The First Nightmare
Avoid the Obvious
The blast was insanely loud. Unbelievably, the driver of the targeted truck maintained a straight course and brought the wounded truck to a stop 100 meters past the blast site. In the immediate chaos of blast and smoke, the driver of the second truck dumped himself into the large blast hole that was just suddenly created. The vehicle that took the blast had three blown tires and was leaking fluids like a sieve. The gunner was not up in the turret. The truck in the blast hole was definitely stuck. Suddenly, I was shook by fear, thinking that the unseen gunner was dead, and that we were sitting ducks immobilized by broken and stuck trucks. I took stock of what I had available for what I thought would be my version of “Custer’s Last Stand.”
Five gun trucks with 24 Soldiers and one interpreter left the forward operating base enroute to a mission. A mission whose task and purpose had suddenly escaped me. In our element, we had two mounted .50 caliber heavy machine guns, one Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher mounted, and two M240 medium machine guns mounted. It didn’t seem like much to go against my guesstimate of 1,250 or more bad guys in this part of town.
As I just sat there in shock, I saw my platoon sergeant and medic run up to the blasted vehicle. The radio came to life. The blasted truck had a squad leader in charge that was on his second trip to Iraq. He calmly reported that the gunner was straight knocked out, and the truck would have to be flat-bedded out. Otherwise, they were all good. The stuck truck already had a group of Soldiers hooking it up to a tow strap. It looked like they would easily pull it out of the blast hole. I began to get a grip and picked up the hand mike to report our situation to the command post. We had a big boom and then… nothing. The “last stand” scenario didn’t seem like it was going to play out.
Soldiers pulled security while others tried to figure out how to fix our vehicle problems. The knocked out gunner was starting to come out of it, albeit with a raging headache. I was watching some of the Soldiers put the finishing touches on hooking up the tow strap when one of them just collapsed in a heap, while the others scrambled every which way. I heard multiple pings on my truck, and my gunner dropped down yelling a stream of expletives. I looked out the window to see where it was coming from, and the bullet proof glass cracked and splintered in front of my face. Game on again; the bad guys were obviously still around and ready for more.
A M240 began firing only a few seconds after my window was cracked. Reports came from the gun truck looking down the long axis of a street. He was firing his M240 machine gun at an insurgent with an AK47 at about 100-meter distance. He thought it might also be the triggerman. The gunner saw the AK man and another insurgent jump a courtyard wall and disappear from view. Two trucks led by Staff Sergeant Madden tore off in the direction of the escaping bad guys, determined not to let them get away in the maze of buildings. We were getting spread out. I called to the command post to report the new situation and asked how long it would be before recovery assets could get to us. I ran over to where the one Soldier had crumpled and realized that he was dead —shot through the neck. There was blood everywhere. Sergeant First Class Blessing started to drag him behind a truck for treatment, but I knew he was gone. Madden was yelling over the mike that he thought he saw the two bad guys run into another courtyard of a rather large house.
The house was on a corner, so he had it somewhat covered in the front and the side. He wanted to clear the house, since he was certain this is where they ran to. The damaged truck felt like a ball and chain on the platoon. It couldn’t move, and we couldn’t leave it.
The adrenaline began to pulse, not flow, through me as I began to get a grasp on everything that had just happened. The bad guys had just killed one of my men, destroyed a truck, and were now probably trapped by Madden’s group. We were going to even the score. I told Blessing to stay with a squad and the damaged truck. I would take all the rest of the men to Madden’s position, take the house down, and kill the insurgents who did this to us.
We moved dismounted down the street, slowed, and peeked around the corner. Madden was standing behind an open M1114 door waving at me and then pointing to the house. The house was big and had the standard courtyard with gate. From my position around the corner, I was only 25 meters from the gate.
The bastards had screwed up, because they had left the gate open. That gave me an easy path to get to the front door. I grabbed one team and told them we were “going in.” I told Madden to send his dismounts into the building once we established a foothold in the house. We then moved around the corner and sprinted for the near side of the courtyard wall. Once there, I peeked around the gate opening and identified the door that we would go through. This door was also partially left open.
No doubt the bad guys failed to close it in their haste to escape. We squeezed “ready up” to the number one man, who was me. I was going to lead the way. I got the squeeze, and I went.
Click, flash, pain, no sound, thump.. blackness, I was dead, and so were the men that followed me.
Bright light, just like in the movies, and I was floating upward to St. Peter’s judgment desk. My body, or more specifically the torso (I didn’t see any other parts), was up against Madden’s vehicle. From my floating position, I could see what was happening on Wazir Street but could not now affect anything on the ground.
Madden was trying to recover the body parts, and his gunners were firing hundreds of 7.62-mm rounds into the building. At the back of the building I noticed five men run out the back door, hop a wall, then another wall, get in a vehicle, and drive away. The bad guys were going to get away! I was dead, five of my men were dead, and the bad guys were gone. While floating upward toward what I assumed was St. Peter and judgment, I looked slightly below and saw a dead man in a man-dress. He was also on his way up. This was one of the bad guys from the house. We killed one, thankfully! Somehow the curse from the Tower of Babel was erased, and for some reason, I felt no animosity toward my former enemy.
Why did the insurgents jump over the wall? ...To avoid going through the gate.
After introductions, in which I learned his name was Ahmed, I began the conversation with “how did we kill you?” Ahmed said that we did not kill him. He had been “caught looking” at the front gate explosion and took a piece of shrapnel in the head. I remembered my instructor at the grenade range telling us not to do that. He said he just couldn’t help looking, because I had done exactly what was predicted. It was depressing news that we had not killed Ahmed ourselves, and that he had done it to himself, accidently.
We had showed no skill at all. Ahmed told me that their plan had been to lure us through the front gate by leaving it open. The night before, they had buried three 155-mm rounds right at the gate opening. It was pressure plate activated to ensure perfect timing. Ahmed had hooked the power source up himself just five minutes before I stepped on it. Ahmed insisted on calling me “Captain Obvious” for the whole trip up, even though I informed him I was only a lieutenant. This strange after action review with my enemy, Ahmed, brought out four key lessons:
My moment of ethereal clarity passed, and I returned to my dreams…