The Retch Heard Round the AO

The command post is packed with the junior leadership teams from both Bravo companies.

That’s how the higher ups had decided to match them for the duration of the transition period, by their phonetic alphabet designators. So Alpha Company of this battalion matched with Alpha of that battalion, and so on and so forth, until the entire 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Infantry Division had counterparts with which they would learn from over the next four weeks.

Four weeks. Incredibly close and impossibly far away. Now is when the nerves reemerge. He can see it, and if he can’t see it he could sense it amongst his men, his fellow platoon leader’s men, everyone who had been on Forward Operating Base War Eagle for the last eleven months. Hell, he felt them. Four weeks left until their one year deployment was over, thirty days and a wake up until they could catch that big, beautiful bitch (also known as a civilian airliner) home to the states. More specifically, home to Texas, the land of Shiner Bock, twelve hour smoked brisket, and all the blonde hair, blue eyed University of Texas co-eds one could hope for packed onto a little strip of debauchery known as Austin’s Sixth Street. He can’t wait to get there, but he also can’t stand the thought of buying the farm now, not when they were so close. It keeps him up almost every night, at least on the nights that sheer exhaustion doesn’t force him asleep. He lies awake praying, no begging God to let the men of Bandit Company, himself included get home alive and unharmed. Just four weeks to go.

As for their relief, the men of 3rd ID were amped, reinvigorated with a year’s worth of survivor fucking and binge alcohol carousing in the states, mixed with the hyper vigilance of soldiers who have been to combat before, seen the dirty deed, done worse. The combination was topped off with a heavy dosage of bad attitude for having to come back to this shithole so quickly after leaving it, so soon after they had returned home thinking that the War on Terror was done with them. He didn’t blame them for the posture, how could he? He’d be pissed off too, deploying twice in a three year period. What they must be feeling right now, what their poor families must be feeling.

Unfortunately, he knew those were the breaks of the Army in today’s US of A. No longer were there the masses of men lining up around city blocks to enlist like their grandfathers in WWII. If the immediate aftermath of his generation’s Pearl Harbor didn’t catalyze the youth of America to service, then certainly being three and a half years removed from 9/11 wasn’t going to. And if it wasn’t the guys and gals his age scoffing at the services, it was the parents sheltering them. He was sure at home most had already gone back to watching Desperate Housewives while bribing those kids with even a modicum of interest to forget the whole, “military thing” with a new car instead of enlisting, fresh with a, “Support the Troops” bumper sticker. After all, the military was always something for someone else’s kid to do, but not their own. They supported the troops, so long as their son or daughter wasn’t one of them. Thing is, when the majority of the people back home think that way, the burden falls on the few families that don’t. The hypocrisy of it made him sick.

“Bakersfield, snap out of it.”
Evan looks up from his green covered, cargo pocket notebook to see more than a few in the room staring at him, namely his Executive Officer, Dan Weischfelder. All of the Company Commanders and Field Grades were up at the battalion TOC,

TOC = Tactical Operations Center

so he was conducting the briefing for the newcomers on the company’s area of operations. “Sorry, I missed that last part.”
“I asked you to put another pot up, we’re tapped out.”

Evan looks behind him at the small table where their coffee station sits. Apparently while he was not paying attention the men in the room had drained the pot. Not surprising, that pot had been the last of their Starbucks Christmas Blend, sent by Rigby’s sweet (and drop dead gorgeous, seriously, like other guys were stealing his pictures for the port-a-john kinda gorgeous) girlfriend. In fact, that was the last of their Starbucks period. The support network back home now knew they were redeploying soon. Given the anywhere from two to five weeks turnaround time for mail and packages to arrive, the soldiers of Bandit had been instructed to tell them to stop sending, seeing as it was probable the intended soldier wouldn’t be in country to receive it. The timing of it was leaving their pogue rations decidedly short.

The XO tries to go on but Evan interrupts him. “That was the last of our Starbucks.”

XO = Executive Officer/ DCU = Desert Combat Uniform/ BCG = Birth Control Glasses

Dan looks annoyed. “I don’t care, make something else.”
“How about Dunkin? You got any of that?” This comes from a Staff Sergeant with the 3rd ID fellas. He’s tall and thick, with a ripe beer gut hanging over his belt, evident even underneath his DCU blouse.He looked a lot like the guy Champ from Anchorman, just with thick ass BCG’s. There was no way in hell the guy was getting laid wearing those charming Army issued bifocals. Evan didn’t see a ring on his finger either.
“Ran out of Dunkin’ last week. Think all we have now is that Folgers shit.”
“Whatever Bakersfield, just make it, okay?” Dan interjects.

Evan shrugs as he stands and turns to put the pot up. Truth be told, he makes shit coffee. He never learned how to portion it out, not having ever had a drop of it himself. Who in the hell wants to drink heated, muddy bean water? Revolting. Yet, since he held the title of Fucking New Guy, (FNG for short) the officer with the least amount of time in the battalion, such menial tasks fell to him. As he shoves a filter in and fills the machine from the remnants of a couple of spare water bottles taken from the pallet out back, he tries to listen to Dan, but it was hard to do so.

Evan was feeling it more and more, the drain, the toil. Groundhog Day, the dreaded onset of complacency. He was getting burnt out. Too many trips outside the wire, too many instances of feeling like he was never going to get back inside it. Too many close calls. Too many fucking mortars dropped on their tiny speck of a FOB,

FOB = Forward Operating Base/ DFAC = Dining Facility

erasing any notion that when you were back inside the walls you were somehow safe for the night. Nowhere was safe. Six months ago he was eating some fucking Frosted Flakes and then wham, he got blown across the DFAC when a mortar landed right outside the tent. Thank God no one had been hurt seriously, basically scrapes from flying gravel and burst eardrums, including his own left ear. The hadjis had their FOB dialed in, and because it was so small, unless you could make it to one of the few hardened buildings your chances were Vegas baby. Hell, they couldn’t even space out the fuelers properly. A round hit there not long ago, blew up one but the firestorm ignited two others. The things burned for days.

