We all agreed, it was about time to get some sort of routine going. Like the good ol' days.
In Mosul we had a schedule of patrol times and surveillance missions two weeks into the future, and our operations were like clockwork. We'd do a two hour patrol that possibly went over thirty minutes, and we came back. Hell, we even put Lost and Prison Break on pause, did a patrol and came back to finish the episode. Easy as pie.
Our move to Baghdad shook it up a bit, but we still had long stretches where we'd be on the base relaxing with not much to worry about until the next big mission. We occasionally were on recall status in case a high value target was found, but we were far from Baghdad (half an hour at least). We only got called once: British SAS killed one insurgent and a captured a few others in the outskirts of Taji. We were called to pick them up in the middle of the night and of course, to carry the body back. I provided security for the four guys carrying it and could see their struggle; the corpse was well into the 200 pound bracket.
The move to Baqubah destroyed any semblance of functionality and preparedness. In the first 46 days of operations, my platoon had five days with no missions scheduled. And those were intermittent, spread out and not for the purpose of rest, but to fix vehicles, restock on ammunition and plan the mission coming up early in the morning.
We held this tempo through March into June, when reinforcements arrived. By then we controlled an outpost in the city. It was just a big house converted into a patrol base. The family was paid to leave and move in with relatives. It was there where we finally resumed a normal schedule, or as normal as possible. We didn't have patrols or hits scheduled out to the next week, but we knew when they'd be happening on that particular day.
In July we started a series of humanitarian missions for the displaced citizens of Baqubah. A few months prior it was a ghost town with many abandoned houses. Now the people were coming back, and they were hungry. The mission would be 'food drops,' which involved trucking in bags of rice and flour to give away to the locals. We'd simply go down there to make sure everything went well.
Rice and flour? We were told this was a stop on the Led Zeppelin reunion tour!
There was only shade provided by the large shipping containers that held the food, so me and Dozer squat in the dust and watched the Iraqi Army check IDs and hand over bags. Once in awhile the crowd would get too close and one of the IA dudes would shoot a burst into the air with an AK-47, which was just a wee bit excessive. It happened so many times over the course of two hours that we didn't flinch anymore when shots rang out every few minutes.
A few of these food drops would happen in the next several weeks. They would change locations so that no one could plant a bomb to kill the hundreds of people that showed up for the charity of the United States and Iraqi government. My team and a couple of our snipers were tasked to move to an abandoned school to overwatch the the long lines to be sure there was no weapons or foul play afoot. We took our vests and helmets off as two guys watched the crowd. Everyone else was fooling around with the supplies found in the eerily empty classrooms. A stack of frisbees were quickly thrown out the windows to the kids below, and we found a much needed cache: piles and piles of chalk.
We drew pictures and wrote messages on the walls for the kids to come back to. Shane went above and beyond and started a masterpiece with no discernible pattern, creating a beautiful outburst of color and imagination.
In those days we rarely created, and after that mission it was back to the grind.
We received information about various bad guys in the outlying neighborhood of Tahrir, where we were living in the outpost for days at a time. The sources said they had since fled their houses but left their cars. We'd walk there, search for anything of relevance and completely destroy their vehicles with incendiary grenades. These were the more entertaining moments, of smashing windshields and headlights with the crowbar-like prying tool we always carried. Then came the grenades, burning each car to a frame.
Were they even cars belonging to bad guys? Hell, we weren't completely sure.
It was time to go. We were in a routine after all. The Strykers would be meeting us at an intersection a few blocks away to avoid driving any more than they had to, avoiding IEDs buried deep underground. The first few guys to climb aboard tossed colored smoke next to the vehicles, creating a swirling pattern in the wind reminiscent of Shane's drawing on the school wall.
It was the start of month thirteen of the deployment, and we were headed back for a much needed rest. The home stretch was ahead, and we had to keep alert to keep alive. We'd break routine in the next few weeks by re-clearing Old Baqubah, the most dangerous neighborhood of the city, and set up a new outpost. But we didn't know it yet. It was almost getting easy again, like the good ol' days.