1st Battalion 22nd Infantry
Operation Iraqi Freedom
The following is a report on
the activities of 1-22 Infantry,
written on December 25, 2003, by the Battalion Commander,
LTC Steven D. Russell
LTC Steven D. Russell
1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry,
Tikrit Iraq December 25th 2003
Regulars, By God! Deeds, not Words.
Dear Friends and Family,
A chill is in the air nowmixed with the pall of wood smoke hanging over the city. Occasional rains attempt to cleanse the dusty, filthy environment without success. We were once bathed from head to toe with sweat, but now cover ourselves with items to keep warm or dry. The temperatures here have cooled, but the situation seems to change as often as the weather. The environment in Tikrit at this writing is simmeringnot a boil, but simmering.
How do we sum the events of the last several months since I last wrote? How do we convey the elation of success and the grief of loss? We may never be able to do so for those that are not here. I will try to capture in a small sense our operations since August 24th, so forgive me for the very long letter. I write a little each day from notes but have not been able to catch up as we have necessarily been very busy. Since today is Christmas, I wanted to take advantage of the break.
DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE
The farmlands along the Tigris River lay rich with vegetation. Palm trees stand as sentinels row on row, aligned and supported by murky irrigation ditches. Fields adjacent to the groves produce wheat. Varieties of trees sag under the weight of pomegranates, apples and citrus. An occasional farm surfaces amidst the boundless orchards and fields. The farm occupantssubsistence farmers that work for middle-aged men whose girths are expanded by too much lambtend the crops. They also plant a bounty of a different kind. Hidden between irrigated ditches lay pits that contain everything from mortars, rocket propelled grenades, artillery rockets, grenades and machine guns. As important as it is to find these things, the desire to find those planting them is tenfold by comparison.
We targeted two such sowers of discord south of the village of Owjathe birthplace of Saddam Hussein. They were siblings, with the now familiar string of tongue-tying names that also convey the names of their fathers, grandfathers, tribe and birthplace. Our soldiers worked hard to locate these brothers because they were among a group of five spawns that had attacked our forces with RPGs. We arrested the first brother in Owja. Now we had the location of their family farm along the Tigris. Our forces moved in and cut off egress routes, in coordination with special operations forces and attack aviation. By dusk we had surrounded the brothers farm. The remaining brother began to run into the nearby fields. The helicopters spotted him. Soon we closed in on him and found him hunkered down in a fieldhis war now over.
Others continued in their belligerence however. On the 26th of August, an informant came to our forces telling us of a farm southwest of Owja that had weapons and self-proclaimed Fedayeen fighters. Given that we had experienced attacks along the main highway nearby, this seemed plausible. I ordered our recon platoon to scout out the area and see what they could find. Two sections of scouts approached the farms just after dusk. They turned off the main highway and were soon greeted with a hail of gunfire from AK-47 rifles. The scouts immediately returned fire, sending the assailants deep into their own farmhouse. Rifles cracked, .50 caliber machined guns thudded and 40mm Mk-19 grenade launchers thumped in a warlike symphony of gunfire. The projectiles smacked the modest farm. Two individuals were briefly spotted running out the back and into an irrigation ditch immediately behind.
1LT Chris Morris called in the contact and stated he was maneuvering on the houses but needed additional force to affect a proper cordon. He said he still had visual contact with the attackers. CPT Mark Stouffers A Company responded with a quick reaction force. Soon the area was cordoned with Bradleys, Infantry and scout Hummvees. The four attackers were capturedamazingly unharmed although terrifiedin the initial farmhouse and the one connected by the irrigation ditch behind it. None of our men were wounded. The enemy was detained and all of his weapons captured.
As this drama played out south of Tikrit, another unfolded within the heart of it. Repeated roadside bomb attacks along 40th and 60th streets plagued the modest homes and businesses there. For three months we had fought battles along these alleys. While most of the attackers had been ambushed or subdued, the explosives threat continued. Just the night before my command convoy had turned onto 60th street. A young adult Iraqi male in all black sitting on a curb suddenly bolted for a side street. Alerted by this, we gave chase for two blocks but he had disappeared over the many walled housing compounds. He appeared unarmed but could have been a scout or a bomb initiator. We queried the locals about him but none claimed to know him. How convenient.
Now a night later, not far from this same area, C Company had a rifle squad patrolling the side streets between 40th and 60th. At about 3:00 a.m.well after curfewthe night air was shattered by the distinct sound of an AK-47. The patrol alerted toward the sound of the gunfire. As they neared the area, an Iraqi man ran at full gallop around the corner where the gunfire occurred. SPC Haines, on point, raised his rifle and fired into the man. A round caught the Iraqi square in the head, carrying away a portion of his face. The sprinter stumbled to the ground, losing his sandals in the awkward momentum, already dead before he fell. Dressed in black, I immediately recognized him as the same man we encountered the night before. A few men were somewhat taken back as 1SG Evans, CPT Boyd and I rolled him over in his own fluids so we could search him. Some had still not seen death close and personal before. In his pockets were batteries of the type used to initiate roadside bombs. His war was also now over.
At the end of August information came our way via a well-established network of sheiks. Developing this network was no small task. By custom, sheiks can be appointed to represent several families or can represent thousands. How do you determine who represents 40 people vice 40,000? When we arrived, every man claimed he was the sheik that the Americans should deal with and as such, he was also entitled to special privileges, badges, weapons, cars, and even women should we have themwhatever we can provide. They in turn would guarantee everything from security, support with the coalition, promises of uranium, vital information and even Saddamshould they see him, of course. So our challenge was how to separate these men of grandiose importance from the real sheiks that clearly commanded the respect from the locals.
The solution seemed simple enough; create a meeting of sheiks on a weekly basis and make it open to all. Those that would attend would probably be supportive somewhat or they would not come. Secondly, those that would sit on the front row would probably be the real sheiks. And so it was. Within a few weeks, we had discovered those that everyone seemed to defer to. By the end of August, we had solidified a Council of Sheiks with 10 representatives from the controlling tribes that represented about 200,000 people in our region.
One of these sheiks had been very cooperative with us already. Although secretiveIraqi Arabs seem to revel in the thrill of private liaisons and somewhat theatrical trappingshe provided us with important breakthroughs regarding those resisting our efforts. Now he wanted a private dinner meeting east of the Tigris on one of his tenant farms. I have come to call these rendezvous lamb grabsthe slaughtered goat or lamb consumed for dinner by being pulled from the bone with the bare hands being the rationale. While the information provided that late evening in August was noteworthy, I will remember the dinner more for the kids.
The tenant farmers had a solitary mud house with which they housed their four families and 20 kids. Unlike other lamb grabs we had attended, the wives and children were necessarily present. This allowed for some wonderful interaction among our soldiers. The laughter of the kids as they ran like kittens chasing our weapons laser lights was a lift. Soon, my men were teaching them all sorts of games. By far the most enjoyable was the American favorite where a child is tapped on the head in a circle and dubbed a various waterfowl. One titling causes the child to have to run after the name callerDuck, Duck, Goose had come to Iraq. As I mused from a short distance and soaked it in, it was hard to keep the tears back for the longing of my own children.
CRIMINALS, CONVOYS AND CATWALKS
While my men and I enjoyed this out of place respite near the foothills of the Jabal Hamrin Ridge east of the Tigris, our C Company soldiers on patrol spotted a white car in downtown Tikrit with bullet holes in it. They immediately stopped it and subdued 4 males with 3 AK-47 rifles. To the north of the city, near the village of Mazhem, C Company 3-66 Armor soldiers began the opening round of what became the battle for the ammunition supply points. On the night of 28 August, the Cougars found 14 people living inside a bunker bloated with munitions. The bunkers are roughly the size of gymnasiums. The outer walls are double, forming a catacomb around the structure and also allowing the criminals to hide in the nooks and crannies in complete darkness. Our men must clear them much like we would a tunnel, with the same associated risks.
The looters were hired for about 2 dollars a day and brought in from Samarra. They had an entire operation going with 57mm anti-aircraft shells. First, they removed the rounds from the boxes. Next they took a hammer and cracked the rounds seal with the brass casean indicator of their intelligence. Of course all of this works best while smoking. Then they emptied the powder pellets into bags, stacked the brass and then bagged the warheads. The warheads are the type most commonly used for roadside improvised explosives. The propellant is used to make other types of bombs and the brass is melted down into ingots and sold. All of the proceeds go to supporting your local terrorist.
We knew of the operations but did not have enough manpower to cover all the areas. Consequently, the improvised explosives war manifested itself significantly in our areapartly because we were killing the enemy in the direct firefights in the city and partly because they could salvage munitions without much risk from our patrols. I assigned the task of ending this operation to CPT Jon Cecalupos C Company, 3-66 Armor. Although not a tank mission, we needed the manpower. Jon, the son and brother of an Infantryman, aggressively put his talents into the mission and established a series of ambushes with his dismounted tank crews. Each night for a month, a cat and mouse war developed. The looters would come into the perimetermost of the time armedand set up shop for the night. In about thirty days, CPT Cecalupos men had engaged scores of the enemy. They had killed 5, wounded 65, and captured over 100. For every night of bloodshed, a new day of the same awaited them.
Concerned, I met individually with the tank men doing the grisly work of separating the stupid and the lawless from the living. What I found was yet another example of how professional and dedicated our soldiers are. The men assured me that they fully understood the mission. They told me that for every bomb material supplier they killed or maimed, then one less bomb would be on the road. They were right. At the end of a months hard labor, the battle of the ammunition supply point was won. But the bomb war continued to be waged in the streets and supply routes of Tikrit and its villages.
On the 29th of August we patrolled the streets of Tikrit much like any other night. Long shadows fingered out and then dissipated in the pale street light while the dogs roamed wild in their packs. At about 11:30 p.m., when we turned onto 40th street, one pack assaulted us in an impressive wedge formation, with all dogs barking in support. They came to within 5 feet of our vehicles. While we were admiring them for their aggressiveness, a violent explosion silenced the barks and our thoughts. What was it? An acrid smoke filled the air behind us. The dogs made a disorderly retreat in full scamper.
The trail vehicles seemed OK. We immediately turned the vehicles around, covered both double lanes of traffic and headed south back toward the enemy. Once we arrived, we jumped from the vehicles and sought to engage the attackers. We shouted taunts at the enemy and attested with oaths and epitaphs to their incompetence. But none answered our challenge.
On the west side curb at the corner were the signs of the explosion. A vegetable oil tin packed with what we determined to be 10 blocks of TNT and a hand grenade was the basis of the bomb. Clearly legible on a piece of the metal were the words, A Gift from Sweden. The bomb did not have the forcefulness it could have due to the poor wiring of the explosives. The grenade and two blocks of TNT detonated but the other 8 scattered in the blast radius. Our dispersion and tactics had lessoned the effects of that blast. A curious man unrelated to the incident observed us with amusement from the balcony above his restaurant. Seeing this, red rifle lasers soon lined up on his man dress and he, like the dogs, beat a hasty retreat inside. The attacker could be one of several thousand people hidden in nearby houses and apartments. We resumed our patrol.
