Monday, May 16, 2005

Operation Matador

Where am I? Am I okay? Am I participating in all the fighting going on right now?

These are a few of the questions I found waiting for me via email two days ago, upon my return from what's being called "The biggest operation since Fallujah". I apologize for keeping mum about it, but we're not given much choice. Bottom line, I'm okay. We did some good work out there. Saw a lot of things. So many things that I wanted to put in a little more effort than usual on this post and try to establish a rough timeline of events. A "war story" if you will.

Friday, May 6

The word is passed to all of us that an offensive mission is about to take place in the Al-Anbar Province. A unit in Al Qaim has an Engineer shortfall on their T/O (Table of Organization), and they need eight Marines down there ASAP. I am put in charge of a team and told what gear needs to be drawn. (Mine detectors, Muzzle-mounted flashlights for M16s, NVGs, etc.) Additionally, we are told our helo ride for AQ leaves the next morning. We all draw gear, clean weapons and wait.

Saturday, May 7

We get out to AQ late in the day because of a delay on the helicopter. This will set the precedent for most rides during the next week. We finally arrive on deck, and arrange billeting with the grunts we're going to go forward with. My team is attached to 3/5, Lima Co. We are given a short brief, explaining that we will be searching for mines and weapon caches. We all get pretty excited about that.

Shortly after the brief, we get the word that reville is going at 0200, and we step off at 0300. This too, will be a precedent for the coming week.

Too goddamn early, Sunday, May 8

Usually, when you wake up at Two in the morning, it's because your teenage daughter just tried to sneak back in, or you have to piss, or a burglar is rifling through your DVD collection. Usually you're drowsy. I wake up fully alert at the assigned reville time and make final checks on my gear before moving to the staging area.

After we sit around for an hour or two, the vehicles start to show up. Sgt Lee's team gets an armored humvee. My team gets an Amtrac, short for "amphibious tractor". It's a tracked vehicle made of aluminum. It's main mission is taking troops to shore from a naval vessel while under fire. The aluminum, light enough to give it buoyancy, isn't the most protective of armor, bBut it'll stop small arms fire easily enough. I realize that very few readers have ever had the luxury of riding in one of these, so I'll give a short synopsis of what riding in one is like. Imagine an EZ-Bake oven with guns. As the sun rises, so does the temperature inside our track. We're sitting there with flak & kevlar on, sweating our asses off. It's 0800. Gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

The smell of unwashed Marines permeates the inside, but we get an occasional break from the BO as diesel fumes waft through. My hate for Sgt Lee grows with each passing minute. Unlike a humvee, being on the move does not provide a cooling breeze.

After what seems like an eternity, we arrive on the outskirts of town and set up a blocking position. As my gaming buddies know, a blocking position is not necessarily involved in a direct fight. Essentially, you set up a perimeter, send in some grunts, and see if you manage to scare anyone your way. Sometimes you get some. Usually you don't.

After a few minutes of sitting there, rounds begin to impact in our general direction. Apparently, we aren't welcome. Go figure. The "rooks" (Short for rookie. Slang for guys on their first tour) get very excited about this. They search earnestly for targets to engage, but I know they're well out of range for an M16, and I sit down inside the amtrac to drink water and try to catch a nap. We spend all of the morning at our position, and in the early afternoon, we move to a new position, roughly 200 meters from the city.

I'm thinking to myself "Now this looks mighty promising." I get atop the vehicle and start scanning rooftops, windows and doorways with my ACOG (advanced combat optical gunsight). More rounds zing our way, just as wild and inaccurate as before. At this point, I'm starting to get a little pissed off. I don't like insurgents. I don't like people shooting at me, and I really don't like not knowing where they are. I keep scanning, but noone makes themselves available for me.

After several hours, the city has been cleared, and night is approaching. We need to find a place to get some rest. The Amtracks, Tanks and Humvees move into the city, and we find a school. Schools are great places to make an outpost from. Many rooms, all interconnected, and usually a wall or fence of some kind along the perimeter. We move into the school and find ourselves a room. After I get my gear off, I realize I'm hungry and almost out of water. Everyone else is in the same state, so I go outside to find our supply truck. Looking around, I see Marines everywhere, weapons bristling. On the rooftop, peering out of Amtracs, perched atop tanks.

