The Map

Okay, so the story of the map. First, some background:

Part of my job is that I exploit enemy documents for any intelligence value. During the war, it was my distinct pleasure to search dead for any information they may have been carrying on them. As soon as a battle was over, I’d take a team and go through the pockets, personal effects, and buildings of the enemy trying to establish an identity, affiliation, and/or who else was involved. I’m not your run of the mill intel nerd. I’m a tactical intel nerd. I am on the front lines fighting the fight with whomever I’m attached to at the time. For the first week of the war I was with 3/7 Cav as they blazed a trail for the rest of the 3rd ID. Then I moved to 4/64 Armor battalion for a feint operation to draw the Iraqi military from Karbala and Hilla. Then I moved to 1/64 Armor for the “Thunderruns” into Baghdad. Once in Baghdad, I was attached to 3/15 Infantry to clean up and regular presence patrols. I stayed with them when we transferred to Fallujah.

When we got Baghdad, there was no shortage of information to sort through. The worst part was searching the guys that had obviously been dead awhile. You cannot understand the sights and smells of combat until you’ve been through it. The smell of a decomposing human body is one that will never leave my nose. The site of one will never leave me mind. Picking through the pockets of one to find out why he was shooting at us or why he had so many RPGs in the trunk of his car is an experience I hope I never have to relive.

themap2After every mission, the leaders would bring my team and me whatever documents they thought were of intelligence value. One day, I got an urgent call from the S2 (battalion intelligence officer) that some maps had just come in and I needed to go over them immediately. I rushed up to the makeshift office, took whatever information they had, and went back to my area to begin the tedious process of going through hundreds of papers and maps. I went immediately to the map in question and stopped cold as I began to open it up. For those that aren’t too indocrinated about how the Army works, officers are commissioned after completing college degrees. Usually, they are commissioned through military academies or ROTC programs. Sometimes, they branch over from enlisted guys to officers (a program called green to gold). So, the majority of second lieutenants (the lowest officer ranking) are children, no older than 22 years old most of the time. As soon as they graduate college they are placed as platoon leaders in charge of anywhere between 15-40 soldiers. It’s the job of the platoon sergeant to properly train the platoon leader on military matters and assist with leadership decisions. At times, we also help change their diapers.

The story goes that as the patrol was clearing an area a man took off running. As he ran from the patrol, he dropped a map. The platoon leader picked it up and brought it in for me. I looked at the map and instantly began formulating how I would deal with this “important” information. I went back and told the S2 what we had and asked if he could get the Lieutenant (LT) to come in immediately. He was on patrol but would be able to come in about an hour. As we waited, I got my team together and briefed them on their jobs during the meeting: We needed someone to take detailed pictures of the map, someone to agree profusely and sternly to everything I said, and someone to apply the pressure. I would ask the questions.

When the lieutenant was brought it, I assembled my team, the S2 and the S3 (operations officer). I laid the map out on the table and asked the LT if he recognized it. His eyes lighting up, he answered, “yes, that’s the map that guy dropped as he ran off.”

I asked him to tell me in exact detail where he was when the map was found. Where was the guy running from? Where did he think he was headed? What did the guy look like? Did he have any other maps on him that he could see? How old was he? Would he be able to get there again? Were there other people around? Did they see the man drop the map? Does he know what this thing is?

He answered everything he could and I pulled out one of our tactical maps and laid it beside the map he brought in. I showed him how certain lines on his map corresponded with our entry routes into the city. One box represented Baghdad International Airport (at the time, we called it Bush International Airport after removing Saddam from the name. That didn’t last long.). Some of the circles around the routes represented underground bunkers where chemical munitions were being stored. I explained the significance of all the markings on the map he gave me. Then I said, “and the one thing that really told me exactly what we were dealing with is this.” I unfolded the top right hand corner that I had previously wanted hidden during my oration. Unfolding the corner, I read “Pattern #326” and the name of the dress pattern for a little girl. After wasting about 35 minutes of the LT’s time explaining what he had brought me, his face turned bright red as he realized that his “map” was actually a sewing pattern!!
Everyone in the room burst into laughter, something you could tell everyone was trying hard to avoid throughout my entire presentation. And we made sure that we got it all on film.