But Dan was right, he needed to snap out of it. Whining was for pussies, everyone was in the same shit together, complacency could get men killed, and he would not let that happen with his platoon. At one time dubbed the “Island of Misfit Toys” his men had turned into a precision instrument, a truly cohesive unit that carried themselves with pride, and he owed them everything he had left in his tank and beyond to see that they got home to kiss their wives and kids.

Dan continues with his briefing, going on for the better part of forty five minutes now, highlighting key locations in the sectors broken down by platoon, possible ambush points, previous areas of IED

IED = Improvised Explosive Device

activity, buildings suspected for arms trafficking. All vital and necessary stuff. Dan is a good XO, a West Pointer who has a knack for the unsung administrative work necessary to keep an armor company fully fed, fueled, and ready to fight, but his delivery could be a bit bookish at times. It was late, the 3rd IDers still hadn’t really settled in yet, and more than a few were drifting. Still, that didn’t excuse what came next.

“Sir… Sir, let me just stop you right here.” Evan turns around, eyebrows skyrocketing, and sees the Champ sergeant speaking again, his right arm wrapped over the top of his gut while he four finger points with his left hand. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, we all do. But I think everyone in this room will best be served if you just skip the stuff involving combat ops. We’ve got that. Ain’t nothing we’re gonna hear from you that we ain’t already seen and done. So I suggest we move on to the…”

And then the man actually chuckles a bit.

“…to the things y’all have been doing. Passing out school supplies and the sort. Fill us in on that crap, excuse me Sir, stuff. Although why the Army sent us here to do that, I can’t never understand. Am I right fellas?” he finishes with another chuckle, elbowing the E-5 standing next to him.

E-5 = Pay Grade for a Sergeant

Well that wakes the room right up.

The looks on some of the faces of the 3rd ID guys are pained, as they can’t believe what the man just voiced. Sure, many of them might have thought the same, but to have it delivered so callously? Bandit company’s sergeants and fellow lieutenants look on with disbelief. Evan perks up, the briefing having taken a sudden, dramatic turn. He looks to his XO with eager anticipation, but Dan is a smooth operator. He probably has politics in his future, so he gives a political answer.
“I can appreciate where you’re coming from Sergeant…”
“Scibbons, Sir.”
“Sergeant Scibbons. Certainly we’re not trying to reinstruct you on combat, having been part of the invasion and all. But this is important intel. The fight has shifted, and battling an insurgency is a lot different from toe-to-toe. These fuckers will put an IED right under your wheel well and you’ll never even know it if you’re not careful.”

Staff Sergeant Scibbons shrugs. “Combat is combat Sir, and we here have had buckets of it. You want to know how to stop IEDs from getting planted? Go out and kill the bastards digging up the roads. That’s what we should be here for anyway. Our bosses say we gotta win hearts and minds, so be it, but it’s a damn waste if you ask me. So like I suggested, if we could spend less on this and more on the food delivery and propane distribution, things we’re not versed in that you are, it would be a lot more beneficial.”

Evan can’t believe it. Dan is pissed. He always did wear his emotions on his shirtsleeve, but despite turning red he powers through politically. “I’ll take your suggestion into consideration Sergeant. I was about to finish up with the patrol sectors anyway before transitioning to the major construction and humanitarian aid missions in the AO.

AO = Area of Operations

So just bear with me a few more minutes.”

Scibbons shrugs again. “Your briefing Sir, please go on” but when the XO goes on and isn’t looking the portly sergeant turns to the man he elbowed, looks at him, and rolls his eyes so far into the back of his head Evan is sure he stares straight into his own asshole. The rest of the briefing goes on without incident, Dan speeding through the remainder given how agitated he is. Once he opens it for questions there are none, so he dismisses the group. The 3rd ID guys quickly retreat to their racks on the opposite side of the building, the two companies having consolidated into the rooms on the west and east corridors. Evan had disagreed with the move. Quadrupling the occupancy of already tiny living quarters with their men, who were at the end of their frayed ropes, seemed like just the kind of burden that could push some over the edge. At the same time, once it was articulated to him by his company commander, he realized there was nothing else they could do. Everyone was going to have to dig a little deeper for the last few weeks, and hopefully this would be the final sacrifice in a long line of them this year that would solidify their plane ticket home.

Evan meets with his Platoon and Section Sergeants, issuing out one of the standard warnos

WARNO = Warning Order

he uses in anticipation of a 0800 patrol, more than likely propane distribution duty. His sergeants are worth every penny and know the routine like they do their own mothers. They quickly set out issuing the necessary orders for vehicle preparations and pre-combat inspections of personal gear and weapons. All would be readied tonight so that they could get max sleep before the early departure time. This way he and his leadership team would only have to do a few spot checks before issuing out the patrol brief. It saved time and increased rest, every bit of which his men needed but refused to take. If he didn’t watch them closely, they would stay up all night playing Halo or watching porn and then be useless in the morning.

He checks his watch, seeing that it is nearly 2330. As soon as he puts his arm down his Captain comes back into the building, yelling down the hall for his lieutenants to join him. Tired, Evan drags on his way back to the CP,

CP = Command Post

hoping that above all else, their patrol orders would be expeditiously issued. The furthest away from the room at the center of the hall, he is the last to arrive. “How did it go?” their Company Commander, sitting on the edge of the table, asks Dan as soon as Evan walks in.

“Fine, straight forward. Gave them the overlay, no questions.”
“Pfft, yeah that’s how it went” interjects Tom, third platoon’s Lieutenant.
Captain Addler, Greg to Dan, stretches his neck to the right and rubs the left side with his hand. He does it every time he is tired or stressed, which is a lot these days. Evan didn’t envy him, being in command the entire deployment. Squat with thinning hair, no doubt from both the nerves and the helmet, he was also a Pointer, hence the familiarity with Dan. “God, what now? Do I really want to know?”

