I remember many moons ago I was sitting in my apartment on a summer evening watching a television show and on came this Army commercial. It showed these soldiers in the middle of the night walking through the woods. They were all wearing night vision, being all sneaky, avoiding the bad guys only a short distance away. As the commercial continued, the camera panned a distance away from them, leaving them undetectable to the naked eye. I remember thinking, “There’s no way that those guys could do that without being seen or heard.” Well, a couple years later that commercial’s relevance became obvious to me in the dark alleys of Baghdad.
Awhile ago, the generals in charge decided that it would be a great idea to have COP, or combat outpost, in a lot of the provinces of Iraq. Doing this wouldn’t be the first time for our company; we had a COP named Rock Base in Tala far. This base was on the eastern side of the city. Having a base there brought on some fierce mortar attacks as well as some awesome firefights on top of the roof. It really brought the enemy out. We were like the cheese, and the insurgents were the hungry mouse. This COP was once mentioned in one of President Bush’s speeches as being an example of what a COP could do for a city and its community. That was two years ago, and back then the war was rather different than now, seemingly more complex.
In some provinces, the war has turned more into an outreach program. Gaining the trust of locals in the vicinity has become more of a focus, so creating a COP would be the link to make that happen — optimistically speaking, of course. The definition of a combat outpost as found in Army Field Manual 7-10, Rifle Company, Infantry Regiment is: "The mission of the combat outpost is to delay, disorganize, and deceive the enemy. It aids in securing the battle position, gains timely information of the enemy, and inflicts maximum casualties on the enemy without engaging in close combat." Now this definition was given back in October 1949 and is more relevant to the Korean War, 1950-1953. If you follow war history, you may remember the famous Outpost Eerie (http://www.kmike.com/CombatActions/OutpostEerie.htm). It was a dissimilar kind of war but a comparable combat outpost setup. While we stay at the COP, we conduct our operations like we usually would back at the FOB. Due to operation security, I can’t give the details of daily operations inside of the COP, but be confident we have it locked down. Overall, living at the COP isn’t too bad. I think at this point the best part about the COP is that the days go by faster, and that is a good thing this late in the game.
As the sun rapidly erases from the sky, the lights from the tall buildings across the way mirror off the river that flows swiftly below, making for a picturesque scene. As you look down the river facing northeast, you see the banks full of boats, and farther down, the houses on the river give a slight semblance to Florida with palm trees and green, healthy growth. Sometimes you can just sit there and almost forget where you are.
Having been in this AO for some time now has made patrolling rather easy. After some time you know where all of the streets are and where the little veins lead, making life easier when something actually occurs. This night we would conduct a foot patrol through somewhat unfamiliar areas, making the task a little more appealing.
The platoon met down at the smoke point, and while the squad leaders conducted their mission brief, everyone did their thing — smoking, eating snacks, drinking a lot of water, chitchatting, or just sitting there and staring off at the stars that shined above. After the brief, Staff Sgt. Rine came over and gave us the brief. This time he had a little more pep in his step, and the pitch in his voice came off as being more serious than usual. The big thing that had occurred in Iraq that day was the third bombing of a mosque in the city of Samara, better known to us as the Golden Dome. This mosque was rather important, and the last time it was hit it started a lot of EJK, leaving a lot of people dead on the streets, leaving coalition forces to recover them. Throughout the day, over speakers of the local mosque there was a man talking about how the Americans didn’t do enough to protect the mosques and how we were the bad guys and blah, blah, blah. At the front gates, there was a large gathering of people chanting and just being annoying. After some action on our behalf these angry folks were dispersed. There also were reports of people on the main streets getting involved. After some time, things calmed down — as they usually do — and the people went about their evening.
Taking all that into consideration, we had to be on our toes even more than usual, because we didn’t know if they were planning to hit us hard. After some time, we were ready to make our way out the gate. As we made our way to the gate I had on my night visions — or, as we like to call them, NODS. I quickly realized that the moon was not giving off a good enough loom. I put my hand in front of my face, and I couldn’t even see it. The darkness just swallowed everything. After some time, we made our way out the gate and into the streets. At first the pace was a little rapid, because we wanted to get out of the main street because there were lights. After we got off the main road, we hit our first vein, and this is where it got really interesting.
The first thing I noticed as we were walking was that there was an eerie wind blowing the trash through the alley. Every once in awhile a soda can would go pinging by, sounding like some kind of grenade.
