now imagine some yokel, taking pot shots at you with the nearest weapon of opportunity, or planting a bomb for you to run over, or planting one in a car that he tries to drive into the side of your humvee (killing himself in the process).
that's it. it's actually kind of a let down. these guys are cowards, and they fight like it. most of the time, we are careful about shooting back, because they hide behind women and children.
so does it feel like "combat"? no. i'm embarrased to call it such. it feels like driving through a really bad neighborhood.
what is tough, is every once and awhile, they get lucky (it's more luck than skill) and get us with a roadside bomb, or a lucky shot.
the annoying part is this: there's no honor in fighting (and killing) a coward.
Subject: Close call
Tuesday, January 11, 2005 5:31
Had a close one last night.
my patrol was out after dark. we were coming up to an intersection, and i swear, something just didn't feel right. i stopped the patrol and waited a second. something in my head just said: STOP!
i got on the radio to let my elements know why we were stopping. i got out of my vehicle, but remained behind the armored door, even though it was open. as i grabbed the handmike to make a radio call, a gigantic explosion went off to my front.
it was a planted 155mm arty round.
breakfast tasted great this morning
Subject: rough days
Thursday, March 3, 2006 3:12
we've had some more kia's up here. i can't believe nobody in my company's among them. while i'd like to attribute it to good leadership, i'm pretty sure luck has had more to do with it.
anyway, that's war, i guess. i'm doing ok, though. there are frustrations, and this is an experience i'm looking forward to having behind me some day (although it's hard to imagine another life even existed before here--time passes in dog years here). all that being said, i don't regret volunteering to come here.
Subject: the river valley
Mon, 04 Apr 2005 14:54:42
spring in iraq. the fertile crescent. mankind has been living in this area since the earliest of recorded history. in this place you can't help but feel the weight of antiquity. step temples were built here two thousand years before the pyramids at giza in egypt. the basin between the tigris and euphrates rivers is the place where the agricultural revolution began, and here mankind evolved from a pastoral existence to one which recognized the concept of house and home.
it's pretty impressive when you think of it in those terms. unfortunately, though many of our forebears' greatest acheivements took place here, the tide of history and achievement have left this place behind.
for the most part, rural iraq is a backward, bleak and twisted landscape, burnt dry by the desert sun; the arabs, a very metaphorically inclined people, refer to the sun euphamistically (sp?) as "fire in the sky" and after spending time here, you can understand why. the cities aren't much better. trash collection and functional sewage systems are virtually unheard of, so the stink sometimes is unbearable. especially in the heat.
imagine then, my delight, when on a patrol we stumbled across an area of almost indescribable natural beauty. we rolled alongside a low rocky ridgeline, impassable to humvees (and civilian vehicles), which after some time opened into a low plain, which is on the watershed of the tigris river. it was carpeted with a grass of nearly neon green, speckled with wildflowers of red, white, yellow and lavender. the floral smell mixed with the scent of grass was pleasantly overwhelming. the effect of rolling from a nearly moonscape-esque, blasted desert to our backs, then immediately into this teeming grassland was literally breathtaking. given the random explosion of color, it was like driving onto a life-sized pollock canvas.
i called back to hq, and we set up an "observation point" right where the view was best. sometimes it's nice just to take in the view. iraq can surprise you sometimes. it's not always such a bad place.
Subject: post leave guilt
Saturday, May 28, 2005 23:24
well, i knew it would happen...
the guys got hit hard while i was on leave. nobody died, thankfully, but we had a couple of significant incidents while i was yucking it up back in the states. i realize that i probably wouldn't have prevented anyone who got shot, hit by shrapnel, or had their vehicles blown up from getting wounded if i had been here, but you still don't feel that way. Still, I feel bad for not being here.
the guys who were hurt were hurt bad, and most of them are back in germany or the states by now.
things are really heating up over here...it's been hectic since i got back
Subject: Crime and punishment
Monday, June 6, 2005 10:43
these circumstances force you to look at "the big picture" and your place in it. I'm not entirely satisfied that I'm as good a human being as I probably ought to be. The good thing is that at least I'm aware of it now. I know this, I am no pacifist, but I will never put myself in a position again where I have to be prepared (to) kill people to make it through the day.
Killing people is a bad option, even when it's the only option. It's unfortunate, but there are some people in this world you just have to kill, guys like the ones we're fighting, for instance. The thing is, that in fighting these really bad guys, which has to be done, a lot of innocent bystanders are getting hurt in the process. Nine times out of ten, it's the enemy who's killing them in their attempt to kill us. (There was a suicide car bomber in a town near us in January, for instance, who ended up killing about 40 innocent people, not to understate the issue, but that was a mess, and you wake up every morning wondering if you're going to be dealing with that today).
