The capture of Saddam Hussein changed the nature of the war in Iraq but certainly did not end it. Tough Sunni towns like Fallujah and Samarra continued as focal points for armed hostility. Captain Brown’s soldiers continued their battle rhythm of patrols, raids, cache destruction, and counterambush response at about the same pace as before the Iraqi dictator was plucked out of the ground. On 17 January the total number of U.S. personnel killed during Operation Iiraqi FreedDom climbed to 500, of which 346 were combat deaths. The next day a suicide bomber outside the U.S. headquarters in Baghdad killed 20 and wounded over 100, virtually all Iraqi. Army.mil
Saddam’s capture seems to have emboldened the Shia to greater assertiveness. For so long cowed and brutalized by the dictator, they had largely cooperated with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the direction it was taking the country. With Hussein clearly gone for good, perhaps they could secure a better deal than the coalition was currently offering. In particular, they thought the complex American plan for regional caucuses to select an interim government diluted advantages they, constituting 60 percent of the Iraqi people, could gain through direct elections. After considerable give-and-take, Grand Ayatollah Sistani openly rejected the American plan and demanded direct elections. Within days tens of thousands of Shiites took to the streets to march in protests around the country. By and large these were peaceful, but the atmosphere of crisis and confrontation reinforced the inclination of such firebrands as Muqtada al-Sadr toward violence. This would become more of a problem later.
On 28 January David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector, told the Senate that prewar intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was wrong and thus that particular logic for FreedDom was misguided. This was not a new charge, but timing and the nature of the witness persuaded President Bush to initiate a formal third-party investigation before he had one forced on him. As visible as all this was in the media, there is no mention of it in Captain Brown’s journal. He and his soldiers had more pressing problems of a rather different nature.
4 January: Well, higher denied our illumination mission for 2359 and 2400 New Year’s Eve … I don’t even think they got the joke. It’s not like
we have a shortage of ammunition out here. I know I need to write for the cathartic nature, but I sure don’t feel like it right now … so there I was, up at the little gym using the stair-stepper machine (since we can’t run here) and starting up with a little squat workout. I wasn’t lifting crazy or anything like that, just doing a normal routine at 1629 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, FOB EAGLE is taking incoming rounds. I head over to the Internet-which is in a tent inside our makeshift gym-to log on to e-mail. As I stand in line at the tent, an 82-mm. mortar round bounces off the inside Texas barrier (big Jersey barrier) of the Engineer connex and blows. I sit impatiently waiting for my name and putting my clothes back on. They call my name and I sit down at the computer, complaining under my breath how slow it is. At FOB, the second round of the barrage blows and a small piece of shrapnel comes hurtling out. Yahoo finally opens up for me. The piece of shrapnel cuts through the air and into Eric Paliwoda’s side, collapsing both his lungs. I get my e-mail open. They get the medevac bird in the air and en route. Sometimes this e-mail thing seems more painful than it is worth. I struggle to send a message as the doctors struggle to intubate Eric, “the Giant.” I get off one message during my thirty-minute tenure at the computer, close out the web page, and walk away pissed off. The dustoff lands at the 21st Combat Support Hospital at 1714, where Eric is pronounced dead upon arrival. I knew him for over ten years.
“Hey sir, they want you over at the TOC. They had mortar rounds at EAGLE FOB and had two critically injured and four returned to duty.”
“Who is it?” I ask the first sergeant.
“Captain Paliwoda and Staff Sergeant Moyer were the criticals,” he replies, already knowing that he was dead.
“Sh-, I wonder if he is going to be able to go with the commanders to Qatar on R&R … we had been planning that for awhile,” I think to myself-amazed that is what pops into my head. I had already been through this before with Eric when he got the giant gash in his head out at BEAST FOB back in September. We couldn’t get an accurate report on him over the battalion net, and I feared the worst. They made it sound terrible. He was released the next day and had to wear a turban bandage on his cranium. We immediately started with “look at the size of that Iraqi” jokes. He was a Swedish giant with fair skin and looked nothing like an Arab. That is what made it so funny. I worry too about Moyer, he is my attached engineer squadLeader and a great, tough soldier. I run over to the TOC for no real particular reason. I am not very worried at all at this point. Eric is way too big to really get hurt by a mortar, and the initial report is always a little off. We’ll still go to Qatar together; it will be great to hang out. We haven’t had a lot of chill time together for awhile. I think it’s a three-beer limit-I wonder if they have a bonus ration for giants.
