The Third Nightmare
Don't Make Fatal Assumptions
Again, Madden pointed to the corner house as I sized up the situation. Madden was adamant that two bad guys had gone into that particular house. I was extremely pissed off at what had happened so far: one Soldier dead and one destroyed truck. My adrenaline was pulsing, and I could feel the platoon’s urge to kill and kill now. I directed Madden to reposition a truck to isolate the back side of the house and prevent escape. Something inside me warned me against hasty decisions. I could remember how one of my Infantry Officer Basic instructors counseled against “rushing to failure.” With the truck repositioned, no one could leave the house without someone in the platoon seeing them. Why rush? If there were bad guys in the house, they were not going anywhere. I peeked around the corner and saw that the front gate was wide open.
This was an obvious route to the house, and one I immediately disregarded. I thought about climbing the wall. I told Madden to get ready to suppress the second floor with his machine guns. Madden agreed that this was the only way to go over the wall, but if there were no bad guys in the house, we would get hammered in the 15-6 investigation especially if the suppressive fire caused any collateral damage. Madden was sure he saw the bad guys run into the house, but he could not be sure they had not escaped before he isolated the back side of the house. The Fallujah “game on” light was not lit in this part of Baghdad. Suppressive fire while going over the wall was a “no go.” I decided that if I could not suppress while assaulting, then at least the platoon would be in a position to do so instantly if called for.
Blessing reported that the battalion quick reaction force had arrived to take over the vehicle recovery mission. Two men from the dead Soldier’s squad would escort his remains back to the forward operating base with the quick reaction force. I decided to wait for the rest of the platoon before launching any assault on the building. I gave instructions to Blessing to expand our perimeter and occupy the roofs of two houses with some of our squad designated marksmen. These houses provided excellent overwatch of the target building. Blessing reiterated that every man covering down on the house had an assigned window or sector of the roof, to ensure all potential threats to the assault element would be eliminated.
Once everything was set, Madden put the ladder up, and the assault element and I went over the wall. Right when the last man crested the wall he was shot and fell on the enemy side of the wall. The Soldiers covering the windows opened fire instantly as the remainder of the assault element ducked for cover behind a car parked in the courtyard. One man dragged the wounded Soldier behind the car. I heard a grenade explode on top of what I thought was the roof.
The squad automatic weapon gunner with me propped his weapon on the hood and suppressed the only first floor window facing us. There was no more effective fire on us as far as I could tell. The gunner was only a foot away from my head, and his staccato fire was loud as hell.
I heard myself screaming, “Let’s go, let’s go!” just like I had so often in training. With automatic weapons fire suppressing the window, we moved to the open front door and stacked on the wall. The gunner caught up with us and fell in as the number three man in the stack.
I had three men with me who would establish a foothold. Behind the car, the wounded man was with a buddy who was putting a tourniquet on his arm. We squeezed “ready” up the stack. Just then, Blessing yelled over the radio to hold tight, but my adrenaline carried us through the door. Almost as soon as the number one man stepped through the door, he was hit in the face and collapsed dead. I tripped over him, fell, and saw the number three man get hit in the groin and legs as bullets ripped over me. Total chaos! Lying on the floor, I had a chance to look down the hallway just long enough to see a barricaded machine gun firing the bullets that killed me.
Open doors don’t mean welcome... Along the way to St. Peter’s ultimate counseling session, I met up with Ahmed. Ahmed was happy to have served his cause but upset about the way the fight had developed. I asked him to explain what happened from his side of the fight. Ahmed stated that the plan was to kill as many Americans as possible in the courtyard. They had seen us set up the ladder and had repositioned to fire in that direction. One man was to throw grenades from the roof. Another man was set up to cut down any “infidels” who miraculously made it through the door. It was left open on purpose to draw the Americans into the teeth of the machine gun at the end of the hall.
Another dead insurgent, named Mohamed, broke into the conversation. Mohamed was the grenade thrower. As he stood up to toss the grenade, an infidel sniper shot him in the throwing arm. The grenade dropped, and since he had pulled the safety, it exploded on the roof, blowing him in half. Mohamed seemed upset that he didn’t get to kill any infidels. Ahmed was upset that as soon as he shot the man on the wall, all hell broke loose. We had filled the second floor with bullets, making it impossible to shoot the rest of us in the courtyard. Ahmed got killed just trying to get off a few rounds at us.
More hard lessons of combat came to mind:
I wondered, as I drifted off, just how many times I was going screw this mission up.