Dan shoots Tom a look which doesn’t even register on Tom’s radar. Quite frankly, even if it had Tom wouldn’t give a shit. “It was nothing. We got the briefing done.”
Addler turns to Evan. “Will you please tell me what the hell is happening?”
Evan exchanges glances with both Tom and Dan, and then adds his spin, trying to placate both by not holding back but also not making a big deal of things. “One of the guys was a bit of a prick. Pretty much told us that we’re nothing but street sweepers and lunch ladies. It wasn’t a huge deal, just a little surprising is all. Dan shut it down.”

“Yeah, well…” The Captain takes another pause, looking off to the side vacantly for a moment. “Anyway, we’re bound to have a bit of that. These guys can’t be happy to be back here, and they did see more than their fair share of action last time. Ignore it, I don’t need our guys getting into it with theirs, you hear me? Square your people away. The light is at the end of the tunnel. We show 3rd ID what to do, that’s our job. They don’t want to listen, that’s on them. Let’s finish this and get the fuck out, clear?”

They all nod in affirmation. “Clear” adds Eric, the tall triathlete from Pennsylvania. He was ROTC out of Shippensburg University, and ran their second platoon. He also rarely spoke unless it was in the course of duty.
“Right then…” another neck rub, “we start right seat rides tomorrow.

Left seat, right seat operations occur when a few members of an incoming unit observe an outgoing unit while they conduct a mission. Left seat is the term used to describe the unit that is conducting the mission while the right seat describes the observers.

First run on this, so you’ll only be taking out the leadership of each platoon. Leave four of your boys back here each. I suggest you give the extra time to the ones that are behind on their packing.”
“Or sleep,” Evan throws out.
The Captain looks at him and shrugs. “Whatever you want LT, I’m not gonna tell you how to suck an egg.” He inclines his head at Tom. “Third is out at 1200, conduct a recon of your sector and then pick up the pump trucks. Show them the ropes of the mission.”

Evan is happy for that, even though it confirms his platoon would be going out at 0800. The pump truck mission was never an easy one. The sewer pipes in Sadr City are small and were never meant to handle the population that lived within it. Back when Saddam was in power, he packed all of the criminals, homosexuals, people with birth defects, basically anyone he didn’t want walking around as part of mainstream Baghdad into the neighborhood. Located in the northeast section of the capitol city it was laid out in a tight grid pattern, supposedly so the former dictator could easily roll his tanks in there if the residents of Sadr ever decided to revolt. Intel at the beginning of their deployment estimated that anywhere between two and two and a half million people lived in an area that was roughly five square miles, making it one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world. The place was a festering slum of the unemployed and ignorant, a perfect place to start an insurgency.

As a result of the neglect by the former ruler, and certainly helped along by the disruption of services resulting from the invasion, the sewage pipes were constantly bursting, backing up, and ultimately, overflowing. Bandit company’s entire AO was covered in massive lakes of liquid shit, so much so that it was necessary to take groups of pump trucks, which were basically giant storage canisters on wheels with a vacuum attached, around and suck up the sewage. Once full they would drive over and dump the contents into the nearby lake, which was actually more like a canal. Except the Iraqis manning the trucks hated being escorted by the U.S. troops. Their whole existence depended on being free to ride around the city and price gouge the shit out of anyone that needed their house or street pumped. When they were with Bandit, they were held to an honest day’s work, only earning the wages their company paid them for. You had to keep your eye on them. When you weren’t looking the drivers would cut their own hoses, say they could no longer contribute, and leave. From there it was a quick drive to the garage to pick up a new hose and go back out on their own to rob some other family blind. That was how things worked in Iraq. Everything was corrupt, everyone got over on everyone else. No one seemed to mind. To Americans, it was baffling behavior.

Captain Addler nods to Eric next. “Second stays in for the morning. You remain on QRF

QRF = Quick Reaction Force/ BC = Battalion Commander

but their second will be out on the ready line with you. Do map recons, walk them through the AO in detail, but then be prepared to take them out with you in the afternoon. You’ll depart at 1600 to escort Lancer 6 and his counterpart on their right seat. Evan…”
“I know, propane, zero eight.”
Addler grimaces at the interruption but pushes on. “Right. Reverse of Tom. Hit propane first thing, oversee the morning distribution, then do your sector recon after. Now, I want you to only leave three behind.”
The Lieutenant looks at his commander quizzically. “Sir?”
“Turns out, their first platoon had to leave their platoon sergeant behind. Came down with appendicitis while in Kuwait. They flew him out to Landstuhl so it’ll be a few weeks before he gets up here. On top of that, their LT is pretty green as well, so their BC wants the acting platoon sergeant to shadow you and Sergeant Avers equally. Tomorrow he’ll ride in your truck.”

Evan already knows what’s coming. “What’s the acting’s name?”
The Captain pulls out his cargo book and flips towards the back. It takes a few moments, but then he finds it. “Scibbons.”
The laughs from the other guys overshadow his exclamation of, “Fuck!”
Captain Addler looks up, surprised but then makes the connection. “That’s the guy I’m guessing?”
Evan grits his teeth and shakes his head. “Yes Sir.”
“Well, just remember what I said. You keep your people in line, ignore any stupid rivalry nonsense, and get the job done.” To the group. “Questions?” When there are none, he stands up from the table. “Alright, night gents.”

Evan goes back to his part of the hall, confirms the 0800 mission with his NCO’s,

NCOs = Non Commissioned Officers/ SAPI = Small Arms Protective Insert

and climbs into his own rack. It’s a little after midnight, but sleep doesn’t come for at least another hour and then it is a restless sleep at that. His watch alarm chimes five hours later. Climbing down from the top bunk, he quietly opens his closet and grabs his hygiene kit. After shaving and baby wiping down, he’s back in the room suiting up into his DCUs, the blouse so overused that permanent salt lines from all the sweating are embedded in the fabric. Bakersfield hefts his vest off the floor and slings it over a shoulder, the ammo, SAPI plates, grenades and various other pieces of gear netting a little over seventy pounds. Putting his shoulder holster with his 9mm and the sling of his M4 over his other arm, the lieutenant grabs his helmet and makes his way out of the barracks to his waiting humvee. When he had been assigned as Bandit’s first platoon leader, he arrived at the barracks all eager and excited. It was finally his turn to show what he was made of, to lead troops in combat. Finding Captain Addler in the CP, Evan introduced himself and asked where first platoon’s tanks were, because he was ready to take the fight to the enemy.

