18 December 2009

Because I'm lazy: A story of my time in the Hot Place

 So, I was thinking about the millions of things I could write about this morning, but I'm lazy, so I thought I'd share some of my old LJ stuff that I've kept.  The following is one of my stories from my first tour in "The Hot Place" and takes place in that town most people have heard of.

This is REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY LONG...you have been warned

 I still feel a strong distrust for most of the Iraqis, mostly because of "Fallujah" when I had to deal with them on a daily basis. Actually now that I think of it I'm not sure how many of you actually know the story about Fallujah, or even what I did there.

It was June 2003, we had moved back to the Airport in preperation to move South to Kuwait. On the 2nd my commander comes up to our platoon to tell us we're moving west to a city we've never heard of "Fallujah". After the initial shock of "not-going-home" set in, we prepared ourselves to move out. The convoy to "Fallujah" was uneventful, although I'm sure my humvee wasn't happen that it was carrying a refridgerator on it, actually I know for a fact it wasn't happy. I broke a few things on it, when we hit a traffic jam. But that's not important. After getting onto our compound, we did some clean-up and then some assessment on where would be a good place to start ops.

After several days of running Ops my Platoon Sargeant, asked me if I'd like to move from the Hammer team, and work on something with more direct contact with the Iraqi's. I, of course, said yes. I had managed to be in country for about 3 months without so much as an utterance of arabic. I figured this would be a good oppotunity for me to test my skills.

A few days later I was on a JAG team (yes people, like the show i was working for the Judge Advocate) as he was trying to re-establish the court system in Iraq. I even managed to meet the local judge and several of the lawyers. I remember smoking with all of them in their cramped little office, while the Jag officers stared at me, thinking that I was plotting against them, but when I told them that it was expected, they simply smiled and continued talking about the re-establishment of the Judicial Branch in Iraq. After two weeks of this, my understanding of Iraqi was greater than I had thought previously, but then again, i was immersed in the language every day. My commander approached me again, asking if I would be willing to work with a Tactical HUMINT Team. I thought about it for a while...and I said yes.

I was attached to a National Gaurd THT from Utah as their linguist/interpreter. I can still remember meeting them for the first time. I don't know why but being the lowest ranking then seemed to bother me. Two e-5's an e-7 and then me. We started working in the streets, mostly just talking with people we could meet. I remember walking past the "Al-Jazeera" office almost every day. After a week we had our first raid. I still remember it. We had both NG THT's waiting for dark. We sat in our "trucks" waiting until 1 or 2 in the morning, and then we went in. I didn't go with the actually entry and clearing force, but i wasn't far behind either. My adrenaline was racing the entire time. I couldn't believe it, at any moment someone could have popped up and starting shooting, and I'm sure that I was ready at the time.

After about a week after the first raid, I was moved to another THT, this one ALL active. I worked for guys from my BN. I was one of two Linguists on the team, and our AO (area of Operations) was Northern Fallujah. We went out nearly every day. I still remember leaving the Fob, sitting in the turret of our gun-truck, wearing my Shimag, and pulling security for my team (one of the benefits of being a SAW gunner). For two months I worked nearly everyday inside fallujah, sometimes we'd go to the market, sometimes not. One day I can clearly remember was the day I earned my "first-name" privledge. The "First-Name" privledge was something you earned after being involved in a direct fire exchange. Everyone else on my team had called each other by their first-name, yet i was not allowed.

We were doing some recon on a possible raid that would take place the following evening. We had our security team with us (Scouts). And as we turned down one of the side streets, we heard shots being fired. We decided to continue mission, unfortunately, our avenue of approach to our recon area was blocked by a car, so we couldn't do our job. I can remember one of my teammates asking over the radio "Hey man, how about checking out that gun-fire". And the scout guys replying "Sure, sounds good". I really didn't care at the time, I just wanted to see what it was that was shooting....

And the scout guys replying "Sure, sounds good". I really didn't care at the time, I just wanted to see what it was that was shooting....

After a few quick turns and some daft manuevering on the part of our driver, another army specialist (like myself) we managed to find ourselves at the end of the street where the gun fire was coming from. That was when things started to slow down, like time itself had decided to stop working. What seemed like hours, was merely minutes. I remember staying in the turret pulling security on the truck, while two members of my team moved forward with the scouts to check out the situation. It wasn't until the Iraqi's saw us, that we began to take fire. I can still remember the sound of the round that missed me, but at the time I couldn't worry about it. There was a mob forming at the other end of the street coming towards me, so I moved my turret to face them, pointed my weapon in a threatening fasion, as if to say "Try it you Fuckers!! Just try it..." It worked for a while, until i had to move my truck forward to block off one end of the street, but then we had the scouts pulling rear security. It seemed like the shooting had lasted for hours, when in reality it was only 10-15 minutes.

