So at this point in the journal I skipped about three months. That’s how exciting it was. There were good days and bad, but Tom Nacey and I spent a lot of time driving and flying around the country doing battlefield interviews with the division’s leaders and key warfighters to document it all for history. We did that mission with the New York Times’ Michael Gordon, who was collecting information for his book, Cobra II, at the time. Then I spent weeks transcribing the lion’s share of those interviews. It’s here that I’ll note this was about the first time I’d transcribed anything, so more than 24 hours of tape took a L-O-N-G time and yielded many pages. I gave plenty of it to Mr. Gordon and expected at least an acknowledgement in the book, but that never happened, so whatever.
After that, I was supposed to take over the division’s weekly in-country magazine when SGT Clarke rotated back home – which actually did happen back in the early days of the war – but I got pushed out to Fallujah in early July to work with the division’s engineers on some stories. It wasn’t the ruined town it became in later years at the time, but there had been problems out there. Both the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a unit of the 82nd Airborne had attempted to calm tensions and been moved on before 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division came to town. My friends in the 28th Public Affairs Detachment had been in town with them the whole time, so I knew some people where I was going.
Strangely, through all of this, even during the invasion, my actual exposure to immediate danger was all but nonexistent. That all changed the last day I was in Fallujah. I was leaving the next day to go back to Baghdad International Airport, and the rumors were thick that the 3rd Infantry Division was about to head home. I went on one last mission with Col. Ed Cardon, the Engineer Brigade commander, down to the mayor’s office in town.
Quick editor’s note: I don’t recall taking a lot of pictures during my time in Fallujah, but the photos in this post are from that time, though not necessarily the day we got blown up.
22 July 03
Today started typical. The usual jerking around. Are we going home? Are we not? The question’s gotten old in the 3 months since I’ve added to this record. I’m still in Iraq, as is most of the division and, for that matter, a good portion of the Army. I’ve been in Fallujah for 3 weeks after about three mostly dull months at BIAP [Baghdad International Airport]. I could go on and on whining about how we’ve been jerked around, but I haven’t yet so why start now?
It started (and went) normal-like. Went with the engineers to the mayor’s office to write stories about all the great civic projects here. Just like the past 20 days. At about 2:30, all that changed.
I was joking with all the Iraqi translators about pop culture and cultural differences (it’s kind of my schtick here) when I heard something like a large piece of sheet metal being dropped. An explosion. It sounded far off, but a glance out the window showed Iraqi police and American security scrambling every which way. I debated grabbing my camera.
“Get your shit and go guys. We got incoming.” SFC Hernandez had appeared in the office’s door out of nowhere. No time for questions. Act. Vest and kevlar on. Can’t carry my backpack. Need a gun hand. Two shoulder it. Get the camera.* Is my weapon loaded? Yes, I didn’t clear it when we arrived. Out of the office. Out the front door.
We’d left the vehicles in the northwest corner of the compound this morning, behind the building. I was running that way. Around the corner, there was confusion. Humvees moving out fast. I was running.
BOOM! Not metal this time. An explosion. Death’s possibility right in front of me, more immediate than at any time since I’ve entered this damn country. People were screaming. I didn’t see the vehicle. Carlson and I exchange glances. 1LT Elmoe, who left his gear in the truck this morning [BRILLIANT junior officer, right?], runs past us back toward the front of the building. We do the same.
At the door. SFC Hernandez tells us the trucks moved outside the SW corner of the convoy. We run for the front gate, the LT between us. People are scrambling everywhere. Get to the truck. Throw my bags in. Weapon up, eye looking through the sight post. Everyone’s ready. A quick U-turn in the awful Iraqi traffic. I point my M-16 right at a cab driver’s head to secure the maneuver. We’re in the lead, swerving past Iraqis who would never be licensed to drive in America. Heart’s pounding now. It does all the way back to the MEK [don’t remember what that stood for, but it was a forward operating base] gates.
No one was hurt, thank God. There were a lot of folks there today. It could have been real bad. Now I know, though. That was terror, but I stayed cool. I did my job. I threatened death to those in my way. My mind has never been so focused. I’ve never felt so aware. God, I needed a cigarette. Even that little bit felt like a lot. It really gives me respect for those who’ve seen more and less and what else. It gives me more respect for myself. I’ve been right there now.
There really is nothing more terrifying than the random indirect fire. Explosions from the sky. Death from above, 3 months after it [the war] was supposed to be over]. I’m going back to BIAP tomorrow. I wish they’d hurry up and get all of us home.**
To Be Continued …
* And, for the last time, forget the notebook that had like four stories’ worth of notes in it.
** This day was pretty much the end. Within a week – give or take a day or two – of getting back to the airport, we were on a convoy back to Kuwait to get moving home.