“I like that fire and motivation Bakersfield, come this way.” Evan followed his new commander out the back door, where the Captain pointed to four humvees, one of which never even made it to the paint station back at Fort Hood and was still woodland green as opposed to desert tan. In that regard, it was not unlike the vests they wore, woodland green camo over desert BDUs. Honestly, why camo up at all? “Here you are Lieutenant, go take the fight to the enemy.” With a slap on the back he left him there on the steps staring at the wheeled vehicles. Turns out second platoon was the only unit with tanks in the whole battalion, seeing as Bandit was actually attached to 2-5 Cav, an infantry battalion, for the duration of the deployment.

Trucks had their advantages. Brigade and battalion orders barred them from doing night patrols in the city, meaning they typically only conducted one patrol a day, thus avoiding most of the major engagements that took place after dark. They were more nimble than the Abrams and Bradleys, so they could get in and out of tighter spots, or to wherever they were needed quickly. Still, for every positive there was a negative. Certain missions were necessary for continued operations. Resupply runs, known as LOGPAC,

LOGPAC = Logistics Package/ BIAP = Baghdad International Airport

would have his platoon out all day driving from FOB to FOB. They would escort empty logistics vehicles to one base to pick up ammo, food, water, and then have to bring them back to another. They took soldiers to BIAP for their leave and picked others back up to return them to their units. They escorted the battalion commander or battalion XO to brigade headquarters, hell they even drove the chaplain around so he could say Sunday mass at half a dozen locations. All this meant that they were on the roads, a lot, which was definitively the place you did not want to be. Being on the roads mean being exposed to roadside bombs, and exposure to IEDs was Iraq’s Russian roulette. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when you got hit and then, how badly.

And if you weren’t doing that you patrolled sector, got rocks and profanity hurdled at you, handed out propane because the locals were too crooked to do it themselves, and sucked up lakes of shit. This was Bakersfield’s war on terror.

Once he is done with his own inspections of the vehicles, Evan pulls out his cargo notebook and reviews his patrol notes from yesterday. Based off of that, he draws up a variation for today’s patrol. Essentially they completed the same tasks over and over and over, but the order had to constantly be changed to keep the enemy guessing. If they had a set routine, the hadjis would figure it out in a day and be waiting for them, or worse, dig up the road in the night and leave them a surprise of wired artillery shells under the surface. IED’s were getting more and more sophisticated as time went on. Rumor has it that the Iranians are to blame for that.

“Damn LT, I can still smell your boots.” That was Grayson, a Specialist from a rough part of Houston. He was smart, smarter than he liked to let on, and would make sergeant soon enough. Bakersfield had agreed with Avers when he recommended putting him behind the 240

240 = M240 machine gun/ Inshallah = Arabic for “God Willing”

more often, to get Grayson ready for a gunner’s position when they rotated back to Hood and inshallah, tanks.

“Grayson, shut the fuck up and go check your gun” the Lieutenant says half-heartedly as other members of his platoon begin to straggle out to their respective vehicles. His footwear had become something of an anecdote around the FOB, mainly because of the nickname he carried, LT Shitboots. In his first few solo patrols as platoon leader after his own left seat right seat transition with now XO Weischfelder, Evan had noticed something peculiar about the men’s behavior whenever they were dismounted and walking alongside or in front of the vehicles, which they sometimes did so that he could converse with village elders who were out in front of their shops, homes, or mosques.

Basically, every time they came up to a sewage lake, these battle hardened, eat iron and shit out steel tankers would tip toe around the edges, unwilling to step anywhere close to the standing water that contained hefty amounts of human feces. Bakersfield would watch as they would all gather around a narrow portion of the lake so that they could take turns jumping across without getting their feet dirty, or climb over a makeshift bridge of corrugated tin or scrap timber. What they didn’t realize and what he saw immediately, was that if anyone ever rolled a single hand grenade or emptied a clip into their little gatherings, it would take out half the platoon in one shot. Tactically it was unsustainable, and so when they got back in he informed his sergeants that they would need to maintain stricter formations when they were dismounted for just that purpose.

Soldiers are slick though. The next day they brought him to the biggest lake in their sector, some forty five or fifty yards wide, and more than a foot and a half at its deepest to call his bluff. Bakersfield didn’t flinch. He walked right through that fucker, right into the center, stood their calf deep in crap and adjusted their spacing as the rest of the men came across, grumbling, laughing, and admiring. True, his men still tended to stay to the edges, but they got the message. Don’t bunch up, don’t present a target, don’t get us fucking killed. The legend of Lieutenant Shitboots had been born.

Forty minutes before departure the vehicles turn over and slowly creep their way towards the FOB’s back gate which faces west to Sadr. There they are put into the order of march and shut down again while everyone dismounts and gears up. Sergeant First Class Avers and his two section sergeants, Staff Sergeant Aviles and Staff Sergeant Coronado come over to his vehicle where he prepares to give the patrol brief. For routine missions like this he usually just gave it to them and then trusted them to conduct their own briefs with their crews before departure. They had all been working together so long that he trusted they wouldn’t leave anything out. It was only when they had to do a LOGPAC or some other mission where they were escorting vehicles outside of their platoon that Bakersfield did a full briefing to every member of the convoy, all gathered around his truck. That way he ensured everyone received the same intel and instructions, since he was the one giving them.

Evan looks over Avers’ considerable shoulders to see Staff Sergeant Scibbons and the E-5 he elbowed during the meeting last night walking up to them. “Good Morning Sir, we riding with you today?”
“That’s correct Sergeant Scibbons, you’re in my truck. Your LT can ride with Sergeant Avers.”
“Oh it’s just us this morning Sir, the LT got pulled to assist with arrival inventories.”