I enter the TOC and sit down in my seat. Everyone is talking, and there is a flurry of activity. The XO walks in, and everyone gets quiet.
“At 1629 today they had a 60-mm. mortar attack on EAGLE FOB.” I write down 1629 and 60-mm. MRTS in my notebook.
“There were six injuries, four return to duty and two critical-Staff Sergeant Moyer and Eric Paliwoda. Beast Six, Eric, died at the CASH fifteen minutes ago.” I drop everything and stare at Tim Knoth in absolute disbelief … he was just sitting in the chair across the table a few days ago.
“Tim Knoth will escort the body and we need to get him out of here ASAP.” I am listening but not hearing. I write KIA next to his name and walk out to brief the company and lock them down from the phones and Internet. I am in a state of shock. Still am.
Everything rushes back to me. I remember him out on the river in the boats for PENINSULA STRIKE-huge guy, totally sunburned, piloting the boats up and down the river and us laughing at him from the shore. I remember the Air Force football game out at Colorado, where he got totally sunburned drinking beers. I remember the harassing visits as cadets where he would come in throwing stuff and wrestling while I was in crunch time on projects. His size would always break me, but I would always get a good choke to make him remember the thrashing-then we would all laugh and I would be that much further behind in my work but grateful for the friendship. I remember the terrible haircut I gave him down in Kuwait when somehow he got the idea that I knew how to cut hair, even after I had butchered so many others. I remember him digging the first piss tube I ever saw and giving the staffers a class on how to use it. I remember him playing center on our captains vs. lieutenants football team, and the intimidation his size offered. I remember him always waiting impatiently at the TOC for me to finish my business so he could have Bradley escort or ride in the back of my Brad during the white-knuckle trips down Route LINDA. I remember him showing up with medics
and security after our July IED, when I treated the injured scouts from my soft-skin Humvee. I remember how glad I was to see him out there with his company because we were so very alone that night. We discussed how bad this place had become … how little did we know. I remember hanging out in his CP when we shared presence patrols down in Abu Hishma doing joint targets and raids. I think we were the only companies to share target information together. I remember the time the IED went off on his LOGPAC and the wide-eyed expression on his face as we raced out to the tracks. I got down there first, and Jimmy and I started working the area. We returned to the scene and I remember seeing the Giant out in the street with his M4-it looked so small when he carried it. We policed up his wounded guys in the Brad and moved out. We shared so many bad experiences together, but we had a great friendship … through shared pain and suffering.
Eric was a giant of a man in more ways than just size. Six-foot-seven and 250 pounds. He would always accost me with his big burly voice. Our conversations would start out with such antagonism until we couldn’t take it anymore, and we would start laughing before having a real conversation. I guess that’s what soldiers do. I’ll wait for you for an hour to eat dinner and that way we can make fun of each other for thirty minutes … wouldn’t want you to feel too good about yourself. Eric was in his element as a company commander. We called him the doctrine monster, and he truly knew it inside and out. On the FM updates he would always smoke us on the doctrine trivia … I don’t think he ever got a question from that category wrong. I remember numerous conversations and scheming to keep us from moving our FOBs. I was supposed to move to his FOB and he to the TOC. Our lynchpin argument stemmed from the containers at EAGLE FOB not being mortar proof and ready for his guys to move in while his FOB could not support my numbers. In the end we moved up to Samarra, and they got the containers good and surrounded to protect them from mortars. The irony that he died in one of those containers will never be lost on me. I remember countless arguments on not moving. The second we turned over BEAST FOB to the ICDC, the locals overran it.
I remember at Fort Hood living in an eight-mile trailer park with Eric. After our night on the town, John Hancher showed us how he ran over a curb earlier in the day as we stood outside watching. John drove the rental car over the curb but didn’t stop in time and the front end went straight into the irrigation ditch. I was lying in the parking lot laughing hysterically as the car’s trunk hung up in the air.
Bring out the Giant, he can get the car out,” we all agreed and got Paliwoda the wookie up and retrieved the car. Such a stupid, hilarious scene. I can go on and on with fun times I had with Eric, but the end state remains constant … he is gone … forever. He won’t marry his fiancé; he won’t teach geography at West Point; he won’t go to Qatar on R&R; and I can’t have him as a friend anymore. God chooses his angels, and I know we have a giant one watching over us now.
5 January: We had some more Jerry Springer action, but I am just not in the mood for it. We just haul in detainees now and wait for them to tell us the truth. It takes some time, but eventually they start talking. This place is really starting to wear on us all … Josh, Kevin, Jeff, Panchot, Brian, Eric … when you start putting names with the numbers, it just ain’t worth it anymore. Lieutenant Colonel Sassaman is not doing well with it at all. The Stryker Brigade won’t clear fires down there, so the enemy mortarmen just get bolder and bolder. I don’t know the answer, but shooting back certainly makes you feel better and makes the populace respect and cooperate with you more. EAGLEFOB and our old AO are getting pummeled right now. Our shift work has gotten pretty dull, so we have taken to bringing targets out to the test-fire area north of the city and training. We cleared some farmhouses to the north, and then went to the “range” to shoot.
“Hey sir, can we shoot 203?”
“Roger, go ahead.”
Donk … Boom.
“Good shot. Let me see it. Hey, where is the leaf sight?”
“I had to choose between the under-gun light or the sight, so we just Kentucky windage it.”
Donk… “Wow … uh … ” Boom. I sailed one deep over the berm.
“Well, I guess we better go check out what’s on the other side of the test-fire berm.”
We drive up there to confirm that no one has moved into the live-fire area and allay my conscience.
“Eagle Six, we got a HET that went over the side of the bridge.”
Disgusted cursing follows, and I get the company moving toward the eighty-foot-high bridge over the Tigris-fearing the worst. The TOC calls in the 9-Line medevac, and we race to the bridge. The HET hit the guardrail and was hanging over the side of the bridge. Wowsers! Minor injuries to the driver. We got lucky today. I spent the next four hours directing traffic and recovering the vehicle in a comedy of errors that one can find only here in Iraq. We finally got out of there, thankful that the vehicle stopped where it did. They got so lucky today!
6 January: An informant gave us the skinny on a cache and a bad guy house. We moved down the alleyways dismounted and cordoned it off with infantry. The source moves forward and points to the house as we move Brads forward to blocking positions. The platoon enters the house and clears it, finding only women and the overhead space supposedly packed with weapons-but no dice. We break out the metal detectors and search the vacant chicken lot next door as they talk to the women. We dig up a small cache of AK-47 ammunition and then, bingo! We find the meat locker full of RPGs, rounds, mortars, and IED material. Good score! I guess the source is doing all right. It takes us about two hours to dig it up and get the 5-ton down to move it. Eagle Three [1-8 IN operations officer] brings it down, and we redecorate the walled compound with the Bradley to allow easier access. It’s
a decent score, but the press was with us that day and had a field day making it seem like the largest cache ever. Pretty funny, and we got the Division Play of the Day for our efforts-a new thing.
7 January: We decide to patrol Zone 10 from west to east with the Bradleys, staging off of the southern boundary of the city. As the platoons reach the LOA with the infantry, I push the Bradleys forward to them.
“Machine Six, Red One, we have reached the LOA.”
“Roger, move your Bradleys forward to link up.” Red rolls past the headquarters Bradleys, and they link up with their infantry.
“Machine Six, White One, we have reached the LOA.”
“Roger, do the same thing and we will follow your Brads out in a minute.” I swap my Kevlar for my CVC to get ready to move out.
