Thursday, May 04, 2006

Habbaniyah in the news

While we were in Ramadi, there was a big recruiting push to recruit Iraqis from the al-Anbar province into the IAs and IPs. And holy @(*&, some of them have actually completed training and are about to hit the streets. Hopefully - in-sh'allah - some of them will go to 3-2-1. Go to the link below to see pictures.

The Sons of Al Anbar Graduate
Blackanthem Military News, HABBANIYAH, Iraq, May 02, 2006

The 1st cycle of Sunni Iraqi Army (IA) recruits graduate Combat Basic Training at East Camp Habbaniyah.Nearly one thousand local men graduated IA Combat Basic Training Camp Sunday morning at forward operating base (FOB) Habbaniyah, 20 kilometers east of Ar Ramadi in the Al Anbar province. They are the 1st cycle of the "Sunni 5000" that volunteered during local IA recruiting drives held monthly in Ar Ramadi, Al Fallujah and Al Qaim. It is expected that by mid-fall November time frame, the "Sunni 5000" will be hard at work in the Anbar province.The Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MOD) has been awaiting a surge in Sunni IA recruits for quite some time. Many feel that Sunni men have been reluctant to join the national army and this serves as a significant step towards building a cohesive and diverse security force, representative of the Iraqi people. The Ministry’s plan is to first, successfully integrate the increasing number of Sunnis into the Iraqi Army and moreover, implement measures to assign these Soldiers to units with areas of operations (AO) within their representative residences. The goal of the Iraqi MOD is to bolster the public’s confidence and support for local Iraqi Army .
Iraqi Army salute during the pass and review.
Over the course of five weeks, the new recruits learned the basic Soldiering skills necessary to ensure the safety and protection of the citizens of Al Anbar. Iraqi Army Instructors, similar to Coalition Force Drill Sergeants, train the new recruits in military customs and courtesies, basic rifle marksmanship, first aid procedures and various squad tactics, each essential for patrolling and conducting security operations. Furthermore, the MOD hopes to incorporate a follow-on school for select recruits specializing in emergency medical care, vital to the sustainment of IA combat power. The Chief Iraqi Combat Basic Training Instructor commented on the 1st rotation of Sunni recruits. Three weeks into the training cycle he stated, "Unlike prior rotations I have led, many [of the new recruits] are former Republican Guard Junud (Soldiers). They have military experience and are progressing fast." Chief Fadel views the influx of Sunnis into the Army as a positive step towards building a more diverse and capable military. With over eight rotations as Senior Instructor under his belt, Chief Fadel is proud to be a part of the new Habbaniyah training facility, the 1st of its kind in the Anbar region.
Sunni grads put on a show, forming a pyramid and announcing "Asha Al Iraq" Demonstrating their national pride to all the guests in attendance."
Lt. Col. Steven Greaf, Coalition Forces IA Combat Basic Training Senior Advisor, expressed his satisfaction with the way things are moving ahead. "It is honorable that these brave Sunni men are coming forward and I am pleased to witness their dedication to serving the people of Al Anbar province."Among the guest speakers at the graduation was Al Anbar Governor Ma’moun Al Awani. Governor Ma’moun spoke to the 978 new graduates lining the parade field, extending his gratitude for their dedication to the security of Al Anbar. He reassured the men that they represent the future of Anbar and have set the stage for Sunni prosperity in Iraq. Following Governor Ma’moun, 1st Division IA Executive Commander, General Baha shared his thoughts with the audience. Fellow Junud, Iraqi Police, Anbar key leaders and Coalition Forces alike cheered for the new graduates as they marched by the VIP stage conducting the traditional pass and review. Honor graduates from each Company were awarded certificates. General Sha’aban Muhammed Samier, the Al Anbar Provincial Police Chief, focused on the importance of providing support to all three prominent cities in Al Anbar (Al Qaim, Ar Ramadi, and Al Fallujah). He motivated the new graduates to take on their new positions with honor and dignity and reminded all of the desired end state - to stabilize the nation of Iraq. "Asha Al Iraq."

SSgt D down at OP Hotel on 4 Oct 05, the day after the attack.

The next day - 03 Oct 05

Sorry again. Been busy living the dream here in Austin, TX.

Back to the rest of the story…

03 October 05. Mere hours before, about 2230 on 02 Oct, 3-2-1 and 2-69 had been hit with a complex attack, resulting in about (3) KIA and (35) WIA. We were all bushed. Because of an early morning mission set for the next day, about half the Drifter team had already gone to bed before the leave convoy had left, and had been left alone during the mass casualty event. We made that call based on the fact that the remainder of the team was able to do what had to be done that night, namely, getting the wounded to Combat Outpost. The team needed to be rested for that upcoming mission.

I was up again at about 0630 to make sure that the mission was still a GO and that the IA were moving. 2-69 was awake, all had been quiet after the enormous furball the night before, and they would have two M1A1s and armored trucks staged at Camp Tiger for a 0700 roll time for the mission. This mission wasn’t expected to be any big deal, just a short drive up to ECP-5, about 2 km to the northwest. The IA platoon going would go on an extended patrol, come back to the ECP, and remain up there until the evening when the trucks would bring them back down. No MTTS would be on this patrol; it was sort of a “milk run” and our first experiment with the IAs going out with along with the coalition partner (2-69), but not us. (NOTE: by the time we left Ramadi, this was the SOP for ALL of our missions, as part of the “taking the training wheels off” phase). There was another mission later in the morning that the MTTs would be participating in, not this one.

The IAs were NOT up; psychologically, they had had the wind completely knocked out of their sails. This was something that had kind of caught us off guard as advisors. Whereas we, as professional American, western military men - regardless of service – would have sucked it up and pushed through the shock to accomplish the mission, the IAs turned out to be surprisingly fragile. We MTTS were just beginning to see this. Habbaniyah had been a cakewalk for us until SSgt Walsh’s IED. Ramadi was the real deal, plus the Iraqi pay system was malfunctioning, leave was on hold indefinitely, and they had lost four KIA and 35 WIA in two weeks. They were on their heels.

They were also in bed. I started knocking on doors, and they began to begrudgingly get ready. Very, very frustrating to us, and we as advisors would have to step back and analyze exactly WHY they were resisting and how could we make this THEIR priority and not just ours. But I digress. At the time, I was simply pissed off. I went down to the radio in our office and called 2-69; the IAs were moving slowly, I would stay up on the net, and have them out to the trucks as soon as I could. About 0650, the tanks and trucks arrived, the trucks coming into out compound, the tanks remaining out on Route Michigan, tubes trained across the street. I went out to talk to the drivers and let them know what was going on. It looked like the IAs wouldn’t be ready until about 0730.

About then, we started to hear small arms fire from the northwest. Actually, from the vicinity of ECP-5, which is where our guys were supposed to be, right then. The fire began to increase. Exponentially.

Again – just as I had only hours before – I ran into the office and got onto the radio, this time to listen. ECP-5 was under attack and Blocking Position (BP)-4 (about a mile away) was as well. They were sustaining heavy small arms and machinegun fire from the north and east, and had sustained at least one US WIA. 3/7 in west Ramadi was also being engaged, and we could hear large explosions and see smoke from near the Ramadi Hospital (a large building to the northwest which the enemy would regularly use to engage the Marines). After about 30 minutes, when it became clear that this was not a “driveby” and that the insurgents were actually going to maintain contact (unheard of at that point), the tanks and trucks returned to Camp Corregidor and Combat Outpost to stage for whatever would come next. It was the biggest firefight that we had heard, and for better or worse, Drifter and the IAs were all on the sidelines for this one.