Evan suppresses a grimace. They would be short a man in a truck for the patrol because of the last minute adjustment. It was too late to get one of his guys he left behind at the barracks. “Alright then.” He does quick introductions and then rolls into his brief. “Propane distribution first. Four, you take your section, secure the back gate and then split off to reinforce the front. Once we’re done there, we’ll head south down Aeros and work our way back up Alpha into the center of sector. A couple of stops, and then we’ll bounce up into Square Town, spend some time there and then roll quick through Triangle Town. That should bring us to right about four hours and cover most of the sector. Questions?” His noncoms shake their heads. This was straight forward stuff for them. “Alright, go brief your crews. Departure in five.”

The sergeants walk away and Scibbons’ mouth drops open. He looks back and forth at everyone leaving. Evan catches it, expecting as much. “Just so you guys know, we have set missions that have warnos and op-ords

OPORD = Operations Order

established. All of the radio frequencies, actions on contact, mission load outs, everything are contained within and have been given and executed hundreds of times. After I get our assignment each night I give the corresponding order, and everyone sets up accordingly. This way we max our efficiencies and make the most out of our timelines. The only thing left to do is give the patrol layout so that we vary our pattern each day and keep the hadjis guessing.”

“I was gonna say Sir, I hoped it was something like that, because what you just did was about the most bare bones thing I’ve ever seen.” The E-5 shoots a glance at his acting platoon sergeant and back at the Lieutenant.

Evan looks at him in return and then back at Scibbons. It was going to be a long patrol. “Yeah, well you’ll see that once you get this far into your rotation, you’ll be a well-oiled machine. Makes giving the full version redundant and counterproductive, as your men will tune out seeing that they’ve heard it three hundred times or more. This way, I keep my people focused on the key tasks and locations. You guys should consider doing the same or something similar. Now let’s mount up.” He looks at the elastic band on the E-5’s helmet, reading the name tape. “Sergeant Conway, you ride with Sergeant Avers just behind my vehicle. Sergeant Scibbons, you’re in here.”

The acting platoon sergeant climbs in the right passenger side of the humvee, pulling the heavily armored door shut with a loud bang. “Mount up!” screams Lieutenant Bakersfield. The men all put on their ballistic eye protection sunglasses, the gunners standing in the turrets stick in their earplugs, and everyone slaps a fresh magazine into their weapon, pulling back the charging handles to chamber the first round. The vehicles turn over and rumble back to life. Evan racks his 9mm before returning it to his holster and then loads his M4,

9mm = Beretta 9mm pistol M4 = M4 Carbine a 5.56×45mm NATO, air-cooled, direct impingement gas-operated, magazine-fed carbine. It has a 14.5 in barrel and a telescoping stock. Both were standard Army issue weapons in 2004/2005.

dialing up the Red Dot sight mounted to the top rail on the weapon. He looks over his platoon one more time before climbing into his seat on the front passenger side.

The Blue Force Tracker is already up, the screen displaying the map of Sadr and their current grid location, his driver having prepped the computer while he gave his briefing. Evan yells over the rumbling of the engine and the incessant whir of the supposed air conditioning to his crew, giving them the locations and routes that were just discussed. Not only did he command the entire platoon, but he also ran his truck, or what would be his tank when they got back home. As the TC, or tank commander, he had to brief them himself, just like he had dispatched his sergeants to do with their crews. Once they give the thumbs up he grabs his radio hand mic tied to their company frequency. Bandit rarely had two patrols out at the same time, so they stayed on company and battalion nets, this way the sergeant or even their CO sitting in the company CP could monitor their progress.

“All Bandit Red elements, this is Bandit Red 1. In sequence, REDCON status, over.”

REDCON = Readiness Condition/ SP = Start Patrol or Start Point

“Red 2, redcon 1.”
“Red 3, redcon 1.”
“This is Red 4, redcon 1.”
Evan keys again. “All Bandit elements redcon 1. Standby for departure.” And then quickly bringing his battalion hand mike up to his right ear he keys and says, “Lancer Mike, Lancer Mike, this is Bandit Red 1.”
The radio crackles in response. “Go ahead Bandit Red 1.”
“Lancer Mike, Bandit Red SP time now.”
“Roger than Bandit Red, we show you SP at 0754, over.”
“Bandit Red 1, roger out.” Turning back to his company net microphone he keys again. “Red 2, take us out.”

The lead truck, Red 2 rolls out as the soldiers on gate guard pull the massive metal door back on its tracks to let them down a small causeway lined with 20 foot tall concrete barricades. Out another gate and they are rolling, already trailing dust behind them. The platoon goes over a small bridge that spans the lake and just like that, they are in sector. In moments they turn left onto Route Aeros, a two lane hardball road that runs parallel to the city. Not more than five minutes from leaving the back gate of War Eagle do they pull in front of the propane station. Red 2’s truck wheels to the right of the station gate while his own vehicle pulls off to the left, the drivers cutting the turns hard and then throwing the humvees in reverse to back up against the walls, orienting their section’s mounted machine guns towards Sadr. The Iraqi gate guards pull open the gate and the two vehicles in Red 4’s section proceed inside, the gate closing immediately behind them.

Evan hands his radio mics up to his gunner, who takes them and stretches out the cords so that he can hang them on the edge of his turret opening. Bakersfield still laughs at calling the three scraps of metal and a shrapnel shield a turret, but it was better than no protection at all. Evan dismounts, observing his men doing the same, the crews working simultaneously to put out strands of concertina wire that will act as both a barrier and funnel of pedestrian traffic for the ladies trying to buy propane this morning. It was always ladies lined up to buy propane, as this was part of cooking, and cooking was a woman’s job. In fact, most of everything in Iraq seemed to be a woman’s job. Even after a year Evan was still trying to figure out just what the men were responsible for. Most of the time it looked like they sat on their asses and drank tea, all while yelling at the women for not bringing the tea fast enough. Try that with a Texas Longhorn.

