*Retold with permission.
We had a stretch of road in our AO where we’d always get blown up, no matter what we did. It was basically a fact. If you drove along this section of Tampa [Highway 1 running north/south through Iraq], you would hit an IED. We were getting tired of it, so we got permission to try something different.
In the middle of the night, we got dropped off on foot a few hundred meters away from the kill zone and set up a hide. It was only a few of us, crouching behind a dirt berm with our weapons and nighsights. The Rules of Engagement were different then from what they are now. too. Back then, if we saw somebody on the side of the road with a shovel, we were authorized to fire. Obviously, we didn’t target farmers or anything, but guys actually digging in IEDs into the roadsides. That night, we sat back, kept an eye on things with night vision, and waited.
Hours into the night, I spotted a lone guy, standing on the side of the road with his hands clasped behind his back. He was some distance away, but when I sighted in with my thermals, it was pretty easy to tell what he was doing: he was a lookout, but for whom?
“Hey, you see them over there?” My team leader asked. I had been so fixated on that one guy some distance up the road that I hadn’t even seen the three others much closer to us. They were more than suspicious, too. They were guilty as sin.
As we watched, one of the three started trying to casually dig a hole on the shoulder of the road, and the other two staggered along like they were weighed down with something heavy. When I got a better visual with thermals, I saw they were both carrying arty rounds [artillery rounds commonly used as improvised explosive devices]. Definitely guilty as sin.
“Okay,” my team leader told me, “as soon as they start dropping those rounds into the hole that guy is digging, light them up.’
“Roger, sergeant.” I rummaged around behind me and pulled out a few more drums of ammo. I wanted to be ready for this. Maybe finally this section of road would be safe.
Moments later, they scuttled over to the hole and stooped over to lay in their rounds. That was the cue. “FIRE!”
I was on the SAW [M249 light machine gun], so I just leaned on the trigger and used my tracers to walk myself on target. The other Soldiers opened up, too, so it was a withering volume of fire on those three guys.
As I was firing and watching my tracers, I started to notice that my rounds were rising off the target, and in time I was firing into the air above them. Still, they bullets kept rising higher and higher, and I had no idea why.
“Hey idiot, what the HELL are you doing, firing into the air like that!? Get back on target, NOW!”
“Roger, sergeant!” I realized that I’d been sliding backwards down the berm, so I quickly snatched up the SAW, straddled the berm, and shoulder fired the rest of the time. Out on the roadside, the IEDs detonated. Our best guess they’d pre-rigged them and one of us got lucky and hit the det cord or the primer. It was silent again.
“Well, let’s go do a post-blast [post-blast analysis].” We carefully approached the IED site and started looking around.
“Hell,” said my sergeant bemusedly. “There’s nothing here to bring back. I guess they all got blown into tiny pieces when the rounds went off.”
At my feet, I found a hand, but that’s about it. “Sergeant, there’s a hand here, if you want to take that.” He walked over.
Looking around briefly, he nudged it into the ditch with the toe of his boot. “Yup, nothing to bring back.”
“Roger, sergeant.” What was anybody going to do with just a hand, anyway?
As we drove back to base that night, my team leader looked over at me. “You did a good job out there tonight, high speed. Real good. Well, except for shooting into the air like a dumbass. That was retarded. Don’t ever do it again; got it?”
“Roger, sergeant.” No mercy. It didn’t really matter, though. The road was secure.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved