Sit Rep Report From A grunt in Iraq non mass media

kalakala 3,347 Posts
edited September 2006 in Strut Central
this is from someone's brother who is in "The Shit"truth is there and holmes can scribeHey all--Sorry for the long silence; yet another commoblackout due to casualties from units on this FOB.This is a pretty long post; a lot of stuff has beengoing on, and that, added to enforced quarantine fromthe Internet, meant that I had plenty of time towrite. Hope it's worth churning through. Here goes:This is your midterm exam for Combat Existentialism101. Please ensure that you use a Number 2 pencil toanswer all questions. Completely color in all answerbubbles; do not check or tick the answers. Pleaseanswer all 'Other' questions using ten words or less.Reaction time is a factor in this test, so please payattention and answer as quickly as you can. You maybegin.........now.1. It is the morning of the day on which you willdie. For breakfast, you:(a.) have a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs,toast and coffee that your wife cooked for you in thekitchen of your Victorian townhouse(b.) enjoy eggs benedict on a rice cake with a sidehelping of tofu granola and wheatgrass, and a steaming mug of soy latte double decaf.(c.) smoke five Camel Light cigarettes and chug alukewarm can of Colombian taste' coffee that was really made in a factory in Saudi Arabia.(d.) noon is too late for breakfast2. It is the morning of the day on which you willdie. After breakfast, you:(a.) decide that you are going to have a good day.(b.) decide that, once again, you are going to have ashitty day and vow to make the little bastards at the office / in the classroom / upstairs pay accordingly.(c.) take your usual choice of antidepressant andhope for the best.(d.) Other(explain)_____________________________________3. It is the morning of the day on which you will die. You are deciding on what to wear for the occasion. You:(a.) Put on your best suit and tie, and pick areally nice boutonni??re from your rose garden in thebackyard.(b.) today is casual day at the cubicle farm.(c.) Put on the same tan and gray digitized uniformyou've worn for a week,accented with 240 rounds of 5.56mm ball ammo and three 40mm grenades(d.) the ashram has only one kind of robe.4. It is the morning of the day on which you willdie. You spend the day:(a.) at the park with your children, making sure they know how much you care about them.(b.) making passionate love with your significantother.(c.) blowing the $2345.75 in your checking accounton beer and hookers.(d.) briefly looking at an old Polaroid of the wifeyou haven't seen in four months, before you go cruising through an Arab neighborhood filled raw sewage and foreign people that would like nothing else than to gleefully chop your head off.Okay, I could go on with this for some time, but Ithink that will do. Just something strange that popped into my head on patrol yesterday, inspired, I think, by a Harlan Ellison short story and a John D. MacDonald book which I read years ago when I was a kid. Not sure why they are reappearing in the cramped interior of a HMMWV in Baghdad, but they did.I think the message they were trying to get across is this: What would you do differently if you knew that you were going to die today? Really knew it? In the 'normal' world, we may wonder about death everyso often, usually after watching a disturbing movie,or maybe after we see an obituary of someone we onceknew in the paper. But, unless you are grappling witha serious illness, or wondering what that semi isdoing crossing into your rain-soaked lane at 4 a.m.,or have decided that skydiving this weekend might be agreat way to "bond" with your new girlfriend, itprobably doesn't seem like a real possibility to you.It struck me a couple times recently, waking upin the afternoon of Day 4 of the midnight patrolschedule, and looking at the bleary world with theuber-clarity of the terminally sleep deprived--what ifthis really is the last day I'm here? Would I talk tothe guy behind the counter of the store where I buy mymorning coffee the same way, if I knew I will die in4.5 hours? Would I choose to spend the last few hourson Earth 'reading the articles' in a dog-eared Playboyin the stifling and odoriferous comfort of aporta-john, or yelling at a co-worker because his TPSreport is late (again) or haranguing my daughter overthe phone on the crucial and therefore expensivedetails of raising her children? Yeah, I know, we'veall heard this crap before, and probably betterenunciated than this, but it has been a bit of arevelation for me when thinking and feeling it in realterms.Okay, on to more interesting topics. Yesterday wasthe one of the most action packed and enjoyable dayson patrol yet. We