Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jeff's AO

There was a company in our battalion that was tasked with patrolling this one road – I think Time Magazine considered it the most heavily IED’d (Improvised Explosive Device) road in Iraq, but I never saw any report about it. It was bad, though. After a couple months, it was almost a guarantee that you’d get hit driving down there – unless you went out at night – we didn’t get hit at night there, but other guys did. They always drove with their lights on – and paid for it.

Anyway, the company that patrolled that road got hit all the time. One of the first was when they first showed up over there. They were in tracs (AAVs – Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles), and just as soon as they got across the bridge (Euphrates river), they got rocked with a huge IED.

That was bad enough, but then another IED hit them right after the first one sent the trac airborne a couple feet. It cracked the whole thing in half like an egg. Amazingly, nobody got hit with shrapnel, but at least one guy was knocked sideways by the blast and messed up his back. I think they sent him home it was so bad. And one or two guys got knocked out, too. That one was just the first.

Before long, the engineers were sent to set up a base at the start of that road – just so the company could have a constant presence down there – and even see down the road for a couple of kilometers – overwatch or something.

Well, as the engineers were out there bulldozing the base, some stupid carbomber drove up and blew up the car right in front of them. Nobody was seriously injured, but a lot of guys got little bits of shrapnel in their arms. We got called out to reinforce them – and we passed their humvee full of injured guys riding back to base. It seemed like everybody had their arms bandaged.

We got out there and set up a secure cordon, and there’s bits of the bomber all over the place. His ear was on the ground near me, and also a piece of jaw. One of the other guys radioed that they found his eyes. Somehow they landed next to each other. Then my buddy found his spine. And one guy found his balls. I don’t know how or why, but everything landed in pairs – in like a 100 foot radius around where he blew himself up. Our lieutenant told us to just kick the shit to the side of the road. It was like soccer with body parts.

Eventually they got the base built and started patrolling the road regularly – and still got blown up all the time. Some sections of that road were directly across the river from where we stayed on base, so every time an IED would go off close, the blast would push our doors open. We’d just get our gear and just go wait in the trucks. We knew they’d be calling us out soon. And they did.

Those poor bastards. They had a horrible time. Their base, if you can even call it that, was just a shitty compound surrounded by Hesco barriers (earth-filled wire baskets virtually impervious to shrapnel and bullets). They lived in an old iso-can (a removable tractor trailer compartment – like those seen on the highway towed behind semis), but it didn’t even have sandbags around it. They didn’t have AC or anything, so they cooked in the summer, and froze in the winter. And they got mortared all the time and they weren’t allowed to fire back. They might hit somebody, the command said. I heard a rumor that their lieutenant overruled them a couple times and they fired anyway, but I don’t think it happened very often.

They’d patrol that road night and day, and they always got blown up. Their company had a Marine that held the military record for number of times IED’d without injury. I think it was twelve. He’s lucky to be alive – or have any hearing left.

For some stupid reason, the command got tired of them blowing up humvees down that road, so they told the guys to patrol on foot instead – which seemed like the stupidest idea in the world. The humvees offered at least SOME protection. On foot, you were dead. The kill radius for a 155mm artillery round is 300 meters anyway. They didn’t have a prayer on foot – but somehow the command thought it’d help. I’m still pissed at them for doing that to those guys.

It didn’t take long for them to start getting hit on foot. They weren’t even patrolling the areas OFF the road – but the shoulders. They’d just walk along and peer into the craters from past IED’s, and pray to God that they didn’t bite it. The bastards would re-use the holes over and over. A couple of times, a guy was looking down in a hole and an IED would go off. And somehow, they just got knocked back and that was it. If that’d happened to me, I’d just quit. I’d used up all my luck.

One of their sergeants was looking into a crater once, and then it blew up on him. The company first sergeant ended up out there picking up whatever pieces of him they could find – and putting them in a trash bag. He was the first to die on that road, I think.

But they still made them patrol on foot. And they still got hit all the time. Sometimes they’d spot them before they went off and call out EOD (explosive ordinance disposal), and we’d escort them out. Once, our other section took EOD out, which was fine, but then they got hit as they were getting ready to head back to base. They mopped up that mess – which just popped a couple of tires, and started up again. And then a carbomb hit one of their trucks. Somehow everybody was okay, except that they all got their bells rung and couldn’t hear for awhile.