Being here, you realize that it's part of doing business. That realization makes you hardened in a way that can change who you are forever, if you're not careful. I'm thinking that I don't want to be that guy ten or twenty years from now. That is, if I see ten or twenty years from now. . .
Most of the time, you can't be yourself here. You have to be a better version of yourself. If that's not who you really are, than at least, that's who you have to pretend to be while you've got 38 sets of eyeballs watching your every move. You can be scared, you just can't look or sound scared. Ever. Angry? That's a different story...you can always look pissed off, it's respectable. So, when you're scared, you just pretend to be pissed. The guys don't know any better, and they like to follow someone who gets aggressive in the field. Besides, if you're a good enough actor, sometimes you can even fool yourself.
Subject: lucky day
Fri, 10 Jun 2005 14:59:10
Our convoy was hit by a suicide bomber. It struck the gun truck directly in front of mine. At least half a dozen 155mm artillery rounds packed into a Mercedes (one 155mm round is enough to destroy a tank).
The forward momentum of our truck carried us through the fireball, and we bottomed out over the crater as we went through. Amazingly, my truck was drivable, with minor damage. The truck in front of me burst into flames immediately upon detonation of the suicide bomb.
My crew was the first one there. The truck was burning, the four guys inside were screaming for us to get them out. By the time we pulled the four of them out, and dragged them behind cover, their humvee was completely engulfed in flames and the machine gun ammo inside was cooking off due to the heat.
I can't believe how lucky we were. No serious injuries, even though the truck was burnt to a husk. The object in the picture is what's left of the gun truck. The debris is all that was left of the suicide car, most of the pieces were smaller than my hand.
Subject: two nights ago
Wednesday, june 15, 2005 23:54
the platoon had a mission to escort a transportation unit with a downed vehicle. on the way back in, one of our trucks struck an antitank mine.
eight of my platoon's guys were wounded. one was my medic, and we're still not sure if he's going to make it. The initial five were in the truck that got hit, the other 3 were burns and smoke inhalation getting the guys who were initially wounded out of their burning humvee.
we resumed our patrols the next day.
Friday, June 17, 2005 3:25
I'm taking a break for a minute, it's been a hectic two days.
2 squads from my platoon took a hard hit the night of the 14th. Got word just now on our most serious casualty, the medic. The mine went off directly beneath his seat in the vehicle. He's going to make it. That's a relief. The back plate on his body armor was shattered, but it saved his life. When we got him to the Battalion Aid Station (BAS), he had stopped breathing because the hot smoke he inhaled burned his airway closed. He had extensive internal injuries. They flew him to a FOB (Forward Operating Base) with the ability to perform surgery, where they removed his ruptured spleen. His internal bleeding was so bad, when we brought him in, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Luckily, it was pressure on his spine from the internal bleeding, and after surgery, he got the feeling back in his extremities. He also had a lacerated liver and bruised kidneys, but apparently, he's getting kidney function back too. He's in Germany now.
Most of the other guys had smoke inhalation and were burned, some worse than others. One of my more senior sergeants, a team leader, had the fire retardent nomex gloves burned off his hands while prying open a door to get another casualty out of the vehicle. He was standing in the flames while pulling the other guy out. His hair, eyelashes and eyebrows were singed off, and they had to remove pieces of his gear that were melted to his body. He's headed back to the states for burn treatment, the guy he pulled out is in good shape.
The truck burned up, the machine gun ammo cooked off, and my guys were still pulling people out even though the vehicle's AT4 (an anti tank rocket) and dozens of 40mm grenades were still on the vehicle as it burned. They got everybody out in a matter of seconds and performed life-saving first aid even though the medic was down. I'm really proud of them.
When our platoon's vehicle was struck, two platoons from other companies in the battalion came to aid in a matter of minutes. Our company commander raced out to the scene, in a lone humvee (that's incredibly dangerous here in Iraq), his crew (all headquarters soldiers) wanted to go, even though they knew the dangers involved (his driver was in the convoy when one of our company's vehicles was hit by the suicide bomb on the 9th). The battalion command post (called the TOC), actually had to call other units racing to the scene and divert them, otherwise half the battalion would have attempted to come to our rescue.
That response makes you feel good. You see so much cowardice in dealing with the Iraqi Forces, that when you see our guys in action, it really makes you realize how different the American soldier is. We run to danger, not from it. Especially when it's one of our own in trouble.
