By David Hardt
The final patrol of the day always seems like it drags on forever, every bump in the road and quick acceleration around a corner makes me become more irritated as well as ducking from all the low power lines that seemingly always hitting my helmet as drive around. I know my Team leader has received an electric shock on his face, resulting from this. As we drove around the AO, I finally started getting familiarize with certain important areas of interest. Since our AO is now rather small, I start to familiarize myself with those that live in the area. The kids seem to recognize us the most; since we graciously throw candy and toys to them as we drive by, not every infantryman is cold-blooded warrior. The thing that I have noticed the most is that not all the Iraq nationals really want us here. When I wave my hand to signal hello or nod my to head acknowledging there presents, some of the military age men and elder males give me look of distain. I just shake my head and begin to wonder what these people really want; freedom or Fear from an evil dictator that would kill you just for muttering disapproval of his antics. As of late, there has not much normalcy in the area. Now what I would call normalcy is defiantly not, what these poor people call it.
This past week has been full of sectarian violence and with more attacks on coalition forces, more less mortaring the FOB and getting off pop shots at coalition forces patrols. Random murders of shi’a and Sunni have become prevalent. For example, an anti –shi’a insurgent group handed out propaganda near the Al-Sader Mosque, the anti-shi’a propaganda called for Shi’as to move out of the area within 72 hours or the people who failed to comply would be killed.
In another insistence that was sadly reported. A young hard blue collard working Iraqi solider found him self in a predicament on the way home from work, while being a passenger in a local taxi. The cab he was riding in pulled over, under a bridge that was close to this soldier’s neighborhood. At that time, four vehicles surrounded the cab. A group of men quickly exited the vehicle and made there approach to the solider. One of the men hit the soldier in the face with a weapon. The men proceeded to blindfold the solider and then put him in the trunk of the car. The men drove around for some time before stopping and getting the solider out of the car, taking his blindfold off. The solider ended up being in what appeared to be a room that been used for holding or torture.
The men then started asking the soldier questions that would help their cause; the soldiers had no answer for the men. The men began to get frustrated. The men even offered the soldier 1 million dinars for imperative information, but knew nothing. The men then beat the solider relentlessly. After sometime, the men blindfolded the solider, put him back in the truck once again, and then drove around for while. After a short time, the men opened the trunk, threw the beaten solider to the desert sand, and fled the scene. This hard working, innocent soldier was lucky that he did not loose his life, not every story ends this way in the ever-violent and unpredictable streets of Baghdad.
I remember before leaving on this deployment telling my wife “Babe, while I am away if you hear anything bad on the news about Baghdad, just await to here from me to get the real story, because sometime the news story is diluted and misleading”. Well sometimes, you do not have the time to get to the phone or to the net to inform, and that is when family members get worried.
As I lie in my bed and stare at the white Florescent light flickering on ceiling, I take a moment to take in the precious and well deserved down time. I rolled over and on my right side facing the wall. I wrestled with my covers trying to get comfortable; this task is complicated to do especially when your sleeping bag is designed for a little person not a 6’2 person. I finally got comfortable and started to fall quickly a sleep. Boom … Boom.. The ground as well as the wall shakes. I ignore it like usual and assume that the half ass insurgents are up to there normal nightly mortar routine. I situated my self and fall to sleep.
Boom..Boom..Boom. I awake and look over at Spc. Murray and ask him “ What the hell is going on out there world war 3” Murray looked a little bothered by mortars “Man they been come in while you been sleeping” I looked at my watch it read 2227. I asked Murray if the Chow hall been hit, because if it had I was going to be pissed. We both laughed. Boom. Boom.. “Holy shit ray, I think the insurgents are walking them in” Boom… We both jump out of our beds and run out the door. The hall was completely full of people scurrying around getting there flake vest as well as helmets on. Ray and I looked like two lost children in the mall the confused looked were priceless on ray face and I am sure mine too. I looked over at Ray and said, “So I guess we should follow suit” BOOM...BOOM... At once everyone started running down the stairs like a heard of cows. Ray and I made our way down the stairs slowly; not making it seem like the world was ending.
The explosions stopped and everyone started making there way up stairs. I knew it could not last forever, but it did rattle my cages a little. We make our way up stairs and to the room. I sat on my bed and started playing my PSP, expecting the excitement concluded and things would return to normal. Sergeant Lawrence casually walks in and makes sure that we are all alive and well. Sgt. Lawrence then proceeded to give us the information about what we would be doing in next days. Sergeant Lawrence briefed us, mean while things seem to be happening outside. Every other minute there would be an explosion, and then two more. Sergeant Lawrence informed us that it was possible that the ammo point been hit by incoming mortars but not to be worried. In disbelief I asked “Did you just say the ammo point” He replied “Yes and it is on fire right now”. Before he could complete his sentences, an explosion rocked the barracks, leaving the a little dust cloud in the room. All three of us walked out the door, I looked left toward the small tinted window at the end of the hall, that’s were I saw Spc Forrester prepping his camera. As I made my way to him the sound of what seemed to be 155 going off rocked earth, Forrester jumped back from the window, he had prepped his camera just in time for the explosion from the ammo point. After he walked away, it was as if he had found a million dollars, everyone circled around him wanting to see the footage. I knew that things were going to get worse before they got better, so I ran back to my room and got my video camera. I crabbed my camera and started to prepping it, I was just hoping that there was enough battery life for the unfolding events.
