Tuesday, December 04, 2007

And we keep marching on...

Another day another...something. I dunno. Everyone's on edge lately due to the year coming to a close. We've packed our connex, which means we have one duffle bag, one rucksack and one assault pack worth of stuff left. Everything else is going to be mailed or thrown away. Missions are long and laborious, mostly hoping nothing happens. And then complaining because nothing did. A weird combination of just wanting to go home and the type A personality screaming to the surface and missing the fight.

I had a few days rest at the US Embassy in Baghdad recently. I had to go there for a court case. One of the guys we picked up came up for trial, so myself and another Soldier got to go hang out at the Embassy. Weird place the Embassy. A false reality, really. If not for the fact that there's barriers everywhere, you might not know you're in a war zone. We felt strange for the simple fact we were carrying M-4s. And a big deal was made about walking through the "red zone" to get to the courthouse...which is right next door to FOB Prosperity (where I started this year out).

So the court case. Very strange experience. You meet with your lawyer the day before and discuss your testimony. On the day of the trial, you meet in a little room with a couple couches and some chairs. The judge sits behind a desk with a person that writes down what the judge tells him to. The interpreter swears you and you give your testimony. In short sentences. While the detainee sits next to you. A few questions get asked to clarify things and that's it. The detainee's lawyer THEN comes in and the detainee gives his testimony (yeah...his lawyer isn't there when you talk.). And the outcome? Can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 9 months. Of course, he's already been sitting in jail for almost 3 months. Being as he's there for attacking coalition forces, emplacing IEDs, threatening locals for working with the Americans, and stealing houses by force...he can wait.

Guess a shorter than normal blog. Just not much to report. We're getting our things ready and waiting for the next unit so we can get out of here. Whenever that might be.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grinding down

Wow. It's been so long. I apologize first off. Bit of reasoning for it, partially do to laziness. Otherwise to do to conditions out at a COP. Also, it's really quiet lately and there's not too much to write about. No complaints about quiet.

Well, we endured yet another mission change (number 6) as we were attached to our Charlie Company. That meant we got to go live out at their Combat Outpost (COP). Basically a few local's houses that we took over and have built up. Our mission there was to patrol another neighborhood...right as we had begun to make really good progress in our old one of course (we had gotten in good with several sources, detained a few bad guys...then whoosh. New AO). In addition to that, we were tasked with security for the COP. As far as that went, we made quite a few improvements to the towers at the place. Added some bulletproof windows and more camo netting. Nothing mentioned to us about that, of course.

The new neighborhood was a bit more harsh than what we were used to. More IEDs mostly. We found one fairly small one during the changeover patrol (where C Co guys came out with us to show us the neighborhood). No real damage to the truck it hit. The guys in the truck wanted to do it again...some people are just crazy, though.

A few days later we found another one (27 Sept). Went off behind my truck and right in front of the one behind me. Thankfully set off early. It was a fire extinguisher full of HME surrounded by around 6 mortar shells. Thankfully little damage to the truck and the guys in it, outside of some wide eyes and painful eardrums. Afterwards, though, we set up to look around for the wires to the IED and try to figure out where it was set off from. We went to talk to a family down the street (a girl had run from our convoy as soon as we turned the corner...good chance she knew what was about to happen). We got a lame excuse from the family about sending the girl to the market (not that she was anywhere near nor heading towards it among other things). Not too long after we began our interrogation, we heard another boom. A hand grenade had been thrown at one our trucks (mine as it turned out). Me and the guys with me go running back towards the explosion, all while my trucks are shooting at rooftops and suspected positions. We get to the corner (we were set up in an "L" on a T intersection) and see my driver in a heap next to my truck. Not moving. Not good. First thoughts were that I had just lost a guy. We closed in and see that he's concious. If you're breathing, you're generally going to be ok on today's battlefield. And he was breathing.

O'Hara (my driver) had been pulling security to the south for my gunner who was facing east. Still not sure why he was on the south side of the trucking doing this, but he won't make that mistake again I'm sure...or let anyone else. The grenade hit off the cage on top of the turret and landed at his feet. He had the priviledge of watching it come off the roof and hit the humvee. I assume not moving much do to being in awe of what was happening. He ended up with shrapnel wounds to his abdomen (the blast went under his armor), legs, arms. Thankfully missed the most important part by 1/4 inch. He also ended up having about a foot of intestine taken out. He's back in CO doing well, though. Slowly recovering and I'm sure eating more Tabasco right now than he should be (he darn drank the stuff and always carried a bottle with him).

