Now we get to the good stuff. All the posts to this point have been about waiting to go to war in Kuwait. There’s a little of that here, but this is about the start of the war, written on an airstrip in Iraq the first night I was there. I packed a little too light for this phase of the mission because I left most of my stuff in the humvee when I went off with the helicopters, so I ended up in sleeping in the “light” shell of my sleeping bag system on top of MRE boxes while we were there. If anyone wants to know why I’m an overpacker, it’s because of the beginning of OIF.
A couple things to help the reader: Anything bracketed or in italics is something I’ve added now for clarity, and because I can’t find links to many of the stories I wrote any more, the links go to the original Word documents. Read on:
21 March 03
It’s been a while since I’ve written, and we’ve been very busy since. Tonight, I’m spending my first night in Iraq. Sleep will come on a concrete tarmac in a place called Jalalah [actually Jalibah, but I obviously had it wrong when I wrote this].
We went to war yesterday morning. I’ve had my gas mask on more times than I’ll ever care to remember. The last 2 days have been hectic at best. The fight’s in An Nasiriyah tonight. I flew to my current location on a casevac [casualty evacuation] Blackhawk from B Co., 2-3 Avn. [2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment – the Blackhawks].
They may fly out tonite, and they may not, but I’ve got a spot on an old bombed-out runway until the division makes it to Objective Rams, an assembly area outside of Karbala [actually Najaf] that will probably be used for the final assault into Baghdad. It’s crazy how fast this whole thing is going now that it’s on.
Stories from the past month or so? These are the ones I won’t forget. I cam within a hair’s breadth of seeing Josh a few weeks back. It was while training was still going on, but the Marines were already in their AAs [assembly areas]. I rode out with Capt. Schweitzer, whose brother is a company commander in Josh’s regiment. We went to him for directions and no sooner than we’d gotten there then …
GAS! GAS! GAS!
I spent 3 hours with my mask on in a foxhole that day. Not my idea of a good time. I didn’t see Josh, needless to say. The Boyer Luck strikes again. On a positive note, I knew my mask worked after that. Turned out the Brits picked up on some mustard gas in the field. Them’s the breaks, I guess.
In case it isn’t obvious, I got embedded with 4th Brigade, the aviation element of our division. Dan Wiltshire and I traveled over to Camp Udairi 2 weeks ago and we’ve been with them since.
Well, the Wednesday after we got to Udairi, we went on our 1st Blackhawk flight, with Phil [Ittner], the CBS guy who is riding in our humvee. It was supposed to be simple: fly to Doha, touch down, turn around, and go back to Udairi. But that’s when the biggest dust storm anyone I know’s ever seen rolled in, about 10 clicks from the flight line. Chief [Warrant Officer] Nevada turned us around and we landed at Doha minutes before the dust rolled in. We spent the night there, which was terrible except for the food. I DID get Subway one last time, after all. And a real DFAC [dining facility] breakfast. I’m quickly forgetting what that’s all about. We slept in a cold room without cover for about 4 hours waiting for the storm to pass.
When we woke up, we headed for Udairi after several false starts. Did I mention I ran out of cigs early on? I packed for a 1-hour flight on which I wouldn’t smoke. Oops. Man, I was in a mood. When we got back, we had to pack to move out to the AA.
Last Friday, a week ago, we moved out to get ready for war. We basically screwed off a bunch at the TAA [tactical assembly area]. Monday night, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to get out. Wednesday morning, everybody got ready to move*. I went back to Udairi to get some air coverage and Dan stayed with the humvee on the ground.
Thursday morning started normal, then we heard the air war had started. We went about our business until the gas alarms, three honks on a a car horn, came incessantly. Turned out Saddam was sending missiles our way.
Suddenly, the ground war’s timetable moved up. The division and the Marines crossed last night. I got to listen in on 1-3’s [1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment – the Apaches] 1st mission from the ground. Woke up this morning, screwed off**, packed up, and got on the bird to move out here. Welcome to Iraq. The way home’s about 100 km closer. See you soon.
To Be Continued …
* Whenever I tell funny stories about Dan Wiltshire from Iraq, he complains that I don’t tell any funny stories about me losing it, so I’ll share this one here. We’d gone to great lengths to make sure nothing would fall out of our massively overstuffed humvee, and when we found out I was going back to Camp Udairi, I had to grab my stuff in a hurry (see my preface note about packing light). We were trying to undo the webbed netting I’d tied inside one of the doors to keep our stuff from tumbling out whenever we opened it, and I got impatient and angry at myself for this stupid web of knots. I grabbed my Leatherman and angrily went to town on the 550 cord, slashing a whole in the stuff sack for my sleeping bag in the process. When I left the 3rd Infantry Division more that a year later, I had to spend 30 bucks on a new stuff sack.
** Okay, if you read the link about the first mission, you know that the battalion commander’s Apache had to make an emergency landing over the border. They got it and themselves back safely, but during the post-mission briefing, it was made very clear to all present – including media members – that this information was not to be shared until the pilots at least had a chance to talk to their wives. I slept in a tent with the battalion commanders and the media members that night, and in the morning, someone got on the Internet and saw that one of our writers (not Phil Ittner) had written about it in a story that was now available internationally. Needless to say, the guy got his ass reamed by Col. Potts, the brigade commander. The writer was a pain in the ass the rest of the way.