04:30 I wake up to the sounds of 107 MM rockets landing outside my building in Fob Rustamiyah. 3 hours ago, my scout platoon had just gotten back from an 8 hour mission in the outskirts of Sadr City, Baghdad Iraq. I was so tired, I could give a crap about the rockets landing within feet of our position. We had been there so long and just got extended. Moral was at an all time low. We had already lost a senior Nco and Lieutenant to sniper fire a month prior. The friends we trained with, laughed with, partied and drank with were slowly starting to decease in front of us.
We had to go in the hallways and get down on the ground in attempts to avoid the flying shrap metal that would of been imminent death, or at least horribly injuring. At that point, we had been rocketed so many times that it was normal, we just weren't happy that the Mahdi Army decided to do it while we were trying to get a little bit of sleep. The sound of the rockets landing right outside was a sound I cannot explain to you. It's like the world is coming to an end, everything is shaking and your just picturing the graphic images of one coming through the wall and killing you or your buddy within seconds. After about a half hour of rockets shaking the earth, the alarm going off throughout the Fob and everyone at complete silence, it finally stopped. By that time is was about 05:15 and we had a 4 hour presence patrol to do at 07:00 so there really was no time to go back to sleep if we wanted to be prepared for the mission. So right away, once we got the all clear to go outside, we started to prep the gun trucks.
I was a 240 machine gunner on an up armored Humvee. Every mission my driver would go unlock the truck, start it up, I would come out and mount the gun, turn the radios on and get radio checks. So that was the routine. We then drove to the chow hall to run in quick to get as many drinks as we could. We would go in there and stuff our pockets with Gatorade and these energy drinks called "rip it". Then, a half hour later we all would meet at the gate to get the Op order and roll out. It was always kind of tense rolling out of the gate but again at that point, it was routine and we had already accepted our possible fate, knowing what happened to our buddies in front of us. We get the order from the Lt and Platoon Sergeant, mount the vehicles and prepare for movement. With the 7.62 rounds in the 240, the 5.56 rounds in the Squad Automatic Weapon and my M-4 and the 9mm rounds in my Beretta, I was ready to go. (Still I fought for more firepower up there) So here we go. I bow my head in prayer as we approach the actual gate. I prayed to God, to make it a quick and easy in and out mission, for us all to make it back to the Fob safe and sound with no incidents or injuries. I would pray to my grandmother who I knew was watching over us, pray to the leaders and comrades we lost earlier that year . It's time to go. We load all weapon systems and prepare for another nerve wracking cruise into death city. As we drive through New Baghdad on a road named "Route Predators" you can feel the gloominess in the air. You can see the locals looking at us as if we are occupying their sacred country, looks of hate, looks of violence. Everything is suspect. The piece of garbage on the side of the road, the concrete block in the curb that looks out of place, the roofs of every building we pass and the hands of every person we see. We have been hit here before. Armor piercing Ied's (Explosively formed penetrators) small arms fire.. etc..
At that point in our deployment, we had seen pretty much everything so we know what could happen. We all, at one point or another survived Ied attacks barely. All been in situations where Rpg warheads and 7.62 bullets flew directly over our heads or impacted within feet of us and most of us, to include myself, were there when we lost our senior leader, mentor and friend to sniper fire. We seen the blood, we heard the screams, we fired the bullets and witnessed the chaos so we held it very close to us knowing exactly what could happen. Getting hit with an Ied is something I cannot explain. Its like for that very moment and about 5-10 seconds after, you think your done. You really can't feel anything in your body and you darn sure can't hear anything. A fluster of panic overcomes you but your training soon kicks in and you react as soon as you realize what is going on. Sometimes it was shoot first, check yourself later, but I remember one particular incident where the blast was so big, we were amazed we were still alive and unharmed. I remember driving down a road called "route Plutos" at 01:45 in the morning going 50. All of our lights were off because we had night vision and always rolled completely black. All the sudden, out of absolutely nowhere, I see a flash of light. A flash of light so bright it was almost as if God himself was presenting himself to me. Immediately following the blinding light was an explosion that nearly knocked me unconscious. Its like the devil himself rose from the ground to show himself and the world was coming to an end. The first 5 seconds, again, I thought I was done. When I regained my self, I looked down immediately to see I still had my legs, quickly felt my body for any blood and jumped on the 240 machine gun to attempt to engage the trigger man who set off the bomb. In sequence, we all reported to the truck commander that we were ok. The interpreter "I'm ok man" My driver, still holding on to the cigarette he was smoking "I'm cool yo" The Saw Gunner in the back, "I'm good", me "silence". My "I'm OK" sign was me letting loose on the Gun engaging the enemy threats. As soon as I let the first 10 rounds go, every gunner in my platoon was right there with me trying to carefully pick out the threats and destroy them. My buddy in the back with the 249 Saw even kicked open the door Rambo style and started dumping 5.56 rounds into the canal to our left in hopes of killing or disabling the trigger men from detonating a secondary device. We made it back to the Fob safe and sound that day. My turret glass was bullet proof and was riddled with small steel ball bearings that would of otherwise went directly into my head if it weren't for that glass. The canopy above my head was ripped off and there were shrap metal marks all over the place. My night vision goggles and my eye protection were blown off of my face, my platoon sergeant was complaining of shoulder pain, but we made it back to the Fob safe and sound.
Not everyday did we have encounters with the enemies of the Mahdi Army, but everyday was a chance that we would relive the horrific moments leading up to that day. Every second of every mission was like no other situation in the world. Words cannot describe the feeling you get when you reach that point of accepting your possible fate, death. Knowing exactly in detail what could happen and knowing your family back home will have to live with your loss. I do not know what got the ones who survived through the deployment. What compelled us to not give up, to suck it up and drive on everyday for 15 months. Whatever it was, whatever force was there every step of the way, I give a thousand thanks.
To all who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, you are not alone in your thoughts, experiences, during and after your time in war.
To make light of the situation, I learned a lot about myself out there. I learned that the little things that typical people take for granite, are not things to be taken for granite. That you should appreciate every little thing in your life because in a blink of an eye, a snap of a finger, a pull of the trigger it could all be over. I got to see an entirely different culture and how it operates. I got to learn a different language and communicate effectively with some of the good hearted local nationals of Iraq. I got to work with the Iraqi police on joint missions to gain and maintain security in Baghdad and most of all, I took part in and contributed to what will be documented, studied and remembered forever, The War on Terrorism, a war that never should have started in the first place.