Letters from the front... part 2.
I’ll pick up here where I left off last time. Please know though, that as I go out on at least one mission everyday, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to get you completely "caught up." (I say at least one mission per day as we often have two missions in a 24 hr period, i.e., a combat patrol during the day and a raid or snatch at night.) As such, it seems that this effort may always be a work in process. Nevertheless, where was I…
As soon as that C-130 began to taxi I knew the war was on. You see, I had the distinct good fortune to be selected by the crew chief to ride up in the cockpit of the airplane. They gave me a set of NODs (night vision optics) and a headset, so I could listen in on (and participate in, although obviously not during their actual flight ops) the dialog between the air crew. Although the banter between the crew during the pre-takeoff and actual takeoff phases was very amusing (and somewhat calming) to hear, the underlying tone was one of very serious business. We obviously flew in complete black-out the entire trip. (Our flight left at @ 3:00 a.m.) On the way over the pilot pointed out many areas of interest to me. We also saw a pretty decent sized fire fight unfolding on the ground below us. We weren’t certain as to the armament involved, but saw lots of tracers and several large explosions. The crew and I also spent some time sharing personal stories of our home towns, what we did before our respective calls to duty, etc., on the flight over. That was especially meaningful to me. When we were to within one mile of Baghdad (and at 17,000 ft.) the pilot banked right and dove the airplane down 10,000 feet in about 30 seconds. The "g forces" leveling off were awesomely cool. Within moments after that, the pilot banked left and dumped another 6,500 feet. At @500 feet and just as the nose and wings of the airplane started to come level, the runway appeared not a mile in front of us. The flight from Kuwait lasted little more than an hour, and the landing was as smooth as any - I was in Baghdad, Iraq.
Once on the ground, we ended up having to wait all day to get a flight to our forward operations base - Falcon (F.O.B. Falcon). It was only @ 20 - 30 miles away, but the trip is/was apparently a very dangerous one to make by ground vehicle. (Ironically, as I re-read this before finally sending it, I have found that this subject "trip" is a holiday compared to where I drive and work every day. Nevertheless, we continue…) And it can be as equally dangerous for the Chinook helicopters that do make the runs. That is why we had to wait all day until cover of darkness for the flight out. Obviously, that trip was made in complete blackout mode as well. We finally got to our battalion headquarters at @ midnight.
Our first order of business was a briefing from Command Sergeant Major Edward Coronado. He greeted us with the warmth that only a command sergeant major has. The briefing was full of "do’s" and "don’ts" - but mostly "don’ts." Lastly, he assigned us to our respective companies. I, along with Sgt. Daniel Casara, went to Delta Company. Upon arriving at our company T.O.C., (tactical operations center) we were met by our company’s 1SG, Ronald Lloyd, who made our platoon assignments. Casara, being an admin dude, was assigned to Headquarters Platoon - I went to 1st Platoon. My platoon sergeant was to be SFC Daryl Sombrero and my squad leader SSG Ken Roberts. Finally, at @ 3:00 a.m., I was able to hit my rack. Although CSM Coronado told us that we wouldn’t be going outside the wire on missions for at least a week, sometime that evening he had a change of heart with regard to at least a couple of us.
Late the next morning, I was told to be at a mission brief @ 1:00 p.m. I explained to them what the CSM had said. They told me that he had looked through everyone’s files and had determined that two of us were sufficiently squared away enough to immediately begin going out on missions. All the rest of the combat soldiers had to undergo a one week orientation course before they would be allowed outside the wire. (The non-combat soldiers simply wouldn’t be going out at all in the foreseeable future.) At two o’clock that afternoon, I was in a humvee headed out on my first combat patrol in Iraq. It would not go without action.
Next thing I knew, we were flying down a bomb cratered road rocking out to Guns and Roses’ "Welcome to the jungle." I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off. Don’t get me wrong. This was very serious business. We were on our way to an area that was possibly thick with insurgents. And we were on our way there to kill them. Although it had been a helluva long time since I had been on a combat foot patrol, I felt pretty good about it. From the start and throughout its progression, I was very reassured by the skill and proficiency of the guys in my squad. Although I had to get up to speed with their squad movement and operational s.o.p., we had a relatively smooth patrol. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any bad guys. Afterward, we loaded back up into our vehicle and started back to the F.O.B. Along the way, we caught up to an element from Charlie Company, also on their way back in. As we traveled down a particularly "active" road, an I.E.D hit one of Charlie’s vehicles. Two of our guys were wounded, and the interpreter riding in their vehicle was killed.
Although what a saw before me was unbelievably tragic, and would certainly have emotionally incapacitated the average person, I did glean something positive from it. It was reassuring, if not amazing (at least to me) to see how well we all worked together in getting our wounded out so quickly. Every man was doing what needed to be done and almost always before it needed to be said. My fire team’s job was to set up and secure the LZ and to safely guide the MEDIVAC helicopter onto it. Myself and another soldier served as ground guides in bringing the chopper in for landing. Fortunately, everything went very smoothly. And save the tragic loss of our interpreter, both of our soldiers would be okay. One guy’s injuries were relatively minor - he is already back at work - and though the war is over for our other guy, he is expected to make a full recovery. He is now convalescing in Germany. There was no doubt that my war had begun.
Okay, enough for now, again. Sorry it took so long to get this off to you all - again. I have been very busy and am only able to get a few sentences down at any one time. There is/was another page to this letter that I decided to save and send with the next installment of my ongoing narrative. As such, I should be able to get it out to you all with less "turnaround time" than this one. Thanks very much for your continued e-mails to me. Please keep them coming. More than appreciated, they are very much needed. Don’t be afraid to send photos. If you don’t know how to do it, Scott, Sonny, Al, etc.,…have someone show you how. If I can learn how to do it, anyone can. Alright then.
Much love to everyone - Same dude as bef