August 30th dawned with another bomb on the streets. C Company Infantrymen discovered this onetwo sticks of C4 hooked to batteries and tied to a bottle of diesel fuel. Our soldiers called the explosives experts who detonated it. Not far from the bomb in the later afternoon, a C Company patrol dodged a volley of RPGs that missed wildly. One crashed into an Iraqi house badly wounding a two year old child. Our soldiers immediately responded and saved the girls life. She was stabilized and taken to the local hospital.
As this unfolded, we received a tip about a weapons cache of RPG launchers on a farm. We went to the house of the supposed farm owner. He was not there but a relative was. We told him there would be no trouble if he took us to the farm and pointed out the weapons. He complied. We already had his brother in jail and he said he wanted no trouble with us. He would help. He did. After a ten-minute countryside journey, the man walked us to a deep irrigation ditch and pointed to a pile of cut hay at the bottom. As we pulled 6 sacks of weapons out, we realized that we stood little chance of ever finding these weapons without informants. We returned to our headquarters with 26 RPG launchers.
The next few days brought an attack on the governors building and more roadside bombs. September 2nd was particularly noteworthy. It started with a discovery on the northern highway bypass. Several large caliber artillery shells were daisy-chained together along the guardrails. We disarmed them before they could be put to use. C Company patrols discovered two more bombs in northern Tikrit and detonated both of them. At the southern highway bypass, a patrol from 299th Engineers discovered yet another one. As long cast shadows signaled the end of the day, a convoy from our support company bringing supplies and soldiers returning from emergency leave approached only a few kilometers from this bomb. No matter. Another one awaited it.
A tire in the road instantly became a brownish cloud of sand, flame and shrapnel. In the lead Hummvee, the officer in charge felt a sharp pain to his right knee and arm. An A Company sergeant sitting in the back was thrown sideways by the force into the middle of the Hummvee with neck lacerations. The cargo truck behind it collected a spattering of shrapnel that cut into tires, metaland flesh. A specialist from our support company felt a deadening pain to his face and head and shoulder. Blood poured from the gums where several of his teeth had been. Another soldier facing the back took slicing shrapnel through his left foot. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured. The soldiers gathered their wounded comrades and rushed them to one of our aid stations a few kilometers up the highway. We arrived and secured the area, equipment and damaged vehicles. Big hunks of artillery shrapnel lay embedded in the asphalt. The tire was nothing more than an array of belted cords and loose rubber bounced in all directions. With our casualties and equipment secure, we recovered everything quickly from the scene. There will never be dancing Iraqis on our equipment. We will kill everyone of them that tries.
On the 3rd of September we had success against these bombers and others. An informant tipped our soldiers about a bomb maker in Tikrit. We planned a raid that resulted in the capture of C4, propellants, sealants, clocks, timers, switches, wire, grenades and rifles. Two individuals were also captured. Later that evening 6-9 mortar rounds impacted near the Tigris bridge access road. All fell harmlessly into an empty lot. We received reports about the location of the attackers east of the river. Not being our sector, we alerted the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop commanded by CPT Des Bailey. But they were several kilometers north of the activity at that moment. We decided to cross the river and go to the location in support of the troops efforts. As we closed near the troop, their convoy came under RPG and small arms fire about 400 meters to our front. They returned fire with .50 cal. Machine Gun, grenade launchers and rifle fire. The brush caught fire as a second outburst occurred. We lent support with Bradleys and Infantry. The next morning, a bloody sandal was found in a concrete aqueduct. The charred area around the attackers launch point attested to the one-sidedness of the fight. None of our soldiers in either attack were wounded.
By the 5th of September we found ourselves guarding Tikrit and its environs in a most unusual way. We received instructions to ensure no attacks came for a four-hour window. No bangs, no booms, no fuss. A tall order but one we clearly understood. The Secretary of Defense would be in Tikrit and it would be complicated if Mr. Rumsfeld appeared announcing the success of Iraqi security forces and clearly visible signs of progress to the backdrop of gunfire and bomb blasts. We secured the town without incident. We also introduced to the Tikriti people our Iraqi Civil Defense forces on this day. They were amazed. Only a couple of days from graduation, these young men walked proud on the streets of their countrymen. Bystanders looked in amazement. One woman clutched her heart and exclaimed, Our army! It had returned!
Our training efforts have been very successful in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Learning from my experience with the Afghan National Army project in the Spring of 2002, we put together a program that was far lesser in scale but just as great in importance given our geography and world attention. We formed a cadre of officers and sergeants out of hide, led by CPT Jason Deel and SFC Robert Soden to conduct the training and also to employ them. We vet the males through the tribal sheiks. Each recruit has to be guaranteed by the tribal head in an official document. Taking advantage of the local customs, we also guarantee that the force will truly be Iraqi because it is composed of those men that they choose. To datewe have trained over 350 in our battalion alonewe have not had problems of enemy infiltration. The Iraqi soldiers have proven themselves worthy of their new government and have not been afraid to take risks in our area of operations. We back them fully and conduct operations with them side by side.
Our battle for the streets of Tikrit continued. A sniper team placed near 40th street to overwatch that troubled area had a battle of their own. On September 6th, SPC Cantu and his team moved from a rooftop hideout to cover another location. As they did, 3 Iraqis engaged them with gunfire and then fled. Not satisfied with the outcome and undaunted by the terrain, Cantu led his team across catwalks and rooftops in the direction he believed the assailants had fled. Once at the corner, they saw the men congratulating each other and flushed with their imagined heroics. Their victory party was soon shattered by the gunfire of our soldiers. Cantu and his team blasted the men, killing two and wounding the third. The same day C Company, 3-66 Armor continued the battle of the bunkers, killing one and wounding another. The enemy continued to pay a heavy price.
A major concern of ours during this time was how to get at the thugs planning these attacks. We began to emplace a series of outposts and ambushes in the most likely areas of enemy activity. The locations varied from downtown to suburbs to villages. The labor was not in vain. On the night of the 6th to 7th of September we raided three suspected locations based on tips and detained seven thugs and weapons. The night of the 7th, one of our outposts in a northern suburb noticed a group of men with AK-47s coming to an abandoned house for a meeting. We suspected this house all along and had 1LT Mike Isbells men from C Company posted there but they were actually looking for a bomber at a house in the opposite direction. Even so, our men opened up on the group, wounding one and capturing five others.
On the 9th of September a foot patrol from C Company led by SSG Sanchez found itself under fire from a white car driving by an alley. The enemy fired RPGs and rifles. Our men immediately returned fire and blasted the car, forcing the enemy to flee. We were unable to locate the thugs thereafter. We were however able to locate more of those planning their evil deeds. On the night of the 10th we cordoned three businesses along 40th street. Among the goods in the stores were TNT and C4 explosives, clocks, mercury for detonators, mortar ammunition, AK-47s and shotgunsquite a variety for the discriminating shopper. Most interesting of all were several radio-controlled cars that were being converted into bombs. The cars themselves were discarded but the bombers were taking the electronic guts of them to attach to blasting caps. Then they would wrap them in C4 and place them inside a container of some kind for camouflage. The hobbyists would then use the R/C steering device to initiate the bomb as a convoy would pass. The range on these devices is about 100 meters. In a built up urban environment, that is about the same as 100 miles in terms of seeing who could initiate the bombs.
To counter some of the threat of this, I took one of the R/C controllers and taped the levers down. The toy cars all operate on essentially the same frequency. We put it on the dash of our Hummvee, flip it on and use it as a poor mans anti-explosive devicerisky perhaps but better than exploding bombs through discovery learning. Since this time we have received all sorts of good ideas and gadgets to counter the bomb threats. Unfortunately, most of these devices are full of promise and short on delivery. The jamming equipment in high speed vehicles also jams our radiosnot the best solution. Other items have been huge white Chevy Suburbans with NASA-like antennae. We might as well paint bulls eyes as an added touch. These are like going to war in a Winnebagofine for the movie Stripes but not fine in reality. Our tactics since, while I cannot disclose them, have been extremely effective in countering the bombs now. We have preempted over 70% of the bombs before they explode. Even their cowardly weapons we are defeating.
Mid-September arrived with promise. The heat still insufferable, our soldiers performed each task magnificently whether ambushes, patrols, training native levees, or engaging the local officials in democratic processes. We graduated our first class of Iraqi Civil Defense soldiers and began training the second. We formalized the Council of Sheiks and made the head tribal leaders the representatives rather than open it up to everyone who had a complaint. This allowed us to focus on the best issues. Our mayor began to get his footing and established an effective system of public works. We hired our third municipal police chiefthe first being fired, the second being transferred. Our cooperation with the Saladin Government continued to gel.
With this backdrop, MG Odierno tasked all the units to select delegates for each city and province to form representative councils to aid the governors of the three provinces covered by the 4th Infantry Division. Having already engaged many of the sheiks and leaders beforehand, we found an able group of ten sheiks and five professionals from which to choose 4 representatives from Tikrit. Other cities did the same and then we all came together at the 1st Brigade headquarters for the representative election of 34 delegates to serve on the Saladin Province Governing Council.
The big day came on September 13th. I met with our Tikritians in a private room after all were gathered in a general assembly. Iraqi judges were present for each selection and to oversee the ballot count with each battalion commander. I gave each prospective councilman the floor. The qualifications for why they should be selected varied. One touted his 9th grade education and character. Others spoke of their law or engineering degrees or were medical doctors. Some had held political office before. My favorite was a tribal head sheik that stated simply, I am Sheik _________. That was the sum of his qualification and he passed the floor to the next individual. He was not electedbut he did get several votes.
The middle of September was eerily quiet. We had a string of three days without a single direct attack on our soldiers. Enjoying the respite, I used the time to call together my Staff Sergeants and squad leaders to convey to them the importance of their leadership. A spate of minor incidents seemed to indicate that we were failing in some basic battlefield tasks accompanied by slight degradations in discipline. I wanted to address the matter head on and hear the view from them as well. The session went well.
On the afternoon of the 18th we were coming back from a visit to B Company in Bayji. I had hung the Combat Infantry Streamer on their guidon that morning. We traveled the powerline service road for about 35 kilometers to check against saboteur activity. It was actually great fun and my men seemed to enjoy it even more as we traveled cross-country over desert sands, mud farms and irrigation berms. Hummvees will actually catch some air if the berm is just right. We finally completed our journey south of Tikrit near Owja. Not far to the south, two Humvees and a wheeled ambulance were transporting a sick soldier north along Highway 1 to the military hospital. Little did they imagine that before they arrived they would add to their casualty list.
At about 4:00 p.m. as the lead vehicle neared the spiral arches on Highway 1 south of Owja, a terrific blast shattered the vehicles windshield, front tires and side. The Hummvee belonged to a First Sergeant from 1-66 Armor who was leading the convoy. We heard a distant whump and then a radio transmission requesting assistance. The driver lay bleeding but conscious when we arrived. The soldiers there all seemed shaken by the event, which was understandable. The armored battalions sergeant major arrived shortly after we did. I remember looking at the young man laid out on the ground. His leg was pretty mauled but not seriously damaged. His mouth and face were covered in blood. He seemed worried and was obviously in pain. The sergeant major and I told him to take a deep breath, relax and that he was going to be OK. He calmed a bit and then said he needed to spit. He had collected blood in his mouth from what appeared to be some missing teeth.