Except for SSgt DeCamillo. We were at that time still keeping a MTT down at OP Hotel with the IA platoon we would rotate out there. (OP Hotel rates its own blog entry, but for now, suffice it to say that OP Hotel is a former hotel in downtown Ramadi which, because of its height and location, now serves as a key terrain for the US and IA to secure Rt. Michigan). While we were all stuck on Camp Tiger, up on the roof now preparing for what we thought would be an inevitable attack on our camp as well, SSgt D was out doing his part at OP Hotel, helping to coordinate communications with the US Army platoon there and the IA, and, to paraphrase the British, “enforcing Rule 5.56” in downtown Ramadi. We got him on the Motorola at some point just to make sure that he was OK. (In all honesty, he was just fine, and I think having the time of his life, but you have to know SSgt D to understand).

The firefight continued. 2-69 called in mortars (120mm from Combat Outpost) and artillery (155mm from Camp Ramadi), then more mortars and artillery. This is the first and only time while I was there that I heard a radio call that friendlies were about to go “black” on ammo, specifically 7.62 link, I think. This means that they had been firing so much, for so long, that they were about to run out of ammunition for their 240B machine guns, and were requesting and emergency resupply via Bradley. When you hear a call like that, with heavy firing in the background as the platoon commander is calling it, your first instinct is to go get your gear on and get up there, no questions asked. But again, we were fully on the sidelines for this one. Animal Company – the American force at ECP-5 – determined that fire was coming from a mosque, and called for and received clearance for a helicopter gun run. When the 7.62 machine guns didn’t do the trick, the request for a Hellfire missile shot went up and was approved. Subsequent to the missile shot, the enemy broke contact, and Ramadi was again – tenetively – quiet.

When 2-69 did the math afterward, they estimated about 15-25 enemy KIA (some had been carried away by the insurgents). A sustained, coordinated (east Ramadi, west Ramadi, Habbaniyah) attack, coupled with the ambush the night before, this was something new, and it meant that the enemy were upping the ante, perhaps leaning into the 15 Oct parliamentary elections. The end result for us was that the IA leave was cancelled until after the elections, Rt. Michigan was declared “black” and closed for coalition travel, and we began to prepare for what we thought would be the next step: escalating and bolder enemy attack.

One good thing was that our tower guards were now wide awake (at least for a day or so).

For the team, we decided that, in the event we were attacked and mooj got into the compound, the safest place for us Ameriki would be on the roof. Not that we weren’t ready for a fight, but to be running around, at night, with out own IA yelling and shooting at other Iraqis yelling and shooting… That would just not be a good place for one or three or even all of us to be. Better to pull to the roof, defend, and call for the cavalry (2-69). To facilitate this, shortly after this firefight, we staged a PALCON - a medium, lockable storage box – up at the top of the stairs at the doorway on to the roof. We loaded it with frag grenades, pyro, about 50 loaded 5.56 magazines, a couple of Benelli shotguns, high-power laser pointer, radios, a M249 SAW, first aid stuff, MREs and water.

And we waited for the attack to come.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Things are jumping in Ramadi


From Reuters today. If accurate, this is a LOT of bad guys coming out of their holes.

US, Iraqi forces kill over 100 insurgents in Ramadi

02 May 2006 10:27:52 GMTSource: ReutersBAGHDAD, May 2 (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces killed more than 100 insurgents last week in the town of Ramadi in the rebel heartland of Anbar province, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.
Two Iraqi soldiers died in the fighting and no Americans were killed, the military said in a written response, confirming a media report. It did not provide more details.
Reuters witnesses in Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles), west of Baghdad, said there were heavy clashes last week between U.S. forces and insurgents inside Ramadi but could not independently confirm such a high number of insurgents killed.
Ramadi is a stronghold of Sunni Arab insurgents fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces and the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Comm check - 27 April 06

Hi, all.

MAN! Three weeks got past me really quickly. Sorry for being so quiet for so long. Being back in beautiful Austin, TX can be awfully distracting. It is a long, long way from Ramadi.

You will hear a lot more from me in the next week. I am going to start posting some news stories I am getting about Ramadi and 3/8 (the battalion that replaced 3/7); I will also pass on any news we are getting about 3-2-1. Additionally, I will try to continue to reconstruct some of our reality oh so long ago (3-6 months).

It does appear that things are starting to heat up again in Ramadi. Not that it ever really cooled off, but the status quo remains extremely active.

I will start off with a story from yesterday about 3/8. Talk to you soon,

Maj P

April 23, 2006, 4:40PMIn War-Wrecked Ramadi, Marines Keep Moving
By TODD PITMAN Associated Press Writer © 2006 The Associated Press

RAMADI, Iraq — Weapons locked, loaded and ready, a U.S. Marine platoon runs through this troubled Iraqi city's war-wrecked streets, hurling yellow, gray and violet smoke grenades to shroud their path.
Pausing only to train gunbarrels around corners or scan rooftops for insurgents, they bound across desolate roads lined with broken glass and charred cars _ and start running again.

Standing still is rarely an option in this insurgent-plagued metropolis beset by roadside bombs, rocket fire and, Marines here say, the worst sniper threat on the planet.
"Every time we go out, we run," said 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson, a 24-year-old platoon commander from Columbia, S.C. "If you stand still, you WILL get shot at."
And most of the time, Marines shoot back.
Buildings around Government Center, the Marine-defended headquarters of provincial government, offer stark evidence of fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces in downtown Ramadi, a city 70 miles west of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.
Some buildings have been blown away by air strikes, their walls ripped open, their twisted floors collapsed. Others, including a small mosque and its tank-blasted minaret, are riddled with rocket and bullet impacts. Plastic awnings over shopfronts are shredded. Power lines hang down along sidewalks.
Marines patrolling this city on foot don't like to stay exposed too long, preferring instead to blow front gate locks off private homes with special shotgun shells to take temporary cover in walled courtyards before moving on. They don't knock first _ there is no time.
On one recent sweep, U.S. and Iraqi infantrymen climbed over walls between houses instead of risking the streets outside.
"We try to stay mobile so snipers can't aim in on us," said 1st Lt. Carlos Goetz, a 29-year-old Miami native. "If we walk, then it gives them more time to aim in on your head."
Running around with 60 to 80 pounds of gear, the Marines' pace is more of a quick jog.
The urban environment of walled villa rooftops and four- to five-story windowed buildings keeps Marines edgy.
"You try to take cover wherever you can, but it just feels like someone's always watching you. It really messes with your head," said Cpl. Jason Hunt of Wellsville, N.Y.
"You look for dark windows, tiny holes anywhere," the 24-year-old said. "They could be sitting back on a bench with a scope and a barrel _ they see you, but you can't see them."
Troops from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment aggressively patrol the blown-out district around Government Center at all hours _ conducting raids and sweeps during the hazy, gritty heat of the day, and in the quiet of night when moonlight casts buildings and villas in blue hues.
Marines say the patrols have disrupted insurgent operations. But the guerrillas operating in small teams are relentless, firing rockets, mortars and machine guns daily at Government Center, U.S. bases and fortified observation posts. Sometimes they attack the same targets several times a day.
Goetz said Marines patrol hoping to bring insurgents out into the open, where they are little match for the overwhelming U.S. firepower.
It usually doesn't take long.
"It takes about eight minutes from us stepping outside of the wire and getting across the street to the time that we start receiving contact from the enemy," Goetz said at Goverment Center.
The safety-in-motion logic also applies to U.S. vehicles. Drivers roll back and forth in danger zones, rather than park, to make their vehicles harder targets, particularly for rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs.
One young Marine manning a machine gun in a Humvee turret outside Government Center was hit by an RPG and killed instantly just before the vehicle rolled inside. In recent weeks, another Marine was killed by a sniper's bullet that tore through his shoulder toward his heart.
Two Iraqi soldiers were fatally shot manning a guard post _ one as he walked out of it and one who went to save him, said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M.
Out on the streets, troops are wary of all the spots that insurgents have used to hide bombs: heaps of garbage and rubble, mangles of wires, scrap metal, the occasional dead animal or body part.
"This is the kind of stuff that makes you cringe," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of Mount Laurel, N.J., gesturing at a large pile of dirt near a light pole as he ran along ahead of a raid with a platoon from his Kilo Company.
Sprinting into the entrance of an abandoned building on another day and seeing a bag on the ground with wires sticking out, Marines quickly retreated as one shouted, "Get out! Go! Go! Go!"
One Iraqi soldier bounding between two roads this month stepped on a bomb that blew off his leg. It's easier to spot bombs when moving slowly, but speed is the rule for Marines in Ramadi.
Cpl. Scott R. Gibson, 22, of Carlisle, Pa., said his platoon had started off walking during their first patrol in the city last month, worrying about pressure-plate bombs that explode when stepped on.
They soon came under a hail of gunfire.
"After that, we started running," Gibson said. "We can't stand still here too long."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Complex attack - 02 Oct 05

