ON OUR OWN |
February 02, 2007
ON OUR OWN
Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 2/2/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Milblog url: http://badgersforward.blogspot.com
I usually write contemporaneously, but this is something that happened several months ago:
Ar Ramadi, Iraq. 0300.
We left the FOB at 2130, and have been winding our way through the city ever since. We are nearing the end of our route.
It is one of our first patrols on the ground in Iraq on our own. No trainers, no unit we are replacing. Just us. Many of the Soldiers in our unit have spent years training to do something like this. Wondering what it would be like. Wondering if we would measure up.
It has been a quiet night in Ramadi. Earlier, we looked at many possible targets but found none. Then the radio call comes.
“Badger 3-6, Kilo 1-1.”
“Go ahead Kilo 1-1.”
“We have a suspected cache of explosives and weapons here. We were wondering if you and your EOD could come take a look at it.”
“Roger, Badger 3-6 on the way. We are about five blocks from that location.”
We pull up to the target area. The Coalition Forces that called us have at least two platoons on the ground.
I get out of the truck, look around, and think, “Wow, here I am on the ground in a combat zone, in Iraq. And hey, no one has taken a shot at me. This is OK.”
Surreal does not even begin to describe the situation. I could have been on a training exercise at NTC or an urban warfare training ground, but no, it really is Ramadi, Iraq. All the preparation has been for this moment. Not just the deployment prep, but all of my Army training going back to basic training at Fort Benning Georgia over 15 years ago.
The street reminds me of a post-apocalyptic southern California. The homes are in a distinct Mediterranean style with stucco walls and red tile roofs.This street is atypically wide, at least for Ramadi -- 30 feet. But the homes are close together, with eight-foot-high fences separating them.
The maneuver forces that called us here are standing in a vacant lot which looks like a mini-landfill between two homes.
“Hey Badger, over here.”
My Platoon Leader and I walk over.
“Check this out.”
The Soldier who called us points to several pieces of large military munitions that until this time I have only read about in books: Soviet, Chinese, South African.
“And look at these.”
More bomb-making material. The stark realism that we are no longer training hits me like cold water in the face; both startling and refreshing. Working with our EOD element, we scan the entire 15 x 15 meter lot, moving very carefully in case there are booby traps.
I remember thinking at some point that I should be cautious. Any bullets shot at me would not be the fake laser of the MILES gear, but real 7.62 x 39mm from an AK.
After scanning the area we begin sorting the items into different piles. Non-explosive bomb-making materials here, possible intelligence items there, a bag of black ski-masks, and all types of explosives ranging from artillery shells to rocket propelled grenades. And finally, sitting in the middle of everything, small arms ammunition.
We are confident the area is now clear. Everything is inventoried and all the non-explosive material is placed in a vehicle for transport back to the FOB for potential intelligence exploitation.Then we search for an appropriate place to detonate the explosive material.
We enter the two-story house associated with the property, a place I imagine a middle class Iraqi family once lived. It was clearly abandoned long ago by the owners, the conflict here too much for them. It looks as if insurgents might have made use of the home recently as a base of operations. We search it thoroughly for any sign of life. When it becomes clear that the house is not currently in use, or in any condition to be used ever again, we decide to do a controlled detonation inside. So as to better contain the explosion, we move all of the explosives into the lowest and most central part of the house, under the central staircase. After 15 minutes, we finally get it all in there. Everyone is then moved out except the EOD techs, who will perform the actual detonation. We move all the vehicles to a safe distance.
“This is EOD, two minutes.”
The fuse is lit.
“Fire in the hole.”
“Fire in the hole.”
BOOM. The night sky is lit up for less than a second, as the would-be insurgent bombs disappear in a cloud of dust and smoke. An already dilapidated house leveled.
Less than 60 seconds after the dust begins to settle, another call comes across the radio. They have another cache that needs to be cleared.
“Badger 3-6, Kilo 1-1. We have another one.”
“Roger, we are coming.”
We move to another vacant lot just down the block.There is even more bomb-making material here, a veritable insurgent armory, but it is all centrally located. Mostly explosives, but we also find a large number of small arms, AKs, and sniper rifles.
This cache has been buried in a large hole that was once part of a building foundation, a building long since torn down. At the bottom of the hole where we find most of the explosives is a box of sweating dynamite. Now that concerns us. Conventional munitions are stable. This might not be. We decide to move the mortar shells and RPG rockets, the bulk of our find, to take inventory, then pile the military munitions back on top of the dynamite.
Then the same procedure as before: move away, count down, boom.
As we slowly drive back to the relative safety of the FOB, the horizon turns a golden pink and the dark night sky melts into pale blue clouds. Our truck jostles over the bumps in the road and I lean my tired head against the door frame. Our first real foray into combat is now complete. We walked on the battlefield ground of Iraq. We executed and coordinated a mission. And we took away valuable enemy resources. As we pass through the security gates of the FOB, a feeling of confidence comes over me. We can do this.