Donk … Kaboom … Donk … Kaboom.
“Oh sh-,” I swallow deep and tell the driver to floor it. We got contact.
“Gunner scan for targets on your right,” I command. I hate the adrenaline, danger, what-the-hell-just-happened feeling. I can see White’s Brads firing 25-mm. down the street to my front, but I have no target. Good that they are shooting back, but it makes me even more nervous because I can’t see all of them or what is going on. Black smoke starts rising from the vicinity where one of the Brads disappeared from view … I fear the worst. As I round a berm, I see their three Bradleys and start moving them to set up a perimeter as smoke from a diesel fire rages.
“White Four, push east down the road and the headquarters will cover the west side. We need infantry down here bad.” I roll past three cars that are smoked. The locals are moving one of the cars out of the street, and we don’t have the infantry to stop them-just five Brads.
“Everyone move toward the fire. We need all elements here now.” Red shows up with his infantry and makes me feel a whole lot better. EAGLE TAC starts doing their “where are you at” routine that makes command and control for the companies impossible. Eventually, I can’t take it anymore and get on the
ground to get a feel for the street and C2 from the manpack radio. Let the XO handle that one. We move some Iraqis over to put out the fire, and I start selecting guys to question with White Platoon. I get infantry up on the rooftops providing overwatch and cordon off the area. It happens pretty much instantaneously. The platoon leaders know exactly what to do on the ground. We get the medics treating the nonshooters and start questioning everyone else. It’s crazy down here, but they shot at the wrong unit today. I talk to Staff Sergeant Legendre, and he confirms the blue taxi was the one he saw the RPG come out of. That’s good because it is split in half and totally stripped of all its contents-I don’t think it went too well for them. Three of the five cars involved will never move again. I am certain they are foreigners because the locals seem to know not to attack.
EAGLE TAC shows up with Colonel Rudesheim. The Iraqi police arrive at the scene, as does the ambulance and fire department. It’s actually pretty cool seeing the Iraqis try to work it. Rudesheim is incredulous that they fired at us-“Are you sure they fired RPGs?” “Yes sir, that’s number 106 I’ve heard.” The battalion commander is shaking hands and promising awards. Every action that ends on our terms brings us closer to winning. Apparently, the division commander feels the same as Lieutenant Colonel Sassaman, as he awards us the Division Play of the Day. We did hit two innocent bystanders but smoked the RPG team-that is how it goes in the city fight. What are you going to do, not shoot back? That’s why the city is the way it is now.
8 January: We went to Eric’s memorial service. It was outstanding, and Sassaman spoke extremely well. It just breaks you down. It proved a long day in the saddle riding down to LION FOB and back. Our FOB was overtaken by mice-not good. The accelerator pedal on one of the Bradleys broke, and they built a system with 550 cord where the driver had to pull on the cord to get it to go. It was a bit of a smoker for that guy. Sad face, but now his left bicep is incredibly strong.
The days take on a pretty standard routine: go work out, go to the BUB, and then patrol … repeat. The THTs love us because we action on just about anything since we have to patrol for time … eight-hour-long shifts. We had an Iraqi Easter egg hunt with one of the informants who showed us an RPG round, then two RPGs, and then a bunch of dirt mounds that were supposedly RPGs. We did some metal detector work and found 137 82-mm. mortar rounds in various caches. We called EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] out to blow it up. They showed up on the brigade command net. Apparently, brigade won’t
let them blow this stuff at night. That’s cool because the brigade S-3’s vehicle came out with us.
“Striker 3, Machine Six.” I call our Brigade S-3.
“This is Striker TAC. Last calling station identify yourself,” a familiar voice comes across the net.
“This is Bravo 1-8. We have a large cache and want to blow it in place now. Otherwise, I’ll have to upload it on the brigade S-3’s track to transport it.”
“Yeah, this is Eagle Six filling in for Striker 3 at Striker TAC. Go ahead and upload it in his vehicle.”