The men from that unit did a good job putting their convoy back together. They grabbed their casualties and equipment. Fortunately for the wounded soldier, he was traveling with an ambulance and medics so he was going to be fine. I told their men that we would recover their vehicle and remaining gear and to not worry about it. We would get it to them at the brigade aid station. We did a hasty examination of the area and found the remnants of a Motorolla radio bomb. These were not your average bombs. The range on them was several kilometers as well. As we were in an open expanse of desert along the highway, there was no telling who had initiated the deviceexcept that he was a coward. Several Iraqi cars were also damaged by the blast although we never learned if any Iraqis had sustained injuries.
We returned to our command post, ate and then went out on patrol again. We were up in villages to the north that night when we heard some disturbing radio calls from across the river. A section of Hummvees from the brigades reconnaissance troop had been caught in an ambush on a levee road. They were responding to reports of an RPG being fired in the area. The lead and trail vehicles came under tremendous fire which killed three soldiers and wounded two others. The remainder of the men fought off the attackers and maintained contact with the enemy. Soon the rest of the troop rallied to them and requested medical evacuation support. We immediately responded from our side of the river. I sent C Company with Bradleys and Infantry to support CPT Des Bailey. All of the wounded and killed were brought to our aid station. CPT Brad Boyd supported the cordon of a couple of farms in the area until late afternoon the next day. Three of the six attackers were captured outright. A total of 40 were eventually hauled in and from these all of the attackers were brought to account. Even so, the result could scarcely remove the pain of such loss. The men all belonged to the artillery battalion supporting our brigade and the troop. Our best comfort lay in taking it back to the enemy.
The next evening we moved across the river in force with our battalion. CPT Mark Stouffers A Company, CPT Jon Cecalupos tank company and the S3 and I patrolled the entire swath of land with Bradleys, M1 tanks and Infantry from our task force. We continued to support Des Baileys troop with a section of Bradleys and some mortars for some time after this. In the coming weeks the people cried for us to stop operations in the area. CPT Bailey handled them as they deserved to be handledand captured or killed those equally deserving.
As LTC Dom Pompelias and CPT Baileys units recovered from their loss, we prepared to pay our respects as well to the fallen. The night before the memorial servicethe 20th of September and my mothers birthdayColonel James Hickey called me. He said he had received a Red Cross message. I did not think this unusual, as many of my soldiers had received these unfortunate messages, including me when my grandfather died in July. I was not prepared for the news he gave me. He said that my stepfather had died only a few hours before and that my family had requested my presence. I was stunned. I was accustomed to loss on the battlefront but not the home front. I immediately missed him. Just a few days before, I had received one of his letters. In it he wrote, I know it seems as though the heat and the enemy will never cool down, but they will and the temperature will get to its winter mode soon I want you to be vigilant and tell all your men to do the same. Remember, he who shoots first shoots last! Remember what we studied in church today, if God is with us, who can be against us? We pray you and your men will all be well.
After calling home, I knew my place had to be with my family. I wanted to make sure everything was OK and that he would be buried with the military honors he deserved from his Korean War service with the 1st Cavalry Division. I called my commander back and told him I needed to go home for the funeral. He understood and supported me. I told him the battalion would be in good hands with Major Mike Rauhut, my executive officer. I left the next day.
The rotor blades began to spin. I climbed aboard Brigadier General Barberos helicopter flight on its way to Balad, Iraq on the 21st of September. My eyes scanned for trouble the whole wayeven though I reluctantly left my weapons with my unit so I could fly home. Privately I was happy that I was flying. No roadside bombs to worry about. Plus it was faster. I traveled with one of my men, Sergeant Jesse Sample, also called home on emergency leave. We formed a buddy team for the trip. Once we landed in Balad, we literally walked onto a C-130 cargo plane that was revving up for take-off to Kuwait. At that moment, I began to relax. Months of combat tension had suddenly been released.
I was saddened by the circumstances yet happy to be where I was and then felt immediately guilty for not being with my men. But my Command Sergeant Major and my exec both told me I needed to get home. They would not take no for an answer. Later my wife said she knew at that moment that our family was still more important than my careerbecause for me to stay would have been too easy and the reasons completely justifiable. But how could I?
After landing in Kuwait we burned off about 6 hours waiting for tickets home. Then we flew out commercial. It was all so strangecivilian clothes, clean streets, serene activity, nice people making no demands. I had forgotten that this world existed. I slept on the plane. Even the airline food somehow tasted good. After each catnap, I awoke only to think I was still in Iraq. On the trip from Amsterdam to the states, I had a nice conversation with doctors from Kansas City, Missouri who were returning from medical missionary work in Romania. I could not help but see a contrast between us in my thoughts. They spent the summer repairing lives while were taking them. How strange it all seemed.
We landed in Dallaseventually. There my five children and my beautiful wife greeted me. Feelings I had not felt for months washed over me. I was sad to be home but also very happy. On the drive back to Ft. Hood I saw no white taxis with orange fenders. No men wearing dresses. People had different color hair. The roofs were angled. The curbs were not yellow and white. The signs had letters instead of squiggles. There were no palm trees. There was grass. And there was peace.
At home my body shut down. Months of no rest coupled with responsibility for other lives gave way to sleepdeep sleep. We decided to go to Oklahoma the next day. I woke up still in Iraq. I drove to Oklahoma looking for tires and trash on the road and dodged them; only to feel foolish for thinking they were bombs. But once we got to my mothers house, I quickly realized that there were other things to tend to. We were at once thrilled at being reunited but were also saddened by it all.
On Friday the 26th of September we laid Garland Dean Skidgel to rest in Del City, Oklahoma. The day was pleasant as a somber crowd of relatives gathered around the cemetery plot. Relatives and friends struggled through the mixed emotions of reuniting and grieving. Among those attending was a funeral detail from Ft. Sill Oklahoma. Matt Nicholsa Coast Guardsman and my nephew who came for the funeraland I joined the flag detail. Words were spoken in a feeble but sincere attempt to sum up all that the man wasbrightened by the hope of his faith in Christ. The detail then framed the casket. They lifted the national colors, which was then expertly folded. Taps played in mournful tones. A tear rolled down my face as my mother received the flag.
A world away, C Company patrols received fire from the industrial area of the city. The Iraqi Police were also attacked at their main police station. The attacks seemed feeble and the enemy appeared content to miss and run. There were no casualties. The next day, Major Mike Rauhut led the battalion on a magnificent raid into the farmlands south of Owja. Based on an informants tip, the Gators of A Company cordoned the lush, densely vegetated farm. A bountiful harvest of weapons awaited23 shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, 4 RPG launchers with 115 rocket propelled grenades, 400 hand grenades, 1 mortar with 39 rounds of ammunition, 51 smoke pots, over 1000 pounds of C4 explosives with 1300 blasting caps. This deadly crop was laid out in our trucks for eventual destruction.
After the funeral I enjoyed time in Oklahoma for the next few days. I felt hurt for my mother and prayed that all would be OK for her in the near future. My sister and brother were going to be a big help for her but I knew I had to return to the war. We enjoyed each others company for the short time that it was. Cindy, the kids, Jackour Jack Russell terrierand I returned to Texas for a few days before the date of my return. These few days were wonderful, even as they were deadly for my soldiers in Iraq.
The Cobras of C Company had their palace rattled by RPG fire on the 29th of September. An informant on the 30th led our operations officer Major Bryan Luke to a cache of 60 rocket-propelled grenades. After weeks of successful raiding, the enemy was severely disrupted. He struck back with more roadside bombs. On the 1st of October, I was just leaving a store with my kids in Killeen, Texas when I received a phone call from CPT Matt Weber, our rear detachment commander. He told me there had been an attack with casualties and that MAJ Rauhut was trying to contact me. He got a call through a few minutes later. The news was not good. A sinking feeling washed over me. Here I was, strangely out of place standing in a parking lot while Mike described what happened.
CPT Curt Kuetemeyers convoy from our support company was traveling north in downtown Tikrit along Highway 1 where it turns into the main street. Passing the soccer stadium, his vehicle approached the Tuz-Tikrit highway turnoff. Suddenly he went deaf and saw a bright flash to his left. The air immediately turned brown with dust and had a sickening sulfur smell. He knew something was terribly wrong. The hummvee seemed pilotless. Hit the brakes! he thought. Then he thought the brakes must be damaged. He braced for impact.
At a T intersection in the highway stands the road sign directing a turn off for the city of Tuz. The vehicle crashed the curb, flattened the road sign and bounced to halt. He could see flames all around him. CPT Kuetemeyer immediately took stock of his soldiers. They were in bad shape. He could see his driver slumped and still seatbelted behind the wheel. The soldier behind her was badly burned and pinned in. The soldier behind CPT Kuetemeyer was in better shape and was also trying to free himself from the vehicle. Despite the shock of the concussion, Curt seemed intact and able to move.
SPC Guckert and 1SG Davis in the vehicle behind saw their company commanders vehicle hit by the blast and watched in disbelief. They braced themselves as they entered a brown flaming fog. They pulled up to the blazing vehicle. 1SG Davis yelled for Guckert to pull security and ran to the vehicle. Guckert ordered SPC Bemak to pull security as well and then immediately made a radio transmission for help, her voice calm and in charge. She described the situation and guided life-saving help to the scene, fully aware of her dangerous surroundings. CPT Kuetemeyer and 1SG Davis managed to pull the three wounded soldiers from the burning vehicle. They preformed an emotional and grisly task, fighting the flames as they attempted to save their comrades in the burning vehicle.
SPC Guckert then informed another convoy that was passing by about the situation. These soldiers pulled security around the vehicles to assist. SPC Guckert joined CPT Kuetemeyer and 1SG Davis, encouraging the wounded to hang in there as they rendered aid. Guckert then grabbed her aid bag and began to administer first aid. CPT Brad Boyd from C Company showed up and provided immediate help with his men. The wounded soldiers were taken by hummvee to the battalion aid station. There, MAJ Bill Marzullo our surgeon, and our physicians assistants CPT Alex Morales and 2LT Armando Buergette, struggled to save CPT Kutemeyers driver. She died of her wounds. The other soldiers were treated for serious burns, concussions, lacerations and broken bones. Meanwhile, Highway 1 returned to normal after C Company recovered the vehicle. There will never be an opportunity for Iraqis to dance on our equipment. Not in this town. We would kill the whole city first.
Not knowing the full details described above, but knowing I had lost a soldierand had several more woundedpained me. I also had to speak words of encouragement to my XO, Mike Rauhut, who felt that he had somehow let me down while I was on emergency leave. I told him nothing could have been done different had I been there and to not feel ashamed. I told him these things knowing full well I had felt guilty for every loss we had suffered in my command. But I still had to talk him through it.
I spent the next two days getting refocused in my mind for Iraqnot that my mind had ever really left there. Even so, it was wonderful to see my family under any circumstances. I would have traded it all though to have my step dad back. On the 3rd of October I boarded a plane in Dallas. Cindy had been through the good byes beforeKosovo, Kuwait and Afghanistan, Iraq. Now we parted once again. I watched with a lump in my throat as her van full of kids eased through the airport departure lane.
