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.