Once all the shooting was over, we entered the house, clearing it as we went, and this time I was part of the entry team. I was there to yell at anyone we found, to get on the ground, put down their weapons and come outside. It wasn't complex, but my blood pumped, and my heart raced. Once the adrenaline wore off, we got down to questioning the people on what happend.

The Father of the house said that no one had been shooting, and he didn't know why the Americans were there. He had called the police earlier since someone had stabbed him at his front door. It was after he said no one was shooting, that I asked one of the scouts to bring me a cartridge they found on the roof, and I proceded to tear this guys story to shit. How could no one have been shooting, if i found expended rounds on the roof? The guys replied that someone must have left them there. Well, then why are they still warm (Side Note: If a round is shot off, the primer inside causes an explosion which ignites the powder inside forcing the projectile out, through this process the "jacket" of the round is heated to very high temperatures, it usually only takes about half an hour for the rounds to be cool). His response was someone else was on the roof shooting, someone was trying to frame him. I managed to lose it right about then. Knowing that I was being lied to, knowing all well, that my scouts had seen the man I was talking to shooting from the rooftop. It's one of the reasons I have a hard time trusting any Iraqi. Anyway, after about 2-3 hours of questioning it was getting dark, and we had to go back to the FOB. We were low on Ammo, and would have had a hard time dealing with another attack, if ever one came, so we called in for back-up and waited for it to arrive. At 9 o'clock at night, it finally showed up, and we rolled back into the FOB.

Here's another side note for those of you who don't know. During that mission, the THT consisted only of 3 people, and none were NCO's, yes we had NCO's as part of our scout team, but they took their orders from us, since we were in charge of the operation. It really difficult to explain to someone outside my field, but that was a very gratifying experience...

Fast forward to our next night mission...

We get a call at 1 in the morning that there had been an RPG attack at the mayor's cell. They had seen a white van which held the insurgent, but were unable to shoot. They saw the van pass again, thinking that another attack was coming, they shot first. And that was when we were called in. We arrived at about 2 o'clock, and there was this child, sitting with some infantry man, playing a game of cards. Now I didn't know why at the time, but I knew that it was odd. Then I saw the van, swiss cheese didn't have as many holes as this van did. I thought to myself, well...atleast they hit what they were shooting at, but then I started talking with the kid. He told me the tale of how he and his father were going to get ice to sell on the side of the road that day. You know, a nice "father-son" outing, that builds and fosters the relationship in the family. Well, I asked the kid where his father was, and he said that the "Doctors" we're taking care of him, since he'd been shot. I continued to chit-chat with the kid for a while, and then I saw the medic. His face was taught, and he signaled me to come over. I walked over, and he told me..."The guy's dead"...I didn't know what to say, instantly it hit me. What feelings, thoughts, emotions, everything, would go through my head if I found that someone had killed my father. I couldn't speak. It took everything I had not to break-down right there. This child, this 7 year-old boy, had woken up this morning, having a father, and now, he didn't. Well, since we had the only linguists available, we were order to go to the boy's house and tell his mother. She was shocked, and hysterical (and I don't mean funny). I could just feel all the emotions she was, it was one of those times I wished I wasn't empathic. Once we returned to the scene, the boy with us, I watched as the boy saw his father dragged out of a vehicle in a body bag, by his (the father's) brother's and friends. Most of whom were crying as they carried the body away. It was then that I knew, I'd never want to do this again, that no matter what I would not want to be "in-the-middle-of-the-fight". After that, I didn't stop working, I tried as hard as I could to keep myself busy, whether I was working on translating, driving for a mission, or stuffing my face with food, it didn't matter, as long as the kid's sobs were out of my mind. Sometimes, at night, when I'm drifting off to sleep I can still hear him crying for his father...and it drives me to tears...

The following weeks in fallujah consisted of raid after raid after raid. Most of which were successful, and I was surprised to see the amount of insurgency start to drop as we managed to eliminate cell after cell of rebellion, and former ba'athist. We managed to keep busy, always working, and always talking. It was fun, but also very challenging. And that is the short version of what happend in Fallujah....
 I hope you enjoyed that little tale from my past.  I'll be sure to bring some funny back on Monday.  Have a great weekend everyone.  And also, to all my DC Area Bloggers, stay warm this weekend, looks like we may get hit with a serious snowjob.

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