It's a good feeling to know that, and it makes me proud to be a soldier.
Subject: old home week
Sunday, July 10, 2005 23:52
I'm sitting here, listing to some Ella Fitzgerald and kind of chilling out. "Blue skies smiling at me...never saw the sun shining so bright...never saw things going so right." How about that! Ella's one of those artists I listen to for feel-good music. For some reason, she lightens my mood every time.
We got two of the casualties back from the suicide bomb on 9 june. It was good to see those guys up and around. The guy I pulled out had some shrapnel removed and some burns, but he's going to be ok. He's a popular young buck sergeant (21 years old) from 3rd platoon and he's got an air of euphoria about him today. He's just happy to be alive, I guess and we're all happy for him. You should have seen the guys reaction when he came back. It's only been a short time, but it was like having a family member come home after being gone for 20 years.
My guys and the guys from 3rd platoon were crowded around him like he was a celebrity on Oscar night. Guys were asking if he wanted someone to fetch him some chow, loan him a DVD, or X-box game, give him a ride to the phones or get his mail, you name it. It was good to see. I was glad he felt the welcome from all the fellas in the company.
Like I said, a good day. Ella's singing "Too marvelous for words" right now, I can't say it any better than that.
Subject: I spent the last week as a Fobbit (one who doesn't leave the FOB)
Friday, July 22, 2005 9:32
i didn't realize how stressed out i was until we got a break and picked up this detail...insomnia, constant eye twitch, lack of appetite, etc. . ..I thought it was just the heat.
we've had a couple of real close calls lately...but i'm beginning to realize that here, it's all about the close calls. everybody has stories of one...a sniper shot one of the scouts in the face, went into his mouth and out the back of his neck without even breaking a bone (let alone a tooth), the RPG that missed a truck by 10 meters, the landmine 1st Squad ran over that didn't go off, the roadside bomb that failed to detonate, the suicide bomber who rammed his car into a convoy but forgot to hit the trigger (bomber died, car totaled, no UShurt)...all really close calls.
Kind of makes you wonder, because there's no pattern to it all. I guess there never is.
Subject: a day off
Friday, August 5, 2005 5:07
chow on the FOB has been pretty good lately, thanks to the contractor running the chow hall. i had grilled turkey breast for lunch, with a side of raw spinach leaves in a vinegarette dressing (no kidding! it was good!) we've even been getting this ice cream from kuwait, i think, which tastes like a klondike bar. it's pretty awesome to do a patrol in the 120 degree heat and chow down on ice cream afterwards, hard to explain, but i haven't looked forward to having ice cream this much since i was a kid.
we're getting short here, roughly 90 days. like everyone else, i cannot wait to get the f*ck out of here. i'm really looking forward to just being able to do the mundane stuff of daily life: get a coffee and sunday paper at wawa, take a shower without a bunch of naked dudes standing around, use a toilet and not a porta-john (especially when it's 120), and wear normal clothes without wearing a 30lb kevlar and ceramic cardigan and helmet.
Subject: ultimate sacrifice
Tuesday, August 9, 2005 0:10
two of our company's guys got killed the other night. you may have seen it on the news. i knew one of the guys, SGT Jeffcoat, since he was 17 years old. I liked him a lot. He was in his mid twenties, and was a married father of a 2 year old daughter. I watched him grow up.
That's the tough thing about being in the Guard, you have years of history with everybody in the unit. You know their families, go to their weddings, christenings of their kids, summer bar-b-q's, everything. It's not like that in the regular army, where you spend a year or two in one unit and move on. In the guard, some people spend 20 years in the same company. you know everybody, it's like a second family and that's why so many guys never leave the guard, because of that sense of family.
I wasn't there when our guys got killed. that night my platoon reacted to a mine strike on a civilian contractor (probably KBR) vehicle. the picture i attached shows the flaming truck in the background. the look on my face is because i was tired, i didn't learn of our guys getting killed until we returned to base.
The other picture is graffiti I saw spray painted on the outside of a FOB down by Baghdad (greater love hath no man...) I think it is appropriate to this situation.
Thursday, August 11, 2005 7:57
My platoon was ambushed. Four of my guys were killed and four were wounded.
One of my squad leaders was wounded with one of his guys. All the rest of the casualties wounded and killed, came from another squad.
There was absolutely nothing that could have been done differently, there were no mistakes, in fact, the guys performed heroically under intense rifle, machine gun and RPG fire. But as a leader, you feel responsible for everything that happens; responsible, whether or not there was any fault at all. That sense of responsibility is one of the hardest things about being here, and I can see it weighing on him. I know how he feels, I feel it too, but as I'm an older soldier, it doesn't show.
