This is a weird one, mostly in far hindsight. The really kinetic, armor-on-armor phase of the war was pretty much over, but there were still missions that looked like they were the last bits. This was one of them. We went out to cover what I still think is the only actual former surrender/capitulation of an Iraqi general. The guy saluted our colonel, turned all his tanks and people over, and went on to probably lead a Sunni jihad. Who knows? We then spent the day disabling a whole lot of T-72s, which near as I could tell consisted of cutting their fuel lines and smashing their lights. I guess it worked, because I don’t think al-Qaida in Iraq ever attacked our forces with armored columns.
We spent the day mostly in two areas: the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi. Both were new names to me at the time, but they obviously would become infamous over time as flashpoints in the Sunni Triangle. In Fallujah we mostly saw cows and old families, but we never really went close to the city. In Ramadi, what seemed like a friendly visit escalated quickly, and I remember seeing what looked like the entire town coming out to meet us. Still not sure if it was a greeting or an attempt to rob us of our humvees. I just know it was chaotic, and edgy, and probably a glimpse of the future.
16 April 03
Yesterday was weird. Like something out of a movie. The throng pressed against me, begging for food, begging for anything. What to do? The humvee to my back. I can’t go forward.
Let’s take it from the top.
The day started at the early hour of 4:30. I hurriedly dressed and got the truck ready for a convoy to what I thought would be a capitulation ceremony involving COL Potts and some Iraqi generals. Found out that was wrong right away. We were going to a FARP [forward arming and refueling point] where we’d wait for everybody to get back from the ceremony, and then we’d go destroy the generals’ tanks.
The FARP was roughly 90 km west of Baghdad, on the side of the same highway we originally used to get to the airport. [SPC] Muma, SSG Freeman, and I passed the time talking and waiting for the helicopters. Around about 11 o’clock they arrived and we all set off, with Romeo [Gacad] and Dan [Wiltshire], for the tanks.
It was a long, slow drive down a raised road in a green, lush neighborhood on the banks of the Euphrates. Adults and children waited along the road to wave, cheer and beg for candy. Muma and I sat ready with our weapons, but everybody kept a respectful distance.
Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Destroy tanks.* Take pictures. Finally, we get to the end before turning back around to return to the highway.
We drove farther down the road until we turned off again. This neighborhood had nothing green or lush about it. Wasteland is the first word that comes to mind. Dirty people. Little water. Dead chickens everywhere.**
We stop to destroy a few T-72s [Iraqi armor via the Soviet Union]. this crowd doesn’t maintain a respectful distance. They’re in our faces, shaking our hands, smiles all around. They’re amazed to see a female Soldier (Muma). They want American dollars. They want whiskey. Out of smokes, I trade a Jolly Rancher for a cigarette. Chaos.
I guess my niceness unleashed theirs. They all want food. Now they want my Rolling Stone, they take a US News. I’m all but pushed into the truck. SSG Freeman has to get them to back up. We get some space and move on.
But they follow, the crowd becoming a mob, with the situation appearing hairier each mile we travel. These people appear desperate, but the thread of violence is thick in the air. Now all the faces aren’t smiling. All the thumbs aren’t up either.
COL Potts finally decides the situation is getting out of control. We turn around and begin the long trip back to the airport. One stop and a broken track^ later, we arrive at 11 p.m. The day is over.
These people are so poor they’ve become desperate. It’s sad. But it makes me glad to know I’ve been part of making their lives better. Bush may have had his reasons for this war, but God had another plan entirely.
To Be Continued …
* As stated in the photos, “destroying” tanks meant mostly cutting their fuel lines and smashing their lights. I guess that made them unusable? I think the point was to save them so the Free Iraqi Army or whatever it was going to be would have crappy tanks.
** How I neglected to take a picture of a single dead chicken escapes me. They were everywhere! They kind of put us on edge at first, because dead wildlife, especially birds all over the ground is one of those things you look for in a biological or chemical attack. Fortunately, it appeared they were part of a chicken truck wreck. At least I hope so, because we all know how long it takes Uncle Sam to get around to admitting troops were exposed to something.
^ Broken track is what armored vehicles have to do when something goes wrong. Basically a link in that big track gets broken or lost, so they have to roll it all the way out, replace the broken link, then roll it back over the wheels and attach it. It’s time consuming, and we were tired, and the fireworks we saw driving down the road were likely pissed-off Sunnis telling their buddies where we were, but you don’t leave the armor behind after a day like that.