It always comes back to those fucking palm groves.
A week in that thick, tangled, humid mess of trees, bushes and huts, and it was without a doubt the worst week of my life. We set up on a road along the Diyala River to conduct a huge search and clear of the groves. Nearly every man who could walk was taking part, and from my earlier account, you can tell it was becoming a custom to overload myself with superfluous equipment (though carrying both bolt cutters and a shotgun to use on the three total locks we found was a wise move). In ten minutes my neck was already burning with all the weight on my back. After half a mile down the road, the whines of the Stryker engines were overcome with the ambiance of the wind blowing around the leaves and trash on the side of the road. We found our entrance point.
It took awhile for everyone to get lined up so we could move as one giant unit forward. I watched my team leader for every move and mimicked his actions. Every halt, every crouch we together. We were about fifteen feet into the tree line when a transmission came broken over the radio. "injured....explosion...targeting dismounted personnel." Son of a bitch, man. We all knew there would come a day when insurgents would set up Tamagotchi IEDs to explode right in our fucking faces, but we really didn't want it to be that day. Fifteen feet into our clearing mission that was several square miles over seven days, and we were paranoid to take a single step.
So, like, was it really sandy and deserty in Iraq?
Every few yards we walked, we stopped. And walked. And stopped. And walked. And stopped cold, because our interpreter spotted an RPG round hanging in a tree above our heads. While we silently wondered if it was a booby trap or just a stray rocket, the kind explosive ordnance disposal units came out to collect and blow it up.
And so we went onward! For about twenty more feet. I could go on like this, but we did a lot of stopping, laying on the ground and waiting for something the next six days.
Eventually we'd break out of the palms and start our patrols and the continuous pursuit of caches. Climbing the stairs to a roof, we found something for the first time: a wire connected to a battery, waiting for someone to set off the charge wired to a deep-buried IED down the street. A chair was knocked over and a chai tea set was near the door, waiting to be used. They had left in a hurry, and not too long ago.
Worst job ever for a jihadist with ADD
One look over the railing and it could be easily seen where the wires went: down a pole, over the road and across the field directly in front of the house. From the ground, it probably wouldn't have been noticed until it was too late. Luckily we found it while the city was deserted and no one was at the switch.
Being the perpetual junior guy on the squad, I always had to do the most unsavory and dangerous things when just one man was needed. I was told to run out to the field, grab the wire and run back. The idea was rooted in a cartoonish world but made sense at the time: with the force of me running, I'd yank the wire and disconnect it. Right? Right. Exposed for all the world to see, I sprinted toward the light pole where the wire started on the surface, grabbed it and ran back into the house with the battery on the roof. From there I could pull on the wire from the the safety of a cinderblock wall in front of half of my body.
After thirty yards of wire, I hit a snag. I pulled hard with the help of a couple dudes, and with a final tug the wire came loose, broken. We reeled in the rest and set it on the floor.
"Well, the fuck you waitin' for?" Bill asked.
He was implying there was more wire to grab out there. We figured it was held under a barrel sitting there nonchalantly. I sprinted back out there, slower than before and stopped well short of the barrel to look for the end. It was lodged under it in a clutter of a few rocks. Once again I ran back to the house to pull in the rest of the wire. In the future we'd get the idea to burn any wire we found, but for now, we would (read: I would) carry the 300-odd feet of wire in a backpack for the duration of the mission.
Can you spot the wire trail?
After all that commotion, it was time to check out the rest of the house. The backyard yielded a smörgåsbord of homemade explosives. Bags filled with white powder (no, Courtney Love, the other kind of white powder) littered the ground. It looked like a wild cat got into one of them, as we found a skeleton nearby. Somehow, it found its way onto my shoulder.
With the famous skull and the infamous shotgun Bill was allergic to
Nothing of note was in the rest of the house, except for a light switch with Arabic writing above it. Our interpreter was looking over documents found in the corner and I called him over to ask him what it said.
"Danger," he replied.