In Tikrit, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry and the 4th Forward Support Battalion gathered at Saddams Birthday Palace. The Aggressors of A Company, 4th FSB stood on the asphalt still marked with lines for Saddams military parades. A chaplain stepped forward and prayed. A Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal for making the ultimate sacrifice were laid on a pair of boots overshadowed by a lone rifle with a Kevlar helmet planted on top. At a podium, commanders and friends struggled to find words that vocabularies failed to adequately provide. Soldiers stood at attention. Private First Class Analaura Esparza-Gutierrez name rang out for roll call. She did not answer. Taps resonated in mournful tones. Tears rolled down faces as they remembered her life.
Forty-eight hours later, I was back in Tikrit. The situation had become more intense. Our successful raiding on the members of Saddams supporting cast would have to be put on hold so we could deal with trigger pullers. The roadside bombs were taking their toll. In our area, the soldiers conducted mounted patrols and sweeps. These were directed patrols for the most part. The feeling was that the patrols should be armored to lessen the effects of the bombs. I did not agree. While it is true that the effects of the bombs would be lessened, so would our ability to see the bombs on the roads and respond. Soldiers on the ground and wheeled patrols in open vehicles have the best chance of spotting bombs. Additionally, there were demonstrations starting to develop in several cities in Iraq. Quick responses by our men on October 3rd prevented a demonstration from taking hold and it was rapidly dispersed. My plan now was to prevent them from ever forming. Having been surrounded with 15 other soldiers by a crowd of 5000 people before in the summer of 1999, I was determined not to have that happen again.
On October 9th and 10th we received intelligence about planned demonstrations. I ordered our forces to flood the suspected area with soldiers, tanks and Infantry vehicles. It worked. Meanwhile, our scouts silently observed a suspected bombers house in a suburb to the north. In the evening, this outpost repositioned and received fire from a distance. Staff Sergeant Shoffners group was not hit, returned fire and continued its mission. We then raided several houses in downtown Tikrit tied to bomb makers and bomb layers. Four thugs were captured.
The next night our training compound for the Iraqi Civil Defense Forces received several mortar rounds. A few crashed the main building but caused no appreciable damage. Saddest loss was the hot water heater that fed the building. C Company, the Iraqi soldiers under our command, and our scouts immediately set out in pursuit. They found and captured three individuals attempting to leave the area from where the strike was launched.
October 12th dawned with the promise of sweltering heat. Staff Sergeant Charles Darrah of our Psyops team left our compound and made it about 500 meters before a tree on the right side of the road exploded in a downpour of leaves, twigs, concrete and shrapnel. He and one man received slight wounds but another was more serious. He had nasty leg and arm wounds on one side. He was later evacuated and is recovering well. Another bomb was sighted at the gas station in our northern suburb. An Iraqi fingered two men plotting their evil plans. We found one and captured him. The bomb attack was averted.
Further north, the Bears of B Company patrolled an area on the outskirts of Bayji known by our soldiers as the projects. The day before they received a cool reception that turned colder when locals began to throw rocks and shake fists. They decided to return to this troubled spot again. 1st Platoon Bradleys, led by a tank commanded by 2LT Erik Aadland from B Company, 3-66 Armor, rattled up a trail connecting to a hardball road. The lead Bradley followed the tank closely and off to the right. The trail Bradley followed to the left. Suddenly the vehicle erupted. Smoke and flame shot through the driver and engine compartment. SSG Donald Smiths night vision goggles tethered around his neck disappeared in the blast. The gunner was wounded above his right eye but otherwise OK.
The vehicle abruptly stopped. The soldiers scrambled out of the crew compartment hatch. SSG Smith took account of his men and the other Bradley reported that B14 had struck a mine. The men pulled the driver out, who was in critical condition. Pulling security, they called for the medevac helicopter on which they eventually loaded him. He was rushed by Blackhawk to the field hospital.
Recovery assets drove forward and towed the vehicle back to 3-66 Armors compound. As they were doing so, the sparks from grinding metal of blown off road arms appeared to ignite the fuel in the vehicle. The Bradley began to burn and then its ammunition cooked off. The vehicle was a total loss. The driver never made it either. Another Regular dies. We received the news shortly thereafter and felt at once both angry and sad.
We continued our operations in Tikrit the next day, conducting our bomb sweeps along the main roads and those that connect them. C Company had primary responsibility of the built up area of the city. In the afternoon, 1st Platoon patrolled with Bradleys and Infantry in the part of the city we call the chevron because on the map, it makes a pointed shape at the northern third of the city. 1LT Jason Price was leading a two-vehicle section along the street parallel to the mosque with the soccer field. They turned right, heading east toward Highway 1 and the Lucky Panda ice cream shop continuing to look for bombs along the curbs.
SSG Bordes in the trail Bradley had his turret turned to the rear to provide 360-degree security. He looked forward as the vehicle travels while his gunner, standing up to provide additional eyes for the bomb threat, looked toward the rear. A short distance after they made the turn, SSG Bordes blacked out. He came to in a daze, realizing something was wrong. He saw his driver was OK after talking to him and could see his gunner standing next to him. He stood back up to make sure he was OK as well and noticed that he was laying back against the hatch, his helmet gone. The shoe-box sized Integrated Site Unit (ISU) in front of him was blown apart and pushed against him as well. SSG Michael Bordes called for a medivac and attempted to render what aid he could. No aid could be rendered. His gunner slumped into the turret, already dead.
1LT Price called the medivac and his crews did what they could while also pulling security. The vehicle was hit by an RPG, which penetrated the ISU. We determined that two men had fired a volley of RPGs from a blind corner in the built up housing area. As the gunner was the one looking to the rear, he was the only one that could have see where the shot came from that killed him. CPT Brad Boyd arrived at the scene and they cleared the area looking for the attackers. 1SG Michael Evans, SSG Felipe Madrid and SSG Bordes eased the gunner out of the turret and onto a stretcher. CPT Jason Deel with the civil defense troops took him to our battalion aid station.
I received the news coming out of a meeting with local officials and rushed to the scene. There was nothing I could do. The Bradley was not damaged except for its sight and 1st Platoon took it back to the companys compound. I called for a fire truck to wash down the streets. I wanted no visible traces of anything for the enemy to gloat over. We took our losses and cracked down on the city looking for the perpetrators. Locals provided some useful information and a manhunt netted partial results over the next couple of days.
The soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry and some from 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor gathered at Saddams Birthday Palace on the 15th. The Bears of B Company and Cobras of C Company stood on that same asphalt used for Saddams military parades. A chaplain stepped forward and prayed. Purple Hearts and Bronze Star Medals for making the ultimate sacrifice were laid on pairs of boots overshadowed by lone rifles with Kevlar helmets planted on top. At a podium, commanders and friends struggled to find words that vocabularies failed to adequately provide. Soldiers stood at attention. Specialist James Edward Powells name rang out for roll call in B Company. He did not answer. Neither did Specialist Donald Laverne Wheeler, Jr. of C Company. Taps resonated in mournful tones. Tears rolled down faces as we remembered their lives. Rifle shots cracked in three sharp volleys, interrupting these reflectionsa startling reminder of the price of our freedom.
RAIDS AND ROTOR BLADES
Two sisters played in front of their house on the 16th of October near one of the city laundry shops in Tikrit. Two women and a man walked along the street about mid-morning. One of the ladies carried a black plastic sack, the kind that is so common among all of the shops and food stands. They conversed a bit and then walked away. The seven-year-old sister noticed that the lady forgot her sack on the road. She and her 12-year-old sister went over to pick up the bag and carry it to the lady who forgot it. The seven year old made it only a few steps when she was ripped apart by a powerful blast. Her sister was mangled and blinded. She could not walk. She struggled to pull herself to her house, leaving bloody handprints on the concrete and the gate where she lived. The gutless attackers blended into the daily bustle of the city.
Our soldiers arrived very quickly. The locals were frantic. The parents of the girls wailed in horror and disbelief not knowing what to do. We, the evil Americans, helped an innocent Iraqi girl with life saving aid. The men evacuated her to the hospital. She survived but is blind now. If only the images of this morning that the men now have imprinted in their minds could be blinded as well. Her sister could only be buried. When such evil prevails, there can be little doubt why we are here.
LTG Tom Metz, commander of III Corps paid us a visit on the 17th along with many of the old friends I used to work with at Ft. Hood on the Corps staff last year. We briefed him on our operations and he thanked us for our efforts here, as our division falls under his command at Ft. Hood. It was good to see some familiar faces. MAJ Tim Karcher also was among the group. Our paths have continued to cross since Tim was a lieutenant. The next several days were fairly calm. We had found more roadside bombs but rendered them harmlessusually by shooting them. We were also able to capture more 60mm mortar ammunition and some RPGs, along with another fine citizen of Owja, Saddams birthplace.
The evening of the 20th, more mortars fell near our C Company, 3-66 Armors compound. The Cougars had several of these indirect fire attacks. This one was slightly more accurate. The soldier manning the .50 caliber machine gun on top of a storage building at the front gate felt the concussion of the shells and heard the crack of each round as it came ineach one getting closer. He turned around to head for cover behind some sand bags. As he did, one round landed in the nook between the gate and the building. The shrapnel caught him in the armpit and leg. Fortunately, his body armor prevented serious injury. He recovered well and has returned to duty.
Intelligence reports had indicated that several of these indirect fire attacks were organized in a farm village north of the old Republican Guard Military complex. The complex was rife with weapons and many made there way into private hands when the army collapsed. We also believed they had connections to Saddams supporting cast of thugs that harbor him or at a minimum supported his efforts. We raided a series of houses on the 22nd and turned up explosives, grenades, an RPG, a heavy machine gun and other items. While not the mortarmen, they certainly were set upon doing harm. Now they are doing time.
The night of the 23rd, the mortar attackers returned to the Cougars. This time, the Cougars were ready. Seeing the flash of the weapon in the far distance, they engaged a car with two men that had placed the tube in the trunk to make their escape. The car fled at high speed. Amazingly, it continued to flee even after several hundred machine gun bullets hit it fired from one of our tanks. We learned later that one of the occupants had been killed. It could not have happened to a nicer guy.
I decided to join the observation posts the next night in the northern suburb where the Cougars operate. We set up an independent outpost to add to the effort rather than complicate it. My men and I infiltrated a nearly completed house that overlooked the highway. As we took our assault ladder and balanced the bottom rung on a wall to get to a balcony on the third story of the building, I privately wished I was twenty like the men around me. I made it fine and we set up the observation post without incident. A family next door conducted their evening routine, oblivious to our presence. While watching the highway and residential area around it, I thought how tough it must be to raise a family here. But then what else have these people ever known? We saw unusual characters and traffic until the curfew took effect and made notes on this. The night proved quiet, no doubt due to the machine gun marksmanship of our tank company. We left in the early morning darkness.
On October 25th, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz visited our battalion. He was interested in the success we were having with our Iraqi Civil Defense training. He spent quite a while with us and was very much at ease. He spoke freely with our troops and did not distance himself as so many do. He was impressed with our training. We were already feeling the result of the great work the Iraqi soldiers were doing augmenting security in the city.
