Texas This I Know...

Texas This I Know...
Texas Farm to Market Road

Monday, July 12, 2004

Easter Firefight, Iraq....

Below is the blog post of a soldier stationed in Iraq. She is a forty year old National Guard reservist. It is about a firefight she was caught in and it's aftermath. It's good reading if you want to know what really goes on over there. It was written July 11, 2004 but tells of an incident during Easter. She wrote it hurriedly so there will be misspellings and other writing boo-boos. I've tried to break it up into paragraph so you can catch a breath once in a while. I'm not posting a link because I don't want her ISP to be flooded.

July 11,2004, Iraq

I know a lot of people have added me to their friends' lists recently (God, I hate that term) but in the wake of the Easter Uprising and that post, I pretty much assumed that that piece was what got them to do so. After it attracted so much attention, I got freaked out and locked it. Now I'm wondering if it's not time to re-open it.

The reason is this: our experience that day was reported in the press in such a way as to leave out the vast majority of what happened that day. Two days afterward, we had a CNN reporter, a Major General, and a battalion in town, but the reportage was still so innacurate it made me wonder. Now that I've read some other comments recently i5 makes me sort of horrified at what's being reported. I read specifically that someone thought that the insurgents were composed of perhaps 5% percent foreign fighters, and that they must be supporting themselves somehow. I'm not picking on anyone, you realize, but it just seemed to me that this needs to be corrected.

The other thing was that another person thought that the locals were sort of being friendly so as to lure us into 'strolling' up to IEDS. It's with that in mind that I think about what happened to us that day, and I remember the headline I saw: "Coalition forces abandon city without firing a shot."

I wrote that piece the next morning, sitting in my bed, unable to sleep because every time the door slammed I thought it was another mortar. I wrote it out, I got rid of it, and I haven't looked back since, except to edit out place and nationality names. That's something else that irritated me, too---the stories I read seem to apply that another nation's troops behaved cravenly. I fought alongside them that day. They were the same as any other soldiers----scared, pissed off at their leadership, and trying to make jokes about it.

To make a long story short, that April day didn't happen all at once. The previous day, two guys from another unit were shot while driving through town, and they saw RPGs in the crowd. I saw the vehicle afterwards, too---its windshield was full of bullet holes. It was being carried in a forklift later on post in a grim processional to the scrap heap, with a row of tanks behind it. The two wounded guys are still at home, and one of them still can't use his arm properly, his wounds were so bad.

That day there were demonstrations around the CPA compound, but there'd been demonstrations before. What made people really nervous was that the people in this one were armed. By evening, the Mahdi Army had taken over the city, closing the bridges and occupying all the high buildings with snipers---giving them range to attack our base.

At four that morning, coalition forces rolled out and took back the city. Or so we thought. At nine thirty we rolled out to meet someone. At about ten thirty one of our local friends came running to us, desperate: "Get out! Get out! They're coming! They're coming!"

They were already there. We got him off the site, then ran to the roof to looks for approachihng forces. In front of us was the river, and crossing it was the bridge that led to the base. Across from us were high buildings with, as it turned out, snipers on them. To this day, I wonder about the coalition soldiers that we actually saw on those buildings as we rolled out. We got shot at a few times from those buildiings, but it happened infrequently enough that they could just have been mistakes.

As we watched from the roofs, the insurgents attacked the soldiers at the far end of the bridge with everything they had. After a battle there that we later found claimed three lives, these troops were ordered back to base by their general, who got his orders directly from their president.

The insurgents then turned on us, and surrounded us. They hit us from all sides, off and off, with heavy weapons, for twenty hours while we retreated from the fire. We had to. They kept moving closer and closer around us, and we really couldn't shoot back effectively because it was an urban environment, and we couldn't take that chance. As they moved closer and closer to the compound, they started taking out the towers with mortars and RPGs, and we were forced down from the roof and from building to building till we finally hunkered down in a central hallway, figuring that there was concrete on all sides.