I steamed rolled down the hall to where I saw groups of men standing outside a door they all were gawking inside as if they could not believe what they were witnessing. I pushed my self in and eagerly made way to the front, as if I was trying to get the front role in a rock concert. I looked outside the window my eyes shifted back and forth my jaw dropped. I now new what had put these men in a zombie trance. I quickly snapped out of it, turned on the camera, and started to focus on what I was seeing. What resembled the sun rising on the horizon with life size bolts of fire radiating from the side. The room quickly filled up behind me pressing me closer to the edge. As the flames started fiercely grow the sounds of ammo cracked and whizzed threw the bellowing smoke. Then the flames seemed to disappear into the blaze for quick second. A huge yellow ball of fire engulfing the whole burning area exploded from the site, “Oh Shit here it comes guys” Everyone open there mouths and awaited for the ripple effect from the explosion….BOOOOOOM… the concussions was so immense ..Everyone went flying, back falling over each other my glasses went flying. We all got back up and started to transfix are attention on what was to be an early-unwanted July fourth. It was not long before the danger level rose, the group that I was with was not worried about anything only getting the experience of a lifetime.
As I concentrated on fire and small explosion, I began to realize that this was going to be long night. As I prepped to put camera on the ledge I notice that the flames dissipated, the room went quit. I looked to my side and the person next to me glances over at me and says quickly “Uh something not right with this picture” I reply in a low distresssing tone . “ I know I wonder what is going on” then with out a notice, the earth begun to rattle and then yellow sun like blazing ball devoured the air around it sucking it and spiting out the biggest explosion I have ever witnessed in my life. I yell back at the guys “ Wait here it comes……….boom the wind came blowing threw the window we all tried to stay are ground, I managed …what had been a terrible hair raising and breath taking explosion happen to be the most beautiful sight to be behold. The sky was sprayed with all different colors of the rainbow shooting everywhere, giving all of us still standing a site to be seen.
After getting that blast, I made the decision to get the hell out of the window, because you did not know what was going to be flying around. I set my camera up, and pointed it at the direction of the explosions and blaze that seem never ending and made like a rabbit and ex filled the room.
As I walked down the hall it seemed like everyone was just in a daze or just pissed off that this whole thing was interrupting there sleep. As I walk down the hall a huge explosion rocked the barracks, it seem like it was right out side. The day room glass came crashing down and shattered on the ground. Sergeant Pearson calmly requested a broom to clean up the mess. I started to make my way down the stairs, a sudden explosion rocked the barracks again the window above me shattered and I went flying down the stairs landing up against the wall. I looked up at the window and it was gone, the only thing left was a piece of glass hanging. I then looked over to my right and I saw my fishing buddy bill sitting comfortably in a chair laughing at me. “Man I am just trying to get a broom for Sergeant Pearson”. As SFC Even was leaning against the wall next to Bill, he instructed me. “Hardt stay away from glass” I quickly respond with “Roger Sergeant, I was just looking for a broom and this is where I landed,” He laughed.
As the night went on the explosions keep rocking the night. The smell of weapons on fire in fumigated the building. After some time everyone was told to come down stairs until everything stopped. Well after sometime things quieted down people on the bottom floor were aloud back in there room, but those that live on the second floor had to wait. I sat down and listened to all the stories that were circulating, some were so funny I just laughed.
I got bored so I started walking the floor, I ran into a group of people huddle around the TV. Fox news was reporting that FOB Falcon ammo deputy had caught on fire and that was the reason for the explosions and that the fire was contained. I heard reports from men running back from the gym that they saw the fire engine going away from the fire, someone was smart, and no 800,000 dollars a year can get me to go into a fire that has all the army’s firepower cooking off. Ok. I consider my self a self-made reporter and when I report I take sometime to get the info, granted not all info is always the best source, but I try. I could not believe that anyone would actually believe that it just so happened ammo started on fire. Granted there has been in the past incidents of this happening, but on a lower scale, but come on.
I was a little perturbed that they had given out the FOB name, I knew that love one would be up at home and be worried about us and things could get misconstrued.
After some 3 hours, we were aloud to go up stairs and rack out I went to see if my camera had made it and it did, all the footage of the explosion and shrapnel falling to the earth. For the camera being almost 4 years old it managed to stay alive, alittle dirty but ok. I then went right to my room and called my wife to inform here that all was ok. I gather from the conversation that FRG had called all the wives and told them of what was going. After calling the rest of the family I racked out, I had enough excitement for one day. All through the night, you could hear explosions here and there.
The next day I awoke and walked out side the barracks to the bathroom and there was huge pieces if shrapnel on the ground, as well as burnt paper. One burnt paper read 9mm casing and beside that, a whole clip of burnt 5.56 rounds. I walked up the stairs to the roof where I could still see the black smoke. I looked across the way and I saw a 155mm UXO that landed on top our TOC it was tapped off , it only caved in the roof, and no one was hurt.
As of now, we all just wait, relax and catch up on sleep. I do know one thing, when we get back out on the streets things will be slightly and convincingly different, till then God speed.