Complex attack - 02 Oct 05
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.