Arrival in Iraq
Baghdad was, and still is, brutally hot and terribly crowded. The neighborhoods were a dense maze of houses squeezed together. Aside from rare exceptions, the houses had concrete or cinder block walls around them with a small courtyard. Masses of Iraqi people continued to go about their business despite the threat of multiple ways of meeting a violent death. Traffic was incredibly congested, with little or no adherence to any kind of traffic laws.
Wazir Street was pretty much indistinguishable from any other street except for the huge green domed mosque on the southern edge of the market area. The mosque had a minaret that had to be the tallest for miles around and served as a landmark for everyone in the battalion. Wazir Street was in my company’s area of operations, and my platoon was new to the neighborhood.
Post Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority Jitters
The relief in place was not all it was cracked up to be. The battalion we relieved damn nearly killed us with PowerPoint presentations filled with statistics, pictures, trends, projects, contacts, improvised explosive devices (what we call IEDs), and hotspots. The rides around the area of operations were generally uneventful. The scout platoon had an IED damage a gun truck, but no one was hurt. I tried to get the hang of the area and took special note of advice on how not to get killed. It was like drinking from a fire hose, and I wondered if I was the only one feeling this way.
My platoon sergeant told me there is no substitute for experience in any area of operations. His advice was to definitely pay attention to where the IEDs usually are and where the complex attacks have taken place. That information would get us through the first month without any stupid mistakes, until we got to know our area of operations. I thought it was good advice, and I noted that Wazir Street had never had anything bad happen; maybe the Iraqis there liked us or just didn’t want any trouble. You would think with a name like Wazir Street, the area would be a bit tougher on us “infidels.”
The outgoing company eventually gave us the high five and departed. My company took charge of what they told me was approximately 50 square blocks of dense urban area and somewhere around 125,000 Iraqis of various religious and ethnic denominations. I figured that if only one percent of the population actually hated us enough to try and kill us, then that would be about 1,250 bad guys. 1,250 bad guys versus the company of Soldiers that stood in formation when we left Fort Bellcamp was not a good ratio. As I lay awake, somewhat concerned about those 1,250 bad guys, I realized that my one percent guesstimate was more than likely on the low side.
Even though I was concerned by those odds, I remained confident. The brigade had known since I arrived at Fort Bellcamp that we were going to Baghdad. This advance knowledge of the terrain drove the training. Colonel Herity, the brigade commander, emphasized urban combat training, so my battalion and company commanders enthusiastically pushed urban-type training. With the full support of the chain of command, we prepared for the urban fighting that would soon be upon us.
Stoked to Stack and Attack
Everyone seemed to focus on battle drill six (BD6): enter building/clear a room and close-quarters combat. We built plywood mazes for BD6 training in the motor pool, we did glass house drills, and we conducted dry and live fires at the shoot house until it was second nature. At the military operations on urbanized terrain site, we practiced clearing hallways and stairwells. We rehearsed and practiced the “stack” so that everyone knew the job of every numbered position in the “stack.” Quick fire drills, rapid magazine changes, and stress shoots gave us the confidence to take on the enemy.
We got so good that in training, when the opposing force made contact, BD6 was automatic, and a “stack” of men was “taking the house down” rapidly. Words that rang in my head were “audacity, violence of action, momentum, and close with and destroy.” Looking back on the training in the States, I felt more at ease and drifted off to sleep until I was startled awake by a heavy volume of small arms fire. As I bounced out of the hooch in my underwear and body armor, one of my squad leaders told me that it was just the forward operating base rifle range. I felt like an idiot, and I could just imagine one of my veteran Soldiers saying “Welcome to the war, CHERRY!”
After getting over the rifle range attack, I settled down again into a tormented sleep. Gastrointestinal issues (due to not washing my hands before eating), the medicine to control my case of the “Montezuma’s Revenge,” and the anxiousness of being in a combat zone caused a series of nightmares about my inevitable “Rendezvous with Destiny.”
To understand what I explain here in these pages you must understand how these nightmares played out. Each nightmare of ,combat occurred in the same place and time with the same assembled cast of characters, both enemy and friendly. While I was asleep, each horrible dream was entirely separated from the former. I could not remember what had previously taken place. The only thing that remained with me throughout my tormented sleep was the overriding lessons learned the hard way in the previous nightmares. Thankfully, these lessons, once applied, finally produced a measure of success.
Upon awakening, all the nightmares and the lessons learned came together in a continuous stream of consciousness in my memory. I wrote the dream world narrative down immediately to ensure that I would not have to repeat the nightmares in the real world.