Single shots rang out, somewhere to the south, and I received the radio call from the senior sergeant in the observation position.
“Sir, we can hear shots being fired to the south. Approximately 1,000 meters.”
“Roger, get down here, we are going to check it out.”
The team came hurtling down the narrow brick steps and piled into the four armored vehicles that made up the patrol. Thru the static of the radio, I notified Battalion that the observation team had heard shots fired.
The HMMWVs sped past the aging tourist signs in Arabic and down the dirty narrow streets to the south. A large stone building, with a rusting sheet metal roof came into view.
The patrol pulled to a screeching halt outside the building, and the dismount squad got out, weapons at the ready. The gunners checked their sectors of fire with their crew served weapons, swiveling the big guns to cover the most likely avenues of approach.
I dismounted and took a team around the right side of the building. It was a wrecked factory, rusty metal machines exposed to the sun and dirt. A confused, sleepy faced man in a white robe approached, straightening his clothing and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Behind him, lay a stone courtyard, the crumbling gray brick walls crooked and poorly made. An open window in the courtyard revealed the shadowy form of a woman lying on a small bed.
Shots rang out in the distance, to the north, closer to the Ziggurat.
Turning my back on the sleepy faced man, I made a decision. “Alright, we are going to do a dismounted patrol north along the road, the vehicles will stage here and act as reinforcements.”
The dismounted squad fanned out, their weapons at the ready, and their faces grim and serious beneath the sweat and dust. The soldiers tan suede boots kicked up small puffs of dirt as they moved cautiously, scanning both sides of the road for contact.
Overhead, two attack helicopters roared by from the south, the thin blades of their rotors screaming in the pale blue sky. Under the spotless glass of the cockpit, the pilots could be clearly seen, strapped into their seats.
A man’s deep scratchy voice broke the silence on the radio, “Warrior 2/6 this is Killer 6, do you need assistance?”
“Roger Killer 6, nice to see you, we are hearing gunfire but haven’t located the source. It is coming from the north of our position. Scan north up the road and notify me if you see anything.”
The Apaches circled, casting long quick shadows on the ground as they scanned the road. The dirt road was bordered on either side by thick groves of palm trees, and ahead, the Ziggurat towered into the sky around a bend. The green of the palm trees looked faded, as if their vibrant colors had been dusted over and muted in the sun.
A sharp report sounded, just around the bend ahead, and the soldiers on point moved quickly forward to engage, their weapons held at eye level as they moved by twos down the road. I could feel sweat running down my forehead and into my eyes. Blinking rapidly did little to remove the sting. A single bead of sweat ran down my back between my shoulder blades, where the body armor prevented any itching.
Moving forward quickly toward the sound of the gunfire, I notified battalion of the situation. The Apaches, monitoring the net in the distance, turned their slim, lethal forms into the sun and moved back toward my position.
Suddenly, the point man's right hand thrust into the air, giving the signal to halt. The squad froze in place, giving the soldier time to assess the situation. Over the radio, the calm voice of a team leader broke the silence, “Sir, you have to get up here.”
“What is it?”
“Kids… with fireworks.”
Standing on the side of the road stood three children. Their faces delighted at all of the attention. On the ground lay yellow and red wrappers, some blown into tiny pieces, other wrappers still whole enough to reveal the Chinese lettering on their sides. Char marks dotted the road where they had been set off.
“Look Sir,” One of my team leaders held the small yellow and red firework in a gloved hand. He lit it with a disposable blue bic lighter, and tossed it into the road as the Apaches screamed overhead once again.
The report sounded just like a gunshot.