02 October 2005. This was going to be a big day in the life of 3-2-1 and Team Drifter.

Before I start this story, I need to explain something about leave in the Iraqi Army. I may have addressed this in a (much) earlier posting, but I will do so again here in order to set the stage for this next story. Leave is a big deal in the Iraqi Army. Its purpose is grounded in a true need, but it is, in my opinion, a system abused by the Iraqis. The facts are this: there is no banking system in Iraq. At all. When a jundi is paid in cash each month, he now has to figure out how he is going to get this wad of cash to his family back home, wherever that may be. The answer is for them to go on a 7 to 10-day leave period every month. Every (pause for effect) month. I will save my diatribe on this fact for later. They pick the dates and the rotation schedule, we as advisors simply ADVISE them on the inherent dangers and schedule for armed escort by our coalition partner as required. What this meant for us while in east Ramadi was that we had to constantly be scheduling an armed escort for these leave convoys until they got to a secure enough route (and that is relative) that they could continue on their own unescorted.

They were always remarkably cavalier about these convoys. The whole attitude of “in-sh’allah” really came into its own in regards to the leave convoys. Yes, east Ramadi was the most dangerous place in Iraq. Yes, they had just lost a truck, (1) KIA and (3) WIA to an IED just 10 days before. Yes, Route Michigan was covered in IEDs regardless of which direction you went on it. But it was Co. 3’s turn to go on leave, along with half of HQ, and by Allah, they were going. If my memory serves me correctly, the pay had not even arrived yet by then, so they were going on leave with NO MONEY to take home to their families (making me truly question just how valid a reason that was in the first place, but I digress). I distinctly remember warning my counterpart, the Iraqi S-3, and remember the CO warning the IA battalion commander about the danger of this leave convoy. We both told our counterparts – and I quote – that one of these days, one of these leave convoys is going to be hit, and hit hard. Neither one of us were comfortable at all with this one. The atmospherics (a new term I had never heard of until arriving in Ramadi) were just not right. Insurgent activity was up, some convoys had been hit recently on Michigan, and pay had not even come yet, so why go? The IA counter-argument was that the run from Camp Tiger in east Ramadi to Rt. Mobile, although it did go right through the center of town, was short, and with the 15 October national parliamentary election coming up, they had just enough time to go and be back to “man the wire” for that enormously important and dangerous event. And all the CO and I could really do was advise them that it wasn’t a good time, and it did not feel right. “When can we expect the escort?” was their reply.

At 2300, 02 Oct 05, an escort of three or four M1A1 main battle tanks rolled up out of the darkness to meet our convoy of about three Nissan guntrucks and ten Leyland troop trucks. Personally, I would have either had an MBITR radio with me to talk to the tanks on their company freq, or would have just walked outside the wire the 25 meters to where the commander’s tank would be staged. Either way, we made contact, verified that the escort would have one tank up front, one tank in the rear, and the remainder spaced within the convoy. Then with a final thumbs-up to the IA company commander, they would roll. Honking their horns, flashing their high beams at us (they roll with lights on because of 1) the quality of their NVGs, 2) their proficiency of driving with them, and 3) the in-sh’allah factor), waving to the two or three of us Marines still out there, off they would happily go. Once gone, we headed inside, we Marines to our office where our SINCGARS tactical radio was set up, and the Iraqis to their Bn COC where their Motorola base station was, to track the movement and status of the convoy as it moved to the release point about five short miles away. The majority of the team was already in bed because of an early morning operation scheduled for the next day, and we were ready to call it a night too.

About 15 minutes after their departure, all hell opened up in downtown Ramadi:

"At 022331C OCT 05, TF 2-69 escorting 3-2-1 IA to Camp Ramadi for leave, was attacked with (2) IEDs, small arms fire (SAF) and RPG fire 400m E of the Government Center in Ar Ramadi. Unit declared a Troops-in-Contact event (TIC), 3/7 is pushing their Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to assist. Fixed wing assets are being diverted until rotary wing can arrive on station from Taqquadum (TQ). The attack resulted in (7) Iraqi Army (IA) wounded-in-action (WIA) and (1) IA killed-in-action (KIA). Weapons Co. 3/7 (QRF) assisted in transport of IA-WIA to Charlie Medical (C MED) at Camp Ramadi. TF 2-69 positively identified (PID) a RPG team at 0017C and engaged it, resulting in (6) enemy KIA (EKIA). Concurrently, 3/7 declared a TIC at OP-VA and Government Center. OP-VA was taking fire from a building across Main Supply Route (MSR) Michigan. Air assets (RW/FW) sent to support TIC and engaged military aged males (MAMs) on rooftop and ground with TOW, and conducted gun runs. TF 2-69 reported an additional (13) IA WIA and (2) friendly WIA (FWIA) currently at Combat Outpost. Total casualties currently (20) IA-WIA, (1) IA-KIA, (2) FWIA and (6) EKIA.

