No Fear

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!

5 thoughts on “No Fear

  1. Becoming numb in war is a normal reaction, in my opinion. Its a way I deal with the stress and fear. Its almost like watching yourself in a dream and a way to prepare yourself for the worst outcome. Its called survival. I can relate to this feeling from my expierences in the military and from a law enforcement perspective. Good discussion topic Gib.

  2. Very thought provoking James…my first thought was ego. Ego can hold fear at bay and allow one to make a bad decision. Fear keeps us safe. Early in recovery I was taught to check my motives for making some of my decisions in life. Your decision to go it alone could have ended badly. Only you know why you did what you did and it certainly could have been a little of all that you speculated about. Always take a nano second to check your motives.
    I love that you are able to ask the hard questions and then ask for input. You have grown into a wise young man. Stay safe James, luv Lisa

  3. I can attest to the reality of this, as I was there with you. I, too remember how the outgoing unit was and heard the stories of how inadequate they were in regards to facing the enemy. I remember my first time clearing houses – the adrenaline – the rush of not knowing what would happen, but after a few months I was clearing an entire second floor of a large house alone while my Squad leader did the first floor. Given the time sensitive nature of raiding an area such as Tameem, we had to move quickly and couldn’t have 4 guys in a single house…

    Fear took the back burner on the stove of our minds – it was still simmering at a boil but we had bigger problems/realities that we needed to tend to. Such as our brother’s safety. With that said, I think one of the most influential factors in our platoon’s survival was our appearance, confidence and awareness. I recently read an article on a police website that spoke of two officers who pulled over the same suspect. One lived, one died. The first one pulled the suspect over to issue a warning for a broken taillight, he had his hand on his weapon – blinded the car with his spotlights and paid very close attention to every move the suspect made. This cop lived, because the cop killer in the car knew “he wasn’t the one – he would get back at me faster than I could get at him”. Whereas the second cop pulled the suspect over, wasn’t practicing safety or awareness, dropped his book, paid more attention to traffic behind him only to walk up to the window and be shot and killed.

    I give that story to illustrate complacency – it is just as applicable to our occupations as soldiers. Our team exhibited some of the most outstanding resiliency towards complacency – our leaders instilled in us the information we needed to know – they ensured our preparedness and our abilities and had confidence in US. We all played a part – our awareness and 360 degree coverage must have intimidated the enemy at some point and also our sound leaders decisions would’ve made a difference too. The reality is, we were well aware of complacency, we saw it with other units and soldiers and I firmly believe that one of the most prominent reasons for all of us coming home was that none of us faltered when it came to doing our jobs 100%. We covered our troops, we paid attention to details, we listened to one another regardless of what we thought of them. Because out there – in the AO all of our predispositions and feelings towards one another dissipated and our cohesion became as hard as titanium – out there we were brothers and didn’t want to be the one left feeling responsible for one of their brother’s deaths.

    One of the most memorable features of the deployment for me was the SKTs where our platoon was engaged. I remember every vivid detail down to the color of the cars we engaged down to the exact layout and material of the building. I’m talking about the house that skirted Ramadi University. I remember Barrett joined us for the SKT and observed a bongo truck full of armed insurgents headed right for us in our one blind spot. I think of that because if they opportunity to bust down that door and catch our soldiers down on the first floor during their rest cycle – the horror that could’ve occurred is always present in my mind. Barrett saved us that night – without a doubt he saved one of us from being killed or wounded – that is the standard – that is the opposite of complacency.

    Thanks for the post brother, was nice to relive some of those moments in my mind again.

    –Former Spc. Jack Eidson, 1-77 AR HHC Scout Plt.

  4. I believe u r describing one of the symptoms of PTSD. Post traumatic disorder appears in numerous forms and this is one that, when back home in the States, often lead to drug and/or alcohol absence, which often leads to homelessness.
    Well it goes without saying neither our troops or VA were prepared for this and now know and recognize this to be a significant gap between war and retiring back to the world.
    Now the VA has stepped up to recognize and treat this problem from providing shelter to the homeless, making available treatment for the drug and alcohol effected, to offering career counciling and job training.
    How difficult it is to explain to civilians the effect of being in a fire fight one day and being back home the next and expecting their soldier to be normal.
    Keep the faith dude.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s