26 March 2003 (The Day I Died)

0804Z, 26 March 2003, Wednesday

Sometimes I feel like I should be a reporter writing these things. Maybe I’ll write a book about this experience. I spent the night in some little town holding a bridge yesterday. Immediately upon entering the town, we came under mortar and direct fire. There were all kinds of resistance. All we wanted was a bridge. We were to secure a bridge and an avenue of approach so that other units could pass and civilians could not. There were several hundred Iraqis defending this little town.

The weather seemed to indicate immediately that we were going to have a battle. A huge sandstorm had blown in and visibility was decreased to about 50 meters at times, 100 meters most of the time. We fought until late at night trying to keep the bridges that weren’t really that tough to take. Mortars were falling all around us. It was landing pretty close to us. On the way here after leaving As Samawah, the convoy came under fire, both direct and indirect. We were dismounted and forced to defend a woodline from which Iraqis were coming. Nate and I took out several targets, one of which was a guy that decided on a suicide run towards us, but he was killed by a .50 caliber machine gun behind us. At one point during the convoy I saw a mortar tube fire and instantly heard the mortar incoming. I yelled “incoming” and the mortar landed about 15 feet to our left. And RPG round missed the front of our truck by about three inches. I’ll forget that sound as it passed us since we were right next to it.

As we were going over one of the bridges we had to cross, there were guys underneath holding AKs over the bridge firing at us. Since they weren’t watching where they were shooting, their bullets went over our truck, but we shot back hitting one of their hands.

At the town of Al Faysaliyah we again came under heavy artillery and mortar fire. The night sky was filled with the tracers of infantry fighting vehicles and tanks. There was a huge military compound about 1300 meters from where we were and they were just being hammered by us. Every time more people would attempt to approach a mortar tube they were taken out by 25mm rounds. We were killing Iraqis with stuff that doesn’t leave much left after it goes through you. By the time the sun came back up, it was all over and time to move on.

We proceeded to where we are now, that town in which we needed to take the bridges. As we rolled into town, we immediately came under fire as I said. The dust storm rolled in and the fighting ended up taking all day. The entire landscape was an eerie orange and one would think the Iraqis created it as a cover. As the rounds were flying, it began to rain. It wasn’t a normal rain either. It rained mud. As the water would fall from the sky it would pick up all this orange dust and stuff from the air and by the time it landed on you it was mud. No dripping, just plopping. A mortar round directly hit one tank, but the tanks are protected against those things. The only damage done was chipped paint and a broken antenna. You could hear tank rounds, machine guns, and mortars within about 500 meters of where we were. We took up defensive positions around our vehicle and waited to see someone trying to escape the firefight where we were.

The Iraqis were using civilian vehicles to resupply the town with new troops. They were arriving in trucks and cars and whatever else would carry them. I’m sure the drivers were forced to transport them. Some people took it upon themselves to fight against us. At one point, a civilian car rammed a Bradley with his car. The three men inside were injured. Since we were in the middle of a firefight, we couldn’t treat them. They kept getting pushed back to the rear of the formation. Eventually, they got to where we were. We stopped the guys and made them sit near our vehicle. One man looked fine, one looked like he had been shot a couple of times and the last one, the oldest looking, looked like he had been shot and most of his left hand was missing. I’ll never forget the look of it. He had maybe 2 fingers left. One was just hanging there and you could see the bone protruding from where the pinky used to be. His friend had wrapped a tourniquet around his lower arm to prevent it from bleeding too much. You could tell he had lost a lot of blood because he almost passed out a few times. We asked him who was shooting at us in the town. They claimed they had no idea. I asked him why he rammed one of our tanks with his car. He claimed he didn’t see the tank in the sandstorm. I was pissed because we were getting shot at from all over the place and this guy didn’t want to help us at all. This is where I lost my soul. It was all too much to be calm about and I lost it. No sleep and constant fighting can force even the most spiritual of us to turn evil. I told him to get the hell away from us. Profanity suddenly entered my vocabulary. Words I hadn’t used since before I was baptized. They wanted medical care for their friend. I refused to provide it to him, like everyone else. We just kept pushing him back. I feel bad about that in retrospect, because now that I can think calmly I think he probably didn’t see the tank at all. I don’t think he actually meant any harm. But, we were all being fired at. Mortars and artillery were shelling us. And this was just the beginning. Besides, if he was completely innocent machine gun rounds wouldn’t have been cooking off in his car after we blew it up.

When it finally let up we found out that a convoy of about 30-40 Iraqi vehicles were headed this way. I guess news got back up to An Najaf that these guys were getting their tails handed to them by tanks, Bradleys, machine guns, and JDAMS and cluster bombs. We had cut off their ability to continue resupplying troops through civilian means and they had lost the town. So, how does a Cavalry Troop equipped with no dismounts take care of dismounted infantry and a column of 30-40 vehicles? You create your dismounts. We all ended up defending the rear area of our perimeter where infantry had been attacking all day and night. We lie down on the woodline and waited with our NVGs trained on the trees. Luckily there was a fuel truck and bus still on fire that provided light for our NVGs, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see. We put out some claymore mines about 100 meters from our position and waited. We dug our foxhole and took up residence throughout the night. I kept worrying that I would nod off and my head would land on the trigger for the claymore. That alone kept me awake. The convoy never made it here thanks to our friends in the A-10s and infantry never emerged from the trees and I never fell asleep on the “clacker” (the claymore trigger). The convoy was heavily bombed by the Warthogs, JDAMS, and cluster bombs and pretty much turned around and went back where they came from. We actually got an hour of sleep last night.

1233Z, 26 March 2003, Wednesday

Today was a relaxed day. We cleared a few bunkers and looked at all the vehicles that were destroyed throughout the day yesterday. Our job was to search the dead for intel. Dead bodies lie beside their respective vehicles. Two were lying on the ground looking like wax sculptures having been pelted by dust particles all day. One body was still in its vehicle hanging out the window. Yet another was hunched over his steering wheel. His head had slammed into it with such force that his eyeball was hanging out. The steering wheel was about an inch into his skull. I say these things to highlight the inhuman sights of war. It’s not a pretty sight at all. War is the ugliest thing humans have invented. Why do we all have to fight each other? No one should have to witness the ugliness of war.

Earlier today some guys came by to pick up the dead and bury them. They were all civilians; either family or neighbors. One group of guys was extremely distraught and we were called to translate. The men told us that the guy lying there on the ground was engaged to be married. He was a cousin or nephew I think. Those are the stories you don’t like to hear. But, if they’d just give up they may have an opportunity to see their girlfriends and fiancees. It’s their fault. You can only manage it by remembering that these guys were transporting the enemy to try and destroy us. I know it was against his will, but it was him or us. I’d rather it be him.

We’re at it again. We just got word that the Iraqis are moving this way again and we heard indirect fire about 30 minutes ago off in the distance. It’s back into our hole. If indirect fire hits, it will have to be right on to do any damage to us. Any infantry trying to infiltrate our position will face our wrath and be repelled again. That’s my report for today. Hopefully, I’ll have a report for tomorrow.

4 Comments on “26 March 2003 (The Day I Died)

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  2. CJ, I really think you should write that book.I am reading “In The Company Of Soldiers” now and I am reading your blog. Both have given me a better understanding of what war is really like.Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.Karen

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