Sept 24, 2005. Not a very good day for our Iraqi Army battalion (3-2-1) or our sister MTT team back at Habbaniyah. The same day that the 2-3-1 MTT team lost Sgt Dunlap and three Marine WIA to an IED (see earlier entry), we were having our own trouble in East Ramadi.
That morning, we had one of our first operations since our move from Habbaniyah. One of our companies would be escorted up into a rural area north of our base, south of the Euphrates, and west of what we called the “Fish-hook”, a lake that resembles just that. The mission would be to move north, dismount and search for suspected caches of weapons near the river, search the homes of people in the area for possible insurgents, and then move back to the base.
One thing that we discovered upon our arrival in Ramadi was that our coalition partner, 2-69 Armor, did not have the truck assets to move us around like our previous partner, 1-110th. Being an armor battalion, they had lots of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, but suprisingly, not very many armored LMTVs or 5-ton trucks. At all. It was decided that we would use our own Leylands, an Indian or British-built truck really more intended for civilian use than military. These (like the Nissan pickup trucks that get “upgraded” to “guntrucks”) had been uparmored with welded steel and designated “troop transports”. Not all of the battalion’s Leylands were uparmored, but there were enough that we could use on smaller operations. We would be rolling that morning with two Leylands, about 25 Iraqis, one of our HUMMVs, and Bull Company, one of the 2-69 mechanized infantry companies. For MTTs, it would be Master Guns Traylor driving, LtCol Garay on the M240G machine gun, myself and Gy Roche walking, along with one of our terps, Falcon.
We rolled out at around 0700 to Bull Company’s small compound, about 500m away on Route Michigan. There, we had a final chance to talk through the plan, integrate our element into Bull’s movement plan (they were rolling with some HUMMVs, but mostly Bradleys and at least one M113 Vietnam-era troop transport for MEDEVAC capability). About 0730, we rolled out along roads named by earlier American battalions: Rt. Apple, Rt. Dogwood, Rt. Oak, Rt. Nova. We were only traveling about four km as the crow flies, so it wasn’t a long drive, but it wasn’t the mileage, but the location. This was going into the heart of the local insurgency, into a location that US and Iraqi forces had not been visiting much. On a high note, though, we weren’t going into the very center of town, like we had a day or two earlier to the Ramadi Stadium. There, you were guaranteed to get shot at (we’d had at least one RPG and some small arms fire thrown at us as we left that mission).
The Bull Co XO led us out. We tried to use some of the smaller roads connecting the main roads, namely because the IED threat would be less. Additionally, we moved in FAST. There are two main ways to roll in Ramadi: intentionally fast or intentionally slow. The advantage of fast is that you are in theory past any IEDs before the triggerman knows that you were there, and even if he is, it is just harder for him to guage the speed and get a good strike. The advantages of slow, is summarized by one of 3/7’s sayings that we learned later: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. If you are moving slow, you have a chance to see the IED, and a chance to engage the triggerman. Just different tactics, both of which are right depending on the situation on the ground. That day, we were moving in fast, and luckily arrived at the objective without incident.
I don’t really remember much about the search itself. Gy Roche and Falcon went with one half of the company, which went into the fields near to the river and I went with the Civil Affairs guys (Maj Dave Lofgren, SSgt Poole, and their terp, Elia. I have a later story about them). The search was uneventful, and we found nothing, which was pretty standard on these generic, non-intel based operations. Once we had searched all of the homes, and Civil Affairs was done talking to the locals and hearing that there were no insurgents (although Camp Corregidor and Combat Outpost were taking regular mortar fire from the area), we loaded back up onto the trucks and prepared to “exfil” (exfiltrate). “NSTR” (nothing significant to report).
We were going back down on a different route that we had come up, but the word was out that we were up in the area, and the insurgents were waiting. As I recall, our order of march was Bull XO, a Bull Co. HUMMV, our Drifter HUMMV, the two Leylands, and the rest of the convoy. I don’t remember how the Bradleys were integrated, although I do know that the M113 for MEDEVAC was behind us. We were moving along Rt. Nova, an elevated road with farmland to either side, and the Euphrates to our right (northwest). We passed a couple of civilian cars which had pulled over to let us by, and three or four small buildings which house some local businesses. All was moving well, and…
…spoke too soon. Master Guns slowed us to a crawl then a stop.
It was close, and sounded like it had come from behind us, but I couldn’t be sure. The only one of us with visibility to the rear was the CO up in the turret. I yell, “WHERE IS IT?!?” “BEHIND US; ONE OF THE LEYLANDS” yells the CO.