Nevertheless, we took turns outside, guarding the captain at the vehicle who was trying to get us more ammo, more soldiers, or evacuation from Higher. I was very critical of Higher that day, but in their defense, they were listening to third-hand information relayed bit by bit up the chain. They gave us air support, and that saved our butts. When the insurgents saw those choppers coming in after every refueling stop, they backed off. Then, too, our company comannder and a bunch of our guys from the post where I am now, volunteered to jump in to resupply us and get us more ammo. I found out later, too, that Special Forces adn the marines were chomping at the bit at the gate to get out here and fight alongside us, if not actually just grab us and go, as if a thousand insurgents were a minor inconveniance.

Then, too, it was the Marine commander who vetoed some of the locations we called in firepower on, because he knew the families that lived at those locations, and he had to balance getting us out with keeping the civilians alive.

It went on and on and a dark kind of reality started to set in: We're not going to get out of this. One thing I remembered sort of surprised me, because I wondered if I was going to be able to do it. When the insurgents broke the cease fire with mortars that night, I was sitting in an exhausted stupor on the ground near the vehicle where my captain was yelling at somebody who I think outranked him. When the firing started, I jumped up and ran straight toward it. I took aim across the wall and tried to give that mortar something to think about. I don't know if I did, but it felt good. Only later did I realize how instanteious it had been. While I was dropping the empty magazine, I thought: they can see my tracer rounds, I better switch spots. Too late. A mortar round landed about twenty feet in front of me. I thought I'd lost my hearing. I said I wasn't going to go on and on about this, and I'm running out of time, so I'll have to edit this later.

Here's what finally happened: we got an Apache escort, and we jammed all the civilians into what armored vehicles we had, and we snuck out before it got light. The ones that didn't have weapons got them, all right, and a one-minute course in pulling the trigger. "It's locked and loaded. If you say anybody with a weapon, take them out." One of the helicopters was basically there for show; its guns didn't work. It took us two hours to get back to base, because we couldn't take the five-minute trip across the bridge. It had been covered with IEDs. I also found out that at least three soldies died earlier in the day, from the first battle.

That, guys, is what's called 'abandoning a city without firing a shot.'

What gets me really angry is the way that Iraqis get reported in the press as if they're all these stupid, well, Muslims,who are bloodthirsty and ignorant. The poeple in Iraq might be very poor, but they're not stupid, and they know what's going on---better than a lot of American reporters, it seems. They're also friendly. If we could give them jobs, the fighting would stop, because a lot of the insurgents take money from various organizations , fire their weapons into the air or the ground, collect the money, and go back home.

The other thing are the insurgents themselves. A lot of them are from other countries, and they're supporting themselves, basically, by robbing the locals. Nor are they averse to various other things. They kidnap, rape, and hold people who've done something they disagree with, and the locals are terrified of them.

I have one final note about IEDs. These are improvised explosive devices, but in their simplest form they're roadside bombs. The standard practice is to conceal them in trash at the side of the road, then run a wire to a concealed position, wait for a convoy, and hit it. Sometimes, there's an ambush, too.

A lot of the time, IEDs aren't that effective, though they're responsible for a lot of the casualties we've suffered here; that might be because they're using all the old ordnance that's lying around. Then, too, we're trained to look for wires. You see a wire, it's an IED. That's what we look for when we go out on convoys---those bombs alongside the road. Iraq is full of garbage, so there's plenty of
cover for them. Sometimes, too, there's strings of them--'daisy chains.' They're in a row, designed to hit every vehicle in the line. Sometimes they do. When one actually works---and doesn't kill the bombmaker, that is----they result in blood splashed all over the inside of a windshield. It's not something you think about.

Imagine driving to work every day, and looking for lumps in the concrete, or patches of new asphalt. Those are also popular places for these bombs. I passed a crater from one monster that was six inches deep. I read the report on that one. I know how many soldiers died there. Every day, all day, you look for bombs, and you look for snipers on the roofs.

And people wave at you from the roadside, especially now after the handover, because suddenly the Iraqi cops are arresting criminals and standing their ground, because it's their country. And then you think, just to yourself: Maybe I helped do that. Maybe it's okay to wave back.

If there's one thing I'll be proud of here, it's the idea that I did my little part in that endeavor, no matter why we really came here. It's no light thing, deposing a tyrant, and we might have done this eleven years ago. But I keep looking at all the Iraqis we work with, and I keep thinking it's been worth it.

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