Without warning, the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) on the roof opens up. Someone got caught doing something they shouldn't. Pretty soon, snipers begin opening up. From the looks of things, we've pissed off a few people.

Several squads are assembled and sent out on foot patrol to deal with them. My team and I continue to stand by in the school; This is a pure infantry mission, Engineers aren't needed. Soon word comes out over the net about a fortified position. An insurgent has dug a fighting hole in his living room, and is opening up with a machine gun sporting armor-piercing rounds. One Marine is shot in the throat and killed. As the Marines close to engage, two men wearing suicide vests rush them and are shot.

About this time, it's decided that enough is enough and an airstrike is called in on the house. A few minutes later, a 500 lb bomb drops and obliterates a house.

Whoops. Wrong house.

My team and I are still sitting in a dark classroom, looking at textbooks from the early 70's when an enormous blast blows out several of the school's windows. I look at the team, and think "Oh, fucking cheers. They have RPGs they want to play with." Then another blast sounds. And I realize: That's not an RPG. That's the main gun on an M1 Abrams tank.

Then I start to think "How fucking cool is it to have weapons that sound like you're being attacked when YOU'RE the ones attacking?" I would hate to be on the receiving end of that gun. A total of four High-Explosive rounds are sent into the building. All is quiet again, and we all curl up on the floor for some sleep.

Monday, May 9

reveille sounds at 0600 and we once again pack up our gear, load it onto the track and set out hunting. We drive across the open desert for an hour, until we come across another town. Once again, we set up on the outskirts for another blocking mission. This time, we spend the entire day at this position. In front of us is a huge city. Behind us are a couple buildings. We decide to clear the houses and try to relax somewhere a bit cooler.

The first house contains shorn sheep wool and other agricultural tools. It smells of animal, and we decide we've been smelling animal all day in the track. We move to the other house and find that someone certainly lives here; there are shoes in the entryway. Weapons come up, safeties come off. Even though the risk is minimal, we want to ensure it's safe here. We move through the house slowly, clearing rooms. Cabrerra and Garrett clear the roof, and now we only have one locked room to go.

We stand to the side of the door & knock. "Hello?" "Marhaba?" No answer. We decide to kick the door down. After several solid kicks, the lock shatters and the door bursts open. Before me is a parent's bedroom just like any other back home. Granted, the furniture is a bit more dilapidated and the bed's mattress in need of replacement, but it's obviously someone's home.

Still, there are a lot of places you can hide a mine, or an RPK, or plastique explosive. So we search slowly & methodically, squeezing the pockets of decades-old suits in the closet, lifting the mattress & re-tucking the blankets. We don't want them to know their privacy was invaded. I feel guilty, as if I was going through my own parents bedroom. As an apology to the home owners, we tuck a $5.00 bill under a hairbrush on the nightstand. Hopefully they can get the lock replaced without too much trouble.

Our consciences assuaged, we remove our gear & take naps. We are awakened in the early evening & told to reload our tracks. We move out of the city and set up a perimeter in the open desert for the night. This is when I meet Ali, the explosive-sniffing dog. Ali is the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen in my life, weighing in, according to his handler, at about 125lbs. I play tug of war and fetch with him. He is tremendously strong & fast, and his eyes are full of aggression moderated by his handler. He will prove to be extremely useful at finding weapons caches.

After setting up the firewatch, we tuck in again, this time getting up at 0300 for another exciting day.

Tuesday, May 10

The now common routine of loading gear onto bodies and packs onto tracks is completed, and we return to the exact position we had yesterday. Unfortunately, we still haven't got a mission, and we're annoyed by this. So we do what any bored jarhead does, we get some sleep. We move over to the houses we had yesterday and re-clear them. (Once you leave a building, you have to re-clear it if you want to enter.) What I see inside saddens me, and is a harbinger of events to come.

The house is trashed. MRE wrappers everywhere. The care we took to leave things undisturbed is of no consequence to the last occupants. The closet with clothes is open, the contents strewn about. The mattress is flipped over, and someone has X'ed it with their Ka-Bar to check the inside. The entire house is completely, 100% fucked. And the icing on the cake is the missing $5. I feel horrible. I can't imagine what my reaction would be if I came home one day to a scene like this. Call the police? These people have no police. Even if they did, they have no phones to call on. I don't want to rest here anymore. I'm afraid the people that own this place will return, and I'll have to look them in the eye.