got shot at with automatic weaponsby a whole bunch of people on not one, but twoseparate occasions, and got to watch a giantgasoline-hauling semi truck explode into flames in themiddle of a gunbattle on a four lane highway. It wascool, and only a couple of people got killed, none ofthem anyone we know, or even American, so it's okayand you can fully enjoy the spectacle without feelingguilty.Yesterday started with a particularly silly morning;silly in the British sense of being witty and quitedroll, and thankfully not in the U.S. military senseof being subjected to the latest 'bright ideacook-off' of some West Point graduate.We're now so used to prepping our trucks formission that the whole chore takes about 30 minutes,compared to the 2 hours that it used to. I was in anunreasonably good mood, primarily brought about by theaforementioned downing of cigarettes and Saudicappuccino-in-a-can; that and the three hours of sleepthe night before.I was doing my best British Brigadier impersonation,lecturing my soldiers (note: start Sandhurst accentnow) about "how we must venture out into the UnchartedSands of Mesopotamia in Service to the our belovedQueen, and how we must be particularly Vigilant incase we should stumble upon any Wogs. Said Wogs areParticularly Nasty Blighters, and should be Avoided atall costs, due to their affinity for High Explosivesand Buggering Sheep. These Wogs can by identified bythe brightly colored Tea Cozies that they have takento wearing upon their Heads, for reasons as yetUnknown, but no doubt having to do with their worshipof someone known as Allah. I am not personallyacquainted with this Chap myself, but am QuiteSuspicious of him, since I never met anyone with sucha name while at Eaton." This went on for for quitesome time, and even took a detour through the 'How toDefend Yourself from an Attack by Fresh Fruit"routine, until my soldiers, having been neglected assmall children and not properly indoctrinated in MontyPython, begged me to stop. At which point I painted a"Flying Tigers" shark mouth on the bumper of ourHMMWV, and announced to the squad leader that we wereready for combat.Since the Wog has blown up most of the Main SupplyRoutes (MSRs) in our little slice of East Baghdad,many of the major roads have been designated as Black,which means that we can't drive on them. This isactually pretty cool, since it means that we have todrive through the mahallahs. My squad leader, SSGThompson, was one of the few NCOs to pay attentionduring our training in Kuwait, and, like me, is astrong believer in Not Being Predictable. This meansthat a drive from one checkpoint
to another, whichused to take 5-10 minutes using the main roads, nowtakes 2 hours, as we wind through the back alley ways,side streets and sewer tunnels (a la the originalItalian Job--these are some seriously big sewers, youshould see them) in order to avoid the locals settingout unpleasant surprises in our path.I like it because the ever-present threat of ashooting ambush at very close quarters helps to keepme from dozing off in the heat of the day, and becausewe get to see how the locals live and thus make fun ofthem. My driver, Nix, loves it because he gets to runover small animals and the occasional unwashed toddlerwhile attempting to splash their parents with the rawsewage running down the middle of the street. Mygunner, Cooper, hates it because the children throwglass bottles at him, since we are the tail endvehicle. Nix and I dissolve into cackles of laughterevery time a new shower of glass tinkles down from theturret hatch, and then are subjected to him cursingand carrying on about it for the next four blocks,until he finally calms down. At which point ithappens again. I keep a running score going on ourplatoon radio net for the enjoyment of everyone in theconvoy.At one point, we emerged from a wreckage-strewnalleyway, festooned with telephone wires that had beenripped out of various walls by our radio antennae,covered with splatters of fecal matter and brokenbottle glass, only to find that we were right where weshould be, which was Checkpoint 9V. This is 'Crazy'sCheckpoint', if you remember from before. I haven'tseen Crazy since then, nor any of his squadmates, so Iguess they have been assigned to yet anotherstrategically vital concrete overpass elsewhere in theGreater Baghdad area. Hopefully he is okay, and issomewhere out there, wildly masturbating to thesilicon beauties of Maxim. Another group of POBs havebeen assigned to this checkpoint, and we pulled up tosay hello.