WELCOME TO BAGHDAD |
October 03, 2007
There's one thing that I could never imagine, and that's being straight out of basic training and coming right to Iraq. For me, it took almost two years of being in the 82nd before I finally deployed. I ended up getting caught up in restructuring the division, and went places that kept me from deploying sooner. I was always bitter about this. One of my good friends from basic and airborne school got to Ft Bragg, and 30 days later he was on his way to Afghanistan for five months.
I mention this because over the past several months we have had a few new guys come into our company. Our platoon had only received one before, but the other day we ended up getting three. Wow! Well, time to start getting them up to par. My squad didn't get anyone new, so most of the work of getting them trained up would be within their respective squads.
They ended up heading out on patrol with us for their first time, for two days outside the wire. I was filling in for my squad leader, who is on leave, so I was the TC (Truck Commander) which is always fun. Also, when we dismounted I was to be one of the dismount team leaders. Because the new guys don't know how to drive a Humvee yet or how to gun a machine gun properly, they ended up as extra passengers and thus became a part of the dismount team. This would be fun.
The first dismount these guys went on would be a night dismount. I had one guy from my normal team and one of the new guys. I knew he would need extra attention, so I would have to make sure to keep an eye on him. We ended up dismounting and heading back into the alleyways. It was more packed than normal since Ramadan is in full swing. During the day people can't eat or anything, so the night becomes the time for eating, praying and socializing. Fortunately for us, that's all it has consisted of, at least at this point, almost half way through.
Anyways, we were walking through this one busy alley when all of a sudden I see this kid that couldn't have been more than six years old come out of another alleyway with a gun in his hand. He wasn't pointing it at us or anything, but the second I saw it my heart skipped a beat. He saw me notice him and ran back into the alley he'd come out of, but then stopped a few meters in and turned back to look at me.
I wasn't sure if it was a real handgun or a toy. All I know is it looked pretty damn real. Once he stopped I began yelling at him to get away and go inside. It's not safe for him to run around like that, and I was giving him the benefit of the doubt that it was a toy. It is common for all the kids to have toy guns at this time.
Well, new guy, this is Baghdad. You have to be ready to make split-second decisions and be prepared for anything. I was thinking later that I don't know what I would have done if he had fired the thing. I don't want to think about it.
We continued on, and at one point came to a road to cross. My team was in the back of the patrol and everyone in front began running across the street. I remember thinking, before we got to the road, that there was going to be a car that wasn't going to stop. I don't know why I thought that, but sure enough, once I began running across I noticed a car on the far side coming at us. I gave him a second but he wasn't slowing down, so I raised my rifle and clicked my tac-light on. For some reason it didn't look to me like it went on, and I remember thinking, "Well damn. What a great time for my batteries to die on me!"
I guess it did actually go on, but I was oblivious to this. The car still was not slowing down so I shouldered my rifle and yelled at the top of my lungs. It was getting close and I had just flipped my safety off and was a split second away from firing a warning shot when all of a sudden they slammed on the brakes, screeching to a halt. Sheeew. All of this happened as the new guy was halfway across the street, and I can only imagine what he was thinking!
The rest of the patrol was uneventful, and we ended it linking back up with the trucks, tired and sweaty.
The next night we did another dismounted patrol in a different area. Overall it went pretty smoothly, with the exception of constantly being told different directions about where to go. My team was up front this time and I was leading, and we ended up stopping several times to turn around and go a different way. It wasn't that I was lost, because I knew exactly where I was going. Apparently those in charge kept changing their mind about where they wanted to go. Oh well.
Once we got back, the dismount squad leader and I sat down with the new guys to go over the patrols and some other information. We explained a lot to them about what it's like, what to expect and how to be. They seemed to be taking to it pretty well. They all mentioned that the first night they were overwhelmed and nervous, but the second patrol wasn't as bad for them. That's good. Over time you will eventually figure out where to look and what to do and it won't be such an overwhelming experience.
Overall they did good, better than I would have expected for a bunch of new guys. Hopefully they'll continue to take to this quickly, and can integrate into how we do things.
We ended up coming back in, dirty, exhausted and ready to crash. It was a long couple days and my combined sleep for the previous two nights was about eight hours. Thank God for "Monster" energy drinks!