Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A day like any other

The day started like the ones before. I got up and made some coffee. I showered, got ready, and then strolled the 50 feet from hooch to office. I walked out to the front and started talking with Big Lou and Billy. We were discussing what we would do with our 43 people that day. We had lots of work, no material, few tools, and big heap of can do spirit. While we were talking one of the ops folks came out to tell me that the head shed in Baghdad was on the horn and that they needed to talk to me.

I went in and picked up the land line handset. The XO in Baghdad was on the line. He was a no nonsense ring knocker from West Point who also had a MBA from the Wharton School of Business. What he told me chilled my blood. "MiG, you have three shot up convoys heading your way. We have been taking fire all over the country on the MSRs since the early hours of the morning. We don't know how many casualties there are or the condition of the rolling stock. Find these men and give them shelter. We have put out a call for Safe Harbor all over the country. Send an immediate SitRep for each convoy through our COSCOM LNO in Balad. Git r Dun." Holy shit, this is a real war. I took a few deep breaths and went out to find my rocks. Where the fuck was Big Lou? What about Bob? Fritz? Billy?

Finding the first convoy was easy enough. They contacted us. They were on the runway at the CSC and were an Army/Civilian mixed unit if HETs (Heavy Equipment Transports). Bob and I drove over and got the head count. Good, all present and accounted for. They were angry and surly and wanted to take it all out on me but I stood my ground. I told them that not only was there a stop move order but that safe harbor means full battle rattle for everyone. They were not wearing their vests or helmets. While I stood there arguing with them 6 mortar rounds walked right across the runway about 200 yards from us. We could clearly see the impact and debris cloud from each round. These rounds were tightly grouped and the blast pattern was round, not concentric. This meant they were impacting almost straight down and were being fired from nearby. The Cav did not have all their aviation assets in yet so we did not have the 24 hour per day Kiowa CAP we had later. Once the last round impacted I turned to the guys who had been arguing with me and I said,"Any more questions Gentlemen?" They all just trudged off and put on their gear. Grumbling was heard but I didn't pay attention to it. Bob and I laughed about this as we drove off but it was that macho fake laughter. The mortar rounds scared us too.

Now to find the others. the second convoy was easy too. They came barrelling in and came straight to our man camp. I had them laager their vehicles in the future CHU locations and come inside our fence. Finding the third convoy was a bitch. Try as we could they just were not to be found on the 27 square miles of real estate at Taji. We kept getting calls that they were on post but we could not find them. We searched frantically. Some how this convoy had been split in two and the head count was messed up. Full accountability of personnel is crucial in times like this. We knew we had dead and missing personnel but we just did not know who yet. We kept being told that there was a missing guy named Joe Markup (name changed). They said his truck was found burned up with a body in it and that they think he is dead. They also told us that Al Jazeera was spreading his name out as the had found some of his effects.

Right about this time we started getting some of the news feeds and I was called to the DISCOM HQ for a briefing. When I got there they told us the plain facts. It was absolute fucking chaos out on the roads. The Shiites who had been very quiet so far had risen up to have a "Tet Offensive" aimed at inflicting enough casualties that they would force us out. Little did they know that this was not the same Army that was in Tet. We were told that we may get no convoys for days so we needed to plan the LSIP.

I went back and sat with my staff. We had to know how long we could hold out with water, food, and other consumables. We figured that we had FFV (Fresh Fruits and Vegetables) for 5 days and enough frozen stuff for two weeks. We also had enough MREs to last us a month. We were good. the ROWPUs were not up yet and we still relied on an NG unit to make all the water. We had warehouse full of bottled water and enough fuel for weeks too. We were GTG.