We return to the amtracks and discuss the precice level of fucked-up one must reach to do that to someone's house. Then we are tasked with a mission and put it out of our heads. We need to sweep a road for mines so the armor can be brought up.

We grab our gear and move down to the road. It's about a 200 meter, 2-lane road. Sweeping this road takes about 3 hours, and we find nothing. No news is good news, but we desperately want to find something that will validate our place here. We return to our Track and set in for the night again. No sooner than we have everything unpacked than we are told to re-pack our shit and move to 1st Platoon's POS. We're going to be attached to them tomorrow.

Of course, the timing couldn't have been better, but we ignore the inconvenience. Fuck it, we're gonna go do some work at last. We move down about 300 meters to the house and drop our shit. I sit down and relax, working off my boots, when I smell something incredible: A home-cooked meal.

I take a sip out of my camelbak, because I'm obviously hallucinating and need to hydrate. But the smell is undeniable. I get up and explore my way to the kitchen, where two Marines are cooking chicken and frying potatoes. This is amazing. Real food. I get that pang of guilt again, but the Marines in the kitchen put me at ease. They rented the house and everything in it for $20. That will more than cover the food and inconvenience of having a platoon in your house.

I don't want to wait for the food to finish cooking, so I help myself to a few stalks of green onions. Delicious & crisp, I devour them in just a few minutes. By this time, the food is almost done, and we've found several loaves of local bread. We dip the bread into the chicken grease and eat it. Divine. I've never had a better meal in my life. I'm unshaven, unshowered, with greasy hair and skin, and I'm in heaven. It's now 2300, and reville is 0300 again, but I can't tear myself away from the food until my belly is full. Content, I make my way to the mat I have laid out as a mattress, and drift quickly off to sleep.

I wake up sometime in the night, having to piss fiercly, and make my way outside to the trench. Relieving myself, I go back into the room and lie down, thinking that it feels as though a lot more than four hours have gone by. This suspicion is confirmed when I am woken up at 0600. Command gave us a break today. Whee.

Wednesday, May 11

First platoon is given the mission of searching houses on the west side of the road we'll be travelling down. My team will sweep the road itself, clearing the way again for tanks and other vehicles. We're told that the methodical sweeping pattern we are using is, frankly, too slow. We're asked to search visually, sweeping the 14 over areas that we consider suspicious. I think this is a fine idea, and off we go.

We make much better time now. Finding mines is a job best suited for devious minds. If I'm devious, I know where I would plant mines, and thus stand a better chance of anticipating where they would put mines. Our intelligence says the mines have been put down very recently -- just in the past two or three days. Thus, I'm looking for fairly obvious things. Moist soil by the roadside, depressions or raises in the road, areas with "too much" camoflage, etc. Even areas carefully camoflaged will have inconsistencies. For instance, if you place rocks over the mine and scatter dirt atop them, the dirt will still lack the compactness that you will find occuring naturally. So if I pull out stones and no impression is left, something has recently disturbed that area of soil. Maybe a mine, maybe just a kid with a toy shovel & bucket. The only way to know is to sweep with a 14, or probe with a knife & hands.

We probe until chow, finding nothing. Military intelligence is rarely reliable, and we head inside to an Iraqi Family's house to eat chow & take a break. This family is still inside. Or, to be more accurate, outside in the garden, while Marines rest in the various rooms & stand watch on the roof. There is certainly tension in the air.

The way I see things, if I'm in someone's house, then I'm a guest. And guests introduce themselves. I go out to the garden and look at the family. A couple grown men, several women, and a whole batch of kids, ranging in age from infant to 16 or so. Everyone is avoiding my eyes except the youngest children. They stare at me with innocent curiosity. I kneel down, making eye contact, and softly say "Marhaba" (Hello). The effect is tremendous. The entire family looks over at me, and says "Hello!" In my mind, all the cultural classes I've taken regarding Iraqis flashes by. Don't use your left hand. Don't stare at women. Show respect by placing your hand over your heart.