There were other visitors that day. Rotor blades clipped through the air about 300 feet off the deck. A pair of Blackhawk helicopters not from our division came cruising down the Tigris River mid-afternoon carrying officers visiting their troops. The soldiers on the lead helicopter heard a crack. Flames immediately mixed with smoke on the blades. The helicopter started to free-fall. Only several hundred feet off the ground to begin with, the pilots pointed it as best they could to a field. They simply reacted. The aircraft was unresponsive and burning fast. They managed to land it roughly somehow. The soldiers ran from the blazing craft. The trail helicopter watched in shock at the scene before them and swooped around to pick up the survivorswhich was miraculously everyone on board.
Only 2500 meters to the south, our soldiers saw the aircraft go down from our headquarters. We immediately raced across the river to the craftnow a burning mass of aluminum. CPT Stouffer and CPT Boyd were both in the area with their command convoys and headed there as well. The other aircraft lifted off with all passengers safe as we approached the scene. I told Brad Boyd to take his soldiers north of the crash site and try to find the possible attackers. Mark Stouffer linked up with the battalion quick reaction force that was from his unit and cordoned the eastern road bisecting the farmland. The chopper was fully gutted by this time, about 15 minutes after the crash. I ordered the command post to call the local fire department to come and put out the flames.
We found some evidence that an RPG probably knocked down the helicopter but it was hard to be sure. It might have been a surface to air missile as well. Colonel Hickey brought the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop over to secure the sight and we searched about 100 vehicles along the road into the villages. We found nothingalthough informant tips a couple of weeks later led us to some of those responsible. We recovered the wreckage from the farm field and brought it to the 4th Aviation Brigades airfield, once again firm in our dictum that no Iraqi will ever dance on our equipment in our area of responsibility. The helicopters were from the 101st Airborne Division and were flying around special visitors. Though rattled, they were unharmed.
By the 26th of October we had gathered enough information from informants about a troubling little village on the bluffs of the Tigris at the northern end of the old Republican Guard Military Complex. We conducted a raid with special operations soldiers and grabbed several key individuals that proved to invaluable to our later raids on Saddams circle of friends. We found large caches of ammunition in the farm fields nearby, to include rocketsfast becoming a favorite for long-range but insignificant attacks on airfields and outlaying compounds. The city of Tikrit itself started to become a little more civil. We still had the roadside bombs and the sporadic mortar fire but few individuals willing to go toe to toe with us anymore. The effectiveness of our patrols, ambushes, observation posts and raids continued to improve our security.
We received an unusual visitor on the 26th whose stamina for a 90-year-old man amazed me. Robin Mooreauthor of The Green Berets and The French Connectionpaid us a visit to gather interviews and information on a new book he was writing. It was quite a treat to meet and listen to him. Our normal embedded press also continued to report the work of our great soldiers. We have learned a tremendous amount about how the press operates since we have been here. They are largely very professional, are not afraid of risks, and they file accurate stories for the most part. Even in cases when they are not accurate, it is more a function of inaccurate things given to them rather than speculation on their part. We have also learned that the editors of their news organizations may never pick up the many good things that they file. A sense of frustration develops even among them when a story they worked gets bumped for the splash headline of Another Soldier killed in Iraq Today. They acknowledge that the public has the right to be informed of our casualties, but the reporters on the ground also concede that it does not convey the true picture when that is all that gets reported. Our raids continued to be covered well but the impacts of them would only be appreciated later.
The evening of October 28th was a sad one. Our intelligence officer, CPT Tim Morrow was wounded by gunfire while on a patrol in the city focused on leaflet distribution. Fortunately, he is a tough man and we were able to get him to the aid station for life-saving procedures for a gunshot wound through the upper chest. He is now recovering well and is very near being returned to duty with us at this writing. His knowledge of our area and the enemy was hard to replace but we are thankful he is going to recover. CPT Clay Bell has since joined the Regulars to pick up where he left off and is doing a superb job.
As Halloween approached we were nearly ready to implement a plan we had worked on for some time. Prior to my emergency leave, I told my staff I wanted to solve the problem with OwjaSaddam Husseins birthplace. This town of about 3500 people continued to be a thorn in the side. Every time we broke up a former regime cell or captured a funder or planner, they all seemed to have ties to this town. Ultimately, we hoped they would still have ties to Saddam. I thought through the problem of how to keep the insurgents from swimming in the population at large, finding safe harbor to plot their evil deeds. I wanted to scoop up the insurgents into a fishbowl to view them better. I remembered studying Napoleons actions with a census in the Rhineland to root out insurgents and took note of techniques used by the French in Algeria. While not the same, there were certainly aspects of those operations that we could use for ourselves.
I told my staff I wanted to fence the entire town and conduct a census. They wondered if I had somehow lost my mind. But without a complete cordon, only the fairly honest people would show up. If the town was locked down, then the only way they could get out was to register. It was a monumental undertaking but one I felt we could do and still carry out our other missions. The benefits would be several: if the criminal elements stayed, their movements would be known; if they left, they would have to give up their operational support base and would be much more visible and vulnerable to being fingered living in their mud huts on their farms; and if they stayed and changed their ways, that would still have desired affects.
We began the effort at midnight on the 30th. I went to the tribal head sheik in the village and informed him of our actions and what would be required: All males over the age of 15 must be registered and receive a pass to enter or to leave the town. To get the badge, they had to report to the police station and fill out the information form. Once badged, they could come and go as before but were subject to search at a single entry point into and out of town. All other exits would be closed off. He was shocked but complied fully.
By morning, rolls of concertina could be seen scattered along the bordering streets like tossed rings. Soldiers unraveled the wire. The scratch of the serrated steel wire on the concrete signaled the end to normal life in Owja. Soon the scratch gave way to pounding sledges for the reinforcing pickets. We buttressed the effort with about 50 Iraqi men from the local rent-a-worker group in town, complete with a paid contractor. Simultaneously, the intelligence and signal staff readied the computer and camera databases to begin the issuing of badges. Scores of Iraqi men showed up at the police station by 9:00 oclock in the morning. They waited for their badge and once in hand, were allowed to exit the one remaining open avenue leading to Highway 1. By November 3rd, we had badged 1200 Owjite males.
The operation amazed not only the Owjites but the international press as well. They all seemed to be fascinated at the audacity of the move. Many drew comparisons to Gaza or Jerusalem but in reality, it never entered our minds. Nor was it a fair comparison. For one, we had an entire rifle company inside the wire with them. Second, we were not trying to separate one culture from another. Third, the town was not sealed but controlledthey could still come and go provided they had their identification. We did prevent the departure of about three-dozen individuals and informed the sheik and tribal town elders that we would question them at a later timewhich we did.
The impacts of the fencing of Owja have been outstanding. We have disrupted the enemys command and control structure. If he fled, we were able to spot him in the villages. If he stayed, we could monitor his movements. The result had been that over the next several weeks we began to get intelligence and people we had been looking for since June and July. A momentum and sense of excitement restored our belief that we could knock the supports out of Saddams protective circle. While we did not know the extent that the cordon would have on the terrorist infrastructure or Saddam, we knew it had to have some kind of impact.
On October 31st C Company found another roadside bomb. They dismantled it before it could be used. Later that evening, several thugs in the northern suburbs fired a 60mm mortar toward the Cougars compound. Nothing was hit but our snipers observed the muzzle flash and were able to acquire the enemy at long range. They managed to get off enough rounds to wound two of the individuals. Meanwhile in a village toward the far north of our sector, our reconnaissance platoon observed several men fire AK-47s in the air. Cougar closed with the house and engaged the rooftops with small arms. Meanwhile, supporting Apache helicopters on patrol joined in and lit up the house with 30mm cannon. It turned out that several off-duty police that were smoking hash and having a jolly time. They dove into a basement and were found there by our soldiers when we cleared it. It is a miracle they were not killed.
November finally clicked by on the calendar. It opened with a combination of raids that netted some important cell leadership and also with patrols that intercepted several roadside bombs. We began to see many varieties of explosive devices. Doorbell switches became a favorite, followed by keyless locks, toy cars and in one case a pressure switch. Our sweeps continued to net the majority of them before they could be detonated.
In Owja, the enemy attempted harassing fire and mortar cheap shotsboth without effect. Our men returned fire and an elusive hide and seek game developed. In the city proper, a black Opel or Toyota sped by and lobbed an RPG at a C Company patrol. The men returned fire but as they did, a large Mercedes truck inadvertently pulls into the line of fire and the attackers escaped down a back alley. Other patrols netted eight mortars with some ammunition while the scouts raided the northern suburbs againand pulled the last of a set of brothers we had been pursuing for some time.
By the 4th of November the Owjites seemed resigned to their new fenced routine. I met with the tribal sheik and the town elders. We had a series of frank and honest discussions about the need for the Bayjat tribe to reconcile with the rest of Iraq. They were concerned about this because they felt that without some reconciliation, they could have no future. They would be forced to fight or die. I told them that one would surely lead to the other and that the reconciliation should be pursued. I took it up as a topic with the Monday morning sheik council meeting and it provided for some lively discussion. They admitted it was needed but they would not welcome them back simply because they said, Im sorry. They asserted that this was not their way. Reconciliation had to come from blood compensation. As I listened to all these men weave their tribal and feudalistic discussions, I was so thankful that I was an American.
That evening, the discussions did not seem to deter a band of thugs who engaged the Gators of A Company. Firing from the vicinity from an old air defense bunker, the cutthroats launched an RPG at one of our patrols. They also followed it with rifle fire. Undaunted, the Gators gave back in spades. The thump thump thump of a Bradley chain gun preceded the crack crack crack of 25mm shells impacting the bunker. The soldiers cordoned the area but the thugs were able to beat a retreat from a defiladed position before the cordon was set.
The next night, this cat and mouse game continued in Owja. Our soldiers remained alert as usual. Suddenly the power cut out and the village became black. This preceded a clattering of small arms fire fired wildly but apparently within the wired village. The soldiers searched the town but the attackers blended into the village population. The next day, CPT Stouffer shut the only gate into and out of town. The attackers were not found.
November 6th did net one attacker though. On the Chevron in the northwest part of the city, a C Company ambush observed a man setting up what appeared to be a roadside bomb. He began by tying wire to a lamppost and then proceeded to run it to a location across the road. He did not accomplish this immediately. Each time he saw military vehicles in the distance he would back off and then sit passively on the side of the road to appear as one of so many Iraqi men who squat on the side of the road. Watching the pattern, the Cobras clearly viewed his activities and confirmed he was emplacing a roadside bomb. What followed next was a given. The soldiers placed him in their sites. Rifles popped into action and the man dropped on top of his own device. Another Fedayeen dies.
November 7th dawned with somewhat cooler weather but by mid-morning became a very pleasant day. GEN John Abizaid arrived to receive another update from the leadership of the 4th Infantry Division. He and MG Odierno came to the 1st Brigade at about 9:00 a.m. and all the battalion commanders met with him and our commander, COL Jim Hickey. I had served with GEN Abizaid before in Kosovo and Germany when he commanded the 1st Infantry Division. The update went well and we had very open and frank discussions with him about the best ways we gathered intelligence. He was very open to our observations. He offered that our leads on Saddam were good and that we needed to have the confidence that everyone develops patternsSaddam would be no different. He closed with some guidance to all of us as commanders and where he saw the fight going in the future.