UPDATE: At 022331C OCT 05, TF 2-69 (D 2-69) and 3-2-1 IA were involved in a complex attack along MSR Michigan while conducting security escort operations for 3-2-1 IA in Ar Ramadi. D 2-69 was escorting (13) IA vehicles to Camp Ramadi to allow the IA out on leave when the attack occurred. The attack consisted of (3) IEDs, RPG’s and SAF. While traveling west the lead vehicle (M1A1) from D 2-69 AR was first attacked with an IED causing no damage or casualties. Seconds later the second IED detonated on the 2nd M1A1 causing no damage to the tank but destroying the (2) IA vehicles traveling behind it causing multiple IA casualties. At 2344C a third IED detonated on dismounted IA soldiers conducting security and a CASEVAC again resulting in further multiple IA casualties. These IED incidents resulted in a mass casualty event and a TIC was declared. 3/7 QRF was requested to assist in the CASEVAC. 3/7 arrived at 0001C and subsequently evacuated (8) IA (1 KIA, 7 WIA) to Camp Ramadi C MED. At 0015C, D 2-69, 3-2-1 IA and W 3/7 were attacked with RPG and SAF from (3) RPG teams. The first RPG team consisted of (4) MAMs engaged the lead M1A1 from the east. RPG team consisting of (3) MAMs engaged the trail M1A1 from the west. D 2-69 engaged this RPG team with (1) 120mm main gun HEAT round (after their COAX gun jammed) resulting in (3) confirmed EKIA. During this action D 2-69 AR observed a beam of light emitted from Saddam Mosque assisting AIF in targeting and engaging the convoy. At 0040c SCT 2-69 AR arrived on the scene to escort 3-2-1 IA back to Camp Tiger while D 2-69 AR covered the withdrawal. Upon arrival at Camp Tiger, 3-2-1 IA identified further casualties who were subsequently evacuated to Combat Outpost. Total Confirmed casualties to Coalition Forces (CF) are (3) IA-KIA, (33) IA-WIA and (2) FWIA, and (7) EKIA. Of the injured, (13) IA-WIA were taken to C MED and (8) IA-WIA were transported to TQ for further treatment."

OK, so what did all of that mean to Team Drifter still aboard Camp Tiger?

When we heard what was happening on the radio, we started to relay information back and forth between the IA convoy in the ambush site (through our counterparts in the IA COC) and the M1A1 escort engaging the RPG teams (over our SINCGARS to 2-69 and Dealer Co.). Initially, following the 1st IED, we thought they might continue to push the convoy through, but with the casualties and mounting enemy resistance, the decision was made to have them come back to Camp Tiger. As you can read in the report above, the 3/7 QRF responded to the ambush site and pulled (1) IA KIA and (7) IA WIA with them back to Camp Ramadi, where we lost control of them. What we did NOT know was about the remaining KIA and WIA. Once they were out of the ambush site and on the way back, I contacted the 2-69 medical folks at Combat Outpost to warn them that we might have a couple of patients for them. Based off of previous experience, I knew that some of the jundi - just like Marines – would probably come up with some minor shrapnel wounds, or cut up hands, etc., following an engagement. The little stuff that you just don’t realize you have until things are calm and you can re-evaluate. So the CO and I got out our medical trauma bag, warned Combat Outpost that we may have a couple of minor injuries for them upon the return of the convoy, and waited. All was quiet.

We could hear the tanks coming up to the entrance, and were waiting with the rest of the jundi in the battalion when the first truck came through the gate. I remember being dressed with just my cammie trousers and t-shirt with flak jacket, not really anxious, just curious. When the first truck rolled in, it stopped directly in front of the CP building, and I could see by flashlight that the truck had been hit, and the passenger was dead. All the glass had been blown out, and the passenger door was bowed inwards by an IED blast. As soon as the Iraqis saw the truck and the dead jundi, it was complete pandemonium. The CO and Top Radke jumped into the middle of the fray, and I turned and ran back into the building, back to our office. “Panther X-ray, this is Drifter 5, over.” Panther 5, the battalion XO, answered up. “Roger, the convoy has returned, the first truck in the gate has one KIA, expect approximately 8-10 WIA and (3) KIA, request medical assistance at our pos NOW, over”. The numbers were a guess on my part, but based on what we had heard of the ambush, and now seen of the convoy, I felt like it was a good estimate without yet knowing the details. Also of concern to me was the fact that we had no American medical personnel assigned to us there at Camp Tiger. The IAs had a small medical section, but the Iraqi “doctor” that we had (actually a nurse with questionable ability) was already on leave, leaving only one medical assistant on site. It was going to be the MTT team until we could get these guys triaged and in the hands of the US medical personnel.

As soon as I passed the info to 2-69, I ran back outside. By now, wounded jundi were flooding into the building. The Iraqis were bringing them into their COC, and laying them out in the passageways of the building. The first truck that had come in with the KIA had shut off and would not start, bringing the IAs back and out of harm’s way, but no further. After Top Radke (who is a big guy) had gotten up and muscled the door open, the Iraqis pulled the KIA down, and pushed the truck out of the way. There is screaming and yelling, bloody uniforms and equipment and broken glass everywhere. All of the unwounded jundi are starting to get into the way, forcing themselves into the CP building and not helping, but yelling and some actually ripping their clothes off and beating themselves, part of the sunni or shia religious culture. The IA battalion commander forced them out and blocks the front doors, leaving me stuck outside with the crowd, which I had to almost swim through and then use my loudest Marine voice to gain entry. While the CO and Top and our terps are helping with the wounded, I maintained comm with 2-69. It seemed to be taking forever, absolutely forever, to get anyone over from Combat Outpost. The Bn XO explained that the concern was that if they sent medics to us at Camp Tiger, they would be degrading the medical readiness and ability at Combat Outpost, which really had the equipment and facilities we would be needing. I told him I was going to try to get the wounded loaded back up to come to them.

I wasn’t really tracking it, but we had already burned about 30 minutes. We needed to get this mess resolved, NOW. I found the IA S-3 (in all honesty, a pretty competent officer, smart, fluent in English) and told him that we needed to get some trucks up to the CP and load the wounded up. He looked at me for a moment like I was an idiot. “The medics are taking too long; we need to go to them, NOW.” He nodded his head, and ordered some jundi nearby to get the battalion ambulances and two or three Leylands out front immediately. Within five minutes, the vehicles were there and getting loaded, and within 15 minutes, they were ready. I grabbed my pistol and helmet, ran out the back of the building, jumped into one of our HUMMVs, and came around to the front. Over the vehicle radio, I notified 2-69 that we were moving, one Hummer, five IA vehicles, lights on to Combat Outpost. As I rolled through the front gate at Tiger, I met about three or four Hummers coming lights off into Tiger. The US medics, the cavalry, had finally show. Freaking great. With everyone already loaded, on the move, and better facilities at Combat Outpost, I decided to push on. The medics would be able to check the remainder of the jundi (probably some minor wounds) or would simply flip around and follow us. We rolled on.

The run from Camp Tiger to Combat Outpost is about 1000 meters, really not that far. That stretch of Rt. Michigan is well covered by observation and (if required) fire, so it is fairly safe to travel that 1000 meters, in all honesty. However, normally, we travel with at least two Marines in each vehicle, lights off at night. Here I was, in a HUMMV by myself, lights on, moving slowly down Rt. Michigan, with five IA vehicles, loaded with wounded behind me. At that point, I didn’t even know how many or how bad. That was a very strange, very surreal couple of minutes.

I swung the HUMMV to the right, off of Rt Michigan and through the gate at Combat Outpost. The M113 used as the “gate” was already pulled back, warned of our coming. As I made a right turn to bring the convoy to the front of the combined Battalion Aid Station (BAS) / maintenance facility, I was amazed and relieved at what I saw. The entire entry of the warehouse-like building was ablaze with light, ready for us, with about 40+ US soldiers and medics, already in gloves and smocks. The 2-69 Bn XO was there as well in PT gear and gloves. I would find out later that he put out the word that any soldier with medical training – EMT, combat lifesaver, etc. – should report to Combat Outpost BAS to assist in what was probably the biggest mass casualty event in the battalion’s time in Ramadi. Thank God he did.

