October 24, 2006

Name: SGT “Roy Batty”
Posting date: 10/24/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Yellow Springs,Ohio

There is a Chinese proverb we all know: "Be careful what you wish for." Apparently the action gods are familiar with this homily, have been listening to my complaints about boring combat patrols, and last night decided to pay up, in spades.
We were scheduled to do another night patrol, assessing the various checkpoints in Eastern Baghdad; another night of looking at trash on the edge of our headlights and asking the same questions to the same bored, indolent Iraqi cops, awakened from their roadside slumber. It was also the first time going outside the wire with SSG T., a squad leader who I have butted heads with before, largely due to his apparent ignorance of tactical matters, and his delicate and childish ego. A difficult mixture anywhere, and a potentially deadly one in Iraq.

So it was with a certain amount of misgiving that my team and I started loading up our HMMWV in the cool dusk of the early evening. The good thing is that SGT G. and her team would be with us. SGT G. is the other team leader, along with me, from 3rd Squad, and she is good people. If things went bad, it would be reassuring to have a familiar face next to us.

Things started going a little astray right from the beginning. SSG T. did a surprisingly good, very thorough operations order (OPORD), briefing for us in our PCC room. The PCC (pre combat check) room is a briefing area complete with huge maps, aerial photographs, sand table, IED mockups, and all sorts of pictures and diagrams and intelligence reports that are made available for mission briefs. For some wierd reason, our 1SG (hissss!) and Commander were present for the brief, in retrospect a sure harbinger of trouble ahead.

That, and the fact that our clueless lieutenant would be riding along with us, and worse still, in my truck. At the very least, a long night of inane questions and babysitting was in store for me. I was actually pretty impressed with SSG T.'s brief, but both SGT G. and I were concerned about the route that he wanted to take to our Area of Operations. It went along a series of small roads that had been hit a lot lately by roadside bombs which had killed several US soldiers, just within the last few weeks. My own squad leader had made a point of avoiding these roads for just that reason. I brought up my concern at the end of the briefing, but to no avail.

Immediately after the briefing, I got lit up by my Platoon Sergeant SFC Y., as the 1SG had gone to him, apparently pissed off that SGT Q. was "sharpshooting SSG T. during his briefing". My Platoon Sergeant is not a good man to have angry at you, and he wanted to see me at the end of the mission, due to finish at 6:00 a.m. My night was going bad to worse, and it had just begun.

No sooner had he finished yelling at me, than there was an almighty BOOOOOOM, immediately behind us, followed by a deep, bassal WHHHHOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHH, right over our heads. Clearly we were under attack, it was close, and more was coming in on top of us. I did the usual crazed-dog-chasing-his-tail 360, located the nearest bunker, and took off for it, leaving a dust trail behind me while simultaneously yelling for my soldiers to follow me. Later SFC Y. commented, "If I could get you to run that fast on a Physical Fitness Test, you would have one of the best scores in the company."  I was convinced that the rushing noise of the round overhead meant that it was coming straight for us, and, in fact, there were a series of deep WHUMMP-WHUMMP-WHUMMP explosions nearby, fortunately heard by us from inside the dark, fetid safety of the bunker.

After half an hour of sweating beneath the layers of concrete and sand bags with thirty people, most of whom I don't know, we were told that it was all clear, and out we piled, thankful to be breathing the comparatively cool and body odor-free air.  As usual, it was hard to find out exactly what it was. Mortars? Rockets? There was even the  suggestion that the M1 tanks on the back of the FOB were firing, which would explain that horrible whooshing noise overhead, although they had never done that before. Who knows, and in any case, we still had a patrol to do. Eight hours to go, and we hadn't even left camp yet.

Finally we got everyone together and headed out into the Baghdad night. A stop by the clearing barrels, the reassuring "shee-tunk" of a gold-tipped high explosive grenade in my M203 launcher, red-tipped tracers loaded  into the rifle above it, a quick check of the radios and various electronic gizmos, and off we went.

Because we were now running late, SSG T. decided not to take the controversial route he had initially planned on. We all felt much better about this, preferring the wide, familiar breadth of Route Pluto to the shadowed street of the mahallahs (neighborhoods) to the east. Twenty minutes later, we were approaching the turn off to FOB Loyalty, looking forward to the promise of midnight chow and Loyalty's famous swiss-and-mushroom burgers.

KA-WHAAAAAAAM!!!!!!!  I just happened to be looking right at the patch of road to the left of our lead vehicle when it erupted in a pillar of brown dust and gray smoke, accented with a smattering of dull yellow sparks. My electronic headphones cut off the initial sharp hammerstrike of the exploding bomb, just as they are supposed to, but it didn't matter, as the concussion from the blast hit our truck a micro-second later, jarring the HMMWV's boxy six-ton frame; forcing an expletive out of my lungs.

"Stopbackupgogogo!" I was yelling to my driver, as he and my gunner were shouting their own heartfelt reactions to the scene in front of us. I was extremely concerned about the possibility of secondary IEDs. The insurgents have taken to planting these around the initial roadside bombs, with the express intent of blowing up soldiers coming to the aid of their injured  buddies.

Fortunately, all of our other vehicles were still moving, and surged forward as their drivers hit the gas. Everybody made it out of the killzone without being confronted by any other exploding banana boxes (which is what the first one had been hidden under), so I told my driver to floor it and catch up.