Our squad was leading the way. Sgt. Smith and I were in the front doing the route recon. We were sending signals back to the guys telling them if we all could make it through or if something was suspicious. Being in the front and it being pitch dark, it’s imperative to have your hand signals down. Sgt. Smith gave me the hold signal, and I sent it back; everyone stopped. As I looked back, it was the most impressive site, to see all the men in the dark pulling security and avoiding the lights. For a quick second, I raised my nods just to see what it would look like in the dark, and I was in awe. I couldn’t see a single person or even hear a word.
I flipped my nods down just in time to get the signal from Sgt. Smith that the next area we were going to be traveling was not trafficable. I turned around and was just about to give the sign that we were going to head back when standing there about 10 meters away were Bill and then Davie a little farther down. I didn’t even hear them sneak up. What happened was when I went to turn my nods back on after looking down the street I flashed the code for Bill or Davie to come up. Well, unfortunately, we had to turn around and make our way down another alley. The alley became smaller; I could reach out both of my hands and touch each wall. There was a little drainage canal in the alley where the water and the s@#% water flowed. Being in a small area, the smell was irritating to my eyes. We patrolled farther into two alleys. No one even knew we were there. Normally lights would turn on and people would poke out to see what was going on. As we hit a four-way, we stopped. Sgt Smith gave me the sign that there was a family up, and they were close to the window. I acknowledged him, and we started our walk. Bang, crash and then a silent voice asking for help. I looked back, and there lying on the ground with one leg submerged in a drainage hole was Davie. It sounded bad, and it looked bad. Bill and Staff Sgt. Rine went back to recover him while I pulled security. Davie wasn’t happy. “This is bulls@#%,” he said, still remaining tactical and aware of the situation. After he got up, he hobbled around a little and then gave the OK that he could make it. After we determined he was OK, everyone was just laughing their asses off, of course, silently.
We came down to a main street and started making our way up to one of the checkpoints some Iraqi Police were manning. The IPs in the past days had been getting shot at by local bad guys, and they were on the ready, so when we came out of the darkness it got interesting. The IP saw us, but he wasn’t sure who it was, so he flipped his cigarette and went running to his gun and flipped it to fire. You could hear it. That’s when I thought things were going to get ugly. It’s almost like you stop breathing and your eyes get really wide. I quickly pulled out my flashlight and flashed at him, and he clicked the gun back to safe. I didn’t save the day or anything, but I am glad that I had changed my batteries before I left. As we walked by, we said hello and made sure he knew more guys were coming up the road.
We made our way down our final stretch. We came across the last alley and there were a lot of lights on so we had to be a little more careful. It seemed like every part of walking down this alley was orchestrated. We walked a little ways and then stopped. I was close to this window, so I got curious so I looked in the window. It was like being scrooge on Christmas Day looking into a house and watching everything going on and no one even knows you’re there. A young lady was washing dishes while a man in the background was watching a scrambled television show. The lady would look back at the man in the other room and smile and then turn around and have this look of disdain. It was one of those looks that you never get to see when your wife walks away and she’s really pissed off and she’s hiding it.
After some time, we made our way farther down the road, and we came to another stop. This time I came to a window that was closed, but I could see a young kid playing a game on his television. Whatever he was playing he was winning, because he was doing some kind of celebration dance. I got on my tippy toes and looked in. While I was doing that the window that was cracked open came farther open. “Oh s@#%.” The kid didn’t even know it. So I grabbed the window and opened it farther. The kid looked over at the window and walked to it. I stood practically right in front of the kid, and he didn’t even see me. I almost started laughing, but I held it in. He grabbed the window and closed it, but he didn’t lock it. I waited a minute, and I slightly opened the window again. This time he turned off the room light and came back to the window again. This time he looked farther outside, but since it was so dark he saw nothing. The look on his face was priceless; he was so confused. Since the wind was blowing he may have thought that the wind was blowing it open. After some time, we picked up and moved out.
Well, just when you think it’s over, we made our way back to the main street and started our walk back to the COP, but before we got there we had to get through another checkpoint. This time it was a little more intense. Since we came out of the alley really close to some IP and it was really dark, these guys quickly drew down on us. This time since we were on our way home we started yelling, “Americans, Americans.” They heard us and put their guns down. We made our way back to the COP safe and sound.
It was a really educational night and worth it. It takes some time to learn how to walk with nods on, because everything is not as easy to decipher, especially dark holes and distance. It’s weird when you get back from a night mission and you’ve been wearing nods for a while. You will see some guys walking like they still have their nods on — high stepping. I do it too.
The weeks are going by fast, and that’s a good thing. Soon our time here will be up, and we will be home with our families. I miss home and all of my loved ones, especially my dog, Grace. I know we all have missed birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, births and so many other things, but please know, as we walk in the darkness there is a bright light drawing close, and at this point that’s all that matters. Leave a light on — We will be there soon.
Next week: Quenching