Once the trucks stopped, it was again total pandemonium, but this time, with focus. The doctors and medics immediately took charge, ordering soldiers with stretchers to assist the wounded jundi. All four surgical stations and the entire bay floor was soon covered in wounded and equipment and US soldiers and Iraqi jundi and bloody bandages. Soon, behind the building, Marine CH-46 helicopters started to come in, lifting the most serious wounded to TQ for follow on care. The Iraqi S-3 had come with his troops and helped to translate and control the unwounded jundi who had driven the vehicles to assist the medics. It was chaos to me, but executed flawlessly by the 2-69 medical folks. My hat was (and is) off to them. Of the probably 20+ wounded that we rolled through the gate with that night, they all survived, all receiving the best care that the US could offer, all treated exactly as any American soldier. By 0300, it was all over, and exhausted, we rolled back to Camp Tiger.

We would all be up by 0700, 03 Oct 05, only four hours later, because of a hornet’s nest of insurgent activity that would erupt that morning, probably ignited by the activity of the night before. But that will be for the next posting.

Again, thanks for putting up with my long-windedness. I will cover some of the aftereffects of this event on the battalion later, but it was a significant event for all involved. Drifters, if you see any mistakes in my facts or recollections, PLEASE e-mail me to address them.

Next posting: Watching Ramadi erupt, 03 Oct 05, prompting us to stage (and secure) weapons and equipment on the roof. Just in case.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

One of the Leylands destroyed during the 03 Oct 05 complex attack. The next post will cover THAT cluster.
Bluedevil sends

The Leyland to the left was the one destroyed on 24 Sept 05. The center Leyland was (I believe) one of the Leylands destroyed in the 3 Oct 05 complex attack.
Bluedevil sends

Our Hummer "Cowboys" with the two Iraqi Leylands, 0730, 24 Sept 05 at OP Trotter. The Leyland on the right with the Iraqi flag would be the one to be hit later that morning.
Bluedevil sends

IED strike: 24 September 2005

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.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

IED strike: 24 Sept 05 (story to follow)
Bluedevil sends

The route and IED strike site from 13 Sept 05 (the photo is from Google Earth).
Bluedevil sends

IED strike: 13 Sept 05 (story)

I figure I will just jump in to this next phase of the blog with both feet. Contrary to what we may have implied or even told our friends and family while over there, yes, we did get shot at. At times, quite a bit. “F---o the Clown” (a nickname for the insurgents that I stole from the Brigade MTT when we first got into country) tried to take most of us out at one point of another. The biggest threat to us hands down over there was IEDs. SSgt Walsh for one will back me up on this. On 13 Sept 2005, while Top Radke, Gy Greene, one of the IA officers, a terp, and I were running down Rte Michigan to recon our future home at Camp Tiger, Ramadi, the IAs were running one of our first (and only) mounted patrols, out through the top gate, then south through Coolie Camp, west through Civil Camp, and back into the East gate of Camp Habbaniyah. Capt Rush (A-driver), Gy Ellis (driver), SSgt Walsh (gunner), and Matrix (our terp) were in our “Cowboys From Hell” HUMMV, accompanied by several IA Nissan guntrucks.

I am recounting the remainder of this story second-handedly since I was not there, but here is what I understand to have happened: The road running from Coolie Camp to Civil Camp runs north to south, is paved and elevated on almost a berm, probably 10 ft higher that the farming fields it cuts through on either side. At one point, this elevated road has an intersecting road which drops off of the berm to the west, towards Civil Camp. It was near this intersection that the insurgents / the “muj” / “F---o” detonated an IED beside the HUMMV.

The intersection was probably chosen for several different reasons; volume of traffic, cover and concealment nearby (reeds, etc.), availability of soft dirt on either side to easily dig the IED in. The muj – thankfully – chose the easy path and didn’t put it ON the road, and dug it in too deep, as well.

SSgt Walsh, while standing up in the turret to wave civilian traffic off of the road, was sprayed with shrapnel, striking his arm and face. Gy Ellis side window was also sprayed with shrapnel, but the HUMMV was still running, so Gy hit the gas while Capt Rush helped SSgt Walsh back down into the HUMMV. After confirming that none of his wounds were life threatening, Capt Rush got up into the turret and manned the 240G machine gun for what had now become a CASEVAC and not just a routine patrol. There was a report of small arms fire from Civil Camp itself, but no one could identify any actual targets, and the patrol held its fire as it sped through town and through the East Camp gate back onto base. The patrol made a quick stop to evaluate SSgt Walsh’s injuries before Gy Ellis pushed the damaged HUMMV to the 1-110th Battalion Aid Station (BAS) on the American side of the camp. I believe that here the HUMMV decided to stop running, succumbing to its damage.

SSgt Walsh – besides suffering shrapnel to his face and arm – also had a burst eardrum and vision problems in his left eye, the side of the road where the IED had detonated. While the shrapnel wounds and the burst eardrum were “minor” (trust me, I feel stupid even using that term, but they could have been far worse), his vision trouble was of great concern. The doctors didn’t know if he had also received some shrapnel in his eye, or if the eye was damaged from the overpressure of the blast. He was quickly moved to TQ (the Marine airbase literally across Route Michigan) and then MEDEVACed out to Germany (I don’t remember if via Balad or Baghdad).

As all this was going on, I and my merry band were still in Ramadi, oblivious to what was going on back at Habbaniyah. I was taking pictures of our new home to show to brief everyone else on upon our return; each picture has a date/time stamp assigned to it, so I can tell when it was taken. I actually have random, innocuous pictures of buildings and future living spaces which I was taking as the IED was detonated, and as SSgt Walsh was being rushed to the Surgical / Shock Trauma Platoon (SSTP) at TQ. We finished up our recon, and made the run back to Habbaniyah with the three HUMMVs of the 1-110th Battalion Commander’s Personal Security Det (PSD). It is a quick run if it is unopposed (probably 20-25 minutes door to door). When we rolled up at about 1200, we saw the Mystery Machine rolling over to the American camp, and figured that the patrol was complete and the rest of the team was going to chow without us. I was fully prepared to harass them for not waiting on us when they stopped there in the middle of the connecting road and told us what had happened.

We had to wait quite a while to figure out where SSgt Walsh was, and what his diagnosis was. Being where we were in Iraq, we were so remote and so removed from ANYTHING outside of our little Area of Operations (AO). Communications to Ramadi – only 15 miles down the road – were very difficult, let alone communications to Baghdad. Once the medical folks take a Marine, they are receiving the best care in the world, but they are gone and out of your control. At some point a day or two later, we found out via e-mail from his family that he had called had was in Germany, and shortly thereafter, that he was going to move on to Bethesda.

The next day, the battalion went out in force to check the IED site. I believe that we put two full companies out, and were out for quite a while (two or three hours). I ended up pulling QRF duty, and we were staged with our nose at the East Gate, a little more aggressively postured than normally. We were fully expecting a fight, and were in fact hoping for one (I will save the subject of aggressiveness and itching for a stand-up fight for a later posting). Unfortunately, there was none and the enemy wisely decided to lay low. The patrol deployed with engineers from 1-110th in support, and they helped to analyze the blast site. Thankfully (again), it appeared that only a 60mm or 81mm round had been used, and NOT an artillery shell, which would have been much, much worse.