Naturally, I fuck it up. But they don't care. I'm trying, and they recognize it. The kids smile shyly, and I sit down a few feet away. I don't want to crowd them, but I don't want to stand there, lording down on them either. I reflect on the contents of my pocket, trying to think of a small gift I might present. The letter from my girlfriend won't do. I doubt they need rifle cleaning gear. But I do have smokes. And out here, people smoke like it's their fuckin' job. I pull out my Marbs and offer one to who I assume is the head of the household. Smiling, he takes one and I light it for him. Then I take out one of mine and and light that too. Diplomacy through carcinogens. Fantastic stuff.

So we sit there, smoking our cigarettes, and we try to breach the formidable barrier of language. I ask him his name, he tells me it is Saoul (at least, that's how it sounded). He points at me and raises his eyebrows. I give him my name in Arabic, "Da-oud" (Again, this is phonetic). Grandpa smiles and chatters quickly to the others. Turns out, we've got the same name. That calls for a cigarette!

By this time, the children are no longer shy or afraid. They approach me, studying my features and gear. I try to teach a kid of about eight "Paper, Rock, Scissors." It's a lot harder than it sounds. I grab paper from my pocket and a rock from the garden. I pantomime scissors with my hands and try to demonstrate. It's going way over his head. I get another Marine to play with me, and finally they understand. Several rounds of PRS ensue, and damn it all if the kid didn't whup my ass.

The fun ends way too soon, and it's time to move. I never even ate my MRE. I pull it out of my pack and offer it to them, but they shake their heads and insist I keep it. I point at myself, then at their house, pantomimed sleeping, and said "Shu-krahn" (thank you). They say what I believe means "You're welcome", and I leave them. I hope desperately that the Muj did not see us using their house. If they did, the family will almost certainly be killed.

Once outside, we reload the amtracks and press forward a kilometer or two, and dismount again, making preperations to sweep the road. It's my turn to use the PSS14 (mine detector), so I strap in, boot it up, and being sweeping.

It's about 15 minutes later that I hear the explosion. They aren't particularly unusual in a hostile area. We had been finding caches semi-regularly, and the word would be passed that a controlled detonation was going to take place. There was no word passed about this particular explosion, however. We all stand there hoping against hope that someone fucked up, that someone forgot to mention another explosion. I stare in the direction of the blast. Then I see it: An enormous column of flame and smoke.

I know what it is before the word even comes over the radio: Someone hit a mine. I stand there in a daze and then the nausea comes. I fucked up. I fucked up in the worst way because I'm not dead, other Marines are. A voice in my head starts talking to me. "You are an insufferable shit. You were so anxious to get the sweep done and get out of the sun, and now look what has happened. Go on, Dave. Go on inside the nice cool house up ahead. You've done plenty today."

Then more explosions start. The C4, MK19 rounds, and various other types of ammunition stored on the track have begun to cook off from the heat. About ten Marines got out of the track, the rest are burning inside. I wish more than anything that they are unconcious from the blast. I want to sit down and cry. The platoon Sergeant comes over to me. "It's okay, man. It's okay. You guys didn't sweep that area, we drove past it."

I'm so relieved to hear it that I don't even question the statement's veracity. We are calmly told to get into a building, occupy the rooftop, and begin searching for triggermen. Military-age persons with weapons or binoculars are to be shot on sight. Persons will cellular phones are to be observed. So up we go to the roof, and we spend several hours there searching for targets. None appear.

The occupants of the house have been seperated. Men in one room, women & children on the other. The psyops guys think that the men know something, and they begin interrogating them in a bedroom. The women & children are under guard by a single Marine. As his time for relief approaches, I volunteer to take his place and am sent down.

I enter the room to see about 15 women & children inside. The women range in age from late teens to an elderly woman. The children range from infant to ten year olds. I inform the Marine standing post that I'm his relief, and he moves to another room to begin eating an MRE.

The women are afraid and the children are feeding off of this. Every Marine that walks through the entryway glares at them in cold fury. I smile and wave at one of the younger ones, and he starts to cry. I feel like a monster. I can only imagine what I must look like to these scared people. Decked out in full combat gear, holding a loaded assault rifle. One more face in a string of tormentors. I'm angry, all right, but not at them. I'm angry that I'm standing here with a weapon, essentially holding them hostage. It's not honorable. It's not right. If I had the luxury of choking up, I probably would have.

