Just got back from maybe the most miserable 10 day stretch of my life. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite had this combination of misery, thirst, heat, humidity, fatigue, lack of sleep, work, shot-at’s, mortar attacks, suicide bombers, bugs, spiders, heat rash, prickly heat, filling sand bags, carrying sand bags, stacking sand bags, diving for cover, headaches, adrenaline rushes, fire-team rushes, hunger, sun, sweat and aches. But now I’m back.
We were only supposed to go out for 6 days, we got extended to 8, and then extended to 10. Since we only packed for 8, we really started running low on water. Running low on water in Iraq, in 110 degree heat, with stagnant pools of canal water evaporating around you is like a bar in Madison running out of beer during happy hour. Nobody was happy. At one point my squad had to insert into a location to watch a critical intersection in our area. We were going to be there for 24 hours before getting relieved, so we had to pack in all of our water. I humped in a full case, but only managed to get 3 bottles because everyone else was running low. At one point I had to pee incredibly bad, which I though was weird, because I was sweating gallons but only drinking tea cups. I went to pee, and it was close to the color of Coke. Not trying to be gross, but that’s some serious dehydration. I’m not sure that I have ever gone 10 staight days where I never once stopped sweating, but that’s how it was out there. You would lay down to sleep and you would just start dripping sweat. Your pillow would soak straight through, there was definitely no "cool as the other side of the pillow" effect. Combine that with the bugs. I felt like I was in a "Feed the Children" commercial where they show all those starving kids with flies crawling around their mouths and eyes. I used to always watch that and think "how can you not swat at them???" Well I figured it out. It’s a combination of lack of energy and not being able to tell the difference between a fly and a bead of sweat rolling down your skin.
What else made this a pretty bad 10 days?? Well al Qaeda decided they wanted to come out for a few rounds. The first few days were pretty mild, except for all the stories we were hearing from people in our area. It seemed that every household you talked to had a horror story about what al Qaeda had been up to in the area for the past two months. Then around the fifth day, we were at a patrol base when about 6 of them decided to start unloading some AK fire into our house. I of course was sleeping, and awoke to the incredibly loud crack that rounds make as they snap past the air around you and impact cement. We ended up repelling that attack pretty easy with the machine guns mounted on our trucks.
A couple days later, at a different PB, second platoon had some dumb terrorist try and hit them with a suicide car bomb. He drove past their patrol base, which was about a kilometer away from us, realized that he couldn’t get past their security measures, and just blew himself up about 30 meters away from their house. It was so big it rocked us into thinking we were getting hit. What an idiot. This illiterate ass probably sucked at life, got duped into thinking he could get a ticket to heaven, got a class on some boom boom, was told where to find us, drove there and wasted himself on a fireworks show that hurt no one and pretty much damaged nothing. Turns out he sucked at jihad too.
Let’s see what else. One of our squads got fired on from a mosque. Real classy al Qaeda. Fire from the one building we’re not allowed to engage. That one only last a few minutes. Second platoon was fired on from a house and a car on a patrol, I watched them call in air support from the rooftop of our PB, once again jealous that someone else was getting to do it. But I only had to be patient…
I think it was the next day. I was on patrol with the squad, on a mission to go sweep for IEDs along a road. We were walking towards a market place that is a pretty big trouble spot for us. When we got about 300 meters away, we were opened up on from about 3 different machine gun positions. This trumps all for the scariest moment of my life. I’ve been shot at numerous times over here, and I’ve been in a major firefight, but the difference here was the enemy had tracers. That means that I could SEE the rounds coming in at us. It was a classic ambush and the squad was right in the kill zone. The worst part was we were out in the open, and there was NO cover. We all dove into some waist high grass. I was sure that we had taken at least 3 casualties in those opening seconds but miraculously we took none, a real miracle. As we were organizing our response in the grass you could hear rounds impacting all around you, and you could hear them ripping through the grass over our heads, they were practically mowing a lawn with the amount of fire they were throwing at us. We got our bearing and started firing back. Our machine gun team did an awesome job, got set up and started putting a lot of accurate rounds at them.
