August 23, 2007
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 8/23/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com
After I got back to Ramadi I spent two days doing a whole lot of nothing while waiting for my platoon to come back from Falluja. I planned to spend day three turning in extra unused gear at noon, then doing more nothing. I woke up to the phone ringing.
The other soldier in the building, left behind on guard duty, answered the call: "Alpha Company, 3rd platoon, this is SPC W. Yeah, he's here. OK, I'll tell him."
Dimly reckoning that I was late for my appointment with supply, I started to roll out of bed, stopping to look at my watch on the way. It read 0936. Uh-oh. My buddy came in: "You need to go down now and turn in your gear."
"I thought I was doing that at noon."
"You're going to Falluja today. They destroyed a truck."
My tasks for the day now included going over to another company's Tactical Operation Center (TOC), drawing the RG-31 that they were lending us while ours was in the shop for repairs, and then driving it to Falluja with the team sent to transport the damaged truck back to Ramadi.
I got the paperwork from the TOC and headed down to the motor pool to sign for the vehicle. The maintenance teams for the different companies normally reserve vehicles just for such occasions as this -- in the States, we'd call them lemons. Here, we have a less kind name for them, one that reflects our heightened chance of injury while operating them. My hope that the truck I was signing for would not be one of those proved false.
Before I could sign for the truck, I had to help get it running. The batteries were completely dead and needed replacement, and the navigational system was toast. The air conditioning functioned poorly, and the radio mount was built out of wood -- liable to become a hail of screws, splinters, and flying radios in the event of an explosion.
I swapped out the batteries, signed for it, and drove it away.
I spent the next hour and a half running around trying to track down a working gun mount for the RG-31. It is of foreign construction, and the ring mount on the turret requires a different style of pintle than the US standard. As trucks get blown up and mounts are destroyed, we're left with few options besides finding adapters to use with other mounts, or performing redneck hack-and-slash welding that maintenance really doesn't appreciate. I never did find a mount. Fortunately, the convoy to Falluja already had enough gun trucks that we weren't required to mount a gun for the trip. Once we got to Falluja, we found a working mount in the platoon gear stockpile. All the time I had that morning was taken up by the lemon.
We left the gate at 1400, and returned at 1410. The backup tractor for the tractor-trailer recovery team broke down before we made it completely out of the gate. We had to stand by the trucks for another two hours while the tractor was recovered into the FOB and replaced. At 1730 we finally pulled into Camp Falluja, where I learned that the lineup time for our next mission was at 0130. It would be a three-day operation.
Great. So now I have six hours to eat my first meal of the day, finish fixing a truck, supplement my previous night's four hours of sleep, and pack for three days. This is why they call Iraq "The Suck".
While in Falluja, we swapped out the RG-31's bad electronic parts with working ones from the blown-up truck. We had a few problems with the loaner before we handed it back in, but nothing so major it couldn't be fixed by someone punching a window and screaming a little. By the time I turned it back in it had new batteries, some fresh oil, two new bullet holes, shrapnel damage to three windows and the left side, and all other issues unchanged. Fair trade in my book.
The three-day mission was to clear a route into the area of interest, nestled within a loop of the Euphrates river near Amiriyah. Following us was a combined force of Army, Marine, and Iraqi Army troops, who would then seal off the area and fan out gathering intel, "making face" with the villagers, and searching for caches.
We staged out of a small Combat Outpost (COP) near Amiriyah. This COP was one of several constructed just a few months ago in a largely successful effort to secure the main route from Falluja to Amiriyah. Amiriyah had been the scene of much fighting between the local al-Qaeda and Iraqi Police; American patrols happened rarely, as the nearest major patrol bases were separated from the community by long stretches of dangerous road. Now the situation in Amiriyah and the nearby neighborhood of Feris is largely under control in the hands of the Iraqi security forces, and Coalition efforts have begun to focus on the surrounding villages.
Our mission for the first day was mainly spent clearing alternate routes out in the desert that the unit were we're working for had used in the past and would use again in the future.
Investigating an IED.
We finished our mission for the first day by midafternoon, and pulled into the COP for the night. The weather was the hottest I had felt yet -- when we got back to Camp Falluja, someone told me that the thermometer had hit 131 degrees in the shade. Even collapsing on the roof provided little relief.
Evening shade on the roof of the COP.
We had some small visitors drop by, wishing to share our shade and perhaps a few nuggets from the MRE crackers that some of the soldiers were snacking on.
After a restless night spent in the heat, we were up at 0400 to prep and lead out on the next mission -- the actual operation on the river. Soldiers racked weapons into their places atop the trucks; others stocked water and MREs in anticipation of a long day. No one really knew what kind of environment we were moving into: the villages and farmland could be quiet and peaceful, or they could be alive with fighters and minefields of IEDs. Both scenarios have played themselves out in other nearby villages, and no one had spent enough time in this particular area to predict the outcome. Our only resource was to be prepared for the worst case.
A gunner preps his battle bag.
The first half of the second day was largely uneventful. The troops following us in had little to report -- some men who tried to dodge a cordon, an extra AK-47 in a house. We found nothing in the roads.
An infantryman of 3/6 Marines patrols alongside a "Gator".
Later on, one of our vehicles ran over a sharp piece of metal, flattening a tire. Towards the end of the tire change, two more vehicles starting taking single rifle rounds from a building off in a grove of palms in the distance. Some of our Marine security contingent tried to chase the shooter down in their Gator, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.
A "Gator" chases down a sniper.
We moved on out of the area, after notifying the force commander of the small arms fire, and proceeded down the route. Just down the road, an alert Gator crewmember noticed some things that seemed out of place at a small shop by the roadside -- possibly connecting the men there to the recent gunfire. We stopped to talk to the owner, ask him a few questions, and look through his car. He seemed happy to allow the search, and tried to tell us, in a mixture of broken English and Arabic, where we should look for the shooter. We thanked him for his time and help, passed the information up, and moved on.
With Day 2 over, we went back to the COP for another long night in the stifling air. I went to sleep listening to feral dogs growling around the camp's burning trash pit and watching their moving shadows dance with the flames.
Day 3 began early, again, and beautifully. We were treated to a postcard-perfect sunrise as we moved through Amiriyah towards our area of operation.
One last bit of excitement remained -- one that underlines the difficulties we face in Iraq. The picture below is of a bridge construction site, spanning the Euphrates between the Zaidon region and Amiriyah/Feris. Look carefully at the photo.
A bridge in progress from Zaidon to the Amiriyah region.
The three trucks closest to the river are VBIEDs that are under construction. Southern Zaidon receives little attention from American patrols -- as with Amiriyah just a few months ago, the roads leading in are long and dangerous. A local villager on the Amiriyah side of the river pointed these trucks out to a Marine patrol. If it weren't for the relations we have built on this side of the river in recent months, the first sign we would have likely had of these VBIEDs would have been their detonation, probably in the midst of a crowd of innocent civilians.
It will be Zaidon's turn soon enough, though -- and for now, Amiriyah is looking good.