Truth be told, the propane mission had become pretty mundane at this point. Early on crowds would mass at the gates, not allowing the distributors to get out into the city, all the while threatening to break the doors down and steal everything. On the flip side, the station had been making a killing on price gouging. Then there was the ever present threat of what an attack on this station would do, not only in terms of sheer devastation, but also in local economic hardship. The insurgents would blow the place up and then turn around and blame the Americans, saying it was our fault for not being able to protect it that the city’s kids went hungry. Call it what you would, devious, genius, atrocious, but Evan bet that seeing your kid go hungry could become a real motivating factor to join an insurgency if they promised you money, and therefore food, as a result.

So, they would roll in here, either them or 3rd platoon, and lay down some good old fashioned order and deterrence. Evan meets with the station Chief to confirm the prices for the day, and checks with the women on what they pay as they come out with filled tanks. His men monitor the lines, allowing only a few in at a time, so that distribution is done fair and orderly, while also standing at the ready against any possible aggression from the city. Every few minutes the gate opens and a flatbed wagon laden with tanks and pulled by a donkey comes out and heads into Sadr. Of course, there was nothing to stop the wagon drivers from price gouging once they got into the different neighborhoods, but Bandit couldn’t prevent everything. The station was the priority. A few minutes into the distribution routine his gunner, Sergeant Vandis calls out to him. “LT, Red 4 says the station is clear and the back gate secure. He’s sending Red 3 out to us.”

Evan gives a thumbs up and a few minutes later the green humvee comes out of the gate and parks next to his vehicle. The men get out and join in the security of the site. A few of the local boys show up, sons of the local baker who works right next to the station. Bakersfield pulls out two dollars American from his wallet and hands them over to one of his Specialists. “Take someone with you and go get some bread. Pass it out to the platoon. I’m sure more than a few of us missed chow this morning.”

The men walk down the street with the kids. While he is waiting for them to come back the 3rd ID buck sergeant walks up. He is all skin and bones, but there is an edge to him, a man that conveys sharpness and experience despite his young age and apparent fragility. A large plug sits packed in his lower lip and he spits the tobacco juice out every so often. “Hey LT.”
“Sergeant. What do you think so far?”
“Just another part of the same shithole Sir.” He spits again.
“That it is.” Even though it was nice out today, and the temperature was low, it still stunk. Propane, mixed with steaming sewage, mixed with the ever present smell of decomposition. The whole city of Baghdad smells like death. The air is so thick with pollution that you can feel it pressing against your skin.
“Anyway, wanted to say sorry about Scibbons.”
Bakersfield looks over, seeing the Staff Sergeant moving about the line and speaking with his men, his rifle clutched tightly to his chest at the ready. He hesitates before answering, but then decides fuck it and pushes on. “He always this high strung?”

The E-5 shakes his head. “No not, always. Well yeah, kinda. He can be alright. Man knows his engines Sir, and he’s a decent TC, but truth be told he’s always been a bit of a spotlight ranger.

Spotlight Ranger = One who only puts forth effort when superiors are watching.

So when Sergeant First Class Tabor went down and he got put in charge, well, it went right to his head. Man’s never been above section sergeant, and you can probably guess why.”

“Yeah, I get it.” His men return with bags of the bread, fresh Iraqi flatbread warm right out of the oven. Once he is certain everyone has gotten a piece, he takes two loaves and gives one to Conway. They chew on the bread while they shoot the shit, the typical where you from, where you been, sort of stuff. They are still speaking when Scibbons comes rushing up from behind and leaps in between them, slapping the loaf of bread out of the younger sergeant’s hand.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing Sergeant Conway?” he bellows at the man in front of everyone. “There will be no eating of local food, you understand me? All of this bread could be poisoned!”
Evan looks at the man, still chewing. “It’s not poisoned Sergeant. It’s actually quite good. Reminds me of Sunday bagels back home on Long Island. Here try some.”
Scibbons looks at the bread, and then at him with disdain. “With all due respect Sir, we don’t approach things as lax as you do. My men won’t be eating anything that isn’t produced by Americans.”
“The dining facility is run by KBR and they hire mostly Filipinos.”

“Yeah…well you know what I mean Sir,” and with that he is off again, this time inspecting where his men stand around the other trucks. Conway rolls his eyes, and the two separate. After an hour Evan looks at his watch, gives a few more minutes, and then signals the platoon to mount up. They continue on with the patrol as planned, the Lieutenant pointing out key spots like pumping stations or district buildings. They stop and speak with elders in front of their shops, getting a feel for what is going on in the neighborhood. With each passing interaction, Scibbons seems to take less and less interest. At one stop, just before they bump up north into Square Town, Grayson comes over to him.

“Yo Sir, you got to square this guy away.”
Evan excuses himself from the elders through their translator and walks a bit away with Grayson. “What’s up?”
“This guy is riling everybody up. He’s not watching you. He keeps coming around to all of us, correcting us, telling us we’re slouching, we’re holding our weapons wrong, that we’re being lazy. He’s acting like he’s running your platoon Sir. This fucker is gonna get slapped he keeps it up.”
Shit. He needed this like a hole in the head. “Alright, I got it. Tell everyone to calm down and send Sergeant Avers over.”
Grayson walks off and Avers saddles up a few minutes later. “You hearing these grumblings?”

“Yeah, apparently he’s talking all sorts of shit.”
Evan looks around. “Listen, we can’t have this. We’ve still got a job to do, and this is a major distraction to be happening out in sector. Tell everyone to settle down and focus. In the meantime, when we stop up in Square town, pull him aside and speak to him platoon sergeant to platoon sergeant. Remind him, gently please, that he’s here to observe.”

They mount up yet again and push north over the lake into the first of the two standalone neighborhoods that are part of their sector. While stopped to inspect some downed power lines, Sergeant Avers performs his task. He comes over to Evan afterwards shaking his head. “This guy don’t want to listen to nobody LT. Keeps telling me that I should have you in line better, and that we don’t know how to operate out in sector. Says he’s surprised we all haven’t been killed already.”

Orders or not, Evan is getting pissed. “Is that so?” He looks over to where Scibbons is berating Conway, his finger pointing between the platoon and the junior noncom’s face. Bakersfield checks his watch. A little over an hour left in the patrol. “Mount everyone up. Let’s head next door and finish this thing out. I want to be done with this guy.”

