19 May 2013
I’m reading a great book called “They fought for each other” by Kelly Kennedy. It’s a book about the hardest hit unit since the Vietnam War, C co. 1-26 Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, while deployed to Iraq in 2006-2007. The author does a good job painting the picture of what it was like dealing with the terrible faces of combat. Losing Soldiers, friends, and the heartaches family members had to deal with back on the home front. One of the points that the author brings up is how the Soldiers began to look for action, or how they were taking more risks than during the beginning of the deployment. It was almost as if the action they were seeing wasn’t enough. Was it because they became numb to the danger, did they think they were invincible, or was it because they lost so many of their friends that they no longer cared if they lived or died.
That got me thinking about Ramadi. I remember my fist patrol with the unit we were replacing like it was yesterday. As I sat in the back seat, situated behind the driver, I would fire off questions such as “What’s in there” or “What’s up with that road?” and the answers were always the same as he told me that they didn’t go there because they got shot at or had a truck hit with an IED. Those answers, coupled with the latest Significant Acts (SIGACTS) that were given to us from sector, had me nervous. While in Kuwait we would get nightly updates of what was going on in our new sector. Over 100 SIGACTs were happening a day in the city that included IEDs, firefights, and Vehicle Borne IED’s (VBIEDs). So when we arrived at our observation point (OP) for our mission, I was taken aback when the vehicle commander pulled out a pillow, along with the driver, and told the Gunner that he had the first shift while they promptly fell asleep. I was so nervous that I couldn’t shit a greased BB.
I got out of the truck and pulled rear security for the twelve hours. The vehicle crew laughed and said “Nothing is going to happen, nothing but open desert here, you are safe.” I didn’t’ care and continued the watch. The whole situation was messed up and as soon as we returned I let Jimm know about it. “The unit we are replacing is hot garbage Jimm. They haven’t done anything and every time I asked them about something they said they didn’t go there as they had been shot at!” Jimm looked at me with a half crooked smirk and replied “I guess they are leaving us a target rich environment!”
Our first few months were spent up in the northern sector of our Battalions operational environment. Nothing was going on. We spent most of the time driving around, scouting possible weapons cache locations. We were cautious when driving down the road, weary of possible IED strikes, but knew that the area was pretty calm, except for route Gremlins that ran North and South through the sector. It was the worst route in our sector. Every time we drove down it for the first couple of months it would take a few hours after mission for everyone’s ass muscles to relax. But sometime after a couple of months of being in sector, something changed.
The standard for entering and clearing a room is to conduct a “four man stack.” Four Soldiers move to a door undetected, stand with weapons at the “high-ready” and bunch up “nut-to-butt” to form almost a single entity. Each Soldier has his thumb resting on the safety switch, finger on the trigger, crouched down with their center of gravity resting over their lead foot. Each has an assigned sector of fire as they blow through the room, and all are going over every possible action through their head as they wait for the signal. The #4 man breaks from the group, inspects the door, and upon the leaders signal will kick in the door. No words can describe the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, surge of energy that is going through your body as you flow through the room, unsure if someone is inside patiently waiting for you to enter. But sometime after a couple of months of being in sector, something changed.
Driving down the road became less stressful; it became the norm. Our speed began to pick up a little faster than normal, almost as if we were daring the enemy to emplace an IED. Flowing through houses on a raid became less exciting and more “normal” as our deployment went on. I was taking more risks. We had one raid we conducted for a time sensitive target, we had to move quickly. My platoon was hitting a compound and as we arrived we surrounded the compound and entered. I noticed that one of the houses wasn’t being searched and instead of waiting for a section to be complete, I slung my M4 rifle, drew my 9mm, and began to flow through the house; alone. Nothing was in the house as the insurgent had left just prior to our arrival. At the end of our mission, the leadership conducted our After Actions Review (AAR), something we always did after a big mission. We each discussed our actions and as I told my portion, I could see the look on a couple of the guys’ faces. It wasn’t until then that I realized that what I had done was really stupid.
Katrin has recently let me know that what scared her most was that I acted as if nothing was wrong. I didn’t sound scared or nervous and acted normal when we talked on the phone. Was it blind ignorance? Were we becoming numb to combat? Or were we subconsciously looking for a rush as everything we had been dealing with had become “Normal”?
I guess this blog entry is more of a question. I would love some input and comments from the Soldiers that read this. I think this is a critical piece to the book and want to capture it correctly. For the Civilians that take time to read this, I would love your input as well!