Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An imperfect world

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. At this very moment, if we had not been extended, we would be convoying down to Kuwait in preparation for coming home. Our time would be spent cleaning vehicles and equipment. The unit replacing us would have been here for a few weeks already, and we would have shown them the ropes of this town. In a perfect world.

Instead, this comes to you on the two month mark of our move to Baqubah. Before we left Baghdad, we were promised one to two months up here, and we would be relieved. So we were extended on our extension. What is it with the military and outright lying? We’re grown ups. We can handle the truth.

For two months now we’ve been going full force. They have us, two companies of infantry, holding the most overtly violent city in Iraq. I don’t have the resources to find out, but there is something in the area of six brigades operating in Baghdad. It’s busting at the seams with soldiers. Whoever that guy is, the guy who sits in a big air conditioned room with a huge map on the table a la Dr. Strangelove, decided to send less than a battalion to a city that hasn’t had American forces walking around in almost a year. Baqubah has been held by a cavalry unit, which means they have no dismounts to clear houses or search for caches, just enough to man their Bradleys and Abrams. And even then, they were two companies strong as well. With that kind of manpower, Al Qaeda paraded through the streets at will. No, really. We captured a home video of a parade with about fifty Al Qaeda members holding their guns out the windows of cars riding down a street. Locals were cheering them on. Oh, those tired and poor, yearning for freedom.

The biggest mistake the government, the military and the American people made was deciding these insurgents were stupid farmers with rusty guns. For months, they have been sitting around a chalkboard doing the math on how big of a bomb it takes to completely destroy an Abrams tank, the biggest vehicle in our arsenal. Then they took the time to go out in the middle of the night, cut holes in the road with concrete saws, and drop several hundred pound bombs in the road. Next comes the concealment of the wire that can be hundreds of meters long, running up light poles up to rooftops connecting to batteries. There, a guy sits waiting and waiting until someone comes along. We have found several of these houses. They have chairs and beds on the roof, and a tea set for when they get thirsty. They’re waiting for an Abrams to roll by a bomb in the road that is practically invisible. But a Stryker rolls up instead. With enough explosives to destroy a fifty ton vehicle, what do you expect to happen when one weighing thirty tons less sits on it? Our sister company found out the other day.

You might have heard about the six soldiers and one Russian reporter that died when their Stryker hit one such bomb. They were on their way to investigate the actual site before it blew. They knew it was there. Beforehand, an Apache helicopter identified several men digging a hole in the road, putting something large in the hole, and running away. The pilot asked for clearance to shoot a Hellfire missile at them. It was the best catch a pilot can hope for: killing Al Qaeda and taking out a bomb at the same time. Once again however, our rules and tactics became a bigger enemy than any terrorist could. They were denied permission to fire repeatedly because of the possibility of collateral damage. In the sagacious words of Hurley from the TV show Lost, we looked in the face of the enemy and said ‘whatever man!’ So a dude on a rooftop watched through a little peephole in the brick wall, waiting for someone to come. They didn’t wait long. Our sister company, the only other one in the city, was sent to investigate the matter. They were ordered down a road that was barred from being driven on in the first place because it was so dangerous. I don’t think I have to go into details about what came next. A whole squad, save the driver, was no more. They didn’t die for Iraqi liberty or American freedom. They died for trial and error. They died because an officer somewhere didn’t want to fill out paperwork because some dude’s car might have been damaged in a missile strike. And if we were in a perfect world, they wouldn’t have died at all, because we wouldn’t be here in this city without an extension.

I talked about the biggest mistake we’ve made. The second was simplifying this conflict into an ‘us and them’ war. It’s really an us and them and them war. In Baghdad, we had our hands full with the 1920 Revolution Brigade, an extremist Sunni group competing with Al Qaeda for control in Iraq. They were the ones responsible for shooting down the Blackwater helicopter and likely the other military choppers that went down at the beginning of the year. Here, Al Qaeda has a presence so strong that 1920 cannot operate. They came to the Iraqi police and swore to stop fighting with coalition forces and to cooperate in finding Al Qaeda members operating in Diyala. One particular dude walked down the street with us, pointing out Al Qaeda members milling around. So now we’re in cahoots with dudes who shot anti-aircraft guns into our building, who executed at least one Blackwater pilot and killed the others. This isn’t an us and them war. It’s like the movie The Warriors, but I can’t dig it. If their plan to uproot Al Qaeda works, we’ll go back to fighting with 1920. At least at that point we won’t be civil war referees.