< Okay, interesting sidebar to all this. I juststopped writing for a minute, and went outside for acigarette. I was sitting on the rough wooden benchoutside our barracks, enjoying the relative cool ofthe night and thinking about what I would write, whenI heard a distant thud out in the nearby mahallah. Wetend to get very attuned to faint thuds here, sincethey may be mortar tubes firing in the distance. Ihad just chalked it up to a walllocker door hittingthe tin wall inside the building, which soft thudshere often turn out to be, when sure enough, there wasa loud and rather satisfying series of explosions onthe other side of the barracks. A large and invisiblechunk of shrapnel went 'PEEE-ZWWWIIP!' right over myhead, at which point I picked up my can of coffee andwalked resignedly to the bunker. You never hear theone that gets you, and I had heard all three, so therewas no cause for undue haste. In any case, I wasfortunate, I had both a pack of cigarettes AND a tastybeverage on my person to enjoy during the upcominghour and a half stuck in the bunker as various highranking folks combed the FOB to see if anybody hadbeen hapless enough to get vaporized. Oh, and to makesure there were no unexploded surprises sputteringaway in the middle of darkened roadways to disturb anylate night treks to the loo. Actually, we were onlyin the 'sandbag sauna' for about 20 minutes--a newrecord in speedy Bomb Damage Assessment. Now back tothe story....>So we were sitting in our trucks at the checkpoint onthe bridge, and Cooper bent down from the gunner'sturret." Uh, SGT, I got some gunshots off to ourfive o'clock." he said."Okay, what's the range?" I replied"Uh, I dunno, maybe 4 or 500 meters." saysCooper.I picked up the internal radio, and called SSGThompson's truck, and reported this in a bored tone ofvoice, and was acknowledged by a disembodied andsimilarly bored voice. You hear gunfire here so oftenthat we really don't get interested unless it's close.Like knocking on your door close. A couple ofminutes later, and Cooper popped back down again."Hey, SGT, they're doing again, closer thistime.", he said."Okay", I said, and lit a cigarette, whichyou're not supposed to do in a HMMWV, but when you aresurrounded by high rise apartments in New Baghdad, youdon't really want to stand outside to smoke. A coupleof the POBs got up slowly from their sleeping mats onthe sidewalk, walked over near us and started lookingdown on Route Pluto and up to the north of ourposition. I looked over at them, tapping the radiohand mike on the side of my Kevlar helmet with onehand, and dragging on my cigarette with the other.It was kind of interesting that the POBs were takingnotice, since this requires both physical movement andnecessitates being awake, and does not involve eating,drinking chai or getting paid.I relay the report to the lead truck, but don'tget an answer. They are out of the truck, talking tothe squad leader of the POB. Oh well. It's justbusiness as usual in Baghdad.A few minutes later, and Coop ducks downagain."SGT, SGT, they--"Cooper is great, he's really energetic andon the ball, but he is starting to annoy me, and so Iturn to gently admonish him in an attempt to get himto chill out a little.CRACKCRACKCRACK-PINGZIPPOW Rounds startskipping on the concrete outside the truck andcracking over the top of the turret. It's reallyfunny how quickly you get attuned to the differentsounds of gunfire, and what the sounds mean. How faraway the shooter is; whether he is using a Sovietweapon, or an American one; are the shots headedtowards you or away from you; and most importantly,are the incoming rounds close or far away from you.These were right on top of us.People start running away from the sourceof the gunfire, which is the series of highriseapartments just to our left, about 100 meters away.As the locals on the ground vacate the premises, thePOBs all jump up, grab their motley assortment ofweapons, and sprint into the complex. I've never seenthese guys move so fast, and as they disappear aroundthe brick corner of the apartment, the rate of firegoes from pop pop pop to full-on automatic fire, brapbraaap brrraaaaaap. It's all AK-47 and RPD fire;loud, indignant, and strangely mechanical, sort oflike a platoon of particularly well-motivatedcarpenters finishing the roof of a house withpneumatic nail guns.SGT Thompson and Fish are instantly back in thetruck and the four vehicle convoy rolls out. For adisappointing moment, I thought we were just going torun off for safer neighborhoods, but then Fish jerksthe lead HMMWV to the right, bounces over the curb,and disappears between two of the huge apartmentbuildings. The convoy lurches and sways obedientlyover the curb after him."Oh @##$ yeah, let's get some!", yells Cooper fromabove us. He is only nineteen.Nix, as always, has a big wad of Skoal inhis cheek, and an intent look on his face. Hedoesn't say anything. I warn the guys to make sure oftheir targets; there are both civilians and the PublicOrder Battalion soldiers running around in here, aswell as whoever was shooting at us. I'm concernedabout the possibility of fratricide.The radio crackles to life."43 to all Renegade elements. Watch therooftops, watch the balconies. We got friendlies inhere. Other than that, do what you have to do." It'sFish.In the background, I