While we were meeting, two Blackhawk helicopters headed south along the Tigris River in Cadaseeah. At about 9:40 a.m. the lead helicopter suddenly burst into flames and nosed toward the river. The aircraft began to break apart even before it hit the ground. Soldiers from C Company, 3-66 Armor of our task force saw the craft in flames and disappear behind the bluffs.
The radio began to crackle. A helicopter was down. It was on fire and crashed near the river on a sandbar island near the bluffs in Cadaseeah. The command post received the report from Cougar 5, 1LT Phil Thompson. SSG McClean and SGT Jago of the Cougars got to the scene very quickly. What they saw was traumatic. They found four soldiersand the partial remains of a fifth. The helicopter scattered along a straight pattern. The lighter the pieces, the less they traveled. The main body of the aircraft tumbled into a ball and burned profusely. 1LT Thompson and CPT Brad Boyd of C Company who heard the radios and arrived shortly thereafter, worked together to do what they could. SGM Cesar Castro had been with the Cobras and followed them as well. The sand bar had bulrushes about 8 to 10 feet high. About quarter of the island was on fire. The flames continued to spread.
I came out of the meeting at about 10:00 a.m. My driver and operations sergeant reported to me the news. We raced north to Cadaseeah. When we arrived, the island was leaping in smoke and flames. Our first task was to get the fire out. Any recovery of remains could not be done without that. From what I could see, I could not imagine any survivors. We drove down to the island. I called for city fire trucks. My convoy and soldiers with 1SG Michael Evans began to stamp out the flames to try to clear the trail that ran down to the island. CPT Jason Deel and the Iraqi Civil Defense soldiers arrived. I employed them on the north end of the island to look for wreckage or remains. Our soldiers focused on the south end that had most of the wreckage.
We contained the flames. CPT Boyd, 1SG Evans, SGM Castro, MAJ Luke and I set out to find any other soldiers. We had accounted for five. We had reports of six. Soon, we discovered the sixth soldier in the body of the aircraft. I will not describe to you what we saw. We recovered the soldiers smoldering dog tags and got a name confirmation. Then we began the grisly work of recovery. As we worked, several leaders arrived from our unit and the other units involved. We told them we would secure the site, recover the remains and the wreckage. By nightfall, we had accomplished all of this. We took the wreckage to the same spot where we took the helicopter from October 25ths crash. It was an exhausting, tragic day. That night, COL Hickey and I determined to shake up the town. This would not stand. The insurgents had to understand that our Army was more than just hummvees.
On the 8th of November we planned to level several areas where the insurgents had found safe harbor. One was at the very site of the crash. A partially built house sat on the bluffs north of where the helicopter had been attacked. Locals reported that spotters had used a cell phone to signal the attackers from there. At curfew, we rolled a tank platoon from Cougar to Cadaseeah. Cobras maneuvered Infantry and Bradleys to a building where we had taken fire from on occasion. The Gators deployed south of Owja toward the bunker where we had several fights before. Within an hour, tank rounds, TOW missiles, AT-4s and machine guns leveled the buildings. US Air Force jets screamed overhead. Bombs sailed across the river at targets designated by COL Hickey. Our mortars and artillery cracked in support.
When morning came, the locals were terrified. They told us they had not been this frightened since April. Good, I thought. Tell that to your Fedayeen supporting, Saddam-loving neighbors. Dont they realize we have the might and resolve of the United States of America at our disposal? Dont they understand that burned in our memories is the investment broker making the best of two horrifying choices as he leapt from the World Trade Center Towers? More importantly, these terrorists were clearly evil. If we could remove them, the innocent Iraqis who had suffered for so long would be better off and could get on with their lives.
Capitalizing on the momentum, we rolled our vehicles into the city. We brought in tanks, Bradleys, and about 300 Infantry. We did it at the height of the business day. In Cadaseeah, two individuals belonging to one of Saddams controlling families had a plan of their own. They transported a powerful bomb in a small taxi, intent on some sinister plot. What they had not counted on was the bump they hit on the way out that somehow (providentially I believe) connected the electrical circuit to the blasting cap. The taxi immediately became a flaming convertible. Eventually the vehicle smoldered out, still occupied by two evil men frozen in their charred poses. Psalm 64 came to mind.
That night we blasted at previous insurgent mortar locations with our own. One had a cache in it and we saw a secondary explosion when our rounds hit it. In the days that followed, the town became subdued and quiet. We resumed our patrols. Our informant network grew. People began to cooperate whereas before, they would not. Whatever the correlation, one thing is for certainwe were making progress. We would not win the people of Tikrit over. They generally hate us. We are kind and compassionate to those that work with us but most detest us here as a general rule. But they do respect power. Some have questioned our forcefulness but we will not win them over by handing out lollipopsnot in Tikrit. Too many of my bloodied men bear witness to this. They are the Beer Hall crowd of Munich in 1945. They cant believe it is all gone.
DRAINING THE SWAMP
Reporters had asked me many times about the status of the hunt for Saddam. I told them he was still a priority but that we would accomplish our other missions whether we caught him or not. Frequently they would ask whether or not I thought he was in the area. I told them I believed he surely could be because his support base was clearly in Tikrit. But rarely would we get an Elvis sighting that was timely. Usually it would be third or fifth-hand information and almost always, He was here four days ago. Thanks buddy. That helps.
We were however starting to gather momentum. We knew the four controlling families that we believed surrounded Saddam. The problem was how to get them and once we got them, how to get the big guy. We had some incredible good fortune with a series of raids. The 720th Military Police under LTC Dave Poirier snagged a key member of a set of brothers we had been pursuing all summer. He was not the major player but we believed he would lead to his other brothers who were major players. We were right.
In the early part of November, this brother began to sing. He gave us key information about his older brothers. One thing led to another. Soon, special operations forces found the key brother we had been seeking since late June. No Iraqi knew it at the time. They found him in a sparse, mud-brick farm well west of Tikrit. When they got him, he dropped his head in resignation. His war was now over as well.
We were once again on the trail. We had been broadly around it in September and October but the increase of trigger pulling activity among the enemy necessitated our division of labor between the thugs pulling triggers and the thug bosses. Now we had a clear blood trail on the inner circle and an excitement began to build. If we could break the inner circle, we felt it would come down fast. It did. On the 13th of November, we conducted raids with some other forces in Tikrit. Four more men were pulled from the swamp. While lesser players, they were related to some recent attacks and also had some key information.
The locals seemed to reach a peak in discontentnot that they ever loved us. We had oft been criticized in our efforts to win hearts and minds. But how can you win a black heart and a closed mind? The people we were dealing with could not be swayed. Handing out lollipops meant nothing to them. They understood power and respected that. Anything else would be a chance to strike back at us. November continued to have numerous roadside bomb attacks but providentially, we had been spared casualties. Even so, we came back at them with a powerful display of our weaponry. On the 17th of November, our battalion rolled tanks, Bradleys, Infantry, scouts, and civil defense Iraqi soldiers into town. I wanted to remind them that our Army was more than just hummvees. We had teeth and claws and would use them.
Our teeth and claws sunk into more dark hearts on the 19th with a very successful raid combined with other forces. They took two targets and we took two. The raid resulted in some key figures capturedsome related to the attacks on our helicopters. The potential for more information would surely produce more raids. The swamp began to drain. An image of the alligator began to appear below the surface.
While developing more information, we continued an indirect war with the trigger pulling thugs. Mortars impacted Owja, narrowly missing the A Company Gators. An SS-30 rocket missed the Cobras as it fell short, making a bomb-sized crater in town and blowing gates off of walled compounds and destroying a car. The 10th Cavalry found the launch area on their side of the river and engaged several individuals, killing five. They were from Falluja.
Indirect attacks were not the only threat. The roadside bombs continued to be the favorite. On the 24th of November, CPT Jon Cecalupo who commands our Cougars of C Company 3-66 Armor was leaving the battalion command post when he made a right turn onto Highway 1. As he did, a powerful blast showered the convoy. But for some reason, the effects were small. The bomb, detonated by a wireless doorbell, had been placed in the opposite lanes. Consequently, the blast blew away from him instead of on him. We were thankful. We did not need another commander to face what CPT Curt Kuetemeyer faced in his command convoy.
A while later, I took my own convoy over to where the attack had occurred. What we found was the result of a clean-burning bomb, probably C-4 explosives. We talked to the local shop owner, who was well-liquored. I could tell he was not involved because his own later model BMW was peppered with concrete shrapnelmaking him innocent or completely stupid. Both seemed likely. But we were satisfied that they did not know who had executed the attack.
With our convoy that night were a couple of visiting reportersone from the Pittsburg Tribune and the other from NBC news. We discussed the incident briefly and as we did, one of my soldiers, SPC Mike Bressette, said, Sir, we are standing next to a bomb. I looked at my feet to discover a cinder block capped with cement on the holes. Protruding from the holes were red, pig-tailed wires connecting the two halves for sympathetic detonation. A sense of mortality immediately washed over me as I said, walking backwards, Yes we are!
We backed off and set a cordon. SFC Gil Nail, my operations sergeant that travels in my convoy, set up at what we figured was a safe distance and shot one round of tracer into he device. Immediately it began to burn. Soon, a white-hot jet shot up from the block as if it were a magnesium flare. Suddenly, we heard a medium-sized popthe blasting cap. Thinking it would continue to burn after the blasting cap failed, we continued to keep the area clear and waited while it burned. Suddenly a violent explosion ripped the night air. Laughter and banter ensued as a shower of shrapnel and sparks flew over us and provided a nice light show for the evening. I think its burned out now, sir, our men asserted. The reporters watched us in amazement and Kevin Sites from NBC caught it all on film. We resumed our evening patrol.
As the Muslim holiday of Ramadan approached at the end of November, leaders throughout Iraq urged a lifting of curfews in the cities on the condition that no violence would occur or they would be reinstated. Our good will lasted about 5 minutes. Shortly after what would have been curfew, automatic weapons fire erupted near the division main gate. No one was hurt and we were never able to determine from the unit there what had happened. On the 25th, we found more roadside bombs. A big one had an 82mm mortar round with plastic explosives packed around it. They set it in the median of the main highway down town. We found it and shot it without incident. Also that evening, some thugs fired an RPG that went skipping down the front road near one of our towers. It failed to explode and no one was harmed.
The next several days were calm. We used the lull to continue our swamp draining by refining some of our intelligence with observation and human sources. In the meantime, we also began to find evidence of weapons caches being brought in for future use. On the 28th we found another SA-7 anti-aircraft missile as well as 35 boxes of mortar fuses. We swept the same locations the next day and found over 500 120mm mortar rounds still in the boxes. All of these munitions were hidden in the city trash dump on the west side of Tikrit.