“Yeah, roger. I’ll upload it and keep all our Bradleys 300 meters away from it.” It’s straight comedy as we upload his vehicle. Eagle Six is dying laughing, and we move them out with EOD and a tank section. We can barely fit all the rounds in the vehicle. Too funny. It’s a huge mobile bomb. I see Major Perry, the brigade S-3, later, and we share a good laugh about that whole scene. They launched two rockets at us last night. I was outside the wire and watched the rounds sail through the air-so pretty, so deadly. No counterfire. We must fire back if we want them to stop.
16 January:So the SF team in town calls us up to help them on a raid. We are supposed to link up at noon, but we got a late start. As we roll through Huwaish, I see a group of thirteen Iraqis sitting on the railroad tracks.
“Hey, keep an eye on those guys. They are up to no good.”
“Yeah, roger. I see them. No good.”
We link up at the ODA [Operational Detachment A] house at 1230 and head in for the mission brief. They are a really good SF team and love having the infantry. The target is a gas station on the southeast corner of Samarra, with a followup mission on a fish store and a pool gallery.
“Hey, I got extra room in the headquarters Bradleys if you guys want to roll up there in those. No one is going to run from the gas station. It’s too wide open,” I observe.
No, we will take our SUV and the two gun jeeps,” Kelly, the team chief, replies.
“Okay. Do you want me to lead and put you guys in the middle?”
“No, we will drive right up to the gas station and you guys pull outer security and search the area around the gas station for weapons.”
“Too easy. What time do you want to roll?”
“What route do you want to take?”
“Well, Market Street has less IEDs but more traffic. Power Line has IEDs but is quicker. We’ll take Power Line because it is more open,” Kelly replies with a half grin.
“Okay, just go a little slow so the tanks can keep up,” I tell them.
“Roger, are all those vehicles going?”
“Yep, we like to roll deep … you know we have the capacity to take out an entire street if they shoot at us.” It’s their raid, so I just kinda back off and let them give me task and purpose. I give the platoon leaders the plan, and we head out to our vehicles staged at the CMOC traffic circle. We hit the gas station really quick. We form the cordon and start searching the area.
“Machine Six, Borderman 92. We got the target. He is going to take us to his house once this action is finished.”
“Roger, I’ll link up with you guys.” I walk over to the gas station, and we look at the map with the informant and the interpreter.
“Okay, the guy lives on an alleyway off of Power Line.”
“Okay, we’ll put a section of tanks and a platoon of infantry on either side of the alleyway that you go down and then move in on the target dismounted. Do you want me to lead?”
No, we’ll be up front with the target. Just follow us to the alleyway,” Kelly replies. I head back to my Brad, not knowing the next time I saw him would be very, very different.
I hop up top and move the tanks and Brads over to South Park Road while the SF team finishes up with the detainee. We creep forward until they catch up. They come zipping around with the SUV and two Humvees. We follow them. I drive by an alleyway and see a guy on a black motorcycle turn around. Totally suspect.
“Hey, watch this guy on the motorcycle,” I call back as we speed by.
Boom. The SF guys floor their vehicles, and there is dust everywhere.
“Machine Six, we just hit an IED,” Josh comes over the net, real calm. It doesn’t sound bad since all the vehicles roll through the dust cloud and I barely even heard it.
“Hey, shoot that motorcycle if anyone can see it.” No one can.
“Machine Six, we got one wounded,” Josh calls up from the SF team very calmly.
“Sh-, how bad?”
“We need security up here now, and an aerial medevac,” Josh comes over more urgently.
This is just getting worse. I push the tanks forward, but we don’t have a good feel for where they stopped. We find them and get the cordon set around them. The 18D [Special Forces medic] is here, so we’ll execute the medevac bird here. It’s 1415.
“White Platoon, you have local security with the tanks. Red, you have HLZ setup and security. Five, call in this grid to battalion and get the bird in
the air now. HLZ will have VS-17 panel [a bright orange panel used to
clearly signal friendly forces in daylight], and it is secure. I am getting on the ground real fast to get an assessment.” I see the tanks and Brads cordon off the area; the junior leaders know what to do. I run up to where Josh is and see the damage.
