Sunday, June 19, 2005

"A Righteous Catch"

The dirt road stretches off to the east, disappearing into a grove of dark palms lining the horizon. The road is bordered on either side by a deep canal, hedged with the long thin stalks of river reeds. Squinting into the sun as I cleaned my ballistic glasses, I could see the four door black Opal approaching, a trail of dust marking its passage.

Something is not right. Instead of approaching the snap check point, the black Opal slows almost to a stop, far short of where it needs to be. Stepping forward, I waive my hand over my head, trying to get the car to approach. It is apparent that the driver of the Opal is thinking about turning and running, and I want him to see that we are watching him, and that running would bring its own consequences.

The black surface of the Opal is coated with a light white film of dust, and thru the glare of the sun off the dirty windshield, I can see the two occupants of the car talking. After a few seconds, the Opal picks up speed and slowly approaches the checkpoint.

As the Opal grinds to a halt, its occupants enter into a frenzy of activity. The driver, a young man in his early 20s, wearing Real Madrid Futbol sweatpants, and a light blue button down shirt, jumps out and immediately opens the hood. The passenger, a darker, wiry man with a swarthy five o’clock shadow moves to the rear of the car and opens the trunk. A detached part of me notices that his right hand is missing three fingers, and that what was left of his hand is a scarred, misshapen, boneless mass.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the passenger pulling a white burlap sack out of the trunk and tucking it behind the rear passenger side tire.

“Sir! Sir! That motherfucker just put something behind the tire! I saw him fucking do it!”

One of the gunners in the turret of a HMMWV in over-watch is shouting his head off.

“Roger, I saw it too.”

The search team, fully alarmed, raise their weapons and approach the two occupants of the vehicle.

“Get the fuck down!”

“What’s in the fucking sack!?”

To my left, a soldier tells the driver to get on his knees. The driver begins to protest loudly in Arabic, waving his hands in the air attempting to explain his innocence.

The sudden, loud, metallic clacking of a shotgun racking a round into the chamber cuts him short. The soldier with the shotgun casually raises the blunt muzzle and points it at the driver. The driver, suddenly still, ceases his protests immediately and falls down on his knees.

The sergeant in charge of the search team gestures at the sack and shouts at the still standing passenger, “Open the fucking sack! Open it now!”

The passenger, his face gone a pale shade of brown, is standing over the sack, ignoring the shouted instructions and gestures. Despite all the shouting, he is attempting to pretend the sack does not exist.

I reach into my holster and pull out my 9mm Beretta. Pointing it at the passenger with one hand, I pull the translator over with the other, “Charlie, tell that motherfucker to open the god damned sack.”

Charlie complies, and the passenger tears his eyes away from the pistol and looks down at the sack. He looks up again at the pistol aimed steadily at his face, and then back down at the sack.

With sweat running down his forehead, he slowly reaches down and opens the sack.

For a few seconds everything is still as a three foot long metal cylinder rolls out of the sack, its end capped with a piece of black plastic. The passenger steps away from the cylinder, looking nervously at it. Then a soldier calls out, “What the fuck is that!”

I stand motionless for a second, looking at the metal cylinder and at the nervous passenger. I don’t know that the cylinder is, but whatever it is, it is not good.

“Alright, everyone get the fuck back!”

The search team backs away from the metal cylinder. One soldier runs up and grabs the passengers collar firmly, forcing him into the dirt and on his face. I can tell that despite having his face in the dirt, the passenger is still trying to keep his eyes on my pistol.

The sergeant in charge of the search team pulls everyone back away from the car, and has the two passengers blindfolded and zip-tied with their hands behind their backs. Charlie the interpreter is furiously questioning the two men, asking them what that cylinder is. The men, separated from each other, are at first refusing to answer the questions, and then they begin blaming each other.

I walk over to my HMMWV and get on the radio, “Cobra X-Ray, this is Warrior 2/6. We have an unidentified object that appears to be an explosive device of some sort. We have two men detained and we pulled it out of a Black Opal that they were driving. I need EOD here ASAP, Over.”

Instead of hearing from Cobra X-Ray, I get a response from Deathstalker 1/0, an Apache that has just begun circling overhead, flying low so that the pilots can make out what is happening on the ground.

“Warrior 2/6 this is Deathstalker 1/0, Cobra X-Ray is having some commo trouble this morning, but I will pass along your EOD request up to your X-Ray element.” The birds take up a holding pattern overhead, flying in slow steady circles around our position.

“Roger Deathstalker 1/0, that’s a good copy.”

One of the soldiers turns to me, his face flushed with excitement, “Sir, I think I saw them throw something from the window of the vehicle back there when they slowed down.”

I look up the road in the direction the Opal had approached. A quarter mile away, one of the patrol’s HMMWV is blocking access to the road, preventing anyone from approaching the Opal and the metal cylinder.

I notice that in front of the HMMWV a traffic jam of sorts is forming. On this back country road, pickup trucks loaded with produce begin to stack up as their access to the market place in town is blocked.

I turn to the squad leader, but he is already on it. “Alright,” he says into the handset, “send a team up both sides of the road. Search for any secondary devices or anything they might have tossed from the Opal.” It doesn’t take long.

“Sir, we found something… it appears to be some kind of warhead. They must have thrown it out of the window when they slowed down back here.”

“Roger, leave it in place till EOD arrives.”

The controlled explosion sends a cloud of smoke three stories into the sky. The sudden heat ignites the grassy field, leaving a 30 meter long swarth of blackened stubble, a small fire burning out around the edges. The detainees, blindfolded and ziptied, are secured in the back of two vehicles. The Opal, its license plates removed, is sitting on the side of the road, its trunk still open and its keys in my pocket.

The EOD Sergeant walks up, his face streaked with sweat and dirt, and an acrid smell fills the air as the smoke from the explosion and fire disperses.

“So what was that thing?” I ask as he stops and takes a pull from a bottle of “Abraaj” water, the sides of the bottle glistening with condensation.

“That, was what I call a righteous catch, Sir.” his Southern Californian accent immediately apparent.

He continues, slightly gasping for air, “What you had there was a 57mm Rocket with a high explosive warhead and a proximity fuse used for air burst.”

He takes another pull of water and nods his head with a smile, “That was definitely a righteous catch.”


Blogger Gimpy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog. Great writing. Make it into a book when you get home. This is what we miss completely in the States just the stories of what's going on. No political opinionating just a report of actions that are occurring. You are doing a great service to your country by bringing the war home and allowing us to remember that there are people out there doing the most extraordinary things. I wish you and your comrades the very best and that you all come home safe.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Heatherwhip said...

I check your site first thing every morning when i arrive at the office. It has come to be my way of sorta checking up on you and making sure you are safe! No joke kiddo, you have You are such an amazing writer. I have forwarded your site to my father thinking he of all people (being a retired army col.) would appreciate your stories and insight in what is happening. If only more people has the insight of what really happens and not just what the news wants us to hear. Please be safe so you someday can visit NYC again...or at least so you can come home and buy that boat and write your book :)

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Arianne said...


RE: The writing....I told you so, didn't I!
Keep it coming and don't forget to post an address, if you've got one.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful and Frightening I wish I could read it at a safe emotional distance, like a novel.

7:05 PM  

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