December arrived with the gentle rains that no matter how hard they tried, failed to wash away the dust and filth of this land. The nastier weather also made for a reduction in attacks on our forces but they did not cease. A roadside bomb on the main street in down town Tikrit heralded the 1st of December. An alert but unarmed security guard watched as a man pulled up in a sedan and waddled to the median carrying a heavy 5-liter vegetable tin. The car sped off and the man ran into a back alley. The guard called the police who in turn called our forces. They flagged down CPT Brad Boyd of C Company while out on patrol. His men shot up the bomb that exploded powerfully in the center of town. No one was harmed and no major damage was done except to the brickwork on the median.
By December 2nd, information continued to flow. A hot tip produced some HOT Missilesmissiles manufactured jointly by the French and Germans. They are wire-guided and are similar to our TOW missiles. The cache contained 20 of these and was a relief. Then, the next night we conducted a joint raid in downtown Tikrit. The inner circle network of brothers protecting Saddam was further exposed. Our raid captured another of these brothers. Three down. More information would follow. Scales, eyeballs, snout and tail began to break the surface of the murky waters.
As the swamp continued to abate, there was no shortage of unusual happenings. CPT Mitch Carlisle, one of our battle captains in the command post, summed it best, Every day in Iraq is the strangest day of my life. The 4th of December was no different. We received a call that a soldiers mother was at the division gate with an anti-war group and a number of reporters. The soldier was from one of the divisional support units. We were instructed to ignore it. As they were not demonstrating, we did. I began to visualize a weird and imagined exchange in my mind. M-o-m, could you please go home? You are embarrassing me in front of my friends! I never cease to be amazed at human interaction.
The next several days produced positive result all around. A couple of raids disrupted enemy activity in Owja, Tikrit and Cadaseeah. We continued to find roadside bombs and disarm or detonate them. In the midst of this, we gave pause on the 6th of December to light a Christmas tree in our headquarters. We sang carols and had a generally good time. We ended by singing Feliz Navidad since nearly half of our battalion is Hispanic.
We had another breakthrough on the trigger pullers on the 8th of December. We raided four targets in Cadaseeah that netted eight thugs and explosive making materials, to include several radio-controlled cars. The next day we sucked more water from the swamp. An important tip netted a man long associated with Saddam as the Gators of A Company raided a remote western desert farmhouse. Simultaneously, special operations forces pulled his brother out of a city to the south. These two men provided additional information to add to the steady stream already flowing from the swamp.
As their intelligence was analyzed, we did not sit idle. We found an important link to mid-level guys and ran it down very quickly. The evening of the 10th ended with two brothers and a variety of nasty weapons. At the time I described it as a Fedayeen Candy Shop. Any type of attack could have been planned with the variety of weapons found buried in the front yard of a filthy house on the outskirts of Tikrit. We captured roadside bombs, Pepsi can bombs, RPG launchers with rockets, two different and complete mortar systems (one in the outhouse!), small arms, ammunition, grenades, explosives and radio-controlled devices for bombs. The upshot of it all was that the occupants denied all knowledge of the find. They said that the Army must have put it there. Oh, we did not think of that! Of course, our own Army issues the Mark 1 Pepsi Bomb. And I would never have seen the mortar system in my own outhouse. What disgusting and evil people. Their war is now over.
On December 11th the Gators raided a farm based on a tip of a Fedayeen meeting. They captured six men along with small arms, grenades and ammunition. One case of submachine gun ammunition was actually under the bedding of a baby cribcomplete with baby! They left the baby but took the ammunition and the nice PPSH-41 Russian submachine gun to which it belonged. It was dated 1943 and was in museum-quality condition. It now hangs on our wall with other nice finds.
The next day our soldiers discovered another roadside bomb and blew it up with gunfire. Meanwhile, special operations forces pulled the information of the last couple of weeks from our joint raids and got a jackpotthe inner circle brother we had been tracking all summer. Four down. We began to see the alligator. COL Hickey and others broke the good news to us that evening. The excitement continued to build. That evening, C Companys Cobras were on patrol in down town Tikrit. Two thugs in a black late model Toyota sedan with right hand drive dashed down the street on which the men were patrolling. The passenger hung an AK-47 out the window on the left side of the car and fired a burst at the squad. SGT Trujillo brought his rifle into action almost immediately. He fired four rounds at the moving car. All four rounds hit the man with the AK-47 in the head.
The driver, seeing his cousins head explode, decided to immediately stop and put up his hands. That the soldiers did not kill him before he did is a testament to the discipline of the men. They showed him quarter but the thug certainly had no doubt about who came out on top as he was shoved to the pavement and subdued. The men pulled the attacker from the vehicle. His bleeding body collapsed into the street. The men checked him for wounds but all were in the head. There was nothing that could be done. His faint breathing quickly ceased. An idiot dies. His warand that of his cousinwas now over.
The morning of the 13th I received a phone call from my commander. I listened as COL Hickey explained the snowball of information now gathering. He told me to alert my soldiers for any contingency and to have a force ready at a moments notice. He planned to use us and the brigade reconnaissance troop, which he would bring down from the western desert. We were going after the alligator.
We had been through the drill many times before. Des Bailey and I had worked together on many a raid in the farmlands east, across the Tigris. Each time an excitement builds because each time could be the catch. Not two days before I had told the press that there was an intensity and excitement about Saddam comparable to our operations in July and August during the well publicized hunt for him. Sensing my honesty about the matter though no facts were conveyed, several decided to hang around Tikrit despite the urging of their editors. They were not sorry they did.
COL Hickey told me that we could expect something in west Tikritthats about what he knew as to the locale. As soon as he had better information, we would act swiftly. By late afternoon the information came. But the location had changed from west Tikrit to east Tikrit and across the Tigris River. We kept a ready force on our side and opposite Ad Dawr. COL Hickey proceeded to assemble the forces on the east side for the operation. Special operations forces and brigade elements that included LTC Reggie Allens 1-10 Cavalry, LTC Dom Pompelias 4-42 Field Artillery with attached engineers (Dom was still on leave and so his exec, MAJ Steve Pitt, would command the artillery soldiers), and CPT Des Baileys G Troop, 10th Cavalry readied for the operation commencing at 2000 hours.
Our brigade elements provided the cordon while the special operations folks hit two farmhouses. In the courtyard of one was the now famous hole from which a haggard Saddam Hussein was pulled. The special ops soldiers pulled him away and then whisked him off to safety. COL Hickey ordered the site to be secured for future exploitation. He called MG Ray Odierno and gave him the good news. While I suspected as much because of the orders we were receiving on the radio, it was not until about 2230 that COL Hickey phoned and broke the good news. Sid Ceaser! he said (in the summer time frame, the higher command published what if pictures of Saddam if he tried to change his appearance. COL Hickey often joked that one of them looked liked Sid Ceasar).
Oh my God! I said as I thanked God silently while the boss explained what happened.
Not a word, he said. The announcement must be official and it will take some time.
Roger, sir. I understand the importance of it.
Contained, self-composed but about to bust at the seams as I hung up the phone, I kept silent to the men about the news that would change the world. I felt proud and thankful to have been a part of it from the beginning. I could not help but think back to an email that I received from my wife in late October. She said that a man named Dick Dwinnell called her and encouraged her to send me a message. In it, he said that he knew I was a praying man and as a leader one of my missions was to find Hussein. He said that if my staff and I prayed for God to help us find Saddam, He would help us. That next Sunday we did just that. I asked the brigade chaplain, MAJ (CH) Oscar Arauco to lead us. For the next several weeks he continued to lead us until our battalion chaplain, CPT (CH) Tran returned to us from an illness. And now here I was taking it all in on the evening of the 13th of December. Psalm 33:16-22.
The next day, the world was abuzz. Rumors and rumblings finally gave way to confirmations. Then the electrifying announcement came from Baghdad. Now we could finally talk about it. That evening when we patrolled the town, it was quiet as a mosque mouse. The city appeared at 9:30 p.m. the same as if it were 3:00 a.m. In each flop house, apartment and home you could see faces lit palely by the television. The regimes war was now over, too.
We braced ourselves for the activity sure to followespecially in Tikrit. We saw a spike in violence after Saddams spawns were killed in Mosul in July. We didnt have to wait long. While activity was low on the 14th, we did have a couple thugs fire on a C Company patrol south of the Chevron in town. None of our men were injured although the alleyways and distance prevented maintaining contact with the attackers.
A new type of resistance raised its head on the 15th of Decemberdemonstrations. We had experienced a few attempts at them in late September and early October but broke them up as soon as they tried to assemble. This month was no different. I was meeting with the tribal council of sheiks at about 10:00 a.m. and had gotten through the preliminaries when my operations sergeant came and interrupted our meeting. He whispered that there were several hundred students forming at the tip of the Chevron and a separate group on the main street. I closed the meeting with apologies and we mounted up our hummvees and sped in the direction of the demonstrations.
CPT Brad Boyd had already moved to the Chevron to contain about 500 male students. They were marching south along Highway 1 and appeared to be heading toward the second reported group on the main street. CPT Mark Stouffer heard the chatter on the net and readied some of A Company to support. I took the command convoy and sped north along Highway 1 where it turns into the main street. In the distance we could see a group of about 250 people, mostly women. Brad reported that he had forces closing on the northern group. Looking ahead, I called on my guys to ready the bullhorn. I had learned in Kosovo the value of having a bullhorn that doubled as both siren and loudspeaker. We bounced up sidewalks to get nearer the crowd and then flipped on the blaring siren when we were near the back of the crowd.
The picture that followed reminded me of that Blues Brothers scene where they drive the big car into the demonstration on the bridge. Startled women and their flowing black robes scattered in all directions. Cowardly men once at the head of the group suddenly melted into the population at large. Our soldiers grabbed the various Saddam posters and shouted for all of them to clear out or be arrested. Gaining the element of surprise, we bought a bit of time. I called on CPT Stouffer to come to my location to take over traffic control and to keep the main highway open. He was already moving.
Meanwhile, CPT Boyd brought his soldiers around the group and through careful maneuver, herded the group into a dead end. Soon, the scratch of concertina wire could be heard surrounding the trapped troublemakers. His men had already gained moral dominance by heading straight for the angry-faced thug leading the group and then proceeded to subdue himsoundly. Once accomplished, the rest of the crowd scattered but really had no place to go.
After I handed over the down town situation to Mark Stouffer, we headed up to the Cobras. Brad had the situation well in hand and the police chief arrived. We were able to work out the situation and turned over the ringleaders to the police. The remainder were given a reprieve, searched and sent on their way. The groups had one thing in commoneducators in town organized them all. I intended to take this up with the governor on the next day.
That evening we reviewed our procedures for handling crowds. Under Saddam, no demonstrations were allowed. Under the new government, they were not allowed. No matter. We would not allow them period and refused to have our supply routes cut off by demonstrators. When December 16th dawned, we anticipated more of the same. At about 10:00 a.m. we received reports of another demonstration forming north of town. CPT Boyd filled up his convoy, headed toward the reported location and called forward one of his elements. Heading north along the Birthday Palace boulevard, he spotted a white Mercedes near one of the drains along the side of the road. The Mercedes masked the drain and then pulled out at a high rate of speed. Sensing danger, CPT Boyd turned to his driver, SPC Miguel Romero and yelled instructions that were never followed.