I take a knee a respectful distance from the children and reach into my cargo pocket. I've been saving my MRE candy for kids. I have M&Ms and Jolly Ranchers in my pocket. I pull them out slowly. It's a well known fact that the driving force in every child's life is to consume candy, regardless of circumstance. I take a Jolly Rancher and slide it to the kid looking friendliest at the moment. He picks it up, puts it in his mouth, and does the crazy candy-dance we all did as children. Now the curiosity of the other children is piqued, and I shake M&Ms into outstreched hands, distributing as evenly as I can. Now we've got almost a dozen kids in pure candy ecstacy.

A Marine is attracted by the commotion and puts his head inside. "What the fuck are you doing? He spat out. Don't smile at these pieces of shit." With that, he disappears back into the further recesses of the house. And like magic, the work I just put in is undone by a single sentence. No more candy dancing. No more giggles or smiles. Stonefaced, eyes cast downward, utterly silent. One of the younger children grabs a dish of water and drinks it all down. Now there is no more for anyone else. I reach out my hand and beckon for the dish, but noone will hand it to me. So I slowly walk into the group.

The kids are absolutely flapping. They haven't been this close to a Marine before. It's unexpected and therefore scary. I lean down to retrieve the water dish, and lock eyes with a strikingly beautiful young woman. The look she is giving me is one of barely controlled fear. I softly whisper "It's okay, I just want to give you water." Knowing full well she can't understand but hoping the words will have a soothing effect. They don't. Retrieving my camelbak mouthpiece, I refill the water dish and set it back down on the tile next to her. She relaxes just a touch, and I return to my previous position in the room.

We are then told to get ready, the casualties incurred earlier are being loaded onto a helicopter, and after the medical helos leave,we will return to our tracks and beat feet away to another school. The entire ride, two thoughts duel for control: "Please don't let us run over a mine" and "Men burned to death today, you may have played the starring role, and you're worried about your own hide?"

We get to another school and set up bivouac. Once again, We remove our gear and begin exploring. Garrett is in one room, I am in a room adjacent. Suddenly I hear him scream, then start to laugh. I enter the room, he explains. While exploring, he opened up a cardboard box, and a cat jumped out. We laugh together, relieved to have something else on our minds, if only for a moment.

"I wonder what the hell that cat was doing in there, anyway?" Garrett says. "Probably kittens." I reply, and stride over to the box to confirm my suspicions. Sure enough, a single kitten is inside, about 4 weeks old. It's cowering in the corner of the box, and I reach down to pick it up. As the kitten mewls pitifully, I pick it up and hold it to my chest, gently petting it and speaking softly. It's pure therapy, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to take care of something helpless: It keeps my mind off the deaths.

Then the other Marines come in. I turned away, hiding the kitten. I know kittens well; I know Marines better. If they find out about the kitten, It's odds of survivability drop to about 50%. I return to the room I got it from, petting and whispering to it, and return it to the box. Garrett wants to know if that's a good idea. "The mother has probably abandoned it, you know." But, as I said before, I know cats. "Naw, that momma is going to sneak in here tonight while we all sleep and move her baby. Watch."

Sure enough, when I got up in the morning, the box was empty.

Thursday, May 12

With the arrival of morning comes a surprise. We're not doing shit until the afternoon. The KIA & WIA casualties suffered so far have come almost exclusively from 2nd Platoon. They have suffered 60% casualties, and have been rendered combat ineffective. The remaining members of 2nd are flown out to a quieter locale, and the remainder of the company must new be reorganized. Thus, time off while they sort this out.

I spend my time sleeping blissfully and eating, Thinking about happy things. Anne. Coming Home. A shower at the end of the mission. Bad karaoke night at my Dad's Bar.

Around 1400, we get our word. We are now attached to Weapons Platoon and we will ride in their track from now on. Move your shit & get ready, we're going back to the city in an hour.

We get loaded up and move out. One of the Marines on the track turns to me and says "I just want to tell you, man, you might see some fucked up shit today. Make sure you're ready." Of course, this is a rather cryptic statement, and I ask what he means by it. "We're fucking done trying to win hearts and minds" he says "Now we're going to kill hearts and minds." "Yeah" his buddy pipes up "Two in the heart, one in the mind."