My memory of the event flows through a series of snapshots. It’s not like a movie where one thing happens after another in real time. I see pictures of the events flashed in front of my face. I see Josh standing with one leg in the Humvee with the hand mike up to his ear, trying to talk to battalion. I see the Toyota SUV with two fist-size holes through the windshield on the passenger’s side, otherwise undamaged. I see Kelly lying in a pool of blood, with the right side of his scalp peeled back … and I know I am watching him die. I run over there and see the 18D [Special Forces medic] start working on him. I see him attempt to intubate Kelly through the mouth and then immediately go for a tracheotomy. I think to myself … I just watched a guy perform a tracheotomy on dusty, nasty, South Park Road in Samarra. This place never ceases to amaze me. I watch Kelly breath through the tube. He has respirations of 12-14. That is normal. Maybe it looks worse than it is. I snap back into it and grab the hand mike.
“Hey Five, is the bird in the air?”
“Battalion got the message and will call once it flies,” Andy replies.
“Roger, go to single channel plain text 33.550 once it flies and talk to the aircraft. I am running over to see what Red has for the HLZ.” I just feel like I’ve got to do something. We got a soccer field to the south, and it looks good. I run back over to see Josh and plan how to move Kelly down there. I call a fire team over, but they find a route they can drive over there. I ask Josh to borrow his interpreter and then walk back to White Platoon and the trail tanks. The HLZ is secure, the medics are working, local security is established, the medevac bird is en route, and Five has their net.
What am I missing? I know how long the flight takes and also how helpless you are to change that. I also know that you can go absolutely crazy in that timeframe. I walk down with the interpreter and head for the house closest to the site. I point at the house with the terp and the platoon reads my mind and stacks on the door. I think they know that I am going in there. I am so pissed. We bash through the door and I go looking for someone to take my aggression out on. The place is packed with women and children. That is good because I would have throttled someone if it had been a military-age male. My anger drops from about 98 to 50 as we move to the next house. I don’t even remember some of the stuff I was saying, but the rage went on for awhile and the people on Power Line probably won’t forget how pissed off
I was. They do cooperate more with people that lose it on them, so I don’t feel bad. The helicopter finally lands at 1452 and I head back to my track … thirty-seven minutes. That is the fastest Samarra has seen from incident to evacuation … I am nauseated.
“What’s your assessment?” I ask the medic.
“Sir, it looked worse than it is, I think.”
“Okay, let’s take the team back to the house. You will follow the tanks. I can’t take anything else right now.”
We load up and take them back to the house. Their Intel chief still wants to hit the market and pool hall, so we get the plan together. I guess you just got to keep moving. We move to the road south of the pool hall and fish market and drop the infantry. They rush the two objectives, and police up all of-age males. We do onsite interrogation, but the fish market proved empty, save one fish on the counter. I think it was a carp. We police up all the non-ID-cardholders and anyone that looks suspicious; however, it seems like a definite dry hole. The SF guys want to take them back for questioning, but we don’t have room in the Brads. I go over to the barber shop where I spot a guy with a nice big ol’ pickup truck, and he agrees to chauffeur all the detainees down once he finishes with his haircut.
All we can really think about is Kelly. It looked really bad. It feels like someone is going to come down and say cease work, we got a change of mission. Then we can do an AAR and go back and do this thing differently without any casualties. We drop the detainees off at the CMOC and then roll back to the FOB. We pass by Alpha Company and pull over to the side of the road to let them pass in Huwaish. Boom. Alpha Company hits a landmine, right where those thirteen suspicious-looking guys were hanging out earlier today. I just can’t take this place anymore. One of my tankers took shrapnel to the face but nothing serious. That is twice today I didn’t trust my instincts when I should have. As we roll into the gate Eagle Five [1-8 IN executive officer] comes across the net and informs us that Kelly is still breathing but medically retired. Doesn’t sound good.
