20 Aug 03
Damn do I owe you a long one. I've been the busiest I've ever been here. But let me start with 9 August.
It was to be a routine night consisting of presence patrols and snap TCP's. When we finished around 0130, the call came over the net: "Mission complete, heading home." Almost simultaneously the last vehicle in the (4) Humvee convoy took an RPG in the rear quarter panel. Damn what an awful sound. Just imagine, everyone is tired and ready to go get some sleep after a long continuous hot 1200 day. It is now nightfall. The temp is down to about 900 (cool for us) there's even a nice breeze. And very quiet. I guess it was too quiet. And that's when it happened. You see, an RPG makes 2 distinctive "Booms". First the back blast, then the impact. The impact blast being only slightly louder. I had counted (8) blasts total, and I saw the bright flashes of the back blast. They were ambushing us from both sides of the road! Unconventional? You are to expect nothing less from these people. The RPG's were followed closely by a hail of AK-47 fire which riddled the last two Hummers, flattening a few tires at best. When we finally got a grip on reality, we opened up with everything; M4's, M249's, M240B's, M203's, and .50cal guns. It was like a shoot and run. We returned fires while breaking contact a few hundred meters up the road. The only ones who didn't break contact and were left behind were, yup, you guessed it. 3rd Squad. My squad. The dismount squad. Do you know the only thing more horrifying than RPG's and AK-47's?
True fear can be paralyzing. It can lead you to see things that aren't really there. It has a huge effect on leadership decisions. It's even got a distinct taste, much like iron. You know how they say you see your whole life flash before your eyes before you die? It's true. But all I got was a glimpse. Very strange stuff. I saw Meghan as a little girl with her horses. I saw Mom with GrandPa and Aunt Theresa and the rest of the Indiana crew. And finally I saw you Dad. You were with me, and we were both in our Class A's. All of which were happier times, it would seem. Almost so happy, that it was sad. Then I imagined what it would be like to end my life in this place. To be killed by a terrorist. Because these men certainly aren't soldiers. No, soldiers have honor. And that's most likely when I snapped out of it. Almost into a blind rage.
Now, the area we got ambushed in was a valley. Literally. Here we are in Iraq, doing Ho Chi Minh shit like we are in VietNam. Very tall grass, uneven ground, and no illumination from the moon. With me on point once again. No idea what's two feet in front of me. (I am truly sympathetic towards the VietNam soldiers) We cleared the entire area, but with no "luck". Just another hit and run for them. We did, however, secure an Iraqi Sergeant Major. It was kinda cool, he would only give his name, rank, and social. Our casualties from the ambush: (3) men took shrapnel. None life threatening. They (we) were lucky.
Fast forward to the night of 11 August. It was about 0030 and we (4 Hummers + 1 command Hummer) were on our way to identify a house an "informant" told us contained RPG's and AK's. We were a few kilometers out when we crossed a bridge that had some good places for enemy ambush sites. But it only had dense woods about 600 meters out. It was a minimal threat, considering an RPG's max effective range is 300 meters. And that's when it happened again. But this time was different. There was only one Boom. And it sounded more like a "Ka-Boom", and it made the earth shake. I never saw any traces of back blast. The rear vehicle took the brunt of whatever it was and had stopped right in the kill zone. What happened? Twice in just three days! My mind was racing. What happened next consisted of a furious one-sided fire fight. Hollywood would have been proud. And it was only a squad worth returning fires, considering the rear truck was a gun truck and was taken out. It was beautiful, the squad dismounted (minus the guy on the .50cal). All got on line on the side of the road and opened up the gates of hell at a cyclic rate. The SAWs were talking (which I was controlling) and there were absolutely no lulls in fire. One of our riflemen identified a man with a small-arm breaking contact, whereupon we commenced to mowing his sorry ass down. When we assessed the threat as "neutralized" we ourselves broke contact with our casualties to get medical attention. Our casualties: All personnel with the exception of the driver and TC took shrapnel. One guy had shrapnel blast right through his armor and took a chunk out of his side. One guy took some shrapnel to the face and arm. And the guy who got it the worst was Spc McCarthy (our medic). He lost some of his right hand (his rifle was in small pieces), took shrapnel in the arm, and a large chunk of shrapnel in the leg. He quickly was going into shock. His current condition is unknown to me. When we got to Charlie Company, we had to cross-load the casualties' ammo into our load. Where we had to witness the casualties being treated. It wasn't pretty. Two guys in my squad broke down into tears, with the look of defeat written all over their faces. As a leader, what do you tell your men to motivate them in that scenario? And all I could think to say was that "either we were hunters or prey" and ultimately we were going to have to choose. But how exactly do you fight an invisible enemy? Tough situation.
So after we re-grouped, we went back out to the ambush site to hunt. After we cleared the area (1 enemy KIA) we found out what had hit us. As it turns out, they had buried a "152 artillery round"* and remotely detonated it from the wood line that was 600 meters out. (We believe the guy we killed was the OP, because when we traced the detonation wire to the woods, we couldn't see the road or the Hummers - therefore he had help). That round should have killed us all. Instead, it exploded like this:
Kind of like a banana peel. Out of only one side. Had it fully exploded, we would have been through. I was the one who had to retrieve the shell. VERY HEAVY. Very lucky.
We did finally catch some of them in the act. Our 3rd Platoon set up a counter-ambush along a main road a couple of nights ago, and at about 0200 three men with RPG launchers and 6 rounds came walking down the road. One died instantly, one died in the hospital, and one got away.
As I had said before, I am now in the "Scout" Platoon and loving life. A really great group of guys over here. I'm a little irritated I just spent 5 years on the line. Man, have I been missing out. I am no longer an RPG-magnet being in a motorized platoon. I've actually had the opportunity to sleep at night (more than 2 hours). You can let Mom know I'm 100% more safe than I used to be.
That's about all for now Dad, talk to you soon -