A deafening roar combined with concrete, smoke, shards and concussive blast. 1SG Mike Evans in the second of three vehicles, saw a billowing cloud of smoke engulf the view to his company commanders hummvee. The smoke expanded until it reached the other side of the four-lane road. The sound of small arms cracked in the midst. Hoping that the lead vehicle had passed before the bomb detonated, 1SG soon discovered that was not the case. SPC Romero heard his company commander firing at the car. 1SG Evans hummvee pulled up to his commanders vehicle. SSG Patrick McDermott was already at his commanders side checking him. He then told SPC Romero to pull the vehicle out of the area across to the other lanes, which he did.
1SG Evans and the other soldiers laid out a base of fire in support of their commander in the direction of the vehicle but it soon faded into the built up part of the city. The First Sergeant then focused his attention on the soldiers in the lead vehicle. CPT Boyd was OKa little bloody but OK. He had wounds on his face, arm and legs. The doc sitting behind him was pulled out of the truck and assessed as the worst of the three. He had a nasty face wound as well as arm and leg wounds. The gunner on the .50 caliber machine gun took some light shrapnel to the hands, arms and legs. They immediately pulled out the stretchers and called to alert our aid station. The company quick reaction force arrived in five minutes, pulled security and recovered the hummvee.
SPC Brian Serba along with SPC Broz had already stuck IVs, applied bandages and administered 5mg of morphine to CPT Boyd and the doc. 1SG Evans brought the casualties and convoy to the battalion. I received the news from my XO, MAJ Mike Rauhut. I put on my gear and prayed that they would be OK. I asked God to spare them. We had gone seven weeks without a single casualty and now we had three. After getting my gear together, I ran to the aid station as they arrived.
The scene was familiar. We have been through it many times. The soldiers came into the converted kitchen as field medics held IVs steady. The surgeon and physician assistants went on autopilot, making one hundred quick assessments and giving as many orders on what was needed. The medical platoon soldiers seemed to find everything that was asked for and hand it to them.
I walked up to C Companys wounded doc and comforted him in his pain. He lay on the table knowing what to do but now he was the patient. I spoke to him to let them take over to take a deep breath that he would be fine. I caressed his head as I spoke to him, not being able to do anything except comfort him and pray. He was in good hands. As I pulled my hand from his head, I could feel his blood on it. I had been through it before. But it is never easy. I feel responsible for them.
CPT Boyd was just as tough on the stretcher as on the street. My challenge with him was to order him to relax. He was cold. But they had to dress his wounds. I told him that the docs were in charge and to listen to them. We found moments of humor together there in an awkward way the way that only soldiers can understand. It was hard to hold back my emotion but I did. I could tell by their wounds that they were going to be fine. They would be out of the net a bit though. The docs continued to work them over. As they did another doc entered the aid station. He was a Special Forces medic from the guys on our compound. He said nothing. He simply walked in, snapped on some gloves and quietly began to work. I dont think that any of us even knew his name but he was one of usa soldier.
The First Sergeant brought his commander out with the others and they placed them on the ambulance. I ordered Brad to put his head down because he kept trying to raise it and the tight fit and his head didnt go well together as they slid him in the slots on the ambulance. The vehicle sped away to the hospital. Media were nearby the whole time. They were not the enemy. They had been on patrols with us and knew the men on the stretchers. But they did the only thing they knew to do. They began to record it. They did it in a dignified way so as not to show the faces of the men on the stretchers. We did not really notice them at the time.
I called the First Sergeant and told him to assemble the soldiers from the convoy. I explained to them to channel their emotion. I cautioned them to use it to take it to the enemy, but not to see all people as the enemy. We still had a lot of work to do and these men would return. I did not want to lose more. The men seemed fine. They had already accounted for their equipment and readied for the rest of the day. It was not even noon. I readied my command group as well. I had planned to see the governor. We were going to get at the educators behind the senseless demonstrations. As we readied, a report of a gathering demonstration in down town crackled over the net. We sped to the location.
As we arrived, we noticed two of Cobras Bradleys had just pulled up in a herringbone on the northbound lanes in town. The men started spilling out the back and several sergeants began to point to a side street east. Suddenly, a rifle cracked off just as I got out of my vehicle. Then another. On its heels was a good burst from a 240B machine gun. I ran up to the squad and asked what they were shooting at. They said someone in the crowd threw what appeared to be a pipe-like object. Believing it to be a bomb, they fired a burst above the crowd. I told SSG John Minzer to take control of his men. The crowd had already scattered in all directions. Joe Filmore, our translator from San Diego, questioned several of the students nearby. We told them to scatter immediately or be arrested. They wasted no time getting out of there.
We remounted and headed toward the government building. As we passed the shops on the streets, the looks were like daggers. Men spat and narrowed their eyes in sideward glances. Uppity. They were getting uppity. Fine. I would solve this right now. I already had three casualties this day. I did not want anymore. I put out a net call on the battalion for the commanders to assemble at the birthday palace. I told them to bring everything that could roll and all the Infantry they could spare. Then I called Reg Allen over at 1-10 Cavalry and asked for some attack aviation support for 2:00 p.m. I told him I was going to do a heavy-handed patrol of the city and clear the streets. I had known Reg since he was a First Lieutenant. We had gone to the advanced course together. He said I could have anything I needed. He is a good man.
We assembled at the birthday palace with a large force. I opened animagery map on the hood of the hummvee and pulled the lead tanks and plastic soldiers from by butt pack on my gear. We talked through a quick concept and then executed it about 20 minutes later. CPT Jon Cecalupo brought the Cougars tanks down the main street. The Cobras followed behind and did a herringbone with about eight Bradleys down town. The ramps fell and our Infantry ran at the sidewalks, immediately clearing the crowds. Regs aviators swooped overhead at intimidating heights. CPT Mark Stouffer followed with A Companys Gator Infantry and Bradleys as well and then CPT Darryl Carter brought up the Iraqi civil defense troops. The town immediately became calm. We patrolled in this way for the next several hours, looking for trouble. But no one would give it.
As the soldiers swarmed the city, I called for the Psyops truck. We went to the governor and he drafted a tough message to tell his own people. Then he asked if he could go with us to play it around town. I thought it a great idea so he hopped in my hummvee and off we went. He sat behind me with a loaded pistol (my kind go governor) while we drove at idle speed around the city. His bodyguard flanked him and our soldiers watched the shock on the faces that their own governor was telling them to knock it off or his forces would use lethal force and demonstrators would be imprisoned. The wind was out of the sails. Weve not had a demonstration attempt in the last week and a half.
That evening I went to the field hospital to see the guys. Brads gunner was already released back to his unit. He would need some time to recover but could do it from his unit. C Companys doc was moved to Baghdad. He needed some additional care. I found Brad lying on a hospital bed in the inflated tent hospital. He looked pretty good and seemed to be in good spirits. I told him that I was sending CPT Mitch Carlisle to fill in for him until he could be healed. He told me he did not want to be evacuated further. I told him I would do what I could. While we were talking, a chaplain came in and asked in a low tone if I was the commander of 1-22 Infantry. I told him yes. He said we had another casualty.
The patrol from elements of our B Company cross attached to the armor battalion in Bayji moved along a route looking for roadside bombs. The lead vehicle faced its turret forward and the trail vehicle faced the turret to the rear. An RPG swooshed on an arc that connected to the turret of the platoon leaders vehicle. The gunner had been leaning up and was looking for bombs when it hit. The rocket hit the near the TOW launcher and then the gunner took nearly all of the blast. Only God and his body armor saved him. The platoon leader was also wounded but not critically.
When they brought him into the hospital, all I could do was pray. I begged God to spare his life. The chaplain and I prayed over him. I knew he would have a very long haul. I stayed with him until they took him into surgery. Mike Rauhut and I stood there and reflected on a very tough day. We traveled back to the command post and I knew the day was not over yet. I had to make the phone calls. When I arrived, CSM Martinez had the phone ready but was I. I called the wives of our wounded and answered their questions as best I could. I felt it would be best to tell them everything about their loved ones condition. While tough for them to hear, I figured they wanted to know. I knew my wife would. So I tried to be honest with them. I would have rather attacked into the Fedayeen than have had to make those calls. At least this time I was not calling to explain how their soldier died. You never really know what to say.
I slept soundly that night. By dawn we patrolled a mostly passive city. The people smiled and some even waived. It was just as if nothing happened. A sense of disgust returned. That day I went to Auja and met with Sheik Mahmood. We had a good discussion about the Auja, the future of the Tikriti people and the larger issue of how the Sunnis would fit into a new Iraq. After this visit we continued our patrols and then went back to the palace. I gave CPT Chris Morris, our scout platoon leader, a concept for getting the bomber on the Chevron. I told him I wanted him to plan an operation that would set a trap with observation posts and snipers to last about four days.
The night of the 17th only had one roadside bombanother cinder block bomb. Hand drawn on the cement caps was the phrase Allah AchbarAllah is powerful. These are sick people. Anyone wondering about whether or not they hate us should come and fight these thugs. There is no doubt in my mind that they would kill us in our own cities. Instead, we will kill them here.
The next day was calm. The town was actually civil. Chris Morris inserted his scouts for the ambush along the Chevron. The rain fell. The temperature dropped. Haji stayed inside. I guess the man dresses get a little drafty this time of year. We patrolled our area and checked on the guys out in the rain. Their morale remained good. The week before I had talked to several of the units. I got all the enlisted together by company and then the sergeants. It was good to hear what was on their minds. We looked forward to Christmas and I urged the soldiers to stay focused on the mission. Home would be when we set foot there. Not before.
The Cougars patrolled on the 19th in Cadaseeah. They saw a Saddam poster on a shop. The men dismounted their tanks and checked it out. A cursory search of the vegetable shop revealed grenades and plastic explosives mixed with the cucumbers and tomatoes. They might as well have hung a sign that said Idiot lives here. The men searched all the shops in the complex and found another with a garden variety of explosives. As it developed, we sent some Infantry support to them from 1LT Mike Isbells platoon of Cobras and then we ended up arresting two men. We left an observation post on the houses of the shop owners and pulled in two more men over the next two nights. One turned out to be one of the guys that bombed Brads convoy. Psalm 64.
TIDINGS IN TIKRIT
The last few days have been fairly calm. The roadside bombs have ceased for several days now, since the arrest of the individual in Cadaseeah. Weve had sporadic events but nothing out of hand. The morning of the 23rd the 4th Infantry Division had a prayer breakfast. MG Odierno reminded us all that we should be thankful to celebrate it and to remember those who will not be with us this year. Last night we had a wonderful candlelight service at the battalion. LTC (CH) Gil Richardson, the division chaplain, gave the message to our soldiers and we sang many Christmas carols.
Today we spent Christmas in Iraq. While away from family we have their love and prayers. While away from our nation we have their gratitude. While away from home we have the bonds of friendship with fellow soldiers. I am thankful for the birth of Christ and the salvation and hope He brings. I am thankful to command such fine soldiers. I am thankful to be a part of our great division and that we caught Saddam. I am thankful to be an American fighting man.
God bless you all and Merry Christmas.
STEVEN D. RUSSELL LTC, Infantry Commander, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry
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