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The Cordon: One Very Bad Day in Baqubah

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by Greg Chabot

Editor’s note: This story contains some very raw, violent material that could bring readers back to their own stark experiences at war. ~SKK

It had been quiet in Baqubah with some IEDs going off and some occasional small arms fire in the city. This was about to end very abruptly. On Good Friday April 8, 2004, I was sitting in my room cleaning my weapon. I could hear a Kiowa flying over the city. Then I heard the whoosh of an RPG followed by an explosion and loud crash that shook the building. 

My team leader, Sgt. Fouts, came into my room. He told me we had a bird down and to grab my gear and get ready to roll. 

The Kiowa had crashed in a vacant lot across from the Police HQ. Our orders were to secure the crash site and crew at all costs. 

The entire city had become eerily quiet, and traffic had disappeared – not a good sign. We put together multiple teams to secure the perimeter. I along with Jon “Peanut” Evans, who jumped aboard as our gunner, took up a blocking position as directed by Lt. Dawn Halfacker of the 293rd MP company. By this time another Squad had secured the Kiowa and crew who thankfully were not badly injured. 

At the time of their rescue, the pilots in shock were attempting to car jack an elderly man who wasn’t giving up his Opel sedan, even with an MP5 in his face. It was hot out, and I was pounding water while watching my sector. There was a light breeze, and the smell from the open sewers was overwhelming.

A U.S. OH-58 Kiowa Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq.

An ODA from the 10th SFG (Special Forces Group), call sign “Arcwelder,” showed up to assist. If necessary, they would destroy the downed Kiowa with explosives to prevent sensitive items from falling into enemy hands. 

The Brigade commander instructed us to hold the perimeter, as the aircraft would be recovered. Armor and mechanized infantry were being deployed to support us and form a “ring of steel” around the crash site. 

Over the radio a BOLO was issued for a possible VBIED in a blue van possibly heading for the crash site. The Iraqi Police had set up an outer perimeter and were directing traffic away from the crash site. I watched as a blue van ran through the IP checkpoint.

Numerous attempts were made to stop the van, including a warning shot. 

The van sped up. 

I remember hearing the order to fire, and we hit that van with everything we had. 

It was loud and intense. I was deafened by Peanut firing his M249 SAW. I could feel my brain moving back and forth due to the concussion from the muzzle blast. My nose was running from the concussion jarring what was left of my brain. The smell of oil and gunpowder was heavy in the air. 

We increased our rate of fire to stop the van before it could breach our perimeter. I couldn’t see the driver, so I aimed below the windshield, as he had probably ducked.  

I watched a tracer hit the van and detonate the fuel tank, which finally brought the van to a fiery stop. 

Cease fire was called. It got dead quiet. The only sound I could hear was the ringing in my ears. I glanced over at another team across the street. This one kid had a look of shock. Shit had just got real for everyone. A couple of soldiers from another unit cautiously approached the van. 

Lieutenant Halfacker ordered Sgt.Fouts and me to get a sit-rep. We hustled up to the smoking wreck. 

The van looked like Swiss cheese. Sadly it wasn’t a VBIED, just two ignorant teens who ran the IP checkpoint. 

One of the boys was still alive. Since I was a trained CLS, I assisted the medic in trying to save his life. The kid was fucked up. He had so many holes in his chest I stopped counting them. I started an IV. With all the gunshot wounds it was hopeless, as I watched the fluid leak out of multiple wounds. 

The coppery smell of blood was overwhelming. There is nothing else like that smell in the world. The expanding pool of blood was drawing swarms of flies. 

He was still conscious and was begging for water. He grabs my leg in a death grip and looks me in the eyes. 

“Water please mister.” 

Let me tell you, a death grip is no joke, it hurt, and I had to pry his hand free. I keep applying bandages and checking his pulse and clearing his airway when he starts puking. I tell the medic he’s in trouble and not going to make it. 

The medic is doing his best and won’t quit. He asks me to support his head so he can treat head wounds. As I do my fingers go into his brain. He had taken two rounds at the top and miraculously he was still alive.

I look at the medic he is doing his best to bandage the wound and protect the brain. A soldier from the 293rd has run up to check on us. He kept saying “Good job guys.”

Another soldier was bitching about us opening fire on the van. 

Sergeant Fouts told him to shut up and watch for threats. I look up and see IP and Iraqi army walking up with a white flag to surrender! They had got caught in our fire and thought we were attacking them! They were told to return to their post until relieved.

The ODA had moved up to provide security and medical aid. By this time the kid was in a lot of pain. Due to his injuries the medic wouldn’t give him morphine, as it would probably kill him. In a moment of frustration/humanity, I suggested we finish him off. 

The medic gives me a look of sheer horror. Being honest, it would be the humane thing to do. I offer to do it.

An SF guy hands me his sidearm. I thumb back the hammer and take aim.

One of the guys shouts out: “CNN! CNN!”

I pause, de-cock the pistol, and hand it back. The SF guy nods and takes it from me, and I go back to trying to save him.

While this is happening, reinforcements show up along with a recovery crew for the Kiowa. We finished prepping the driver for transport and loaded him into a vehicle to take him to the field hospital.

The same SF soldier asks me to help him remove the dead passenger from the vehicle and place him in a body bag. He had squeezed himself under the dash and we had a difficult time removing him. The smell was horrendous between the blood and voided bowels. 

For a small guy he was heavy. The term dead weight had a new meaning for me. We get him bagged up and throw him on the hood of a Humvee like a deer. 

Sergeant Fouts and I make our way back to our unit. I remember a dude looking at me, as I had blood on me. I jokingly pretend to lick the blood off my fingers, and he promptly pukes his guts up and flips me off. We continued to hold the perimeter until relieved, and we returned to the HQ for a hot wash AAR.

The Kiowa was successfully recovered and transported to FOB Warhorse for repairs. 

Sadly, the driver didn’t make it. I was proud to have helped keep him alive on that dirty Iraqi street. Though I still to this day feel he suffered unnecessarily. We should have just given him morphine; I am also grateful the media had shown up. I couldn’t imagine what shooting that kid would have done to me mentally and legally. Though at the time I had the best of intentions, as the Iraqis say, Inshallah.  

Greg Chabot served in Iraq 2004-2005. He is a freelance writer living in New Hampshire. He frequently contributes to Soldier of Fortune.

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