The rest of the time with C Co went fairly smooth. We did a few raids that ended up as nothing. We stayed away from any more IEDs. And generally enjoyed the looser attitudes there.

We're back with Delta again. Nice being back in our old neighborhood. We're doing a lot of work right now with the CO, taking him around to set up local militias. Same concept used out in Ramadi, hopefully it'll work here, too. Ramadi used to be the worst place in Iraq, now one of the safest.

So our "extension" (past the normal 12mo) started mid October. Since then, we've lost two Soldiers. One from A Co and one from D Co. From A Co, we lost SSG Fontenot. My platoon took him pretty hard. We were attached to A Co for the first few months and everybody generally loved the guy. He did a lot of good things helpin our platoon get incorporated into A Co and was just a really good guy. From D Co we lost PFC Iwasinski. He was attached to our platoon for a couple weeks. Also went to basic with a couple guys in the platoon. Needless to say that one was hard for them. We've had an eery trend, though. There's been a scarily high number of guys that were attached to our platoon...that won't be coming home or were injured badly. They all loved serving with us, but it's seemed to be vex on them.

Well...the title's "Grinding Down". We're closing in on less than a month to go before we head home. To say the least, the guys, as well as myself, are ready for it. We've headed past the "wow, this is fun" stage and are fully into the "let's go home" stage of things. Every mission now brings us very close to that, and every time we hand out paperwork related to going home boosts morale. They know it's just one less obstacle they have to do to get out of here.

If you made it this far, I posted a few new pictures. It's a pain to do so there aren't many. But there are two new photos of myself as well as four of my guys doing a cache search. Found nothing as usual. But it was a nice walk in date palm orchard.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Long time no type...

Wow, it's been a while since I put anything down here. Right now the mind's flooded with things to write. I guess I forget that what's inane or boring to me can be quite interesting to others. The repetiveness of the job here gets to you, but it's a type of boring I'm sure is hard for most to grasp. We've gotten to where we hear gunshots and shrug our shoulders...there was no crack or whiz, so why worry about it? Hear an explosion and think, "Wow, that was a big one...glad it wasn't us". I guess one would call that battlefield awareness. It's good to a point. It also breeds complacency. Complacency can lead to loss of life. So that creates a constant struggle of having to step back and remind yourself that yes, you ARE in a war zone still. I realized this the other night as I was walking from the bathroom back to my room. At night, with normal sounds of night (sans explosions, paladin launches or helicopters taking off), it's hard to think you're in a war zone. Peaceful. Quiet. Clear skies full of stars. You look around and mostly forget where you are...then the paladin fires. No mistaking it at that point.

The last month has been somewhat interesting I suppose. Not too bad for our platoon, almost tragic for our company. We've been extremely lucky as a company so far and really hope it continues. We had a few IEDs go off, a couple on my platoon. We lost one truck with no injuries but a concussion to the gunner (whose gun slammed into his head...a .50cal no less). Another platoon was attacked by an anti-tank grenade in my neighborhood. The grenade failed to detonate, bounced off the truck. They apprehended the guy who threw it, briefly. While they were waiting on EOD to come take care of the unexploded grenade and questioning the guy, they got attacked with a sniper. One round fired. Two guys hit. First guy got it in the head. Didn't penetrate his helmet, bounced off and into another guy's shoulder. Grenade thrower got away in the "chaos" that ensued. Just say...that platoon hasn't been under fire very often, so their reaction might not have been the best, and they let the bad guy get away.

Missions. What have we been doing? Right. Driving around. A lot. That doesn't seem to change. We did conduct the census on our mulhalla (neighborhood...see...now you know Arabic). That was productive. It got us to visit an area in our mulhalla we had never been because it's so hard to get to. Good visits and some interesting people there. Very poor section, though. And that's saying a lot in a country where the average salary is $1000. Per year. Now don't you feel better about your pay?