can hear SSG T relaying asituation report to our company on the other radio.We are all energized, but strangely, not in a hypersort of way. Everyone is calm, focused. It'sexciting, but not wildly exciting. The mix issurprising to me. No one is scared. It is about thesame level of excitement as watching a fairly goodaction movie on TV. Maybe a little less so.There are POBs and civilians coming out of thewoodwork. I spot a large group of them down analleyway, and call it up to the lead truck. It's toolate to turn right into it, so we go down thesidestreet, turn around, and come back. By the timewe get down the alleyway, it is choked with POBs and acrowd of yammering and gesturing locals.We pull up, and I get out to keep the civilians awayfrom our truck. The gunners are crouched down,covering the rooftops and balconies with their .50caliber machine guns and M4 rifles. The flats areeight or nine stories high, so it's not possible toelevate the crew served weapons high enough to coverthe apartments closest to us. I stand with my armoreddoor open for added protection, rifle/grenade launcherat the ready over the top of the door, and watch forsnipers. Old guys in stained 'wifebeater' t-shirtsstand and blink at the mess below from theirbalconies. Fat housewives in brightly coloredmuumuu's lean out of windows and flick ash from theends of their cigarettes. No one seems particularlyinterested when I point my weapon at them and examinethem through my scope.Everybody is clustered around a blue ChevyOptra, a model I've never heard of before. It's alittle import-looking sedan, and amazingly, there doesnot appear to be a single bullet hole in it.Eventually it turns out that a Iraqi Police car triedto pull it over. The car ran, the cops shot at it,some folks in the car shot back, and then they wereunfortunate enough to run into the POBs, who got itstopped. The car is full of weapons and some bombmaking supplies, so it is pretty clear that it isbeing used by an insurgent group to move supplies. Weare told to look out for a female driver.I ask for a description, but there isn't one. Thisis typical for the Iraqi Police. We are constantlybeing told to look out for sparsely describedsuspicious vehicles. A black BMW sedan, a blue Kiavan with a luggage rack, or my favorite in minimalistthreats, 'a silver car'. Do you know how many blueKia vans with luggage racks there are in Baghdad? Wewon't even get into the silver car issue. We actuallygot that over the radio once; be on the lookout for asilver car. 'Ummmmm, roger,' look at the hand micand make a face like, what the hell?So, we diligently keep an eye out for the femaledriver. Being soldiers, we feel that we arereasonably qualified to complete this task. Wedutifully ogle every woman in the area for the rest ofthe morning, watching for suspicious bulges inclothing. While we do find plenty of curves worthy offurther investigation, none appear to be of the highexplosive variety. Damn.We roll out to circle the neighborhood,continuing our quest for suspiciously voluptuous Arabchicks and any card carrying insurgents. We're prettysure that some of the fleeing locals at the start ofthe fracas were escaping insurgents from the car, butsince they did not have the common decency to announcetheir affiliation to us, we couldn't shoot them. Notterribly sporting of them, but what can you do?Nix suggests around a wad of peach flavored chewingtobacco that we should just shoot all Iraqis with theforesight to run away from gunfire, but I have toreluctantly veto the proposition.After a couple of fruitless circles of the area,several more conversations with the wildly gesturingPOBs who were now happily looting the car, and morepointing of weapons at the oblivious localinhabitants, SSG T decides that we have done all wecan to liberate this block of flats, and we leave.We decide to stop by a nearby patrol base, FOBShield. Shield is in a pretty interesting area,flanked on one side by the Olympic stadium, and on theother by a series of Iraqi government buildings, themost interesting of which is the Ministry of theInterior. It's one of the tallest buildings inBaghdad, quite modern, looking like a Hyatt hotel, andsince it is the headquarters of the various policeagencies in Iraq, gets hit with mortars and rockets ona regular basis. But not today.I'm interested to see the Olympic stadium, with it'sgreat curving walls and massive