Master Guns spins us around and starts edging us back toward the Leyland. Slowly. We are now looking for and possible secondary IEDs that could be awaiting us. From the right rear seat in an M1114 armored HUMMV, you can’t see anything. All I can see is the window view to the right, and I am seeing… bullet strikes in the field to the right. “BULLET STRIKES TO THE RIGHT!” I yell out. Nothing has come close to us yet.
Master Guns is still rolling, very slowly. I am getting impatient to get on to the ground; we can see the Leyland is stationary, and the IA dismounted. Something is clearly wrong with the truck, but I can’t tell for sure. Once we get about 25 meters away, Master Guns stops, and Gy Roche and I are out; I yell at Falcon to come with me.
The Leyland is on the very edge of the elevated road. It’s a wonder the driver didn’t put the vehicle over. All of the glass is blown out of the cab, and on the road, directly in front of the truck, is a spreading pool of neon green antifreeze, with a bright red circle directly in the center of it. “What kind of engine fluid is that red?” I think. None is that red, because it’s not coming from the engine. It’s blood. I can see no one in the cab.
On the embankment, directly below the passenger door, is an Iraqi jundi, facedown in the dirt, bleeding. He’s alive and conscious, but I need to get him on his back to see where he’s wounded. I look over at Falcon, who looks like he’s seen a ghost. “ASK HIM WHERE HE’S HURT!” I yell to him. I am yelling like I am on a helicopter, not yelling AT anyone, but loudly enough to be heard above the ambient noise. Subconsciously, I am aware of ambient noise, but not from what. Falcon kneels beside the jundi, and speaks in Arabic. The jundi responds quietly and clearly in pain. “He says there is pain in his balls.” “WHAT?” “HIS BALLS; THERE IS PAIN IN HIS BALLS!” Great.
I start pulling a compression bandage out of the HUMMVs first aid kit that I had brought with me. I start to roll him over, and he starts moaning in pain. Whatever he has going on down there, for the moment, I decide to let him stay until I better figure out what’s going on.
Further down the embankment, Gy Roche has another wounded jundi on his hands. I yell to him, asking if he needs anything. “BANDAGES!” he yells back. I toss him the one I had just broken out, and head back to the HUMMV to brief the CO so he can relay the information to the rest of the convoy. I grab my rifle and head over; “TWO WOUNDED! WE NEED THE 113 UP HERE FOR MEDEVAC!” “ROGER; GOT IT. THE DRIVER IS DEAD IN THE TRUCK!”
Damn, he’s right. I hadn’t seen him. From where the CO is in the turret, he can see into the cab itself and can see the body of the driver. I had thought that my wounded jundi had been the driver. Gy Roche’s jundi must be the second passenger in the cab; all the jundi in the armored bed seem to be unwounded.
“SORRY I’M YELLING; I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU, JUST SO YOU CAN HEAR ME!” says the CO. Again, I wasn’t really consciously aware of the noise, but it was apparently noisy to him too. I found out later that he had fired off most of a can of 200 rounds of 7.62 link with the M240G, suppressing where the IAs were firing, namely the tall reeds of the river bank. He hadn’t had his hearing protection in, so his ears were ringing for a couple of days. I had not heard him firing at all; he and Master Guns told me about it later. Strange what you notice when you’re getting shot at.
And that was another thing. I had heard a few “SNAP”s, but wasn’t sure where they had come from. They were just part of the ambient noise. The IAs had security out (read “we dismounted with weapons outboard”), and Bull Co. now knew we needed the M113 to serve as an ambulance. I jumped up on the back of our Hummer and used my K-Bar to cut the zip ties off of the stretcher we had on the back. I headed back to my wounded jundi.
Things get a little blurry here (note to self: write this stuff down sooner next time). The M113 did come up, a US soldier, I, Falcon, and another jundi slowly rolled the wounded jundi over on to the stretcher I had and we carried him along the embankment to the rear of the Leyland, where the 113 was parked, ramp down. We loaded him up while Gy Roche was working on getting his jundi loaded (again, he may have already been loaded, I just don’t remember). I also about now became aware (maybe through Falcon) of another wounded jundi. He was walking around, and I had seen him with his AK-47 maintaining security, but had been unaware that he was wounded. (We found out later that he had been wounded in the shoulder by small arms fire, not the IED.)He sat down at the back of the Leyland and laid down, essentially passing out. Freaking great. We pulled him back up to his feet and walked him into the 113, laying him down in the center. “THAT’S IT! GO!” I yelled to the Army Sgt in the back. Up the ramp went and they were gone with a Bradley escort. An Iraqi jundi gave me a hand unloading the PKC of one of the wounded men, and picked up the AK-47s of the wounded as well. The driver’s AK was bent and punctured in several places by shrapnel.