Things in our area are...shall we say...interesting right now. We're experiencing an influx of bad guys. Not so much involving direct attacks on us for the time being, but more terrorizing the populace kind of bad guys. It has a lot to do with the way things are going south of us. The "great wall of doura" is doing exactly what we thought it would, canalized the bad guys and forced them to flee. So they're coming to us. I equate what we're seeing to the mob, though. You have a handful of wanna be bad asses. They have what they have through use of force and terror on the people. They do a lot of telling the people they'll kill them if they talk to the Americans. They're watching them...listening to their phone calls (absurd I know...but an uneducated and scared populace falls for this). To prove a point, they recently killed 2 residents of our mulhalla. Right next to the mosque. One was a 17yo kid who ran a falafel stand. The other was the kid's 34yo brother who ran a store across the street. The bad guys had come by early in the day and told the locals they would be back to kill someone. No one called us. They came back, walked up the street with pistols in hand and shot the two guys in the head and left. Unfortunately, we can't be there 24hrs a day. The frustrating thing on our end was that the people did nothing. A large percentage of people have AKs there. But they did nothing. Either too scared or didn't care enough to help their fellow neighbors. So two men die.

The next day the insurgents returned. They shot and killed another man. This one from another mulhalla. We were called to pick up the body because no one knew the guy and were afraid he might be rigged with a bomb.

But sometimes it takes the deaths of others to infuriate some. Because of these actions, people are starting to open up. I assume they figure they'll be killd regardless, so why not give information that might capture/kill the bad guys? We've been geting more and more tips from locals. This is both good and bad. Good because we start having names to look for. Bad because we don't have pictures of these guys. You ask for descriptions, guess what they look like. About 5'8", brown skin, black hair, thin. Yeah. No kidding. Along with every guy we see every day in Iraq. But at least it's a step in the right direction. It's taken six months to get much out of these people, so we'll take whatever we can at this point. It encourages one of the missions I so hate, but know are necessary. The "block party". The get out and talk to the locals in their homes. Yay. Those that know me, know I don't like small talk. I'll expound for days on football. I'll engage in a political debate on the evils of liberals and big government. Want to talk about computers, weight lifting or Jeeps? Bring it on. But idle chit chat? Not so much. Being the quiet one that I am, it makes for some quick trips into homes as we stumble through trying to get a conversation started using a translator. Awkward to say the least. After a few "How ya doin?" and inferences to how they feel about how things are going, it's either over or they feel like going on about all the bad guys they've seen. And offer chai. Chai is always a good thing. Small glass of really sweet hot tea. Lipton. I was shocked, too.

But I digress. Overall things are going well and despite the influx of bad guys, getting better. Will take the overall quiet, but hopefully have good things to report with the next update. Hopefully a few less bad guys on the street among other things.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer heat and hot insurgents...

As the summer goes on, the heat seems to go up. As the heat goes up, so does the insurgent activity. Rather strange...we want to work less as it gets hotter, these guys seem to want to do more. That or they're just more pissed off than normal due to the unbearable heat. We're starting to reach into the 120's on a daily basis now. As we move into August...that'll start reaching the 130's. I can't begin to explain how hot that is.

My main area of operations is right next to the National Police station. This happens to be a high profile target for insurgents...more so of late. That being the case, it means we're having plenty of shooting to run to. Most of the time, they've already scared the bad guys off. Others, we show up, fire a couple bursts and the bad guys run off. It's impossible to pursue them due to barriers on the neighborhoods, and if your gunner doesn't hit with the first burst, the fight's usually over. So we end up with several short, high intensity engagements a week of late. It gets frustrating to say the least.

Add in the frustration of lying locals. Their constant complaint is of the National Police check point randomly firing into their neighborhood. The NPs don't randomly shoot...they might get a bit excessive when they do shoot, but it's usually not random. So we keep asking the locals...who's shooting from their neighborhood. Of course, everyone's innocent, knows nothing or sees nothing. Do we have proof they shoot? Yeah...while moving to the latest engagement at the checkpoint, two rounds hit in front of my truck. Only place they could have come from was in the neighborhood. Unless the NPs have magical bullets that go over walls and through houses to seek out humvees.

Our NPs did lose someone recently. They were obviously upset, but it hit my guys as well. It was one of the NPs that we interacted with quite a bit, had traded items with and even given a CIB (which is a high honor for an infantryman...but for them, more so to get it from us). I was more upset that my platoon wasn't out at the time to help them out, especially after hearing how the unit on the ground did next to nothing as far as returning fire or helping the NPs with casualties.