lighting system. I'ma bit impressed, since I was not aware that SaddamHussein intended to make a serious bid to host theOlympics. The stadium is most noteworthy due to thegory legend of the Iraqi Soccer team that used topractice there. When they had the gall to lose in theWorld Cup, Saddam's psychotic sons, Uday and Qusay,had the entire team thrown in prison and tortured forthree months. Talk about providing purpose,motivation and direction.....The area is also graced by a beautiful monument tothe Iran-Iraq war. It consists of giant, blueinverted tear drop, probably ten stories high. Thetear drop is cut in half, right down the middle, andthe two halves are slightly off set, allowing you towalk inside. I've caught glimpses of a giant statueinside, but have not been able to get close enough toreally check it out. You can see the beautifullyhallucinogenic structure for miles around the area,and the first time I saw it, I thought it was one ofthose desert mirages I had read about as a kid. Onehalf of the monument is bordered by a large lake,somehow miraculously sewage and trash free, with anamusement park on the far side, complete with a rollercoaster. I call it 'Saddam Hussein Land', a greatplace to bring any little up-and-coming militarydespots in your family.Shield is guarded by a private security firm, whichapparently is staffed entirely by former soldiers fromthe African country of Ghana. They wear these strangegray fatigues, and are armed with Finnish Valmetrifles, which are essentially more expensive AK-47s;the discerning choice for the more well-to-do Blackmercenary. As we roll in and out of the tiny FOB, themercs wave at us with the "hang ten" hand signal. Iwas not aware that the surfing community had such astrong following in Ghana, until Cooper tells me thatit means 'i love you'. Nix, being a red bloodedAmerican boy and therefore properly homophobic, isoffended by this and promptly starts giving them thefinger. I'm sure they mean it in the spirit ofcomaraderie, but this doesn't stop me from terrorizinghim with images of his imminent gangrape by surfboardcarrying Mao-Maos.Back on the streets, and it is the usual freewheelinginsanity. We are stuck at an intersection underneatha highway bridge by a convoy of giant fuel trucks.Normally, being the Great White Hunters that we are,we barge through any traffic, blowing whistles andshining lasers and waving flags and pointing giantmachine guns at any upstart vehicle impertinent enoughto get within 75 meters of us. Something about thesize of the semis and their petroleum cargo, justwaiting to explode in a napalm fireball of death,convinces us to let them go first. One, two, five,ten, the trucks just keep on coming, driving up on theright, pulling a u-turn under the bridge, and thenheading back the way they came. After twenty of thesethings come through, and still no end in si
ght, Ibecome convinced that this must be a training exercisefor the Iraqi division of Truckmasters Unlimited, somesort of wierd certification that involves driving incircles around the same block of highway overpass allday.Every so often, a white Suburban SUV comes throughin the convoy. The Chevy Suburban is the apparentchoice of all the private security companies in Iraq,and it's passengers always seem to think that thisimparts them with the ability to drive like moronswhile waving Kalashnikovs out the windows and firingbursts at random intervals. We don't like privatesecurity companies, since they tend to be cowboys andapparently forget that we are the final word on theroad, not them.These guys are the worst we've seen yet. They'vedraped their body armor over the bottom of the windowsills, to give some sort of ballistic protection tothe vehicle, and they are leaning out brandishingtheir AKs. They're dressed in faded camoflage pants,with black T-shirts and black balaclavas. Many of thesecurity forces in Iraq, both private and government,wear masks over their faces, to avoid reprisals fromthe insurgents. These knuckleheads are particularlyfierce looking, which is stupid, since they could notwear anything that would scream "insurgent" moreeffectively. Which might give us the unneededincentive to light them up. We resist the urge onlywith the greatest amount of self control--that, andthe thought that there would be too much paperwork tofill out.By now, easily thirty semis have come through theintersection, and eventually we get tired of it, andpush through in our usual diplomatic style.Eventually we get onto the highway above us, and inthe distance can see our next destination, Checkpoint8V, which is set on top of another overpass that spansRoute Pluto. Traffic is backed up, due to the hugefuel truck convoy which is attempted to merge ontoPluto.We bounce along