I called for Colbert, my radio operator, and told him to get over to me. Now I need to talk for a second about Colbert. I love this kid. He’s a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma. Nobody can understand a single word he says, and he falls flat on his face on every patrol I mean flat on his face. He never braces himself, he never hits his knees first. He falls like a tree. But he is never not smiling and he works harder than anyone in the squad. He also, being one of the guys that carries a radio, dreams of calling in air. And before we left on this patrol, he turned around and said, "Hey Corporal Wood, I’m rolling with the radio on air tac cuz we got it on station, hopefully we got to use it." (of course it didn’t actually sound like that, and it took me a while to translate what he said)
So here he is running across the road. I’m watching him as he’s running, tracers hitting asphalt all around him. For the first time he’s not smiling, and for the first time he doesn’t fall. He dove down right next to me, looked up, smiled and said "We gonna call in air???"
I got on the radio and tried reaching air.
Maverick Maverick this is Golf-3-Charlie
I called for them about 10 times, before a forward air controller got on and said that our air was not scheduled to be on station for another 25 minutes.
The FAC asked me the situation.
We’re pinned down on two sides by automatic machine gun fire. Casualties unknown. Need immediate air support.
The FAC said he’d scramble some support right away. He got back on and said that he was scrambling some fighter pilots, but they were 120 miles out, and our scheduled helo support was launching early to bail us out.
I then heard the fighter pilots get on the tac.
Golf-3-Charlie this is (blank) we are 120 miles out from your pos, ETA 5 minutes.
About 30 seconds later they said the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.
Golf-3-Charlie, we are super sonic.
The only thing that would have been better is if we had pulled out some serious Top Gun lines like "We’re too close for missiles, switching to guns" or if I had said "5 MINUTES?!? This thing’ll be over in 3!!"
At this point in the firefight I unfortunately had to pass the radio off to another member of the squad because we were beginning to get flanked to the south. I really can’t even give a narrative from this point because so much started happening. The fight was over just as air got on station (they should have launched Maverick and Goose on ready 5), which I’m not going to complain about, because like I said, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered.
Well enough about that one. Well actually not quite. After the firefight we returned to the patrol base, where, like Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, we were told "Ummm….Yeah…we’re gonna need you to go back out and finish that mission." Awesome.
I finally got some sleep that night. About 7 straight hours, which felt like 20. Got a good wake up call too. It was a mortar landing about 5 feet outside the wall of our house. Right after, machine gun fire started pouring in through the windows…and then more mortars starting falling. The machine gun fire was so loud that you couldn’t even yell and get people organized, well that and some of the people had busted ear drums from the first mortar. I threw my flak and helmet on, still just in my underwear, and ran to a doorway to see what the hell was going on. This is gonna go down as my second scariest moment, sneaking right ahead of the Wizard of Oz and the time a spider landed on me in the shower. Everyone in the house honestly thought we were about to get overrun. I honestly thought as I pointed my rifle out the door that I was going to be aiming in on about 50 insurgents charging with bayonets fixed. VERY luckily, that did not happen. This attack did raise some serious questions though. If you die in your underwear, do your buddies tell anyone? Also, one of our Doc’s was using the restroom when the first mortar hit, very close to where he was. He had no gear with him. He dove onto the ground and was faced with a major dilemma. Do you wipe before you run for your gear?? Or do you just go? He opted for wiping, which, lying down, I’m not even sure is anatomically possible. My buddy Muir was brushing his teeth when it happened. He dove onto the ground and grabbed his rifle. About 2 minutes later he realized that he was still holding his tooth brush. He thought, do I drop my toothbrush on the ground?? I mean, we still have a couple of days left, and I’ll need to brush my teeth. He must of dropped it because we never found it.
Once again, we were lucky. We only had to medevac one guy, he was on post on the roof, right above where the first one landed and was knocked unconscious for about a minute and a half. He must have torn his tempanic membrane because we was in complete vertigo when he came too, he couldn’t walk and had no idea what was up and down. A bunch of other people got
concussions and some scrapes and cuts from shattering glass, but overall like I said we were lucky.
-I dominated a few games of Uno. Unfortunately the number of games I won was vastly overshadowed by the number I lost.
-I’m terrible at Soduku, so don’t bother sending anymore of those books.
-It is possible to sweat so much at night that you honestly cannot tell when you wake up whether you wet the bed.
-A cow will pee on a patch of grass and immediately turn around and eat that same grass like it’s something Miles Davis would do. Seriously, I saw this about three different times on security halts.