Lastly, but definitely not least, my CO found an EFP recently. Everyone made it out ok, the truck was done, though. They had one minor that will be return to duty soon and another that's already back on missions. EFPs are one of the few things we're actually scared of here. Old technology, but tough to do technology. They're generally imported from Iran in some shape or form. Thankfully this one was aimed a little off. The EFP was followed by small arms fire, which made for quite a bit of fun on our part. Not sure the insurgents enjoyed it...but we dropped nearly 10,000 rounds, 3 AT-4s, and then had a pair of Bradleys join in with their main gun. The target house basically disappeared. Can't say we got confirmed kills..but per normal for us, the bad guys learned they really don't want to mess with our trucks. Most convoys will drive through, shoot a few rounds and get out of the area...not us. We fire them up and maneuver if can...

About all for now. Another days ends for me here as I write this. Another day closer to going home. The rest of the heat to contend with before the home stretch of holidays draws us closer to Carson.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Never a dull moment...

Almost. The majority of our time here is spent driving around. We'll stop, talk to some people and generally listen to the same gripes and concerns over and over again. "My power doesn't work" "I don't have propane" "The NPs at the gas station shot my gas can" blah blah blah. Sometimes their concerns are real. Most of the time they're full of it and have their own agenda towards things. So most of the time we give them the always insightful "We'll look into it".

Sometimes we get to play actual infantrymen. Around the beginning of the month, we were visiting the NPs at the local station...listening their gripes and moans (theirs are generally actually relevant and meaningful). While we I was talking to them, their checkpoint outside the gate started taking fire from a building not far away. 2-3 guys with AKs on the third floor. NPs did what NPs do. They started spraying back with their AKs and PKCs (belt fed machinegun...). Meantime, we mounted up in our humvees and rolled out to see what we could do.

What we could do was get on line outside the building and unleash 2 .50cals and 2 M240s. That along with a couple guys dismounted firing their rifles and another that had dismounted as we left the gate firing his SAW made for some very unhappy insurgents.

During a semi lull in the shooting, I dismounted the rest of us and we headed to the building. Luck being what it is...bad guys along with NPs started shooting again. So we had the priviledge of approaching a building with bullets coming from both directions. When we got the building, I called back and got my terp to stop the NPs from shooting. We pushed on and opened the doors on the front of the building. Both sets of doors came up dry...no stairs. We went around the corner of the building and spotted a cooler on the ground. Thinking it might be a bomb and not wanting to find the hard way...we shot it. A lot. No boom so we drove on. Only other door on the bottom and still no stairs.

We cleared the house behind the building and went on the roof. Too high. And only place we could move to was impossible with all that we wear. We moved back and got the NPs, hoping they would be more mobile. Not so much. Still no roof access. All theh while, we could hear things sliding around and weapons being worked up above us. The windows were barred...so not much chance of a grenade (plus it was a little ways up there to throw one ;)).

As we moved back down and got were questioning some of the neighbors, our SAW gunner opened up again. The street had cleared off and he opened up on the guy that was shooing everyone away. We pursued and cleared several more houses. Kinda slow going with everything we wear, though.

The next day, we went back to the building. We borrowed a ladder from a local and made an entrance up the front of the building. Inside we found plenty of shell casings, bullet holes galore (had to be hell having .50cal cracking next to em :)), and blood stains near some of the windows, two bloody backprints on one of the walls and as we made it to the stairwell...arterial spurts on the wall. So no confirmed kills...but they were definitely hurting bad. There was also a dish of tar, probably used to plug wounds. The scene had also been cleaned up quite a bit. When we got downstairs, we found out why we couldn't get in...they had bricked the wall up. So new plan...we take fire from there again...an AT-4 (rocket launcher) gets used on the wall.

So of course we do take fire from there again a couple days later...on my day off. Obviously I was upset...but the guys did breach the building the an AT-4 and clear it. Bad guys weren't in there anymore...but it was cool nonetheless. They also ended up killing two guys in a field not far away that were trying to flee with AKs.

