Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thank You

Leaving the Alamo and walking to the front gate, I can feel the sweat trickling down the back of my neck. Three hours after the sun has set, it is still unusually hot. The wind blows in earthly gusts, fluttering the frayed plastic bags caught up in the concertina wire and giving the night a haunted, uneasy feel.

Walking thru the gate and past the sandbag reinforcements, the armored vehicle staged out front looms up at me in the darkness.

The gunner is up in his turret, silhouetted against the night sky as he scans for trouble. A bright red cherry colored light flares up, and in the light of the lit cigarette, I can see the face of the Sergeant of the Guard, talking quietly with the driver who is monitoring the radio.

Suddenly, the radio silence is broken by a transmission by my Platoon Sergeant, who is on a patrol out in the town.

“Warrior Alamo, this is Warrior 2/7, we have heard multiple shots fired to the north. Somewhere along the Wahabi market street. We are moving to check it out.”

Reaching past the driver, I pick up the handset in the vehicle.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 2/6, that’s a good copy.”

Turning and looking to the north, the district seems quiet.

It is almost too quiet.

Unusually for this time of night, there are no vehicles driving past the Alamo on the road running east to west along no-mans-land. Instead the buildings sit silently in the dark, outlined only by the occasional naked, fluorescent light bulb harshly illuminating their exteriors.

The night’s silence is again broken by my Platoon Sergeants excited voice.

“Warrior Alamo, this is Warrior 2/7, we are in pursuit of a black Opel. There has been a drive by shooting, and at least one person is down. The gunmen are in a black Opel that is driving north along the market road.”

“Roger, are there any other casualties?”

“Negative, at this time, I believe that only one man was hit.”

My Company Commander breaks in from where he has been listening at the Company headquarters back in the rear.

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

“Warrior 6 this is Warrior 2/7, we are in pursuit of gunmen in a black Opel, they are running north up the Wahabi market street and heading to the bridge. How far north can we chase?”

I can picture my Company Commander back in the rear, leaning into the handset of the radio and wishing that he was out in the field giving chase to the insurgents.

“Warrior 2/7 this is Warrior 6, you can chase that bad boy from here until you run out of gas! Keep me updated.”


Standing next to the driver and monitoring the Platoon net, I can hear my Platoon Sergeant giving commands to his element as the patrol gives chase.

Thru the radio I can hear the tension in his voice and the whine of a vehicle engine as it begins to accelerate madly up the road.

Suddenly, two white headlights flash out and a mini-van pulls up to the gate. Three men jump out and start speaking loudly with the Iraqi Police stationed at the gate.

They are gesticulating wildly and the urgency in their voices is clear.

I motion to Steve, my interpreter, to accompany me around the concrete barriers forming the chicane and up to the minivan idling in front of the gate. As I move forward, the minivan shuts off it’s headlights, plunging everything into shadows.

As I approach, two of the men fall silent, and a third man steps forward. He is shorter than the others, but possessive of a quiet authority. His dark brown hair is cut short, and it looks as if he has not shaved for a few days.

I can feel the strength of his gaze on me in the dark.

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

“A’sallam Alechem”

“Alechem Sallam,” comes the reply, and the man immediately launches into a passionate monologue in Arabic.

Motioning to the vehicle, he looks at me expectantly.

“What is it?”

Steve replies quietly, his normal cheerful nature subdued.

“He says his brother has been shot. He is in the van.”

Reaching into my pocket I pull out my LED flashlight and step over to the van. Leaning into the interior, I notice someone lying down on the seat in the back, his feet curled under him.

On the passenger seat, clad in dark blue pants and a brown shirt is his brother. In the powerful white glow of the LEDs I can see that his face is a sheet of red. His shirt is twisted and completely soaked with blood. Where the rounds have hit, the shirt is stuck to his body.

With a brief glance, I can tell that the man had been shot multiple times in the torso and the head.

He is the victim from the drive-by shooting.

Shutting off my flashlight, I turn from the body and face his brother. I can tell that he is having difficulty trying to control his emotions.

“First, tell him that I am very sorry for his loss. Then ask him to tell me what happened.”

The man listens to the translation for a second, and then nods his head. He glances at his brothers standing behind him, and then back at me.

“He says that a car pulled up and a man wearing a headwrap jumped out with an AK-47. His brother was sitting in front of the shop that he owns, and the man shot him. He then walked up to his brother’s body, and shot him in the head to make sure he was dead.”

I look quietly at the man. I can tell that he and his two brothers are controlling their anguish.


This death is too new. Now that the concerted action of bringing their brother to the Iraqi Police Station has ceased, in the quiet night their loss is finally beginning to sink in.

“Tell them that we are currently in pursuit of the vehicle that we suspect was involved in the shooting. Is there any reason why their brother would have been targeted?”

The man blinks at the news, and then shakes his head “no.”

“My brother was a peaceful man, he was shot for no reason that we know of.”

I am glad that no one can see my face in the dark.

“Alright, I know that this is a difficult time for you, but you have to accompany the Iraqi Police to their offices and fill out some paperwork. I promise you, that if we can do anything to kill or capture the men that shot your brother, we will.”

The man looks at me silently for a second, and then places his hand over his heart.

“Thank you,” he says in halting English.

The man then turns away and gets back into the vehicle with his brothers body. As the minivan starts to move, the other two brothers walk alongside the vehicle. They are giving their brother an escort thru the concrete chicane and over to the Iraqi Police station.

Watching the minivan pull thru the entrance, I say a silent prayer for the dead man and his family.

Walking back to the HUMMWV, I pick up the radio handset.

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

“Warrior 2/6 this is Warrior 2/7, we are currently north of the bridge, heading south on ‘Route Maples,’ and we are no longer in pursuit of the Opel.”

For a second there is silence on the net.

“The Opel got away.”

I can hear the tired frustration in my Platoon Sergeants voice. I can only imagine that the rest of his patrol is feeling the same way.

“Warrior 2/7, this is Warrior 2/6, you did everything you could. Come back to the Alamo.”

“Roger Warrior 2/6, on our way back now.”

I force myself to relax my hand which has involuntarily curled into a fist around the black plastic handset.



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