A week or so laterThankfully, the damage to his vision was in fact due to the blast and not to shrapnel, and he healed up quickly (he joked with us via e-mail that his dad put him to work as soon as he left the hospital). He was able to rejoin us in mid-November (Nov 15th?), and was as far as I know the only MTT in our group of 70+ to have been wounded, healed up, and redeployed to Iraq. I know that his wife Jill was truly disappointed to see him get on a plane again, but the Team sure needed him back, especially in the wake of Master Guns Kistler returning to the States in late September. Some of the Team couldn’t even drive a stickshift when we got over there, let alone able to properly maintain and repair our HUMMVs and civilian vehicles!

Lessons learned from this event were to wear your hearing and eye protection, stay low in the turret if possible, that HUMMVs will take a beating and still roll, and the IEDs were now a reality in Civil and Coolie Camps (we had not seen any since we had gotten there). Also, Master Guns Kistler’s welded steel bumpers proved their worth for the first time that day; the left side of the front bumper had a substantial dent in it, perhaps from taking the brunt of the blast and protecting the HUMMV and Marines from even more damage and injury.

Enough for now. The next story will be about the IED strike in Ramadi on 23 Sept 05, which all of the Drifter guys walked away from, but not all of the Iraqis.

(Admin note: Hey Drifters, if I screwed up the details, or you want to add anything, email me and I will correct the official public record.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

IED strike: 13 Sept 05

GySgt Ellis with our "Cowboys" HUMMV the day after he, Capt Rush, and SSgt Walsh were hit by the team's first IED. The accompanying story will be posted tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Update - 22 Mar 06

Hi all,

I am finally back off of two weeks of leave, and ready to start putting some of the stories up on the blog. As usual, I’m very sorry for the delay. I can sometimes have the attention span of a goldfish, and now that I am back, I can focus better. Since I am remaining on active duty for a while yet, I will try to post as part of my daily routine for the next couple of weeks for sure. Besides, my memory is starting to already fade on some of the details, and I want to get this stuff down before it fades completely.

We’ve been back for a month now, arriving in to Cherry Point MCAS on 17 Feb 06 after about 30 hours of traveling). Truly hard to believe. Our arrival into North Carolina went pretty smoothly. Once we arrived in Kuwait, we stayed for less than 24 hours at Camp Victory before being bused to a different airport for embarkation on a 747. Prior to embarkation, we were linked up with about 200 other Marines who would be traveling back with us, and together, we began the Customs goatrope. Of course, by then, it was night. We got the standard briefs about no ammo, no explosives, no dirt, no pets, no drugs, etc, etc. Then, we had to head outside, find all of our gear (find your green seabag in the pile of 250+ green seabags), and then drag all of that crap into line to run it all through an X-ray machine. Now each of us had at least an overstuffed pack, seabag, rifle case with M-16A4 and M9 pistol. And yes, it was about as much fun as it sounds. In my previous deployments, then had all been done by hand, meaning everyone got on line, literally dumped everything out, and inspectors with dogs would come through. As painful as it was, it could have been worse. There still were those unlucky SOBs who would get pulled aside to dump everything anyway. At least one of our guys had a 5.56 round wedged (unbeknownst to him) into his cartridge belt and the X-ray tech actually spotted it; he got to go “old school” and dump all of his trash out (it’s OK, sir; it could have happened to anybody).

Following that cluster, we got to wait in another line with our carry-on stuff (backpack, computer, etc.). After getting read the riot act again there, we were required to dump all of our carry-on stuff for detailed inspections, and then… That was it! We moved to one of several permanent buildings with TVs, pre-packaged dinner, chairs, etc., and waited about three hours to load the aircraft. Hell, there was even a privately-owned coffee shop (trailer, really) in the little compound, so I personally was GTG. When the word finally came, we moved out in an orderly fashion, had a final roll call, and loaded the buses, which then rolled out for the short trip to the airport. Once there, we ended up having to wait about three of four hours while the loadmasters loaded and then re-loaded the aircraft (there was some sort of weight distribution problem). I got to spend that time seated on the bus seat above the left rear wheel well (read “unable to sit with feet on floor”), with my backpack on my lap. I thought I would have to be carried off the bus in the fetal position when we finally were told to load up. Good times!

Once we loaded the aircraft, it all moved quickly. First, a stop in Germany to refuel, then several hours to Bangor, Maine where we received the now well-known FABULOUS reception from the USO volunteers there in Bangor. Fantastic. At least 15-20 of them, all eager to shake the hand of every Marine coming off that plane. If you a looking to donate some money to someone, try the USO. They were a welcome sight from McGuire AFB where we were initially marooned in June, to Bangor last month. One other GREAT thing about Bangor was that we were on the ground long enough to hit the small airport bar there and finally - FINALLY – get our first beer after eight months. None of us were more relieved of delighted than Gy Ellis (as those who know him can surely attest). From Bangor, it was a short hop to Cherry Point, NC, where we loaded on to buses and moved to Camp Lejeune. On a personal note, my parents both live in Durham, NC, only about two hours away, so they, my step-mother, and my lovely wife Joy were able meet me there at the airport. The beginning of the end was at hand.

I won’t bore you with the remaining outprocessing details. It was truly surreal for me to be back at Lejeune, simply because I had not been back since I left active duty in June of 2000. A very strange walk down memory lane, compounded by the fact that the Drifter team was about to be no more. Master Guns Kistler made the trip down from PA, so for the first time since September, all 11 of us were in one place. And now – suddenly – we are not.

I won’t get all weepy here, but I could not have asked for a better lash-up of Marines to go into combat with. Most of us are artillerymen, most of us are reservists, all of us are pretty senior in rank. It could have easily been a pretty dysfunctional deployment, with us stepping on each others toes. Believe me, between life with the Iraqis and the fact that we had never really been TRAINED for a “special ops” / indigenous personnel type operation, we could have really had some friction. But we didn’t. Our team coalesced early as a team, and stayed that way throughout. We lost Master Guns to foot trouble, and SSgt Walsh to wounds; we made two moves with 3-2-1 (Habbaniyah to East Ramadi, and East Ramadi to West Ramadi); worked with four different coalition partners (1-506th, 1-110th, 2-69th, and 3/7). We had a couple of spats (like families do), but we also stuck together, and adapted and overcame. The strength of our team, the secret of our success, was that Drifter was indeed greater that the sum of its parts. After all the trials and tribulation that this blog has passed to you - the reader - about our deployment (and more to come), we separated as brothers in the truest sense. Will I miss Gy Ellis taking his boots off in a closed room after a patrol on a hot summer day? Why, no! Will the CO miss me snoring loud enough to wake the dead? Probably not. But there are times – I must admit – that I miss doing Marine-like things with those guys. Getting shot at is never a goal, but if it is going to be a part of your life, go with guys you believe in.