I've heard this talk before, and I pretty much ignore it. But as we get out of the vehicles and begin searching houses & clearning roads, it becomes plain that they weren't kidding. Marines are screaming at Iraqis to sit down and shut up, as if screaming will make their words intelligible to these people. "Imshee! Imshee!" (Go!) is shouted at children that approach. The tension is extremely high.

As we round a lazy 90-degree turn, shots come in at us. Nobody takes cover. Someone spots the house they shot from, and bullets riddle the walls, kicking up dust as they tear through. Nobody is worried about civilians anymore. Nobody cares. I peer through my ACOG, searching again for a target, finding nothing. We begin to move again.

I enter the courtyard of a house that is being searched. The women & children sit at one end of the yard, the men at the other. A Marine is staring vehemently at the men in the yard. They range in ages from 12 to early 20's. The adolescents, cocky as all adolescents are, smirk at the Marine standing in front of them. I watch the transformation from anger to complete rage occur in just a few seconds. "You think this is pretty funny, do you? You think this is pretty fucking funny? Huh? You think so?" I watch him point the rifle at the kid's head. Still smirking. The unmistakable "click" of a safety being released. Still smirking. The Marine's jaw is clenched tight, hissing through his teeth, finger now directly on the trigger.

I know I should do something. I know I should say "Come on, man. Fuck these kids. Let's go." But I don't. I take the cowards way out. I turn and walk back onto the street.

100 meters down the road a different reception is taking place. A man is smiling with his father & son, waving and smiling at us. I return the gesture, and he ducks inside. "Odd." I think to myself, and then he reappears with several large pieces of flatbread. I remember the bread I ate a few nights ago and gladly accept a piece. He hands the rest out to my squad, and now we're all happy. It's been a few hours since I ate, and I'm wolfing this bread down. "Shukrahn, shukrahn." I say, placing my hand over my heart and bowing slightly. My hearty thanks earns me another gift. He calls something over to his wife in the garden. She picks several robust tomatoes and presents them to me. By now, I'm trying to juggle a large piece of bread, a rifle and an armful of tomatoes. "Hey, hey, somebody take some of these fuckin' tomatoes, man. I can't hold all of em." A Marine comes over and takes the tomatoes. "You need somebody to hold these, man? Here." And that said, he thrusts the tomatoes into the Iraqi man's arms and walks away. Several tomatoes fall to the dirt-encrusted rocks and break open, oozing juice and seeds into the road.

He and I stare at each other for a few moments. I want to apologize and I don't know how. I want to find a way to tell him "I'm sorry so many of us are angry at you. I'm not angry. I know it's not your fault." I can't do that though. So I continue to look into his eyes, willing him to understand. Bending over, I pick up one of the split tomatoes from the rocks. I rub the sizeable hole of the tomato off on my sleeve and bite down. "Shukrahn" I whisper. I think he understands. I reach out and squeeze his shoulder. "Shukrahn". He gives a faint smile and a nod. Then the column begins to move again, and we finish our roadsweep without further incident.

Our bivouac site for the evening is a 3-story house, full of marble floors and elegant lights. The owner is a "businessman". Smuggler. He has TV, and we watch some Arabic music videos. Eventually, we drift off to sleep.

Friday, May 13

This is scheduled to be an easy day. We only have a few houses and roads to clear before we're ready to leave. Unfortunately for Engineers, we're the only ones authorized to clear a road, so we worked our asses off for the entire day. We started with Weapons Platoon, and cleared the roads in their small sector. Once again, the roadway is clear. I'm starting to doubt the intelligence that has been reporting mines everywhere in this area. I've already managed to forget the tragedy of Wednesday, and have begun to slip into complacency. The problem is, you don't realize you're doing it. The fact of the matter is, after a few days in 100+ temperatures, in full gear, sweeping kilometer after kilometer & not finding anything, it's easy to slip.