The platoon pushes to the west into Triangle Town, maneuvering through the streets to introduce their relief to the area. Evan pushes down the anger and tries to engage the man, to follow the guidance of his CO and BC. “How are you doing Sergeant? Getting a feel for things.”
The sergeants yawns before replying. “Yeah, I’ve got a feel Sir. In fact it’s probably more than that. I think I’ve seen all I’m going to need.”
“Oh yeah, that quick huh?”
The man pauses, as if he is exacerbated by the request. “Well Sir, with all due respect” he starts again. Evan hates that expression. Nothing ever good comes after it. Basically, if you have to preface what you’re about to say with that, you probably shouldn’t say it at all. “This is a joke.”

The Lieutenant growls out, “A joke?”
“Yeah, it is. Y’all are running around here half assed doing half assed shit. You would’ve been smoked if you were here in 2003. And then you’re doing what? Passing out chickens? I heard our first platoon is going to be pumping shit? And y’all think you’ve got it hard? This is a waste of our time. A unit such as ours shouldn’t be assigned to things so trivial. Y’all might have settled for this, but I’m gonna have to say something to our CO. We can’t settle, we’re too good at what we do.”

“Short halt” Evan says to his driver.
“Sir?”
“Pull over,” and then he yells “Short halt” into the company mic.
The trucks move to the side of the road. His men immediately begin jumping out of the vehicles to pull security but he waves them all back in. Sergeant Scibbons gets out and the LT signals for him to follow, walking a few steps away, namely out of earshot. Once he is comfortable he rounds on the man. “Alright, I’ve had enough of your shit.”

“Excuse me?” the man says, looking like he was just slapped.
“Since last night you’ve been rubbing our face in it like you’re fucking Spec Ops or something. Let me tell you something sergeant, my men have seen and done plenty this year. We’ve lost people, good people, same as you did. Yeah, it wasn’t the invasion combat you saw, but it’s combat nonetheless. These men have been blown up, sniped at, mortared continuously, and then had to drive on with the missions we are ordered to do outside the wire every damn day.”

“Sir, let me just stop…”
“No you’re gonna stand there and shut the fuck up. You know what happens when you pass out chickens? It means a family doesn’t go hungry that night, and the Dad doesn’t go out looking for money or food, which the insurgents are all too happy to give him if he’ll empty a few clips at us or plant an IED. You don’t like the idea of pumping shit, get in line, but last month we pumped out a street so a husband could have a funeral for his dead wife. You know how many people show to an Iraqi funeral Sergeant? Damn near half the city it seems like. That man was so overcome with gratitude that he promised to help the Coalition from then on. Could it be bull? Sure it could. But that was a powerful message that got to a lot of people that day, and that message directly counters the fucking Madhi militia’s propaganda. You think you’re gonna just kick down doors in an area of two million people and be all badass? You’re kicking the fucking hornet’s nest. You would know that if you would open your ears and listen, but no. Instead you’ve got your mind made up and you’re gonna ‘have to say something?’ Are you fucking kidding me? You’re in sector less than 24 hours but you know more than all the generals in MNF-I,

MNF-I = Multi National Force – Iraq

and you’re gonna ‘say something’? To what? Get your company reassigned? If you really think you’ve got that kind of pull, then go ahead and be my guest, because the sooner you’re outta our hair the better.”

The pasty white man is beat red with anger. “Whatever, you’re just another punk college kid with bars. You’re the one trying to act all hard, but you ain’t never seen the real shit. If you were my LT I would have squared your ass away a long time ago.”
Evan stares at the man and scowls. Slowly he nods his head and then gets nose to nose with the man. “Alright Sergeant, you think what you want, but this is my platoon, not yours. I won’t have you running your mouth, telling my men what to do and belittling everything they’ve done and gone through this year. For the rest of this patrol, and the rest of the time we’re here, if you come across any of my people, you’re to keep your fucking mouth shut. You understand me?”

Scibbons stares at him. They remain locked for what seems like a long time. “Yeah.”
“Yeah what? I don’t think I heard you correctly.”
Another pause, shorter this time. The man thinks better of it. “Yes Sir.”
“Go get in Red 4’s truck and send Conway up here to mine. I don’t want you anywhere near me.”

The staff sergeant rounds and storms off, ripping open the passenger door. Conway looks confused as he trots up. Evan gives him a slap on the back as he climbs into the Red 1 humvee, and then climbs in himself. It’s still too early to head back, so they patrol around Triangle Town some more. The Lieutenant spots some elders and decides it would be a good way to kill the last twenty minutes, so he orders a short halt again and the platoon dismounts. Sergeant Avers comes over and stands behind him while he finishes up with the men, which is strange because he usually maintains control over the platoon while these meetings are going on. Bowing his head slightly and crossing his hand over his heart, he thanks the elders for their time and turns around, putting his glasses back on. He never kept them on when speaking with the locals, it could be taken as disrespect.

“What the hell did you say to him LT?”
“Nothing much, just a dose of reality. Why, what’s up?”
“Man…” Sergeant Avers shakes his head. “That man in there acting a damn fool. Spoutin’ all sorts of shit about us, about you in particular.”
“Anything good?”
“That you’re an arrogant prick who thinks he knows it all, just like every other officer he’s ever met. Thinks you’re a baby that needs his ass wiped, a waste of a uniform who couldn’t lead his way out of a wet paper bag. You know, the standard NCO shit we say about y’all. Except this motherfucker is hot while he sayin’ it.”

Evan looks over at the Red 4 truck, where Scibbons is standing, staring daggers at the both of them. “We’re not getting through to him. Maybe we need to try a different tactic.”
“What you thinking LT?”
“Your back window still a little hinky?”
Avers face is blank. The man could bench three bills but concepts didn’t come to him quick sometimes. Evan actually gets enjoyment out of seeing the smile slowly form on his face as the connection is made. “Yeah, yeah it is.”
“Mount up.”