Thirty seconds later we were rolling through the front gate of Loyalty.  We pulled into the staging area just inside the massive steel gates, and everyone piled out. Ten cigarettes were instantly lit in little flares of yellow butane, ten extremely animated faces illuminated in the process of excitedly retelling exactly what they saw and felt a minute ago.

Turns out that no one was injured, thank God. The roadside bomb had exploded between the first and second HMMWV, blowing a handful of quarter- and silver dollar-sized holes through the left rear tire and quarter panel of the first one. The second truck took a couple of holes on the left front quarter panel and hood, and one ominous chunk had been blown out of the gunner's turret armor. The rest of the trucks, including mine, just had some tiny chips and scratches.

The vets of previous Iraq tours explained that this was a "small" one, probably a wired up mortar round, maybe 60 or 82 mm. If that was a small one, I have no wish to see a big one at the same viewing distance.

While we were standing there, sucking down nicotine like it was alpine spring water, posing for the obligatory photos, inanely grinning for the camera while poking our fingers through the shrapnel holes, the combat engineers rolled out in their specially constructed de-mining vehicles to clear the area around "our" bomb. An hour later, and they were back with disturbing news. There were secondary bombs planted around the area, and not just one but two. One similiar device on the southbound lane, and another bomb, this one a dreaded EFP, carefully disguised as a painted brick, hidden in the underpass just north of us. Both were clearly designed and placed to hit anyone coming to our aid. Luckily, "our" bomb had been detonated just a tad too late or too early to do any serious harm.

The thing that really bothered a number of us was that this occurred right in front of FOB Loyalty, in full view of the guard towers, and almost exactly at the same spot where a car bomb had detonated two days prior. The bomb was command-detonated, by a wire instead of a radio, which meant someone was sitting out in the leafy darkness around the canal that separates the north and southbound lanes of Route Pluto. Sitting, waiting, and then pressing the button on the detonator -- an interesting thing to contemplate, when you are in the vehicle getting blown up. More importantly, somebody else, on our side, was asleep on guard duty and had missed the whole thing being set up.

Still, we were all happily and vibrantly alive. I had one of the best cheeseburgers of my entire life in the chowhall that night, slurping down ice cold root beer with a big smile on my face. SSG T. came up to me and said, "You know, we've had our differences, but I'm glad you're alive."  We shook hands, patted each other on the back. He had handled his baptism of fire well, had not missed a beat, and immediately was on both radios, making sure his soldiers were okay, and advising our company TOC of the situation. I told him he had done a great job, and he beamed like a schoolboy. We were changed.


Your going to miss that SSGT some day - years and years from now.

I'm sitting here. The wife's gone for the night. I'm sucking a brew and smoking some sh*t. Listening to Iron Butterfly; In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida. Reading your hell and thinking of some guys I took fire with back in '69. Wishing I could call them up, But can't. It sucks. Say hello to that SSgt. for me.

Successful mission, you all got through it, together. May they all be that good. Your tale brings back the memories of rockets and mines and a 1SG that had white pickett fences built around his banana tree, while we filled more sandbags. It hasn't changed a lot, just the where it happens, drive on!

You all did good, and this time things went right. Prayers that all continues as well.

That's a hell of a morning. Puts all our stateside whining into perspective-no one's trying to whack me at work. Good piece of writing, too. Thanks.

I am glad that you are ok, and for your sake, im glad that your boys are ok. For the locals that cant say it and for those of us back here, too, thank you for all that you do.
Stay safe and be smart.

god, i wish you people weren't over there...

I agree with Steve. I too wish you were not over there. Throw both sides a little meat and let them kill each other over it.

Brings back memories of nightly patrols "outside the wire" on foot tho mostly. We didn't have all the knick knacks and doodads you guys have especially the commo stuff. I carried an M-79 mostly first tour; this was prior to its marriage to the 16.

Glad to hear your sqd ldr came through in the clutch. I'm sure his own doubts about his leadership were as great as yours. This should give him some confidence down the road.

Dang Sarge! If he was mad about being criticized in a meeting, wait till this comes out! Hope the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Glad everyone came through OK. No one knows what they will really do 'till they're in it. Good writing. Stay safe.

I too wish you were not there, but you do what you have to do. my heart goes out to you all. I live in Yellow Springs by the way :)

hehe, you're telling on yourself!

same roads, same crap.
loyalty ribs on tuesday, and the nacho bar at Hope

stay down, stay safe

it's amazing that in 2006 we can't keep watch on these frakkin' roads.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but your writing painted such a vivid picture I felt like I was riding along with you and experiencing your events. It was very scary!
It breaks my heart that so many good men and women are in such danger and carrying out their duties with such bravery!
My prayers are with all of you, and I fervently hope that you will all be home soon!
A 77-yr old great-grandmother who is still working.

Damn good writing! Thanks for sharing it like it is. My boyfried thinks he needs to protect me by not sharing this stuff with me, so I'm glad someone can put it out there for us mindlessly media warped supporters back on friendly soil. Like I tell Joe, be safe!

very intense, it's sad to think that this kinda thing is common place over there and it makes me wonder what our purpose over there is and how much longer we will remain

As a civilian in the states with no military background, I normally feel disconnected from the war; your posts are a great help in connecting, even a little bit, with what is actually happening. Your writing really conveys how terrible and extraordinary the experience can be, and that most of us have no context for understanding it over here. (I'm a suburban middle class kid. What in my experience could compare?) Thank you for writing so honestly and eloquently. Everything you all are doing is much appreciated.

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