At the end of our fifteen month deployment, it seemed fitting to resurrect the Stupid Shit series started over a year ago under the gray Washington sky. I envisioned a weekly edition but quickly realized a deployment is a constant parade of ridiculous, asinine, over the top moments that are too numerous to keep track of, and much too difficult to explain in full.
These entries come to you in a fury of writing during the few precious days we have inside the wire. Ever since Baghdad we’ve left the comfort and safety of our huge bases to venture out into the city for as little as two or as much as eight days at a time. There is a direct correlation between the amount of operation activity and the amount of stupid shit that gets piled onto us. As the workload increases, so does the shit, eloquently described as stupid here on out.
Most of the candidates for Stupid Shit of The Deployment, then, come from our stay here in Baqubah. Our operation tempo went from back breaking in Baghdad to soul crushing in Diyala Province. Gone were the days of adequate rest for the trucks and ourselves. Often we’d spend five days out in an Iraqi’s house, sleeping on the roof with lice infested mats and pillows, only to come in for a scant few hours for fuel and a shower (if time permitted). For reasons unknown to anyone, we’d arrive as the chow hall was closing and everyone would make a mad dash for the scraps left over. Stupid, indeed.
So without further ado, the nominees for Stupid Shit of The Deployment:
Working with 1920s – A Sunni insurgent group we’ve been battling for months, responsible for the death of my friend and numerous attacks, agreed to fight Al Qaeda alongside us. Since then, they’ve grown into a much more organized, lethal force. They use this organization to steal cars and intimidate and torture the local population, or anyone they accuse of being linked to Al Qaeda. The Gestapo of the 21st century, sanctioned by the United States Army.
The Surge – The beefing up of ground forces in Iraq at the beginning of the year, started by the 82nd Airborne. Unit deployments were moved up several months to maintain a higher level of boots on the ground to quell the Baghdad situation. What most don’t realize is the amount of actual fighting troops in a brigade, something in the area of 2,000 soldiers in a brigade of 5,000 depending on what unit it is. So for every 2,000 fighters, there are 3,000 pencil pushers sucking up resources in every brigade that was surged. A logistical nightmare that, surprise, failed miserably. The increase of troops in Baghdad pushed the insurgents to rural areas (like Diyala), hence our move here in March. The surge was nothing more than a thorn in the side of nomadic fighters having to move thirty five miles while the generals watched Baghdad with stubborn eyes.
Two Companies Clearing Baqubah – Which brings us to the next nominee. Since Baghdad was the showcase of the war and Baqubah was brimming with super IEDs taking our Bradleys and Abrams tanks, it was decided that a unit needed to be sent there to assist the cavalry unit who averaged a death per week. But how many to send? Someone, somehow, somewhere decided that two companies of Strykers would be adequate to take down what Al Qaeda had deemed their headquarters in Iraq. What came about this oversight? Two hours into the first mission, my friend was killed in a massive IED blast that busted the hell out of the squad leader’s face, resulting in traumatic brain injury and facial reconstruction surgery. The vehicle commander tore his ACL from the concussion. Shrapnel being thrown around the inside of the truck caught one dude in the knee as a dude in the back hatch got rattled around, bruising his back as the other in the hatch was thrown completely out the vehicle. He’s been quiet since then, and was sent home soon after. Returning fire from us and the Bradleys killed an untold number of kids unlucky enough to be in the school next to our position. A wrecker sent out to pick up the destroyed Stryker was the next victim of an IED explosion, killing two men inside. Two more wreckers were sent out, one for the Stryker, one for the now totaled wrecker. As we pulled out that evening, local Iraqis, men, women and children, danced in celebration by the massive crater where the Stryker had been. At once we realized reinforcements were needed but we didn’t get any for two more months. Many more men were killed because we were stretched to our operational breaking point. But there was always more to do. Whoever made the decision to send less than an infantry battalion should be in jail right now.