the median for a while, and thenmuscle our way back across traffic, then push throughthe fuel convoy in an attempt to make it onto the exitramp and up to the checkpoint. We routinely willdrive against the flow of traffic, not just because wecan, but to hopefully throw off any hidden triggermenthat may be waiting to detonate an IED in our path.As we pull up onto the overpass, I hear the nowbanal 'poppoppop' of gunfire to our right, and just asCooper leans down to relay the same to me, I look tomy right. Somewhere between twenty and thirty of thesecurity yahoos are scattered along the side of RoutePluto and across the median between the exit and onramp, and just as I look, all of them start shootingat something unseen in the underpass below us. Again,the sound goes from Jiffypop to Full Cyclic in aheartbeat, and we are right above where they areshooting. I don't trust their marksmanshipabilities, and am consciously glad for the bulletproof(uh, bullet resistant) glass in my door.The real treat, however, is the scene right behindthem. A semi truck with fuel tanker is sprawledacross both of the southbound lanes, somehow on it'sside, gasoline pouring out of it's broken hatches. Acrushed sedan is visible just to the side of thetractor trailer, and again, just as I look, there is amassive WHOOOOOOSH,more felt than heard, and the entire area isimmediately engulfed in flames.At least this makes the dumbass security guys stopshooting, since they are now running away, lest thefire burn off their balaclavas and reveal them to theunsympathetic and vengeful public.We stop traffic from coming over the bridge, and setup a security perimeter. We try to watch thebuildings around us, but it is virtually impossible totear one's eyes away from the spectacle below. A hugearea, easily the size of two football fields, is onemassive, roiling lake of fire. Incredibly thick, coalblack smoke rises into the cloudless sky like some OldTestament, Moses-guiding Pillar of God. The flamesare strange, otherworldly, a violent day-glo orangetinged with a virulent red. I glance down the trafficjam piling up behind us, to the West, and can see theeverpresent beacon of flame from one of the oilrefineries on the edge of town, neatly framed by theoutstretched lights of the Olympic stadium. Theoverall impression is that the entire city is somehowaflame.Everyone is transfixed by the scene, the POBs at thecheckpoint, the security guys below us, the soldiersin the HMMWVs, and the two or three hundred civiliansin the traffic jam behind us. You know how a campfirecan hypnotize a group of people roasting marshmallowsinto slack jawed silence? Times that by about fivethousand percent, and you get an idea of the wierdmental block that everyone within a thousand yardradius of the conflagaration was experiencing.Eventually, however, the more mundane realities oflife started filtering back in. Someone had thepresence of mind to call the fire department, and apitifully tiny red pumper eventually showed up andstarting squirting into the inferno with a gardenhose.Our soldiers started taking pictures ofthe mess with their digital cameras. The securitymorons dejectedly stumbled back to their preciousSuburbans, no doubt working out in their heads howlong it would take to pay for this debacle out oftheir measly salaries. The POBs sat down for a smokeand a well earned cup of chai.Turns out it was not even an IED or an insurgentambush. Somebody running late for work, or justasleep at the wheel in the usual Iraqi way, had cutoff one of the semis. The tanker driver hadoverreacted, spun the wheel, hit the car anyway, andpromptly jackknifed the rig. Rig overturns, goesboom. All of the insane shooting was the securityguys 'stopping the oncoming traffic'. I would beamazed if anyone was alive in the traffic to oncome.Typical of the cowboys--one guy starts popping offrounds, everybody else starts firing, and the wholething takes off on it's own power."What you shootin' at, Ali?""Sheesh, I dunno, Mohammid, but it shur is fun,hyuck hyuck!"Morons.We decided it was time to go home. Another successfulmission bringing hope to the freedom loving people ofIraq.

  Comments



  • if the guy has any more letters, they need to be posted...

  • JRootJRoot 861 Posts
    Thanks for posting this letter from Baghdad. there are thousands of other American men and women over there like this, although probably fewer that can write as well as this gentleman can. although he clearly makes the most of the situation with his wry sense of humor, it does not sound anything like fun over there. I wish the President would order all the american troops home beginning tomorrow.

    But I'm not President,
    JRoot
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