Saturday, March 25, 2006

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.)


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