OK, so now three wounded are gone, but we have a disabled Leyland, about 20 scared, disoriented Iraqis, and a convoy still stalled on the road. A Cobra gunship is now on station along with a Huey, and the insurgents seem to have disappeared, so now we have to get these guys loaded up on the other Leyland, figure out how to tow the disabled Leyland back, and we still have to deal with the body of the driver, still at his post.
I believe that at this point an LVS wrecker had come up from Combat Outpost to tow the Leyland back (I honestly don’t remember how it got up there; probably with the 2-69 QRF escorting). It started to hookup to the Leyland and we realized that the air brakes were locked. Somebody was going to have to jump up in the cab and attempt to disengage them, and I guess that was going to be me. I jumped up in the cab.
Yep, there was the driver, dead behind the wheel. I only glanced at him long enough to confirm the obvious. It was not a sightseeing trip, and I was not there to visit. I tried to throw the handle I had been told would disengage them, but to no avail. The cab had been mixmastered, and not much in there was working like it was supposed to (especially him). I jumped back down. The wrecker driver said he could pull it back with the brakes locked, which is exactly what he did. The was a rubber strak from the IED site all the way to Combat Outpost.
At some point in this, the IA platoon commander – we called him High Pockets – came up on foot from the rear. He was clearly emotional, clearly upset, tears streaming down his face. We would have liked to have seen him up earlier, taking charge of his jundi, but better late than never. Unfortunately, he looked like he was going to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. At this point, what we really needed his help with, was getting the driver out.
We did not have any body bags with us (one lesson learned; by the end of that day, I had one in the back of each of our Hummers), so I think that we simply used a tarp from the back of the Leyland. High Pockets and his jundi got him out and into the tarp (I think Master Guns may have helped with this), and finally, we were all loaded and ready to roll. It seems like at this point, we waited for a long time to actually move, and I do not remember why. All I knew was that the Iraqis were stuck in the back of their truck with the body of their fellow jundi, and we were still sitting on that elevated road. We needed to go.
Bull XO rolled out and made the first left turn off of the main road, about 200m down the road. We followed, and moments later…
…another IED. I start cussing again (I found out that my personal reaction to getting shot at is to get really pissed off). The insurgents had indeed been watching us, and had another IED set up further down the main road, but Bull XO turned off of the main road before getting to it. There was no damage from the second IED, and we kept rolling. We pushed onto Michigan, and while the Bradleys and Bull Co. rolled into OP Trotter, we led the remaining Leyland to Combat Outpost, home of both the medical facility and the morgue. We needed to go to drop off the driver and check on the three WIA.
Once out of harm’s way, that is when the Iraqis really melted down. A lot of brothers and cousins are in the Iraqi battalions; half of them seem to be related. They were clearly, visibly distraught, crying and wailing. The American medics brought a body bag out, and the Iraqis transferred the driver’s body into it. High Pockets took the torn, bloody Iraqi flag that had been on the cab of the destroyed vehicle, and laid it on the body. Then they all start crying.
We got them back on the Leylands, and rolled back out, heading back to Camp Tiger, about 1 km back down Michigan. Every Iraqi on the camp was waiting for us in silence when we pulled back in. We Marines just kept rolling, while the Iraqi truck stopped up front and joined the rest of the battalion. It was just a bad scene. Within hours, one of our terps had helped them print off a picture of the deceased from Habbaniyah, and affixed a quasi-religious poster in front of the main CP and in front of his company’s barracks.
A long entry. Sorry for my wordiness, and for my poor memory of some of the facts. Again, if any of the Drifters out there (for this, I guess it would just be the CO, Master Guns Traylor, and Gy Roche) remember anything differently, please let me know so I can correct the record.
In closing, this was a big eye-opener for all of us. It was only the battalion’s second casualty since we had been with them (the first had also been in Ramadi while on ECP duty in August), it had been on the heels of SSgt Walsh’s injury, and it had happened only days after our arrival to Ramadi. It set the tone for the rest of our time there, and was in fact only the beginning.
Next up: 3-4 October 2005. An IED and infantry complex attack causes a mass casualty event at night, in the middle of Ramadi. Several killed, 30+ wounded. And they rolled right back into Camp Tiger and into Team Drifter’s lap.