July 26, 2007
Name: SGT Roy Batty
Posting date: 7/26/07
Stationed in: Germany
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio
SGT Batty is insane. Bonkers. Screaming raving mad. It’s official. The powers that be have shipped the broken Nexus 6 out of the sane and rational world of Baghdad and its gleaming model of Jeffersonian democracy, with a hastily typed Letter of Release and a swift kick in the ass. The upside of which is that he is now safe and sound in Germany, eyes wide and blinking at the uber-organized Bavarian wonderland, wondering if it is all a particularly sanitary and wonderful dream. The downside of which is that his Army career is essentially over, and that he now gets to enjoy the thrill of reading alarming news reports from the Eastside of Baghdad, knowing that his soldiers are still stuck in the middle of the shitstorm.
It all came to a head on the 3rd of July, when we had a little fireworks display of our very own, since the Army logistics system seemed to be all out of Roman candles and bottle rockets. July in Mesopotamia is paradise; a seething, roiling solarium of 135-degree heat, festering sewage in the streets, and the impetuous joys of highly armed insurgents, their brains boiling with the combined delights of the heat and their favorite brands of high octane Jihadism.
I was where I always was, and in some ways may always be -- standing at the gate of our IP station, making small talk in Arabic to the Iraqi cops, with one eye on the dented blue gate looking for the next suicide bomber to appear. Nix, my driver, was next to me, his cherubic cheeks bulging with the usual wad of noxious Copenhagen, his face awash in a thick sheen of sweat. Phil and CPL Gless and Epps were on the roof, no doubt deep in earnest conversation over the finer details of some weighty hypothesis: "If you wake up and some guy is giving you head, and you get off on it, does it mean you're gay?" The rest of the squad was either nodding off in their trucks, or somewhere inside the paltry corridors of the IP station.
Same old same old.
Occasionally one of the guys from the roof would get on our little Motorola radio and call in the random gunshots and distant explosions that make up the incidental soundtrack of life in Baghdad.
Nothing alarming, nothing too close -- just part and parcel of another day on the job.That is, until the sharp crack of the single gunshot right behind our station.
I looked around the side of the little cement hut that is the front gateshack, peering towards the back of the station, my hand reaching for the walkie-talkie to see if Phil could see what was going on, when there was a POPPOPPOPPOP of rifle fire, an indignant reply to the initial shot, which quickly blossomed into a riot of heavy weapons fire. I could hear the guttural cough of a .50 cal, the baritone stutter of a couple of 240Bs, and the popcorn rattle of M4 rifles, all of which were mixed in with the mechanical rattle of PKC machine guns and AK-47s. The racket was deafening, the heaviest exchange of gunfire that I have been next to yet, made all the more intimidating by its sudden and unexpected appearance. We were under attack, apparently along with another US element somewhere on the main road behind us.
"Ambush! Ambush! Behind the station, on Route X!" I yelled into the squat black radio, which squawked back something unintelligible in reply, virtually inaudible over the weapons fire. It didn't matter anyway, as rounds started cracking over the wall of the gate, making me and Nix and the IPs duck and scramble for cover. We've gotten pretty used to being shot at in the past 13 months, and after a while you can tell a lot by the sound of the gunfire. Rounds fired near you make a sort of ripping noise as they zip through the air. Rounds fired right over you make a sharp, abbreviated CRACK -- a sound so short and punctuated that you can't help but involuntarily duck, even through the bullet has already passed you by and is a thousand meters or so down the road by the time the noise registers. It's usually only a second or two later that you actually hear the THUMP of the rifle firing, but if the shooter is really close, the two sounds are virtually simultaneous: CRACKTHUMP. I experienced that up close and personal, two weeks earlier, when I got shot in the head -- but that's a story for another post. Anyway, that's what we were hearing now, a shitload of it: CRCKTHMP-CRCKTHMP-CRCKTHMP! Someone was firing up the gate, right across the little alleyway that runs by the station, and real close...like hand-grenade close.
I was pissed. Furious -- a feeling that hit me like a heavyweight punch to the chest and my head. I'd had a bunch of close calls recently, getting shot, the mortar round that blew up 30 feet in front of me as I stood smoking a cigarette in the middle of the mortar pool, followed by eight other rounds. The early morning direct fire rocket attack on the Termite Mound. The IED that sent Mr. B. back to Walter Reed. The day we lost one of our corporals -- finally and irrevocably dead -- to an RPG-29. And now here they were, attacking our station. My police station -- MY gate!
I didn't register any of this logically or intellectually. I just felt suddenly and severely pissed, and before I knew it I was outside the gate. Flashes of rounds impacting the sand. An IP cowering behind his sandbagged checkpoint. Movement on the rooftops across the alleyway.
I flipped the selector switch on my M4 from safe to burst, put the weapon to my shoulder, and unloaded over the rooftops. Muzzle flash, strobing. Glint of sunlight on ejecting brass. The reassuring push of the stock in the hollow of my shoulder as the three-round bursts kicked out. Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs -- "BRING IT MOTHERFUUUUCKERS" -- and I dimly realized, somewhere in the back of my skull, that it was me.
This was it, the thing that we had come three thousand miles and spent thirteen long and horrible months looking for. The great Apocalyptic death battle, good versus evil, Christian versus Muslim, Crusader versus Terrorist, die a good death, going down in a blaze of glory -- "into the valley rode the three thousand" -- all that good shit. And then the bolt of my rifle thunked open. Out of rounds.
I ducked back into the gate, back up against the rough concrete. Ejected the empty magazine, ripping it out of the well and hurling it away. Slammed in a fresh one, released the bolt, and rotated back outside.
Fired off one or two more bursts, and then realized that the incoming fire had stopped.
I blinked a couple of times, scanning for more enemy, then ducked back inside. I got a glimpse of SGT Nash inside the ASV, gesturing wildly through the thick ballistic window, his driver revving the huge turbo diesel engine of the armored vehicle. I pushed open the long sliding metal gate, and they pulled quickly outside, the twin muzzles of the .50 cal and MK-19 grenade launcher on the turret whirring as it searched for the bad guys.
There was no more fire over the gate wall, but there was still plenty of automatic weapons fire at the back of the station. I heard a thumping roar overhead, coming in low and fast from the northwest, and looked up to see an Apache screaming overhead, a scant 50 feet above the roof of the station, the thin barrel of its 25mm chaingun swiveling madly from side to side. Followed quickly by his wingman, also eagerly looking for someone to vaporize.
The gunfire ceased almost immediately. No one wanted any part of that.
My squad leader and platoon leader emerged from the safety of the police station, coincidentally only after all of the gunfire had stopped. And that was when the armchair quarterbacking started...