1 April 2003 (No April Fools About It, Things Are Nasty)

We’re going to San Diego tomorrow and I won’t be around to post my journal entry, so I’m doing tomorrow’s today. Besides, tomorrow is April Fool’s day and I’d be too tempted to make up some remarkable story that all my readers would be stumped by and then all my credibility (granted, what little I have to begin with) will be shot. So here’s tomorrow’s post:

0808Z, 1 April 2003, Tuesday

Two days ago, we got attached to 4/64 Armor for a mission to seize some bridges in a small town between Karbala and Hillah. The purpose of the operation was to faint an attack on that town and proceed about 20 kilometers east towards Al Hillah in an attempt to force units from that town or Karbala to expose themselves and try to reinforce the town in which we were fighting.

Initially, we were supposed to be the second company to go through. We broke our team up into two small teams so that we could augment two separate companies instead of just one. Mr. Young and Vince went with Attack Company and Nate and I stayed with Assassin Company. Attack’s mission was to go into the town first and seize the first bridge over the Euphrates River.

Then Assassins would come in, cross the bridge, and continue on to seize the next bridge crossing a canal further east. Beast Company was supposed to go and block a route to the north so that we could do this. What ended up happening was that Assassin Company did the blocking mission, which meant we went in first. Nate and I were in the back of a 577 Armored Personnel Carrier so we couldn’t see anything. We came into contact as expected when we got to our position. We could hear the bullets and mortars landing all around us. A few bullets hit our track and the First Sergeant had to duck a few times. After a very long hour of fighting, things calmed down a little and the company took some EPWs.

We were also beginning to see a bunch of civilians “surrendering” to us. One group of civilians lived in a house located right next to where we were. One of the guys threw an incendiary grenade toward the house to burn down the bushes so that we could see through them. They created a huge dead space. After he threw the grenade, the people started crying that there was another family member in there. We let one of the civilians go in there and get him. He ended up being a 70 year-old looking man. He was walking with a cane and could barely really move. We pretty much told them to get walking. The family consisted of about 6 women, 2 little girls about 9 years old, 3 men and a baby that was breastfeeding off one of the women. It’s amazing how the baby didn’t cry throughout the whole thing. It was probably about 3 months old, I’d say. There are guns being fired, tank round going off, and mortars landing and that baby just kept sucking. A bit of humanity in a world of chaos. We sent them on their way to where they said a family member lived. It was away from danger, so we let them go.

We took a few EPWs as well. One guy came up and was all shot up in the leg and part of his left foot was missing. It looked like his big toe and the one next to it were gone, all mangled. We got some information from him and treated his wounds. Other guys were shot in different places in varying degrees of pain and difficulty in treating. Nothing really gross or disgusting. I think we’re getting used to seeing these type of things so it’s probably relative. Most people would probably puke looking at this stuff.

There came a point when it was clear to get out and look around the town on foot. The first target was the building that this family came from. We went down to the house and looked in the truck that was in their front yard. The house was a decent-sized thing about the size of my house. It was made of brick and mud like most houses we’ve come across. Inside the back of the truck was a bunch of RPGs, a couple of launchers, some mortars, a few chains of PKM ammunition, a bunch of AK-47 ammunition, and an AK-47 behind the seat in the cab. There were also a couple of bags that we went through. The bags contained mostly clothes but each one had an AK magazine in it. One of the bags also had bundles of money. We checked inside the house but didn’t find anything. We think that the house was probably a company CP for the Republican Guard that we got into a fight with. They were good at forcing civilians to let them use their homes and just taking whatever they wanted.

A little bit later we started walking around the sector and collecting ammunition and weapons to gather up and destroy. While they were out doing that, Nate and I walked around to search the dead soldiers for documents and other things we needed. We’ve been taking the money off of the dead soldiers as well. They don’t need it anymore and we can use it to pay off informants for information. I think we’ve amassed over 200,000 dinars, which really isn’t a lot of money. The exchange rate is about 3,000 dinars to the dollar. So, you’re looking at just under $70 there. The money will go right back to the Iraqi people who help us find the bad guys.