We walk back to the COC and are re-tasked to clear more roadways for 2nd Platoon. Fantastic. Out we go again to sweep. We report to the house that 2nd platoon is using for a FOB (Forward Operating Base) The HMFIC (Head Mother-Fucker In Charge) says "You're the engineers, right? "Yes, Sir" we reply in unison. "Been working your asses off today?" Again the chorus "Yes, Sir". "Well sit down, take off your shit, get some chow, and try to relax. We step off at 1600."

Sweetness and light, a break at last. We scoff down our chow and smoke cigarettes, basking in the comfort of doing nothing. All of a sudden, we hear a cry of "Hoooooooooly sheeeeeeeeeit!"
Curiosity is a powerful force, and I go to the yard to investigate. What happend is this: One particular Marine, wanting to be as respectful as possible under the circumstances, decided to dig a piss trench in the yard. That way, we wouldn't all go tromping through the man's bathrooms. But midway through the trench, he finds an AK47 and lots of ammo. This time, an intervention on behalf of the Iraqi never even crosses my mind. Just wasn't his lucky day.

1600 rolls around and we step out to sweep some more. We only have about a kilometer to go, but the last 500 meters or so lead up into the cliffs with lots of winding. LAR (Light Armored Reconnaissance) is atop the cliff, so we're not worried about an ambush. Once again, we begin sweeping the road. But this time, we have some help. A pair of CEB (Combat Engineer Battalion) engineers are with us. They also have a mine detector, though it's an older model. We decide to split up the road. We'll take the right, they take the left. And up we go. We get up to the top in a reasonable amount of time, and the CEB Marines are right behind us. About 100 meters from the top, they stop and begin digging. This isn't unusual, as we frequently dig & probe into the ground if something seems suspicious. What is unusual is when they get up and run like hell screaming "IED! IED!"

Well, well. Pay dirt at last.

EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) is summoned to detonate the IED (Improvised explosive device). They get out their little robot, it places the charges, they drive it back, and BOOM, it's gone. We all start thinking "Y'know, maybe we should sweep again, just to be sure." and so we head, sweeping a second time. CEB finds another IED. It is also blown in the same fashion as the previous one.

By now, we're starting to feel pissed off an embarassed. These guys come out of nowhere and start finding everything, thus stealing our credit. We keep searching. Garrett is using the mine detector, I'm standing next to him as an aide, and Guererro and Cabrerra are probing with Ka-Bars. The metal detector spikes. This isn't unusual, as there is a lot of metal anywhere you go. What you need to pay attention to is the shape of the metal halo you're examining. This one happens to be in the shape of an artillery round.

"Ro-Ro" (Guererro's nickname) I call out, c'mere and have a peek at this." Dutifully, he trots over and begins probing. "Whoa, this ground is soft" he says ominously. I instruct him to be careful and keep going. He begins wiping dust away with his fingertips. Suddenly, I see bright blue peeking up out of the dirt. "Move back! Move back! That's a pressure plate!" We all move away and EOD comes out yet again to blow it up.

We have finally redeemed ourselves, and morale skyrockets. There is no doubt in any of our minds that we saved lives today. We continue sweeping downward, hoping to tie the score, but nothing more is found. Even so, nobody wants to travel that road without a very in-depth search. By now, it's 2200, and we return to our COC. This is the only time we've spent two nights in a row anywhere, and I happily return to my mattress. Reville is 0300, we move at 0400, but then again, that's expected.

Saturday, May 14

The trucks are again loaded up and we roll back to AQ. Nothing of any serious interest happens during the trip, and we arrive around 2030 to a heroes welcome. They even kept the chow hall open late for us. Awesome.

Sunday, May 15 and Monday, May 16

We spent these two days waiting for a helicopter to take us back home. Finally it arrived and we touched down last night around 1700. Imagine my surprise at the amount of mail waiting for me. SIX PACKAGES. I was so excited, I tore them open like a kid at christmas. Books, Instant Coffee, DVDs, Pogey bait, and so on. I wish I had been a little smarter about opening packages so I could thank according to what I got, but I didn't so I can't. A HUGE thank you to everyone for that support. I didn't think my return home could be any better than a hot shower & some clean clothes, but I am happily proven wrong. I appreciate it more than words can entail.

