot in my chest eases and a weight lifts off of my shoulders.

Titan 5 is secure.

I hear my gunner calling out to me from the other side of the vehicle.

“Sir, Sir! There is an IED over here. I think that there are two of them!”

He has done a sweep around my vehicle to check for IEDs, and in doing so, seems to have found some.

“Roger, show me.”

Walking around the vehicle, I can see a burned and blackened 155mm artillery round lying out on the dirt, amidst the wreckage of the charred Mazda pickup truck. From this distance, I can easily see a long string of white cord running from the nose of the round, which has been packed with some type of plastic explosive.

Lying as it is on the dirt, it seems less an IED than a kickout from a VBIED. When the vehicle bomb exploded and tore itself into shreds, some of the artillery rounds from the bomb were kicked out by the explosion, and failed to explode.

This does not, however, make them any less lethal.

I can see at least four, possibly five of these kickout rounds lying scattered on the pavement and on the dirt. Four or five battered and primed artillery rounds less than 100 meters from my position.


“Alright, stay back. Conduct another sweep up to the northern berm and I will call EOD.”

“Thunder X-Ray this is Warrior 2/6, we need EOD at this location. We have either secondary IEDs or kick-out rounds from a VBIED scattered all over the place.”

“Warrior 2/6, Thunderbolt X-Ray, that’s a good copy. EOD will be enroute.”

In the distance I can see the Apaches circling something to the southwest. To the east, I see a plume of dust rise as two M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks arrive on scene.

“Warrior 2/6 this is Reaper 3, where do you want us?”

“Reaper 3, this is Warrior 2/6, it is good to see you, I want one of your tanks to take up a blocking position on the eastern side, and one of your tanks to circle south around the HUMMWV and take up a blocking position on the western side of the road. Watch out for follow on VBIED attacks.”


One of the 60 ton monsters drives past my position. The Tanks are slung low and squat, with surprisingly sleek lines. The turbine engines grumble and the steel padded treads squeal as the Abrams drives past, sending up a hot cloud of dust and dirt high into the sky.

Now I feel that the site is finally secured.

An hour later, EOD has detonated five 155mm shells in a controlled explosion, and so many units have arrived that the place is swarming with troops. The senior man on the ground far outranks me, and some of the soldiers have found bloodstained fighting positions dug into the berm in the north.

With the amount of blood found in the positions, it is likely that at least some of the insurgents never made it out alive.

Another HUMMWV pulls up, and three soldiers dismount. I can see that their uniforms are stained with blood. One of the soldiers, a sergeant, has his hand and arm swathed in white bandages.

They are soldiers from the Titan 5 patrol, escorted back to brief the Battalion command on what had happened during the ambush.

They look around, as if reliving a dream. I can’t help but notice that they seem to be in good spirits, as if relieved at being back at the scene of the ambush, and still in one piece.

One of the sergeants is standing quietly to the side, watching the flames continue to consume what is left of the HUMMWV.

I walk up to the Sergeant.

“How are you doing Sergeant?”

He turns and smiles.

“Hey Sir, we’re okay. My Lieutenant is hurt pretty bad. He took some shrapnel in the leg, and we had to apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. A couple of the other guys were hit. My arm got scraped up pretty good, but all in all, everyone is still alive.”

I turn my eyes back to the still smoldering HUMMWV.

“What happened?”

“Well, we were traveling east along Robins when our vehicles were hit by RPGs. This pickup truck was rigged as a VCIED, but for some reason it did not explode, so the insurgents hit it with an RPG to try to set it off. After it exploded we took some pretty heavy small arms fire. They must have had at least one RPK there up on the berm.”

He points to the berm on the northwest, and then continues.

“We returned fire over here, and then some of our guys were hit by shrapnel. Basically, we fought until the ammunition ran out, and then we withdrew to evacuate the wounded. My SAW gunner opened up on a couple of them on the bridge, and I saw at least two bodies fall into the water. They took a pretty good beating . . . I think we killed 5 or 6 of them.”

In my head I can picture the entire sequence of events as he describes it.

I glance at my watch. It all occurred about two hours ago.

“When did you leave? We got here about 15 minutes after your call went out, and we couldn’t find you guys. I didn’t know if you had all taken off, or if you were all lying somewhere in a ditch.”

He shakes his head.

“It was my LT that made that call before he was hit. We disengaged once our ammunition starting running low and headed out to evacuate the wounded. We probably left no more than a few minutes before you guys showed up.”

Turning away from me he stares again at the burning vehicle, and then glances at the berm to the north, now crawling with soldiers.

Reaching into my cargo pocket, I pull out the battered half-full 30 round magazine and hand it to him.

“Here, you guys dropped this.”

He reaches out and takes the magazine, weighing it in his palm.

Then he smiles as he looks back up at me.

“Shit, Sir, if we had known you were coming so quickly, we would have just stayed here.”
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