I reported this back. Most other camps were not so fortunate as us but I still did not have any lumber, wiring, nails, etc even though it had been on order for months. Purchasing was killing us by starving us of supplies. Anytime construction supplies showed (What was not looted in Baghdad by our own people) was sucked up in priority 1 projects. Usually something important like a stadium seating arrangement for the aviation unit or a stage for a USO show that never showed up.
Anyways it was madness, sheer madness. Everyone who acted like they knew what to do was winging it. There was no class at the War College that teaches this. There is no class at business school to tell you what to do with 25% manpower, no supplies, and an angry mob who just want to kill bad guys who, by the way, have all the Goddamn momentum and intel right now. Lot's of fun this. I winged it as well as anyone else I guess.
We found clothes for thew guys, made space for them to sleep, found an old Bedouin tent and had a tent raising party to boot. I turned a blind eye to any booze or other recreation. I was not about to tell these men that some namby pamby back in Washington said they can't have a drink after nearly being killed in one of the biggest Intel fuck ups since WMDs.
We took these guys and put them to work. The mayor called me and told me that the New Iraqi Army wanted their side of the base back and that a 2 story building on the East side of the flight line was to be vacated within 72 hours. His men would leave within 24 but the NIA did not get it for 72. I gathered up the troops and told them what was up. I shut down just about everything except fuel and DFACs and had a group meeting.
"Men, we have nothing and get more of it every day. We have an opportunity to gather up a big batch of material and equipment that may last us a while until we get something. The beauty of this op is that we are going to take back what we never intended to give to the Iraqis. Gentlemen, we have a license to steal and 48 hours to do it in."
These road warriors were hungering for an opportunity to sock an Iraqi in the mouth and this would do for now. It didn't matter that these were our "Allies". They were bigger thieves than the Leesville Mafia in Baghdad. We waited until nightfall and launched "Operation Locust".
They were locusts. They took the ceiling fans, generators, light fixtures, conduit, wiring, light switches, toilets, sinks, faucets, furniture, panelling, and carpets. The only thing they did not take was the paint on the walls. I was so proud. So was Lou and the Mayor. In fact when the Iraqis came bitching and told him how thorough we were he was just tickled shit less. he hated them almost as much as the Mahdi Militia because they were so demanding and did nothing outside the wire. They were nothing but parade ground soldiers and not even good ones at that.
We had forgotten about our missing man and one day we were walking to the DFAC and saw what appeared to be convoy drivers. We hailed them and low and behold, here was our missing group. Not only that but dead man Joe Markup was among them. He did not know he was dead. I hustled him back to the offices and had him call his wife while I called Baghdad ops. This was the best thing that had come out of this mess.
The drivers pitched in elsewhere too. They picked up trash bags, folded clothes at the laundry, made chow mermite runs, worked MWR, they just did anything we asked but they were all itching to get back out there. The call finally came when they were told "go".
Bob and I went to the convoy brief and BUB. The escorts were commanded by a nervous Captain but it was really run by a slow talking Southerner who drawled his way through it. After the captain spoke the E7 said,"Men it's hot out there. The rules are changed. If you see anyone with a long rifle they are a shooter and you drop them without warning shots. If you see anyone with a handgun, or anything that resembles an handgun or a long rifle they are to be considered a shooter and you drop them. If they are within 50 feet of a shooter and appear to be friendly to the shooter then they are an assistant shooter and you drop them too. Any questions?" This was peppered by two of the escorts ending the brief by saying, "Let's go hunting" and giving each other knuckles. I knew they would be OK. This was a different Army than it was three days earlier. this time they would be aggressive and not take any chances. Fuck their hearts and minds. Kill'em all.
The convoy made it safe and the convoy commander called to tell us so. I felt relief. I also knew I would miss those guys. Joe Markups wife made him promise to come home immediately. I promised him that if he hung out 30 days I would rehire him and that he would never have to go outside the wire again. He did and I did. I am gone but Joe is still there. He is an S-3 now and I am damn proud of how he got his start. Those days were bad, bad, bad. I didn't go over the dead. I didn't write about the scared folks and the ones who quit. I don't want to anymore. I want to think about the good ones and the good things that came out of that.
Here is what I learned.
1. You can't look at anyone and tell if they are tough inside.
2. Soldiers are people first and killers second.
3. No matter what is going on people still eat and shit.
4. The best asset in a fight is a strong person on your 6 (Big Lou)
5. Keep them busy and they don't think about the crap going on.
6. You can laugh in the darkest hours.
7. Never cry in front of your men.
8. Lead by example, deeds not words.
9. Nothing feels better than pulling the tail of a 155mm outgoing round.
10. I am a leader.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Number 10 bro.You are a leader.
Big Lou

5:44 PM  
Blogger MK said...

Helluva post, good on you, thanks for telling us your story, you are no ordinary American.

12:56 PM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/14/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Fritz said...

Hey, where have you been? Are we ready to go fishing at Lous yet?

11:34 PM  

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