We got ordered to do one of the worst missions possible – an all-night patrol through the crappiest streets near the “ghetto,” which was an area behind us that had enormous apartment buildings. That area was notorious for surprise attacks, ambushes and sniper fire, so we weren’t really excited about it. Or being out all night. They told us we were going out to do a counter-mortar and counter-IED patrol, just to see if we could spot anybody trying to lay in IEDs or mortar the base. But honestly, I don’t think we EVER got hit by mortars at night. Whatever.
We headed out the back gate from base, which was ridiculous. Not only did we have to wade through a field of elephant grass well over our heads and hope not to get lost, but then we came to one of the biggest canals in Iraq – a trench more than 100 feet wide, deep, with a raging torrent below. tI flowed directly out of the Euphrates and fed many of the littler canals to the south. The only way we could cross it was to either tiptoe across on a big pipe and try not to fall in, or climb up this rickety old staircase with no railings and inch across on a bridge – which bounced up and down the whole time. If more than one of us went across at a time, it might have collapsed, sending us a good forty feet into the roaring water. And with all our gear on, we would have definitely sunk and drowned in seconds.
Anyway, we get across okay and get onto one of the roads on the way to the ghetto. It was late March, so the mud was just starting to harden up with deep ruts everywhere. If we weren't slipping, we were stumbling and falling down. We looked like a bunch of retarded clowns with guns. If anybody saw us, they’d probably laugh, not be afraid.
When we got to the ghetto, we slowly patrolled around its perimeter to the base of a hill on the far side. We were supposed to set up an OP [observation post] near the top and keep eyes into the town.
The hill was huge, and because it was still muddy, we crawled up like toddlers, weighed down with machine guns and ammo. I had it worst because I was carting the SAW [M249 lightweight machine gun] and over 800 rounds of ammo. It was really dumb.
We eventually get mostly to the top and set up a position – by just sitting down in the dirt. We’d be there all night, just watching, bored out of our minds, as dogs below poked through the fields of trash and rusted hulks of cars.
Before long we got the order that we could go to 50% [when a unit remains 50% alert while the other half sleep], so I curled up, freezing cold in the dirt, and went to sleep. About an hour later, we started hearing gunfire everywhere around us. Everywhere, 360 degrees. “Oh, shit", I’m thinking. "This is it. They’re staging a massive attack on us and we’re going to bite it right here. They’re everywhere.”
We got on the radio and called back to base that we were completely surrounded and that we need reinforcements immediately, or extraction. Something. We weren’t going to make it. And we weren’t the only ones calling in. Nearly everybody other unit outside the wire was calling in the same distress call. It looked like a massive attack – and we were all going to die.
But none of the fire was accurate, and didn’t really even hit anywhere near us. It was just everywhere around us. We weren’t even sure they were shooting at us. The COC on base told us that we should only shoot back if they were engaging us, so we just waited. If the fire got more accurate, we’d fire back – at whatever we could see – if anything.
The insane firing continued for a couple more minutes sporadically, and then it just stops – silent. Nothing. We called it in to base, as did everybody else. Nobody knew what the hell just happened, but everybody was okay.
A few minutes later, we get an all stations call on the net [a report meant for all operating units] that the fire we’d received wasn’t even anybody firing at us. They were celebrating. The Iraqi Olympic team had just scored a point in the semi-finals. And people were shooting all over the city to celebrate, and then dancing in the streets. They lost the game later on, but it was amazing.
If the Iraqi Olympic team ever made it to the Olympics and then won, the war would end that very hour. I mean, they score one point in the semi-finals and everybody is celebrating in the streets. Shiites hugging Sunnis. Tribal infighting forgotten. Everybody was ecstatic. Over one stupid soccer goal. I wish they hadn’t lost, because the war would be over, and we’d all be home. We should have let them win. It would have been worth it.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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