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Newsletter 08-39
June 2008

Second Nightmare

Set the Conditions

Soldier's Head

When 'arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She's human as you are -- you treat her as sich,
An' she'll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .


The Young British Soldier
Rudyard Kipling

The nightmare picked up again at the point where Madden was waving at me and then pointing to the building where he thought the insurgents ran. I peeked around the corner of the wall and noticed the front gate was wide open. A quick glance around at the other gates on the street told me that all Wazir Street residents seemed to keep their gates closed except this one house. I thought it strange and decided to not take the path of least resistance through the gate, as it seemed like the thing any fool would do. 

Soldier's Feet

Looking around at Madden’s trucks, I realized that he had not isolated the enemy’s corner house position. Madden had the front and the left side of the house covered. The back was an open path for escape. The right side of the house was covered by the men in the front, since the bad guys would have to jump a wall and expose themselves. I told Madden that we needed to reposition the left side truck down the street a little to cover the back of the house. Madden told his other truck to reposition, with the concern that he could now not see them anymore. I thought about it but was willing to risk spreading out more in order to prevent the enemy’s escape. 

I called Blessing on the land mobile radio and told him to report to the command post that we have at least two bad guys trapped in a house at grid WQ12345678, and that we were going to assault the house. He told me that the battalion quick reaction force platoon with the recovery assets was only minutes away. My own company was moving a platoon to assist, but it was also about ten minutes away. The company commander was way off at Camp Champion dealing with property book “adminis-trivia,” so the executive officer, First Lieutenant Newton, was in charge. 

Blessing reported the truck unstuck, fully operational, and helping to pull security. He had already asked for attack aviation support, but there was none currently available. Within the brigade, there were ongoing troops in contact and a medical evacuation escort mission. It seemed the enemy was coordinating multiple attacks across the battalion area of operations to challenge us, the new unit. It would be awhile before any helicopter support would arrive. 

It had been at least ten minutes since the initial IED blast, and I felt that the platoon had everything covered. There was no sign of the enemy in the house, but Madden insisted that at least two bad guys went into the house. I couldn’t be sure if they escaped out the back before I repositioned the truck. With phrases like “momentum and audacity” in my head, I decided that now was the time to act. Better to keep the enemy under pressure then let him prepare a defense. 

I briefed the men that were with me. We would climb the wall where an outhouse-type shack was located. I told Madden the plan via the radio, and he produced a folding assault ladder from the back of his truck. He placed it near the outhouse shack. The squad leader that was with me asked me not to lead, but I decided that I needed to lead the men “over the top.” I felt the location of the outhouse on the wall was away from the front door area and would be an unexpected avenue of approach from the bad guys' perspective. From there we could move straight to the door. The Halligan tools were out and ready, and one man had a shotgun as a secondary weapon. Two bad guys versus a highly motivated infantry squad minus. They did not have a chance as long as we maintained good “violence of action.” Blessing came over the radio saying that as soon as the battalion quick reaction force arrived and took over the recovery operation, he would move to my location. I agreed. Finally, I looked at the squad and asked if everyone was ready, and we moved to the wall and ascended the ladder. 

Graphic - BF over the wall in courtyard next to outhouse.
Figure 2-1. BF over the wall in courtyard next to outhouse 

Three men plus myself had gotten over the wall. Once the four of us got over, we began to move to the front door. There was a car parked in the courtyard, and we moved around it toward the door. The last man was just cresting the wall when a burst of AK fire hit him. Instantly, he fell six feet headfirst to the ground on the enemy side of the wall. The three that were with me were engaged near simultaneously by heavy small arms fire. The lead man fell wounded immediately. The rest ducked behind the car seeking cover. The wounded man low-crawled back toward the car and was hit again in the calf, tearing it off. 

The squad automatic weapon gunner propped his gun on the hood and sprayed his whole 100-round ammo “sack” at the building, while another pulled the lead man behind the car. Madden was on the radio reporting to Blessing. I wanted suppressive fire on the house from the gun trucks, and Madden yelled on the radio that they were spinning the turrets, time now. The 240 gunners had been focused on the streets and not the house. When the gunner dropped down to reload, I heard clunk on the hood, and a grenade hit the ground. It exploded in the midst of the four of us. I noticed my hand was missing, and then another grenade plunked on the ground. Someone yelled “grenade,” and that was it. 

Floating up dead again! Damn it! I saw Ahmed rising just below. I had not followed the path of least resistance and tried to stay away from the obvious. I asked Ahmed what happened to him. He said that the gunner had popped up and shot him as he was shooting at a crawling man. I looked down at the scene; all of the men who were with me were now beginning their own ascents toward judgment. Back down on earth, Blessing was just now arriving with the remainder of the platoon. I looked to the back of the house, and no bad guys were escaping this time. At least they couldn’t get away. 

A stairway to heaven… 

Ahmed was generally happy at his predicament. He had died for a cause he believed in. Ahmed said that once the house was surrounded, they had all decided to die a “voluntary” death, sending as many Americans to hell as possible. Matter-of-factly, Ahmed claimed there should be a Hell’s Highway turn off for me as we floated up. I asked him about my wall plan. He said that as they saw the ladder get put in place, everyone repositioned in the house to fire in that direction. Another insurgent advised to let at least five Americans get over the wall, since they could not easily get back over it. Ahmed’s leader wanted to kill as many Americans in the courtyard as possible. One man was assigned to throw as many grenades as possible on the other side of the car. Ahmed said that was the only available place for the Americans to hide once the shooting started. 

After speaking with Ahmed, more hard lessons of combat came to mind: 

     

  1. The enemy can figure out that units carrying ladders will try to climb walls. I had not set my platoon up for success. The wall climb and ladder, I thought, was really tricky and would get us to “enter a building” in a flash. Looking back, it wasn’t tricky at all, and anybody could have seen us set the ladder up and known which way we were coming. 
  2. Getting to the fight is part of the fight. I had treated the wall climb as if it was a bridge across that infernal courtyard. It turned out to be a stairway to heaven for those of us who went “over the top,” because I had totally disregarded the enemy having eyes that were connected to an intelligent brain. 
  3. I had failed to suppress my enemy as I leaped into his kill zone. Stupidly, I had not planned any kind of suppression measures. Since no one was shooting at us, I did not feel I had the right to prep the movement over the wall with continuous suppressive fire from the M240s. I didn’t even discuss suppressive fire with Madden, and the guns were all pointed in the wrong direction. We may have survived the courtyard in the seconds it took the guns to spin in the turret. The grenades came from the roof. 
  4. War is not a “timed event.” You don’t gain any points by finishing before a non-existent bell rings. I wondered why I had been in such a rush to die. Looking down on the scene, I could see the platoon hammering the building with M240 and now .50 cal fires from Blessing’s group, and it was clear no enemy would escape the fires. From the depths of my memories of training at Fort Benning, I recalled the phrase “set the conditions.” 
  5. Remember that you will react the way you trained to react. I had trained hard for the fight in the building but never really considered how to actually get to the building. 

My dreams again took me. 


 

 
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