And once again, I hope noone was too very worried about me. I didn't tell Anne or anyone else in my Family, both for opsec AND I don't want them to worry needlessly. However, Anne, Smart cookie that she is, figured it out by piecing together my Area of Operations, where the fighting was going on, and my sudden lack of communication. Something tells me if I ever forget a birthday or anniversary and I decide to make something up, it better be pretty damn airtight.

I'm also sorry for the not-very jovial mood this post has taken. I wish I knew a way to joke about some of that stuff, but I can't find one yet. I'm not moping, feeling sorry for myself. I'm not trying to wax poetic with any of this either. But I can't shake the taste in my mouth that some of those events left.

I think that's about enough writing for one day. More scoop very soon.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,
It's good to know you are okay. I can breathe again. I'm keeping the maps up until you come home. You are always on my mind. I miss you.XOXOXXX Love, Your Girl

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been monitoring this daily and it was a great relief to see the latest post. Your writing is powerful, moving and has the rare quality to transport the reader in to the environment. I hope you never become as jaded as some and continue the small efforts of courtesies and human decency.

BF2 is a month away....
-Kane

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you're doing well, Dave. I've been recounting these stories to some co-workers and we're all amazed that while we sit in cushy chairs arguing over which Buffalo wing place to eat lunch at, there are people out there doing real work.

-Todd A.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you are ok Dave, and that you are able to keep hold of your compassion for the people around you.

Hugs,
Bug Girl

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, Mark and I are proud that you are behaving like a REAL Marine. I remember reading once a story by a man who had been a child during WWII in Germany. He talked about how a soldier giving him a candy bar made him know the Americans were alright. Keep it up. And keep safe!

Kitty

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your account makes it so real. I cannot move through my day without thinking of you. You saved lives and carried yourself with honor. Your integrity and compassion set you apart from others. I am so proud of the man you are.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave,

I am so sorry that you've had to see how ugly humanity can be (even the 'good guys'). Your dignity and honor are truly incredible. I am very, very proud of you. Please come home safe.

Your Dad

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah...

Since your rendition of "Baby Got Back" our bad karaoke nights just haven't been the same. Such gusto... such 'how do you even know the words???' You're a crowd favorite. I love you.

Dad

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Brennan said...

Well, since everyone else has stole the "i'm proud of you line" it might not have as much power. But I'm incredibly proud to have you as my brother. Thanks for not making me a mexican millionaire (yet)

I had some lady call me today looking for David Doody and that it was very important, and I asked her what it was in regards to, she said that she couldn't tell me and she must talk with you directly. I asked her again, I said "He's pretty busy right now, he's also asked me to handle his affairs, so whats up?" Once again she replies that she can't tell me, this time with an indignit tone as if I was troubling her. She asks if there is another way to get ahold of you or if I could relay her number to you. I tell her that isn't very feesable as you're in Iraq, but I'd be happy to relay this top secret message to him once he gets back. There is a long pause, and then she whimpers out, "I'm very sorry, I was just calling to see if he knew anyone to refer to the Verizon Wireless Friends and Family program." there was another pause and then "tell him thank you." and she hung up.

So if you're reading this Dave or anyone else and want to hook 'em up with Verizon service shoot me an email, you'll get a $20 credit on your account!

See you soon bro. Be safe.

8:42 PM  
Blogger PirateLad said...

I appreciate all the kind words. I too am sorry about having to view the ugliness firsthand. Oddly enough, I had always thought that this sort of thing was done by "the other guys", but not us.

It's a sad thing to see people so consumed by hate that they're blind to their cruelty bestown on innocents. I hope in time, that changes.

I managed to find a marine out here with "baby got back" on his laptop. I've since downloaded the song on my ipod and am making a half-assed attempt to learn all the words I've forgotten, the better to serenade the bar with. Rest assured that as my homecoming date approaches, my half-assed attempt will be transformed into a full-assed one.

And in closing, let me just say that hearing about the verizon wireless call had me strapping on my LOLLERSKATES. I bet she feels horrible. As all telemarketers should. Ha.

If she calls back, tell her this:

I'm very, very interested in making referalls to this revolutionary new calling plan. My heart sings out at this opportunity to extend my gratitude to friends & family members for all they've done by having strangers call them.

Contact me at building 308, Al Asad, Iraq, with all haste. The thought of keeping those closest to me from incredible savings is unbearable.

1:33 AM  

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