Stay tuned; more pictures and stories to follow.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I and one of our HUMMVs at the Gov Center, again on the LAST MISSION outside the wire.
Bluedevil sends

Loading the MTVRs upon completion of our last mission at the Gov Center. This was the "puddle" down there from all the rain we'd had.
Bluedevil sends

Master Guns Traylor down at the Gov Center, outside the wire for the last time.
Bluedevil sends

These are ACEs (Armored something or other) stuck in the mud. THREE of them stuck in the mud. I thought it was HILARIOUS, but I wasn't the first guy to stop and take a picture. Apparently a lot of other folks had stopped to do the same.
Bluedevil sends

Gy Greene, Gy Roche, and Top Radke at our farewell meal, thrown by the Iraqis (which means we ate lamb and rice with our right hands). Why so happy? Only a week left to go.
Bluedevil sends

This is the type of truck pulling that M1. It is HUGE; looks like something out of Mad Max. I am telling you people: Oshkosh rules.
Bluedevil sends

Speaking of tanks... If you can zoom in on this picture, you'll notice that this M1A2 has been ROLLED. It still had dirt wedged into the bustle rack. (Sorry for the photo quality; we were having yet another duststorm).
Bluedevil sends

The Buffalo. This is simply the baddest thing on the road short of a tank. The arm is used to manipulate possible IEDs; the screens are used to detonate RPGs prior to hitting the vehicle itself.
Bluedevil sends

This is one of the Iraqi trucks on base, slightly modified by the US Army soldiers. Everyone needs a hobby, even in Iraq.
Bluedevil sends

Smoke screening the movement of one of our platoons into the Souk from the Gov Center.
Bluedevil sends

Why stand post AND be uncomfortable? This is a Marine at the Government Center in Ramadi.
Bluedevil sends

Friday, March 03, 2006

Drifter 5 still on the net

Hi, all,

Man oh man, THAT went by fast. I don't have time to write anything new just now, but I did want to let you know that we ARE all back, everyone is back home, and the deployment is effectively over.

Still all very strange.

I will post something else this weekend - including some great pictures. For the moment, I will post something I had been working on before we flew out of TQ. It will be the first in "what really happened".

Keep ckecking back...

Maj P

One last entry from Iraq, and then on to Kuwait.

There isn’t much to report from here right now. As I wrote in my earlier post, we got in about 2230, 11 Feb. That move actually went pretty smoothly, with a giant forklift and pallet meeting us at the birds when we got off, and ferrying all of our gear over to the giant circus tent that we are in now. There are 26 of these tents here for temporary billeting and each can house about 80 people. They are all supposed to have heat, lights, and electricity. Of course, the duty lance corporal in charge of the billeting stuck us in the one with only one working light and two apparently non-functioning heaters. But there is electricity (thus this post), and I could honestly give a tinker’s damn if it is a little chilly at night and I have to use a flashlight. We are days away from being home, so no tent has ever been so nice.

It is interesting finally seeing all of the other MTT teams again, too. Most of these guys we haven’t seen in months, some since we arrived in-country. Every team has a different story, but there are common themes. We all “lived the dream” with our Iraqi brothers, all had to deal with “jundi-ism” (as Master Guns calls it). All had different crosses to bear.

Of the probably six teams and 69 Marines that make up our little 1st IA Div MTT, ours and only one other were left intact throughout the deployment. Some of the teams had personality conflicts within the teams; others just didn’t adapt well to the mission of living with indigineous forces and advising them. One team – our sister team with whom we had trained in Quantico and who we came over here with - was fragmented by one Marine being killed and several wounded in action. There are more personal stories that I will be able to tell more first-hand, but up front, I wanted to start off my upcoming posts about the “rest of the story” with telling about Sgt Brian Dunlap, a Marine assigned to our sister team, a Marine who we all got to know quite well in Quantico, and a Marine who was killed in action against a nameless, faceless enemy in a shitty crossroads east of Habbaniyah named Kalidiyah.

Sgt Dunlap was a great Marine. Outgoing, gregarious, would give a fellow Marine the shirt off his back. He was a Marine reservist like so many of us, a crash/fire/rescue medic, I believe, from California. He was a little older (who of us isn’t), unmarried, and our sister team’s duty weapons expert. Our teams were separated when we got into country, they going to Mosul while we went to Habbaniyah. In late August or early September, their unit (2-3-1 IA) moved down to Habbaniyah and began patrolling to the west while we at 3-2-1 were patrolling to the east. On one occasion, our camp came under small arms fire and a couple of civilian workers were hit. Sgt Dunlap responded immediately, administering first aid in vain to one of the two wounded Iraqis. He was the guy who would see what had to be done and would DO it without hesitation. It was probably this trait that got him killed by an IED on 24 Sept 05. Out with his battalion, mounted in an armored HUMMV, one of the Iraqi trucks was hit with an IED, resulting in several wounded or killed. The Marines maneuvered the gun-truck near the site and Sgt Dunlap got out to move to the scene and administer first aid, as all of his training had told him to do. Apparently, as he dismounted the vehicle, a second IED, buried in the road, was command detonated by an insurgent, and Sgt Brian Dunlap, USMCR, was killed instantly. He had almost been standing on the IED, which consisted of a propane tank linked to an explosive, a common and exceptionally effective enemy tactic here, and Brian was nearly vaporized. The three other Marines in the vehicle –SSgt Bork, SSgt Hunter, and Sgt Castellanos – were all wounded by the concussion, Castellanos being thrown from the turret. For SSgt Hunter, this was the second IED he had been wounded by in as many months, the first being while he was dismounted on a patrol with the Iraqis, which had left him with a concussion. All three were moved back to the US due to wounds and did not return to Iraq.

Sgt Dunlap is gone from this Earth, but not forgotten. Shortly after his death, the 3rd IA Brigade pushed across the Euphrates north of Habbaniyah, and established Combat Outpost DUNLAP, a patrol base in the heart of “Indian country” to enable the unit to maintain a presence in the Area of Operations. COP DUNLAP has been a thorn in the enemy’s side since its establishment, and it carries the name of a damn fine Marine.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Drifter has LEFT IRAQ


After three days of cooling our jets, living 60 Marines to a giant tent, eating too much, and getting in a little PT, we FINALLY lifted early this morning via C-130 to Kuwait.

We are now in Kuwait, and will shortly begin the next step of what we Marines call the Seabag Drag, and start staging to leave here.

I will post MUCH more once I get back there to Lejeune, but for now, all is well and the REALLY hard part is over. We are inbound.

Drifter 5

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Drifter has left Ramadi

Howdy from TQ, y'all.

Ramadi, that garden spot of the al-Anbar province, became a memory only for us last night when we lifted out on two CH-46 helicopters at about 2200 local time, and landed in TQ about 20 minutes later. We were supposed to have lifted on the 10th, but poor visibility shut down all flights into or out of TQ, so we had to call the new team and have them bring us back to our old house. Slightly anticlimactic, but we were worried about being delayed again last night, which would have put us on a ground convoy early this morning. Nothing against ground convoys, but definitely NOT the last thing you want to do prior to leaving Iraq. They could end up being the last thing you do period, so we were happy that the helos were flying last night.

I will write up a good post today to put up later, but just wanted to let you all know that we all safely made it here, and we are in the glidepath home. Home home home. Just like the sound of it.

More to come, and some pictures too, insh'allah.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A note from the CO - 10 Feb 06

Hi everyone,

The weather is clear in Ramadi today, and our flight should be a "GO"; there was a huge dust storm yesterday and we were concerned that we may not be able to get out of here on schedule. We are all running around, attending to last minute details, saying goodbye to the many folks here who made life bearable, taking pictures of things we do and don't want to forget. This will definitely be the last post from Ramadi. We are all ready to see you guys.

Lt Col Garay, the CO for Team Med-Fah (akaTeam Drifter), asked to post a note to you all here on the blog, which I now do with pleasure. Again, I will continue to post more pictures and stories about the deployment especially in the next month to come, but for the moment, here's the CO:

I have been silent these many months, because Major Erik Peterson has done an absolutely incredible job with the blog and keeping our friends, families and loved ones read in on the day-to-day activities of our lives. To him I owe a great debt.