Couple that with today's brief firefight on our way home as we stopped to help out some NPs, a small IED, a couple anti-tank grenades (from Iran) thrown at our convoy and it's been a fairly busy couple weeks for our platoon.

As always...remember our brothers to our south, though. A sister company got hit pretty hard. 5 KIA and several wounded in one attack. A complex ambush initiated by a deep buried IED. We're definitely taking our lumps as a Battalion...I've been to more memorial ceremonies than I care to, but we're also making a lot of progress. We've captured some top guys and generally disrupted the enemy pretty well. We're also making strides in getting basic services back online and updating some schools in the area. So it's not all for nothing...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back to a new mission...but some things never change...

So I did make it back from R & R. Sadly, they did make me come back. Home was great. Good times with the wife while we were in CO, good times with the rest of the family in GA.

I got back to a new area, new mission. Still a quiet area, though. Just north of the Market we were in not long ago. Fair amount of Christians in our area and you can generally tell where they live. Their houses are cleaner, they dress a little different, yards are nicer. But they're also leaving the country do to threats. So far we've had two reporters in (LA Times and AP) to look into a story about that. I had the wonderful priviledge of escorting them both around.

What's happened since I've been back on these new and wonderful missions? Well...we've been taking a census of the area, sorta like we do in the US, but here we include a full search of the house, weapon's serial numbers and fingerprint/picture of all military age males. Census days are long, hot days. With temps in the 115 range, even short walks aren't any fun.

Days we don't do census, we do normal patrols. Normal is generally driving around the neighborhoods. Basically we're police officers. We stop and talk to people a little bit. Sometimes we'll put in overwatch positions.

One of the times, while we were putting in the overwatch position (at a highly undesireable, but ordered time of the day...), we took fire from across the road. Most people would be upset by this. Not necessarily the case for us. It gave us an opportunity to 1. Shoot. 2. Maneuver. Bascially what we're trained for.

The OP took fire and returned fire. I went up to observe, see what we could see. The bad guys had already fled. So I took the guys down, reorganized and decided to place them in there anyway. At the range we were being shot at, I felt good about trying to pull them back out into an exchange rather than worry about the fact the position had been compromised. And that's just what happened. As soon as the OP got back up and started setting up, they began to take fire again.

I started pushing trucks to cordon off the area the best we could w/out entering the neighborhood we were taking fire from (it's another Company's AO...). With coverage to the West, North and East, though...there wasn't too far for anyone to go. It wasn't long before a C Co patrol showed up. We directed them to where we were taking fire and they began a sweep of the neighborhood. Best we could do at that point was hold the cordon we had set and let those guys work.

But that seems to be the way things go in our area. To the south it's fairly violent. The most we do is chase ghosts. We hear large volumes of machinegun fire and drive towards it. By the time we get there, there's nothing left to shoot at. The bad guys have left and the IPs or NPs are just excited we actually showed up.

As far as comrades. Since I've been back from leave, A Co's lost one KIA (yet another from my old platoon) and had around 9 WIA (including the PL from my old platoon...who's returned to duty now). B Co's been hit with a chlorine IED that sent 10 of theirs to the CSH...2 stayed overnight. There's been a rather noticeable change in tactics if not insurgent cells in the area as there's less IED's in general, but more accurate RPG fire, more complex ambushes and more guys actually willing to stand and fight against our guys (which generally results in several dead bad guys...).

But we'll continue our police work type patrols. It may be boring overall, but at the same time it's hard to complain. I know A, B, and C Co's would be willing to change with us for a while.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

R and R

Finally got home for a bit of rest and relaxation. Back home in CO...definitely a change of pace. Responsibilities now are to wake up every day and decide what we feel like doing. Nothing's always a possibility...and not a bad one.

So far we've made a short trip up Pike's Peak (the apex is closed right now...too much snow...pics posted...). Always a harrowing drive, though. Just something about a 6,000ft drop on a road with no guard rails. Otherwise been wonderfully uneventful. It's nice to drive down the road without worrying whether it's going to go "boom" on you.

Nice flow of wine and beer...good steak...a movie or two under the belt and life's pretty good. We'll be heading down to my parent's in GA soon. Get to see the family and spend a little time with them before heading back to the sandbox and the new mission that awaits me there. Until that time, though...life back in the States is great. I'll have to try to be here more often... ;)