Of the four killed, I've known two of them, a corporal and a sergeant, for seven years, and they were as good friends to me as I've ever had in my life. I met the other two guys during this deployment, and felt the kinship with all of them that you develop after standing in harm's way and facing shared dangers together. I can't explain the sense of brotherly love that you feel for guys in your platoon when you are in combat, and I don't think you can ever understand unless you've been there. It's like family.
I've seen things here that leave you empty with a lot of unanswered questions, but I haven't shed a tear until yesterday, as I sat with them while their souls were being consigned to God. I wept out of grief and out of frustration. Nobody was there but me, the chaplain and my fallen brothers, but I'm not ashamed to have wept for the loss of my friends.
They were good men, among the best I've ever met in my life. Most people think that men such as this don't exist anymore. They do. You just don't recognize them, because their deeds, their acts of heroism, perseverance and compassion are rendered far from sight in places and under circumstances that only exist in the realm of the average person's nightmares.
I'm not asking you to dwell on it, but there are times when these men should not be far from your mind. These selfless men stood for something, and stood to be counted when the only reward was reconciling their consciences with what their own sense of honor demanded. Their first duty was to their brothers here, and they satisfied that duty every day. That is the only truth that exists in our endeavors in Iraq. As someone who stood with them, I am grateful for having spent time in their company.
Today, we got word that our wounded are all going to make it. For that I'm grateful.
Tue, 16 Aug 2005 04:14:18
thanks to everyone for their condolences with regard to the losses suffered by my platoon and by my company. we appreciate it, a common theme in what the guys are saying around here is that we wish people could have known them like we did, so they're not just a picture in the paper or a soundbyte on tv.
we understand that the news of our losses was taken hard back in PA. to be honest, we've been unbelievably lucky until now. in the last 2 months, we've had 31 wounded in the company with varying degrees of severity and a handful of guys have been hit twice, but up until recently no deaths.
we're dealing with this the only way we can, by going back out on our combat patrols.
Excerpt from letter sent to Ridley High School thanking them for "adopting" 2nd Platoon:
We're reaching the end of our tour in Iraq. While this is still a very dangerous place to be, we'll be home shortly, though we can't say exactly when as that's still up in the air.
As you know, we're National Guardsmen. To put our deployment into perspective for you, for those of you who are now seniors, we were activated during your sophomore year and have been on duty continuously since. We had six months of train-up at Fort Bliss, Texas and Fort Polk Louisiana. We've been in the Southwest Asia Theatre of Operations (Iraq and Kuwait) since November 2004 and have been in the thick of the fighting here since Christmas '04. All of us are looking forward to coming home and to resuming our civilian lives.
Unfortunately, not all of us will be coming home. In addition to the nearly 30 men our company has had wounded in action, as I write to you today we've had six men killed in action. (Kurt Krout, Brahim Jeffcoat, Gennaro Pellegrini, Nate DeTample, John Kulick and Francis Straub). These men were more than friends to us, they were our brothers. It was gratifying for us to hear of the outpouring of sympathy for their families and the respect in which the people treated their memories (it's never far from your mind while you are here that at any time you might be one of them) so I thank you for that also. They were good men who were killed in combat fighting for their country. More importantly, they were fighting for us, their brothers here in Iraq. For those of us here, our memories of them will never fade nor will the passage of time lessen the affection in which we hold them. We still feel their loss.
For many of us our service here in Iraq has been a life altering event. In many circumstances this change can be measured in physical terms: wounds, surgeries, permanent disabilities. In other instances, the change will be a little harder to quantify. You cannot encounter a set of experiences such as we have faced here without it shaping your view of the world and your place in it. There are many challenges in reconciling these experiences with a return to normal life. Many of the men of this platoon are still very young, not much older than many of you, and this will have been a formative experience in their life. Everyone will have their own opinions and rethought values upon returning home.
This is also true in my case. I've seen human beings at their worst here in Iraq, but I've also seen them at their best. For every negative thing we've encountered here, I've seen something equally positive.
There are many opinions back home with regard to the conduct of this war. I'm not writing to you now to change any of them. What I would like to leave you with is this: while the politics and justification for this conflict may be subject to debate, the conduct of your soldiers, marines and airmen here in Iraq is of a caliber that is rarely seen among Americans anymore. We are regular folks, men and women from all races, creeds and varying backgrounds, with one thing in common: a devotion to our country and an equally matched devotion to each other.
Staff Sergeant Anthony H. Kelly
2nd Platoon, A Company
1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment