The whole of the 11 or 12 days we were out this time was pretty crazy. The bad vibe we had was set by the experiences that I wrote about below regarding our two engineers being wounded. It didn’t really ever pick up until about three days before we left.
So what made this op so bad? Where does one begin? How about three members of my squad went down as heat casualties in the days that followed. Each on of them had core body temperatures that exceeded 103 degrees. If you aren’t aware, that’s high, and its really bad news if it’s 125 degrees outside. Those aren’t really ideal conditions to try and bring down a fever in. It goes without saying that we got some good practice at giving IV’s, and something called the "silver bullet", which, if you know how a core body temperature is taken, you shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out.
What next? Well, we were out on a patrol, south of the platoon patrol base when suddenly we heard an enormous explosion to the north. It was so loud that we thought we were caught in a mortar storm, but it came over the radio that MAP platoon’s patrol base had been hit by a suicide car bomb. Next thing that came over the radio was get your asses their, fast. My team took point and we started heading north. We figured that with the route we were going to have to take to circumnavigate the canals we had about a 2.4 k movement. I moved up to second in order of movement to try and keep the whip on my point man, he set a FAST pace. But, the recipe of full gear, middle of the day heat, rough terrain and two pogues who never patrol attached to the squad because of the heat casualties equaled some serious trouble. We had 3 guys puke up their lunch on the way over. When we finally got there and I crested the berm and laid eyes on the waste I could only stare. We had heard on the radio a medevac request for 14 surgical and urgent surgicals, that’s the most I’ve ever heard. Looking at the destruction I could only imagine how bad they must have been (by this point the medevac had already happened). I was relieved to find out that not a single one of them was life threatening and no limbs had been lost, just lots of major lacerations from secondary shrapnel inside the house. This wasn’t so much a suicide car bomb as it was a suicide dumb truck, a big orange one to be exact. The crater it left would have made a killer swimming pool, and the force of the blast actually took a 10 ton humvee and flipped it through the air like a toy, landing on its side in the middle of the courtyard. The force must have been incredible. Anyways, we had to hold security while MAP went through the wreckage and tried to find all their gear, recover vehicles, etc. Meanwhile, our doc was busy dosing out IVs to guys in the squad who had shown us their lunch on the way over. All in all, it wasn’t an average Tuesday.
Things didn’t slowdown for us though. The next day we were in an overwatch position observing an intersection when we heard our patrol base get mortared. Watching mortars fall around where your buddies are sleeping isn’t exactly what you want front row seats for.
The next day it got weird. Muir and I were talking in the house, and he was telling me about how 4th platoon had let insurgents sneak up on a truck at their patrol base and plant an IED underneath that they later detonated. No kidding, just as he finishes this story we hear a boom. We thought it was mortars again, but someone comes in yelling that there was a blast under our 7 ton truck. No way. We got confirmation that an IED had just detonated under our truck. Muir and I just start laughing. You want to know the weirdest/worst thing about it? Al Qaeda forced a 6 or 7 year old kid to plant the bomb. Our post had actually seen the kid walking around in the area of the truck with the backpack. Is that awful or what? On top of that AQ walked up to a house in the small village we were based in, dressed as farmers and carrying AKs in rice bags. They took a family hostage and watched us from their house, and when they left they made them take us a message that if we didn’t leave that night they were going to kill all of us. Real classy Jihad Joe.
So where did the 11 days ever improve? Well we moved out of the area, we missed our deadline though, damn, not exactly men of their word are they? Looks like they tried to keep it though, because for the next three days they made what amounted to an attempt.