While we were out searching the bodies we heard gunshots. As I turned around I saw one of our soldiers shooting into a ditch and diving for cover. More gunshots came from the ditch. It sounded like automatic fire – an AK-47. We all found cover quickly behind trees. The shooting continued for a few minutes and we exchanged gunfire. There were probably 7 people shooting at us from that ditch at least. The commander was with us as well with a reporter from the Boston Herald. The commander told one of the guys to shoot a grenade from his M203 and bound forward. The guy shot his round and I ran forward a couple of trees. When I looked over, no one had bounded with me, except Nate behind me. I told the engineer, the guy with the M203, to fire another round and that as soon as it goes off to rush forward towards the trench. He fired another round and as soon as it exploded I took off towards the trench, but noticed that no one was running with me on either side. I didn’t pay attention to who was behind me. I stopped just short of the trench behind a tree located about 7 feet away from the guy that was shooting trying to dodge bullets and stay alive. Every time I stopped running I’d yell for the guy to surrender in Arabic: “esteslem! Esteslem!” There were actually 5 guys left in there, but the other ones had either been shot or killed already and kept their heads down. So, here I was about 7 feet from the guy and he’s still firing at me, not knowing there were still 2 more guys injured but alive in the same trench. The tree that I’m taking cover behind is throwing bark all around me from the rounds hitting it right where my head was. If the tree wasn’t there, neither would my head, but then I wouldn’t be standing up if the tree weren’t there. It was just big enough for me to stand sideways behind, so I couldn’t kneel or go prone or I’d be exposed. I told one of the guys to my left to throw me a grenade. I took the grenade and pulled the pin on it. I popped the spoon and let the grenade cook off for a second before throwing it into the ditch. I saw the guy’s head pop up and threw the grenade right where his head was. About 2-3 seconds later it exploded and I charged in with my 9mm. I had already shot 10 rounds at the guy from behind my tree. Again, I charged the ditch alone thinking that these guys were gonna run up with me. I shot a few more rounds at the guy and hit him right in the tailbone and killed two others beside him.

He started whining in pain and I drug him out of the ditch and began searching him. The other guys had finally come up to help clear the ditch. There was a dead guy near where I had thrown the grenade that may have died as a result of it. I stripped the guy I shot of his weapons and forcefully searched him for documents and identification. Remember, his tailbone was shot so I made sure to roll him on his back a few times. Of the five guys shooting at us, two died, two were wounded, and one surrendered. There were a few more shots going off as the other soldiers with me cleared the rest of the ditch. I asked the guy how many more people were in the ditch. He said that there was one more soldier in the ditch to the east. I saw some grass moving as if someone was low crawling through the ditch in that area. I borrowed an M16 from one of the soldiers and shot about ten rounds where I saw the grass moving. Then, I had the engineer shoot another grenade down there just to make sure. The whole time we were fighting I was yelling for them to surrender in Arabic. “EstesLEM! EstesLEM!” Obviously, no one wanted to surrender. I took the guy’s AK-47 that was firing at me as a reminder and hopefully to use to fire back at future Iraqis. After the encounter, we left the area. I guess we had accomplished our mission. Why do I always get in these situations when I don’t have my rifle with me? An M9 pistol vs. an AK and I came out on top. Weird!

I never in my life thought that I’d end up in a man on man firefight. That’s the kind of stuff that the infantry do. You’ve seen it in WWII movies. You’d never think that MI soldiers would be required to perform that kind of task. And to think that I was the only one sane enough to charge the trench too. I should have made the Iraqi soldiers feel like idiots by telling them they were just overtaken by an MI soldier. I guess all that soldier training pays off. I can’t complain any more that I’ll never need that stuff. But, to be completely honest, I’m not sure I’da done the same thing if I had known I was alone charging that thing. Some things you just do to stay alive. I’m just glad I still get to go home when this is all over.

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