Avers moves off and Bakersfield turns to his lead vehicle, Sergeant Aviles standing next to his door. “We heading in Sir?” the staff sergeant asks as he walks up.
“Soon. Quick detour first. Take us out and swing west and then south on Horse.”
“You want to go down Route Horse?”
“Yeah, I want to show the 3rd ID guys our western limit before heading in.”
The man was always amenable to his wishes, provided it didn’t mean doing something stupid that would get someone killed. He just shrugs. “Whatever you say LT.”
“Oh, and pay close attention to the radio. I may need to halt us there too.”

With everyone back in their vehicles the patrol moves on as he directed. The going is slow when they first pull onto Horse. The locals pretty much turned the entire length of the road into a default garbage dump, so there is several feet of trash built up, making it an uneven ride. As they progress the terrain levels out, and Red 2 begins to pick up a little speed, getting them back to their normal patrol pace.

The stench is overwhelming. The rotting garbage mixed with human sewage scent wafts through the vents and the turret opening. It permeates everything, feeling like it is actually seeping through your clothing to nestle and cling on your skin, never to be washed off again. They didn’t like coming down here, and only did so when necessary, as it was known to be a sort of out-of-bounds area for both sides of the equation. But they were used to it, they had dealt with it in the heat of the summer at temps reaching 130 degrees. For first timers, the stench could be overpowering to the point of tears and stomach spasms.

Evan checks the grid and the map, looks out the window and confirms his landmark. He keys his hand mic. “Red 2! Push it!”
A simple enough command. Get the fuck out of Dodge as fast as we can. Aviles reacts immediately, relaying the radio command to his driver, who in turn floors the gas pedal. The three trucks behind take off in response, racing to catch up while still maintaining their spacing. Red 2 hits a small incline built out of filth. The vehicle lifts and then slams down into a sewage lake, the waters splashing up high on both sides. Evan’s vehicle does the same, and as the shit water cascades down his rearview mirror, he watches as Red 4 hits the makeshift ramp.

The truck lifts up and comes down in a mighty jostling crash. As it slams down, the catch bar on the rear passenger window slips, a recent defect that the mechanics can’t seem to get corrected, and the entire pane of bulletproof glass drops into the interior of the door. At the same time, a massive wash of feces laden sewage splashes up and into the cabin through the opening, soaking Sergeant Scibbons in wretched foulness. The man at first scrambles at the window, working to get it back into place and so eliminate his exposure to small arms fire, but his hands are so covered in shit water that the bar and glass keep slipping. Once he finally gets the window locked the realization of what he is covered in sinks in. “Oh my God!” he squeals. “It’s in my mouth! It’s in my fucking mouth!”

Instinctively he begins pawing at his tongue, only to realize shortly after doing so that he just covered it with even more sewage. Then he discovers a piece of something, what it is he doesn’t know, rolling around in his mouth. He tries to spit it out, but when it doesn’t come he swallows, and he feels it go down his throat. As this dawns on him, his stomach seizes. He gags once, twice, and then it all comes out. Five hour old, half-digested eggs and bacon, pancakes and coffee, hurtle from his face in a fire hose of straight nasty, blanketing the seatback in front of him. The puke is so voluminous that it splashes back onto his legs. He is still throwing up when the stench of his own vomit adds to the horrific smell of Sadr City. This ignites another bout of vomiting, this time the puke landing all over the front of his vest.

“God damn!” Evan hears Sergeant Avers yelling as he is keying his mic. “Yo Sergeant, cut that shit…man…God damn stop puking in my fucking truck!” Finally the sergeant turns his attention to the radio. “Hey Red 1, we gotta head back. This guy is having a damn exorcism in my back seat.”
Bakersfield looks at his watch. Ten after twelve. He keys up. “Roger that, break. Red 2, RTB.”

RTB = Return to Base/ RP = Return Patrol or Release Point/ WILCO = Will Comply

“Red 2, roger.”

The patrol makes two quick lefts and a few moments later a right. They cross back over the bridge and as they enter the first gate Evan keys battalion. “Lancer Mike, Bandit Red 1.”
“Bandit Red 1, Lance Mike.”
“Lancer Mike show Bandit Red RP the FOB one two one eight, over.”
“Wilco, Bandit Red, one two one eight. Welcome back. Lancer Mike out.”
The vehicles stop in front of a set of four clearing barrels, and most of the platoon dismounts, one by one dropping their mags, clearing the round from the chamber, placing the muzzle of their rifles inside the earth filled barrels, and squeezing the trigger. The clack of hammers coming forward into empty chambers fills the air, signaling that they are authorized to proceed further into the FOB. The gunners in the turrets clear their 240’s and then hand their personal rifles down to their platoon mates on the ground to be cleared in the barrels.

Sergeant Scibbons gets out of the Red 4 vehicle gingerly, his legs shaking beneath him. As he tries to steady himself he doubles over and pukes yet again, this one little more than a dry heave given the full contents of his stomach are in the back seat. A huge pink stain clings to his vest and pants. When he looks up his eyes are vacant, his glasses having flown off his face at some point in the bouts of vomiting. A long, attached line of drool dangles from his lower lip. He searches about, finds the direction he is looking for, and begins to shuffle off. When he has gotten as far as the fuel tanker parked just beyond the barrels, Evan calls out to him. “Sergeant Scibbons!” The man slowly turns around to stare at him. “You didn’t clear your weapons!”

Again vacant, the man slowly goes back to the barrels, clears his rifle and pistol, and turns back towards the fueler. Once he gets there the Lieutenant calls again. “Sergeant!” Scibbons turns. Evan checks his watch in a big show of it. “DFAC is open and serving roast beef today! Enjoy your lunch!”

The man tries to scowl but belches instead, the taste of it doubling him over yet again. Sergeant Conway gives the LT a smirk as he trots by to meet up with his acting platoon sergeant. Scibbons immediately hands the man his rifle, and the two walk off. Evan watches them go before turning back to the platoon. They are all smiles and laughs as they go about post patrol ops, refueling, reorganizing, and the whatnot. They drive off back towards their barracks while he heads over to the battalion TOC to file his patrol report. He will catch his fair share of hell later for this, but somehow he suspects that he’ll sleep just fine tonight.