Recently, a general finally manned up and said we need reinforcements in Diyala. There simply aren’t enough guys to control it. Until now, it has been under Mussolini scrutiny. In Fascist Italy, it was said the trains always ran on time, even when they didn’t. Reports sent up here have said what a great job we’re doing and that our manpower was enough to overtake Baqubah. Those reports cost my friends their lives. The day Chevy died, there were Bradleys in front of him. They waited patiently for a Stryker to pass over triple stacked anti-tank mines to see what it would do to a Stryker. The most sophisticated Army in the history of the planet is getting torn up by fifty cents worth of wire and explosives made in a bathtub. We’re expected to intimidate a group of people who are begging to die as martyrs with laser guided bombs and low flying jets. If you shake a fist at a beehive, they’ll sting you regardless.

Yesterday while I watched over the same street where seven men lost their lives, a kid that lived in the house asked me, “Why you come Iraq?” I told him, because they told me to. I didn’t try to explain I was sent by a group of men who didn’t know what it was like to be stung. But we wouldn't go looking for the hive, in a perfect world.



Unknown said...

We have a long history in this country of sending our soldiers, sailors and airmen to their deaths needlessly. Miscalculations, errors of omission and CYA-ing have killed almost as many as actual combat. It's very hard for me to deal with that your life depends on a daily roll of the dice thrown by someone with an American flag on his shoulder.



Anonymous said...

God Alex, you are such a beautiful writer. All of this frightens me a great deal, but nothing compared to what you must be feeling. I miss you.


Dannyboy said...

I'd love to get in touch with you about your experience. I'm part of 3rd ID and I leave for Iraq in September. I'll be involuntarily extended for about 7 months, if I do a 15 month deployment. Have you found any good web sites that oppose stop loss specifically? Great writing, keep it up. Sorry to hear about the incident. They need to come up with both a time line and a clear set of achievable goals. Danny.j.jones@gmail.com

mike f said...

i'm new to your blog but i like your writing already, alex. thanks for taking time to do it.
i was a hospital corpsman during viet nam, working at the great lakes navy hospital for most of my time, taking care of hundreds of guys coming back from the grinder. the last few months i was on a carrier, so my duty was pretty lucky all in all. i got the benefits of being radicalized by war and the military without getting my ass shot off.
these days i write. you can check out my stuff here: www.mikeferner.org including the book i wrote based on two trips to iraq, before and after the invasion. i spent a few days with a battalion of the 4th ID near balad and wished it had been a little longer. if we strike up something here, i'd like to eventually ask you some questions comparing experiences.

what's this about myspace and other sites being blocked to military email addresses? is that the case? apparently it doesn't apply to blogs like yours?

this is the first blog i've ever signed in to, so i don't know if you can contact me directly or just by leaving a comment, so i'll give you my email address in case you want to reply. (it's already on somebody's list, so what the hell...) mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net

be well, brother.

Unknown said...

It's one thing to think you've been lied to, it's another to have it shoved in your face.

Keep writing. The American people have a right to know!

mrtrt said...

Great writing. Yes, another case and point where stealing oil is more expensive than buying. When is the bush think tank, going to let the troops and pilots fight. A bathtub bomb and speaker wire shouldn't even be a factor to us, if you weren't supposed to fight with your hands tied. But don't get me started. Do your job and get home safe.

Hal Kimball said...

Wow, once again, excellent work Alex! Keep it up, we'll do what we can on our end

Anonymous said...

It's tough to read confirmation of what you think might be actually happening. But it needs to be said and I'm glad there are people like you who are not afraid to say it. Keep it up. And the growing numbers of us will increase our efforts to get you all the hell out of there. Peace.

Anonymous said...