We had that happen once to us, too. We were escorting EOD back to base, and then THEIR truck got hit. But one of the guys had the door cracked, and the force of the explosion slammed the door into his leg. He was okay, but bruised up pretty badly. He limped for weeks – and looked pissed and miserable the entire time.

It got so bad that driving that road at night was really hard with NVGs (night vision goggles). Even if we didn’t get hit, we’d still have to zig-zag from one side of the road to another to avoid the craters. Some of them would swallow a humvee. The truck in front of me missed a big one once, but was going so fast that they sort of launched over it. They got shaken pretty badly, but the .50 cal fell out of the mount. The gunner ended up barely grabbing it with one hand while it hung over the side of the truck. After we got that fixed up, we started heading back to base again, and we passed another unit riding up the road with their blackouts on. We radioed over to them to be careful for the holes – it was treacherous up there. ‘Yeah, yeah. They got it.’ Five minutes later they were radioing back to us for help. They’d dumped THREE trucks in just one hole, and their own corpsman (Navy medic) was injured. They wanted to borrow ours. That unit was so stupid that they only did patrols on that road for about a week. Then the command sent them to do other things. They had no idea how to navigate, drive, or respond when they got hit or attacked. They gave all their missions to MY platoon – assholes.

One of my buddies was out there one day doing a foot patrol along the road, and all of the sudden they heard a cellphone going off in the ditch. It was the detonator and they were right on top of the IED. Lucky for them, it didn’t go off, but they were convinced they were going to die. I talked to him a few months ago, and he’s completely disabled from PTSD – I imagine it’s at least partially because of that one incident. I didn’t ask him

Another time, EOD was poking around doing a post blast (post blast analysis), and suddenly we saw him bend down and start ripping at wires frantically. Yanking and yanking. Then he suddenly just stopped and knelt down with his head in his hands. Apparently he had stumbled on top of an IED, and since running was just a waste of his time, he just started ripping up the detonation wires and hoped he disconnected the detonator before it went off. I guess it worked. So after he slumped there for a second, he stood back up and started stacking artillery rounds up on the road. It would have been a big one. I’m glad he made it.

Not long before we were slotted to leave and head back to the states, some guys from the original company were doing a patrol one night where they’d drive part of the way, but then get out for some reason and keep going on foot. It was their stupid mission tasking.

Well, the humvee had parked on top of an IED, which went off just as the guys were starting to dismount from the back. It went off right under the engine, and flipped the truck over – right on top of the dismounts out back. Two were badly crushed underneath it and they couldn’t roll it off of them. The doc crawled back to them and gave them both morphine, but it was all he could do right then. He couldn’t even work on them. They called a wrecker to lift the truck off them, but they were both dead before it even got there.

When they told one of those guys’ dad, he was so overcome with grief, he shot himself. We heard about it almost right after it happened. I keep wondering what would have happened if they told MY family. I wonder if it would have been that bad. We lost a lot of guys on that road – but we actually lost even more on another road – including my squad leader. They rigged everything into IEDs in our AO (area of operations). Donkey carts, palm trees, waterlines, guard rails, cars, trucks, even bicycles. Everything blew up. In seven months, I think our battalion alone went through about 1,100 tires. That’s insane, considering there’s only about 40 trucks – if that. We had a couple that still had shrapnel holes in them. Mine had a bullet hole in the radio mount right next to my knee, but I still have no idea where it came from. One truck had bits of my buddy’s elbow all over it. It never rained enough to completely wash it off, and we really didn’t want to touch it. That entire area was hostile to the US. Hell, they probably still are.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Everyone responds differently to war, gore, bloodshed and violence, but no one remains unchanged.

    This is a naked look at a situation most people will never encounter. Good stuff.

  2. Thank you, Ben for telling us these stories. No one can't understand it until they live it! But your stories help to make it more real for us. I'm amazed that anyone can come back from war and live a productive life. How in the world do you train someone mentally to pick up body parts after someone (enemy or friend) is blown to pieces!!

    I thank God for you and all of the other men and women who have and are serving our country to protect our freedoms.

    War stinks!

  3. Betty, I don't think any of these guys come back and live normal, productive lives. Productive, perhaps. Normal...never.

  4. are you able to relive and write these stories? This amazes me. Those images of death and destuction can never be erased from your mind and you are still able to dig deep write this.
    I do not know where to start when it comes to thanking you. Please continue to tell us like it was. Your memories are important.