The Extension – This wasn’t too much of a surprise to us, as we knew in the back of our minds that an extension was in our future. What was surprising was the fact that everyone in Iraq was extended to fifteen month deployments. It was meant to give every unit at least a year in between deployments, as some were coming back to Iraq after only ten months back in the states. Now at the end, it’s not hard to assess the achievements of our three extra months. It seems at a quick glance that we pacified the city, street by street. There was a lull in American deaths because, simply, we absorbed all the bomb blasts or found the IEDs before they could detonate on us. As deadly as they are, deep buried IEDs must take a lot of time to build and emplace. The ones used against us were meant for the cavalry unit, who didn’t have the manpower to patrol the streets like we have been. After we arrived, there were few bombs that haven’t been sitting in the ground for several months already. The enemy ran out of ways to kill us until the ingenious idea of putting bombs in houses took hold. Instead of blowing us up in armored vehicles, they thought about doing it inside an abandoned house. What kills you isn’t the bomb, but the foundation of the house that comes crashing down after the explosion. Wires and triggers are hidden behind doors or underneath rugs, so when we go out and clear blocks and blocks of houses, there’s a pressure plate waiting for you at the foot of the stairs. Only your eyes can save you at this point. That tactic has been born from our proclivity to redundantly clear neighborhoods, and the extension is guilty of claiming lives of men who are running on too little sleep, walking into house after house in the desert heat. When you’re worried about how much water you have left and the trucks are too far away to get more, you tend to miss the trip wire in the dark stairwell. Twelve month deployments are a burden on your body and mind. Asking men for three more months is not only unfair but deadly.
Seven Men Killed At The Same Time – Finally, one of the lowest, saddest points of the deployment came in May. One night, a helicopter spotted several men gathered in the road with a large object. Permission was asked to fire a Hellfire missile at them, as they were obvious IED emplacers. Permission was emphatically denied, but someone decided that a Stryker platoon should head out there anyway to check it out. In tow was a Russian reporter. On a road called Trash Alley, they hit a massive deep buried IED. Everyone in the truck except the driver, six Americans and one Russian, dead. And they didn’t need to be there at all. A helicopter could have killed the insurgents with breathtaking ease. Instead, those guys and the one with the detonator got away in the night. Justice was never done.
And now the moment you've been waiting for. The (dubious) winner of Stupid Shit of The Deployment is:
Two Companies Clearing Baqubah!
While each nominee was unique and shameful in its own way, this outshined them all in how much death and maiming occurred after the fact. Sure, the surge was the cataclysmic event that brought about everything, but the decision to go into the Al Qaeda mother ship with less than a battalion of men was one of the most reckless, foolhardy missteps of the Long War and should go down in the history books as such. In a few weeks we’ll be coming back to the states without our brothers because someone saw a chance for glory and decided to take it. I hope the full birds and the stars were worth our blood.
What has been bothering me this whole deployment is the brevity and formality in which the media handles the death of soldiers. It always goes, “PFC John Smith, Norman, Oklahoma, killed by enemy small arms fire in Baghdad. Assigned to 1/43 Engineers, Third Infantry Division.” What a crock to read that in a paper. It would be wholly appropriate to dedicate a full color photo and a real biography in every paper in America. The anonymity of dead soldiers would evaporate and the public would be forced to look at the faces of the fallen. Would it set in progress change? Perhaps. It certainly would go to show that we’re out here every day, dying for an ideal long forgotten. As for me, I started to sign these entries with my initials long ago to avoid detection by superiors. I could and still can get in trouble for what I’ve written. Lately this blog has been passed around to dudes of every rank, and those who would be punishing me have become readers. So it’s no longer necessary to be sneaky and secretive, another anonymous soldier. My name is Alex Horton, and I’m a 22 year old from Frisco, Texas. I can recite Pulp Fiction line by line and my favorite color is blue. I want to be a journalist when I grow up, and I want to see every part of the world. For the first time in my life I’m an avid reader. Fifteen months here has been fifteen months away from Lauren, the girl I’m crazy about. This wouldn’t be much of a blog without her, as she’s the inspiration for anything creative coming out of me, my beautiful muse.
In the future, I want my children to grow up with the belief that what I did here was wrong, in a society that doesn’t deem that idea unpatriotic.
Herbert Hoover said, "Older men declare war. But it is the youth who must fight and die." These are the young men we can’t afford to go without. Brian Chevalier and Jesse Williams, George Bush and Secretary Gates, we’re all flesh and blood. Every life is sacred. You probably don’t know the names of the first two. But you should.