20 January: The next few days just drag by. We take the THT on some recons, and the guys have a couple of shops they want to check out. Sounds good, pay heed to everyone’s instincts these days. As we cart the informant
around, White Platoon uncovers a weapons cache of fifteen RPGs and IED material in one of the stores. Great, grab the store owner. They police up some guy, and when I show up he is scared sh-less.
“I didn’t know there were fifteen RPGs in my [ten-by-ten-foot] shop.”
“Yeah, bullsh-! Who do you work for?”
I think he knows it is time to tell the truth, and he starts telling us all about this guy on 1-66 AR’s city council. Great. We detain him after some more questioning, and I make the call to blow the homemade fertilizer bombs in place … I certainly am not going to move this stuff. I get our engineer and we go over the charge … three sticks of C4 with all the doors tamped. I have the interpreter explain to all the locals that I am crazy when I see RPGs and that they need to collect all their valuables and leave the area because we are going to blow up the shop with all the explosives. We tamp the door with a desk, generator, and sofa. I have him set the charge for three minutes, and he pulls it.
“Hey, help me with this desk,” I ask as we prop it up. It’s such a weird scene knowing that the time fuse is ticking down, and this thing is just going to blow up here shortly as we struggle to prop up this desk and couch. We finally get it set and run back 100 meters.
Kaboom! The walls blow out, and the fertilizer catches on fire … as well as the store next door. Oh well, their fault for allowing RPGs in the neighborhood. I fill out some claim sheets for the guy with the shop next door, and everyone seems appreciative of the action. This is what some of the higher-ups do not understand. The locals want to see the bad people punished-there are cultural differences that just don’t make sense unless you spend every day with these guys. It makes them feel safer to see the Americans taking charge. We get the brand-new fire department up there to put out the fertilizer fire. We turn it into a great exercise, and it will end up being a huge IO [information operations] piece. They now know there are consequences for harboring illegal weapons, and they have a revived faith in their fire department. I spend an hour talking to the people about it and let them know how upset I am. The leaders all come out, and we work through a lot of issues. We roll back to the FOB, and I report the whole action up to higher-no issues. One of the TOC guys hands me the new CJTF [Coalition Joint Task Force] 7 policy letter on how we are winning the war and need to
tone down all our interactions/actions with the locals and press. Oops! The irony of it all. I ask for $1,000 for the damage for the friendly shop owner … it’s way more than the store was worth. He calls brigade TOC, and they freak out about the damage. Just give me the money and let me fight the fight. We know what we are doing.
21 January:We go back to the street the next day, and the locals are all waving and thumbs up. I get off the track to talk to them and ask the owner to give me a week to work the issue. They love it and invite us over for tea and dinner. I tell them tomorrow, tomorrow-after I pay for the store. It is very important that I do that before we enjoy ourselves. They agree and appreciate that. Kelly is still breathing: they took him off the ventilator at the request of his family. We conduct a couple of checkpoint and dismounted patrols but nothing significant going on. We head out to the test-fire area and fire off a couple of AT-4s and the 25-mm. Tomorrow I head down to the LSA for the Cobb and Datray trial.
22 January: We drive the two hours down for the trial. Balad seems so much nicer than Samarra. We end up staying in brigade HQ because our FTCP is jumping. Wowsers. You can shower with hot water for as long as you like. You can talk on the phone with crystal-clear communication for hours at a time. There is no line to get on the Internet, and it is incredibly fast. All the soldiers there hate it-my guys are in hog heaven. I go for a run in brown T-shirt and shorts and get stopped by a senior NCO for being out of uniform, but we don’t have PT tops. Such a different perspective down here. Soft caps, three hot meals a day, omelets to order, and ice cream. It’s R&R down here compared to Samarra. If I stayed down here with the three hot meals a day, all-you-can-take hot showers, indoor living, no patrolling, MWR tents, and lots of TV, I wouldn’t understand why someone is blowing up a cache in a store in Samarra either … this place is so peaceful, so nice. I need to check on the pool hours.
24 January: The trial went well for the prosecution. Datray got ten years in the slammer for his antics. He proved absolutely flip and cocky about the whole deal. Cobb came back and sold him down the river. I talked to Cobb for a little bit, and he is the true sob story. Datray is the punk of the group. He continues to blame all his woes on everyone else. He will have a long time to think about that one. We went down to the FOB and sifted through all the mouse droppings to get out some more gear for our ever-increasing stay in Samarra. The brigade is in the midst of doing some redeployment transfer
of authority rock drill. A bunch of my captain buddies were on block leave while I was there. That is pretty cool. None of the officers at battalion have gotten that luxury. They are miserable up there, though. The time goes so slow for them.
26 January: We continue to perform our checkpoints on Route 1 and the “I can’t wait to get back to the FOB” six-hour patrols with no real mission. We have been checking in with the ICDC and trying to gain intelligence, but no one has anything. They continue to yo-yo us back and forth on our redeployment to Balad. Our tracks continue to break down since we are now at fifty days without focused maintenance. We try to entertain ourselves with the ICDC, police, fire station, hospital, etc. We have been into the hospital a couple of times, and it looks pretty bleak. I ask the doctors for a list of the equipment they need and turn it into battalion but know that no one will action on that. Everyone is so focused on going home.
28 January:”Hey, are we going to get some water over here?” I ask the CP.
“Yes sir, we just need to get a Humvee and talk to the dining facility,” they reply.
“Okay, well, we don’t have any Humvees, so drive a Bradley over there and load it up. I don’t want to run out of water.” I go back and start playing Connect Four-about seven games.
“Hey sir, a civilian car just crashed into the Bradley that went to get water.”
“Son of a b-, where are they?”
“Right out the front gate.”
“Okay, I’m moving.”
Bad scene. They had five civilians in the car, and they were driving about eighty mph when they hit. Two of them died instantly, and there was no way to pry them out of the car. I called for the field ambulance and a 10-ton wrecker and set up the Bradley in an overwatch position. We got the guys out of the backseat, and I started telling the medics which ones to treat. One looked pretty stable and the other two were breathing, albeit poorly. It
was disgusting getting them out of the vehicle, and I really hated seeing it. We unfolded the car with a Bradley and 10-ton wrecker. The bodies were smashed to bits and stuck in the car, so it just sucked. We proved pretty much callous to the whole event; but I am sick of seeing dead people. They were traveling from Mosul and were Christians. They had a picture of Mary and rosaries hanging from the mirror. That made me even sadder. We spent a good two hours pulling the car apart and medevacking them to higher care. I had the joint operations center call for the civilian ambulance and police to pick up the pieces. We loaded the three guys into the ambulance and moved them back to the battalion aid station. Two of them died on the table, and we sent the third one to the CASH. Just a really bad day.
31 January: “Hey sir, they said Nathem al Marsoumi was in a car crash and is at the hospital.”
“Well, move ICDC there and we’ll link up with them and take a look.”
We all rush out the gate and head to the hospital. We are greeted with a scene from some bad seventies movie staged in Colombia with the ICDC all wearing mismatched uniforms and equipped with AK-47s. Their leader has a revolver that he carries over his head, and he wears some crazy-looking armor vest with whacky-looking Top Gun sunglasses. They move through the hospital with about twenty guys clumped together looking in all the wards. It’s a crazy scene. I keep all our guys away from them. Their intentions are good, but the training level just ain’t there yet. We clear the hospital but cannot find the number one gangster, Marsoumi. The ICDC wants him and the car bombers just as badly as we do, so it is a pretty good working relationship. Our patrols center more and more around interacting with the public. The city is still quite scary, but the VIPs all want to come walk through the center of it. If they only knew how quickly the “coolness” of the artifacts can change. The police are a different story from the ICDC. They are hired through the Iraqis and are straight-up connected lazy dudes. When we ask the ICDC what they need, it’s always weapons and trucks. The police want blankets for their beds. They just come to the station and go to sleep. I have caught a bunch of them napping, so we mostly empower the ICDC.