The attempt began early one morning. We were out on a patrol and decided to set up on the roof of a house to observe a sector that the Iraqi Police were working in. So were up there, watching the Iraqi police move around when all the sudden they get attacked by AQ. We were about 400 meters away when this happened and we could only see the IP’s, not AQ, which made it so that we could not engage to help them (it doesn’t help that for the most part IPs do not wear uniforms). It was really weird. I remember thinking back to history classes where they said that in the opening battles of the Civil War people would come out from the nearby villages and picnic while watching the fight. That’s kinda what this felt like. It was relatively easy to keep the mood light, even though we were watching men shoot at each other, because if you’ve ever seen most of these guys shoot, you know they aren’t going to hit each other. Anyways, I felt like I was at a Lakers game or something. It seemed like the only thing that was missing was nachos, a cold, vastly overpriced beer, and a giant foam finger. We would actually cheer when we saw them do something tactically sound. The fight lasted for about 30 minutes, at which time the IPs drove by where we were, all smiles, seeking our praise, acting like they were in a ticker-tape parade.
The attempt continued. Our Alpha squad then punched out a patrol into the area that the fighting had taken place in to try and find some intel on what was going on. Well, they didn’t bring an interpreter, so my squad had to pick him up and take him to them. As we were patrolling towards them we heard gunshots in the background, but this is completely normal in the Zaidon, and its easy to tell when its dangerous to you. It goes like this-
-If you hear the gunshot, they aren’t shooting at you, because bullets travel faster than sound.
-If you hear a whiz, they’re shooting around you.
-If you hear a snap, and then the rifle fire, scream an expletive and then either run or get down, because they’re shooting at you, and they’re actually coming close.
Well, the gunshots soon turned to whizzes. We were in a completely open field. I mean Iowa farmland open, like Idiots Out Wandering Around, Field of Dreams open. So we picked out pace up a little bit. Then we heard a snap, and then we heard a lot of snaps. It was about time to get the piano off our back, we ran for the house that Alpha was in, got there about 150 meters later, and got in.
"Well, we got the terp now, so you guys can go ahead and head back."
If I hadn’t been doubled over wheezing I would have said something in protest. Luckily the fire started to subside, so heading back actually didn’t sound like a bad idea, especially since we hadn’t slept in two days and rest was waiting for us back at the patrol base.
We had a total of about 400 meters to cover going back, all of it tilled farmland with intermittent canals and one solitary house halfway there. We decided to run for it in teams. My team would be last. I had it so that me and the other biggest guy in the squad, LCpl Kelly, were the last ones to go, so that we could pick up anyone that may get hit. The first team runs for it and makes it to the halfway house. No fire taken. Allright, this might not be too bad. My team went. Snap. Snapsnapsnap. Snapsnapsnapsnapsnapsnap. Well, this isn’t exactly going as planned. The team already there opened up with some cover fire, and who other than 'Machine Gun Steve Wherry' opened up from where we were running from on a 240 machine gun.
I have seen a lot of action movies in my life, you know, the cheesy shoot from the hip, never have to change magazine in my weapon type, and in them a lot of things that I figured I would never do in combat. One of those is the commando roll. No one actually does a forward somersault in full gear. I put that debate to rest because I saw a sand pile right in front of the house I was running to and I head over heels somersaulted right into it, snaps chasing the whole way.
Gee, that was fun, luckily we’re only halfway! We get to do it all again! This time we got smart and started popping smoke canisters like it was Halloween in Madison and ran back through a yellow cloud.
So, Al Qaeda actually wants to do this, huh? Coming over here I never pictured being in a fight that would be sustained over hours, let alone days. But, AQ was being feisty and wanted to stick around.
Alpha fought from the house they were in for the remainder of the day. Bravo squad had dibs on the next day, and then it was us on day three. Back at the patrol base we were using marksmen to take them out, and calling in artillery counterfire missions on them when they fired mortars at us.
The fight lasted about 3 days. We got a lot of em. It helped that we called in 2,000 pounds worth of precision smart bombs on them. You think AQ would have learned their lesson when we dropped some 500 pounders on them the first day, buuuut no. You would also think they would learn that Marine Corps marksmen can reach out and touch you at about 1,000 meters. Lucky for us they stuck around.
Well, now here I am, back in Camp Fallujah. We finally have something now where we can say that we really did make a significant difference over here. There are definately fewer terrorists in the Zaidon now.