Early on, as a team, we agreed to keep the blog light and airy so that all the folks back home could go to sleep at night comforted that we were well and fine; though, in reality, many of us worked through some harrowing events wondering if we would see the next sunrise.

I will break that silence only for a moment, to open the door to the “rest of the story.” However, as is now appropriate, Maj Peterson will share those details of our story and, ultimately, close the account of Team Med-Fah at a future time and date of his choosing.

We left in May 2005 and were whisked through a series of classes and events all deemed necessary for our roles as American advisors in Iraq. As with any government enterprise, some were useful; some not so useful. In the end, however, we boarded planes with gear and scholarly ideas of what we would accomplish; like so many generations of Americans who have gone to war before us.

In July 2005 we picked up our Iraqi battalion and began the process of executing foreign policy. Our mission, after much wrangling, arguing, and soul searching, we determined, was transition. Transition the fight to the Iraqi Army. Put Iraq in the hands of Iraqis. Not surprisingly, this is the theme of the President’s exit strategy, and the Iraqi Army is the crown jewel of that plan. Seems easy enough, until you bump into the trappings of language and culture. Soon enough, however, we realized we must try and view the world through the eyes of an Arab. We reached into the writings of Lawrence and Zinni for every nugget of information, applied our own recent experiences and good old common sense and proceeded to embark on the most difficult, trying, frustrating, harrowing, and emotionally draining experience of our lives. 11 Marines, among thousands, embarking on “our war”. In Habbiniyah we learned our craft, mentored our Iraqis, formed the bonds and trust that would carry us through our role in the fight. In Ramadi we applied our craft; we fought, bled, and watched many of our Iraqi brothers suffer great wounds and death. In Ramadi we witnessed our American brothers fall as well.

We learned a great many things in Iraq. Some, perhaps, we wish we had not. We learned how to deal with each other and Iraqis under the extreme stress of combat. I learned that your loved ones, husbands, sons, fathers, and friends are some of the finest men I will ever know. I know how they deal with stress, how they mentor soldiers through firefights (despite the threat to their own lives), how they react to sniper and small arms fire, mortars, and IEDs, how they help the wounded, and handle the fallen. For several months they saw the worst that this war has to offer. To a man, they acquitted themselves with courage, dignity, pride, and honor.

I learned that Iraqi civilians can cry tears of joy in the middle of company sized firefight; because Iraqi soldiers and their advisors came to their help, bandaged their wounds, evacuated them like brothers and provided them the best medical care the US can give. At no time in the past 30 years have they experienced a moment when they mattered; when they counted. Those events are not lost on the people and we will win this fight; one person at a time.

After our unit was attritted to less than 40% they had earned the right to “come off the line”. I am glad the last month in country was “an easier ride”; for my Marines and for our Iraqis. I am certain few Iraqi units experienced the casualty and attrition rate that ours endured. In spite of their quirks and shortcomings, our Iraqis mastered the tasks we put before them and they are well on their way to owning this fight and securing a peace on their terms. I wish them only the best that life can offer.

I also saw the goodness that can spring from all of this. I saw last year’s American high school graduates take the fight to an enemy who is determined and adaptive. I learned that America’s youth could have a good time in the worst of times. They can “escape” when necessary and snap right back into action ~ to fight the good fight, to help a brother, to help the unknown civilian. They can make sanity out of the insanity. The next greatest generation is being tested now ~ and I am sure, has earned the approval of their forebears who fought in Europe, the Pacific, Korea or Viet Nam. I do not worry about the future, because I have seen the best America has to offer and we will be in good shape.

It is now February 2006 and our tour is nearly finished. We have done our part and know our Iraqi battalion is better for having let us into their lives. In time, Iraq too will be better…for the same reasons. Soon this team of 11 Marines will return to their life’s pursuits, in and out of the Corps. But we will always be bound by our shared experiences. Experiences that will keep us together though time and miles will physically separate us.

Give a warm welcome home to your Med-Fah Marine. He deserves it. He has been through hell…but with good friends and in good company. I am sure he will return the sentiment. He knows that without your unfailing support and love none of this would matter.

Now…back to Erik.

LtCol Roger Garay, USMC
Commanding Officer, Military Transition Team
3d Battalion, 2d Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Team update - 08 February 06

Hi all,

Unbelieveably… incredibly… undeniably… this may well be my last blog entry from Ramadi, and from Iraq.

As mentioned earlier, our replacements arrived more than a week ago. There are 10 Marines and one Navy Corpsman. The head of the team is Maj David Richardson. Capt Leo Gregory, my replacement, actually knows LtCol Garay from when they worked together for PP&O at Quantico. They are not (almost) all artillery guys like we have been. A couple of artillery guys, a couple of infantry grunts, an amtracker, a couple of school trained intelligence guys. They all seem like great Marines and sailors, and I think we are leaving 3-2-1 in good hands. I am sure that they are ready for us to leave, too. Besides living four to a small room (imagine your college freshman dorm, but littered with rifles, pistols, helmets and flak jackets), they are ready to take the reins. And we are ready to hand them over.

I will tell you, it has been strange handing this mission and this battalion off to a new team, more so than I had expected. That is NOT to say that I am extending, or am interested in sticking around for another seven months. But we now have a lot of history and a lot of personal and professional pride in what we have done, and now we a handing the keys over to completely new guys. Strange.

From here, we will lift via CH-46 to Taqqadum (TQ), across the street from Habbaniyah, where this all started for us. After a couple of days there, it will be on to Kuwait and then to Cherry Point, NC and Camp Lejeune. Hopefully, we will only be there a couple of days, then it will be back to our families, back to our civilian jobs (for some of us), and back home. As far as the blog goes, I will maintain it for a while longer. Once everyone is home, and safe, I will post a few more stories of what we were up to over here. I will move from “G” to “PG”; you will have to hit your Marine up for the “R” versions of stuff. Our guys did do some pretty amazing things, and some things that we found to be “old hat”, you, gentle reader, would be probably be interested in.

It is now a beautiful sunny day in Ramadi. About 68 degrees, slightly overcast, light breeze. The flies aren’t out in force yet, the mud is drying up, the turnover is nearly complete. We ain’t home yet, but you can see it from here.

You want some funny stuff, you say? Hmmmmmm. Had one of the new lieutenants ask the other day, “Hey, sir, is that a Dagger (an IED clearing vehicle)?” “No,” I said, “that is a forklift.”

Ha ha ha ha ha! I thought that was pretty funny, but I guess you’d have to be here a while.

Look, gotta run. Still very busy. Will post again as soon as I can. I am having trouble posting any pictures from here now for some reason, but I will put some up as soon as I can.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Quick note - 03 Feb 06

Hi, all. Been very busy lately due to working with our REPLACEMENTS. Six of them arrived on the 28th; the remaining five on the 30th. We have all been very, VERY busy ever since, keeping the ball rolling on ops, etc., while explaining every nuance of our lives for the past eight months to them. They are all billeted with us, so we have doubled up occupancy (which was tight to begin with). They are all good to go; I am really pleased with them individually and as a team. I will NOT be disappointed to leave, but it is good to be handing everything over to a team who I fell will continue to grow it vice re-invent what we have already done.

I will write more later, and will try to post some pictures, but I am encountering some technical difficulties doing this lately. Oh, and it's raining again. Welcome aboard, New guys!