The next day - 03 Oct 05
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.