Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tate's War

We were on standby one day on base, acting as QRF (Quick Reaction Force) – which basically meant we sat around dressed and ready to roll out in under two minutes if we got a call. They were usually something silly, but every now and then we’d be sent out to get a pinned unit or evacuate casualties. That kept most of us motivated to move with a sense of purpose.

We got called one time to bail out a recon unit (Marine Reconnaissance) that was just decisively attacked and wasted most of their ammo on a counterattack. We were sent out to relieve their position, help them with detainees and secure the area while they egressed to base.

By the time we got out there, there wasn’t really much going on. One humvee was being stacked with bodies that were lying around all over the place – none of them ours. They were either insurgents, or had gotten mowed down in the crossfire. I assumed it was the enemy crossfire, but I wasn’t sure. A few destroyed cars were still in the middle of the street, windows broken and lights still on. They had found weapons in the trunk of another.

We took up positions all over the place, and my truck and another were assigned to the north end, next to a couple Iraqi Army roadblocks.

While we took over the position, some recon guys discovered that there was a car behind one building LOADED with artillery rounds – presumably to be used as carbomb during the attack. For some reason they hadn’t used it.

While everybody was standing around, two guys, believe it or not, tried to walk up to the car and drive it away. I guess they didn’t realize we knew it was full of ordinance. We captured them immediately, put them on their knees, and started screaming at them and questioning them. They were convinced we were going to execute them. Both of them pissed themselves, and my friend told me that one of them actually crapped on himself – so badly that nobody wanted to handle him to detain him. Somebody did in the end, I guess.

We started helping the recon guys round up all the detainees and doing a more thorough search of the buildings. I think most of the detainees were actually just shop owners and customers who just happened to be in the area. They’d all be questioned, well-fed, and probably released. That wasn’t my problem.

Somebody called out Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) so they could safely detonate the carbomb, though because it was in a courtyard, they couldn’t drive their robot up to it to lay any charges. Somebody – probably an EOD pyromaniac, proposed that it’d be a good idea to use a SMAW on it. (shoulder mounted anti-tank weapon – the loudest weapon in the infantry arsenal), and blow it up from a safe distance. We’re all pyros, too, so it sounded like a good idea.

The idiot gunner hadn’t sighted in though, so he missed his first short – from like less than 100 feet. I’m sure he got yelled at later for it. He fired a second round (these things are deafening), and it went in one window and out the other. What a waste. His third round hit, however, and the whole thing went up in a fireball. I was about 200 meters away, but the entire rear brake assembly crashed into the road next to our truck. My gunner cussed and ducked. I just watched. It was pretty neat.

I’m not sure why it happened then, but the insurgents must have used this explosion as a signal to attack us again. They started firing from somewhere in the buildings and first squad in front of me started rocking every weapon they had (except the TOW missiles, unfortunately). The insurgents started to move, so they followed them into some alleys, shooting them as they ran.

Some dude down there was crossing the street in a wheelchair when the humvees rounded the corner. I don’t know if he had a gun, but was immediately targeted by two 50 cals (heavy machine guns) and a few SAWs (light machine guns). My buddy told me later that he started using like evasive tactics on us. Wheeling one way, suddenly changing directions, and then amazingly got away. My buddy said, “an entire anti-armor squad opened up on him and he somehow escaped. I don’t get it.” I’m embarrassed, too. We were the most heavily-armed Marine infantry unit in Iraq and couldn’t hit a guy in a wheelchair.

While first squad continued pursuing the insurgents, things got a little quieter where were. The Iraqi soldiers grew some balls because we were there, so they started turning away cars from the checkpoints by just shooting at them. None of us spoke any Arabic, so we just left them alone. This was their country anyway.

Some of the EOD guys got caught behind a wall during all of the firing and some idiot shot most of it down with a 50 before deciding it was a waste of ammo to shoot a wall. I don’t know who it was, but it was probably one of our guys.

Occasionally we had a bullet or two wiz by us, but we couldn’t tell where they were from, so we just held our position and joked about it. None of them ever hit very near is, I think. Somewhere off in the distance somebody fired an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at our guys, and for some reason, we didn’t do anything. I still don’t know why.

After the firefight ended and EOD carefully came out from behind their crumbled wall to yell at somebody, we ended up packing things up. I borrowed some cigarettes from an abandoned stand next to the intersection. They made me tow back the captured vehicle in the middle of the street, which was stupid. Because it wasn’t armored, they wouldn’t let anybody ride in it and steer or brake, so every time I drove forward, it started pulling sideways, and when I braked, it would crash into my bumper. I told them I wasn’t taking any responsibility for the damage to my humvee.

Eventually we all made it back safely with no casualties (either to us, recon, or EOD), and we later learned that we’d been fighting Zarqawi’s troops that day. While everything was going down in Fallujah, he went to our area and started causing problems. That was the only time we engaged anybody that actually reassembled and counterattacked. Usually they just shot at us and ran.

I’m glad they finally nailed that guy. His boys were dangerous.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Zarkawi is a footnote to history that will not be missed ...even by his relatives. What a piece of Camel dung.

  2. The guy in the wheelchair that got away reminds me of how the odds of getting killed are unexplainable in warfare.

    My Dad recalls during the Battle of the Bulge, one of his men was so hungry that he decided to collect eggs for dinner. He ventured off into one of the worst firefights and returned through the woods with a huge grin and a dozen fresh in his helmet for a tastey dinner.