If BB, doesn't block your ability to blog for the next few weeks (months?), please email me at Suzisharpshooter&yahoo.com.

If your story matches up, to what I've been told, I believe I grew the drivers head. I am outraged, sad beyond recognition & concerned for the safety of all. As an AM for B-co. I am on egg shells with no word since this incident. Email me, please for details. perhaps, we can formulate a plan of attack, which will place this AM in the headlight, and not the fine soldiers on the ground risking everything. I am praying for you soldier & for all everyday.


Anonymous said...

I salute you.

I have heard much he same from those that have come back.

As for the driver you descirbe, I am convinced he is one of mine. I am his uncle and brother to S Wardezak.

I do believe you all are making a difference but it is with great sadness that I listen as we adopt the same failed posture that led us to disgrace in Vietnam.

We can neither leave nor stay it seems.

May God watch over you.


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. I remember that day. We were among the bradleys that responded. I remember feeling so damn helpless as those men were being shot at from that mosque. They were just trying to get the fallen. And you are so damn right about this area

Anonymous said...

I forgot to leave that web site..so you know that us Army Mom's are really crazy :)

Stay safe,



Anonymous said...

For what it is worth,
I stumbled across your blog and have been extremely impressed with you views and writing as well as the support your family is sending you. I used to be a sergeant in 82nd airborne division and it was pretty rare to come across a trooper with your brains (and most of my guys were pretty smart). Buddy, you keep your head down over there. When you come home go to college. Claiming your GI bill can be a pain in the butt, and professors know about half of what they think they do--stick with it. You got a story to tell and way to tell it that no-one else has.

Unknown said...

Alex: An imperfect world--you got that right! It applies to the civilian world I live in, too, but it's not literally a life and death situation. When I get even close to whining about one thing or another it is quickly stifled by what you and our troops are undergoing.

You are learning valuable lessons, albeit hard ones, about human nature, including your own. Keep up the good writing--you have a career in journalism awaiting you.

Unknown said...

Great writing, keep on the great work. The hardships you face overseas are just prep for the BS you will come home to with the VA.

Andrew said...

this life you are living and expiriencing all around you right now is only temporary and don't ever forget that brother. you are smarter then any of the soldiers i have ever met before, just keep doing your job and you will make it home and then the rest of your life is all gravy from there brother.

Anonymous said...

Alex... Your eloquence is remarkable. You have a carreer in litrature or journalism ahead of you. Use it. bill (US Army Air Corps 1943-46)

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see that you are exercising your right to speak out on what you believe and describe life as YOU experience it in Iraq. As a fellow soldier, I feel that it is necessary to question why things are happening around us and why we are ordered to do certain things. It is important to be informed, intelligent, and political. As much as I disagree with you on a lot of things, your writing on life in Iraq is interesting. It is amazing how two people from the same MOS working in the same unit in the same location can see things so differently. Maybe in your team or squad there is a concensus on how things are. In most units that are not heavily influenced by their leaders (politically), they all have very different views on what is going on around you. It really depends on where you are from, how your beliefs were formed, your backgroud, education (or lack of), religion (or lack of), etc. I just hope that everyone knows that not all soldiers feel the way you do about what the US Army is doing in Iraq. Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and see the big picture. When you are there with your head in the smoke its easy to choke on the politics of it all. Take a good look at the big picture, do some research, gather some real intel, and understand that not everything is as it seems to you. From the intel side, I can tell you there is a lot more to a story than what you see and hear on the ground. There is a lot more GOOD being done than you can see when the bullets are flying. I've lost buddies over there as well. I agree that war is a horrible thing, but you must understand the bigger picture in order to understand that our battle buddies did not die in vain or for a dead cause. I knew what I signed up for, and I knew that it would not be easy or short. I also know that as screwed up as things seem sometimes, there has not been a homeland attack in 6 years. Maybe we arent doing all that bad, Alex.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant writing - I just stumbled into your blog and I am glad I did. It's among the best writing on the war that I've seen...

Anonymous said...

Its truly amazing to see how quickly and how beautifully your writing has matured.

Of all the comments, good and bad, from professors in college the one that sticks with me is "insightful".