Fear and Loathing in Iraq, Jul7 11, 2004


Hello Family and Friends, and welcome to another week in the life of U.S. Army combat medic here in Tikrit, Iraq. It has been about two weeks since the country was handed over to the Iraqis, and as I figured, things have not changed one bit. In fact they have gotten worse. Before, when the army had no idea what was going on, we gave the country back to the people and now NOBODY knows what the fuck is going on. The insurgents have taken advantage of this and have upped the number of attacks and made the country more dangerous than ever. Right now I am looking at the map of the central part of Iraq we have up on the wall, where we mark the areas of concern to us where IED’s and such have gone off; we use blue sticky tabs with the date and info on them. Well the routes we routinely use are littered with blue tabs! Dozens of them! Just how lucky can we continue to be before we are actually hit? Well, if you look at what happened to us on Thursday, not much longer.

On Thursday we drove to Balad, as usual, to drop off soldiers going on R&R and 4 days pass and to pick up those who have returned from the same. We were driving along our normal route and coming upon the Samarra bypass — the one I mention all the time that is heavily attacked and has all the twisted guardrails and burned up vehicles and holes in the ground everywhere from explosions. Well, we entered a bottle neck at the end of the bridge and came upon a convoy in front of us that was driving a bit slower. We pulled up to their bumper and joined the convoy for a few seconds when the second vehicle in their convoy was hit by an IED. The sound was extremely loud, even from 8 vehicles back. The explosion shook the ground and surprised the living shit out of us! We didn’t know what to do for a second and kept trying to look around and see what was going on. Eventually we followed the lead vehicle and pulled over and made what is called a “box formation”, where you circle the wagons, in a sense. We got out of the vehicles and pulled security, expecting a firefight that accompanies some IED’s. You see, many times they blow up an IED as a distraction to stop a convoy, and then out of nowhere dozens of guys pop out and fire RPGs and shoot their AKs.

Well, we were expecting this scenario and positioned ourselves behind the vehicles scanning the terrain. People were coming out their houses and buildings to look at the excitement. I aimed my rifle at men, women, kids, children, looking for anything suspicious. I scanned windows and rooftops and parked cars. My finger was heavy on the trigger and I was very nervous. I was envisioning a mob of insurgents around every corner. The convoy that was hit was doing the same things we were and before they even had a chance to fully notice that we had ambulances in our convoy and that we were medics, 4 of our guys ran over there to help the wounded soldiers. I stayed back and continued to pull security. Luckily the soldiers that were hurt were not hurt badly and only one has to be carried in a litter. IVs were started, cuts bandaged, and pupils checked for responsiveness when 4 Kiowa helicopters came into the area and circled above us.

Kiowa’s are small helicopters that are usually used for quick recon missions and inserting special ops teams. Here they are used for some combat and are part of the QRF, which means Quick Reaction Force. They are the first to arrive and help pull security. Their gunners aimed their Gatling guns around the area and we felt much safer. It was quite a noisy scene, with soldiers yelling, Iraqis yelling, vehicles driving around and helicopters circling above. Eventually two Blackhawk birds came upon the scene and landed not too far from us. The medics loaded the patients aboard and we kept three with us to drive them to Balad.

Now about this time, in the city of Samarra itself, a massive mortar attack took place (you may have seen it on the news) and over 38 mortars fell on a joint US/Iraq police building. Four US soldiers were killed and 25 injured. One of our medics stationed in Samarra went in with the QRF and was in the middle of the whole thing. Little Jovenal and Geurts, two girls from our company, were helping load soldiers into the ambulance as bullets flew by and mortars blew up right next to their truck. Our company is not even a line unit, we don’t go to the front lines, but in this case they did. Jovenal stuffed seven soldiers into the back of the ambulance and saw one was a wounded Iraqi. She saw a soldier on the ground and asked why an Iraqi was in the truck and a US soldier was still on the curb. She was told he was hurt worse. Jovenal threw the Iraqi out of the truck and got help putting in the US soldier. Way to go Jovenal! I want to help all people, but I will be goddamned if an Iraqi will get into my truck before a U.S. soldier will. When Jovenal’s boyfriend (our mechanic, Coburn) spoke to Jovenal she was very shaken up and is still frazzled today. She says that she is getting out of the army, that her nerves are permanently shot. There was a combative patient in the back (a soldier who was under a concussion and combative) and kept kicking Jovenal in the head. She said the back of the ambulance stunk of gunpowder, blood, sweat, piss and shit. The whole thing was too much for her and I can believe it. We are all proud of her and Geurts; these two were the first soldiers in our company who were in a real firefight and in a fight for their lives.

I feel bad that I sit behind a desk most of the time. I think all the time that I should be out there, getting more hands on duties and making a bigger difference. Other times, I do not. This was one of those times I wish I was there instead of Jovenal. Jovenal just turned 20 years old last month. Geurts is 19.

Yes, Thursday was exciting, and I got a few pics of the birds taking the patients away and I will email them after I send out this letter. As far as the base here in Tikrit, things were fairly quiet. We only got attacked twice. One of the rockets struck while I was dropping off my laundry at the laundry point. I had just received my slip and was about to head out when the building shook from a rocket. We had not been attacked in so long I forgot what they sounded like. The other rocket hit late at night while we were sleeping. I put on my helmet and flak vest and tried to go back to sleep—no rocket attack was going interrupt my dream of Meg Ryan giving me a foot massage in a hot tub full of Jell-O!

You know, I had a thought a few days ago. Well, actually, two thoughts. The first is when I was looking at my hut one day. These C-huts are the size of a mid-sized U-Haul truck or one of those short yellow school buses. And I have been living in half of one for over 6 months now; about the same square footage as a walk-in closet. All my books and things are in footlockers. All my clothes hang on nails. It is really small. If I were not in the army I would look at that situation and think No way could I live an area the size of a phone booth for a year! But why is it not so bad? Why did it take me 6 months to one day look at it all and see where I have been living? Have we really gotten so institutionalized? How is this possible?

Well, we are all in the same boat and we all support each other. If it were not for friends we would surely go insane. I look at the guys in M*A*S*H, and we are living better then they are, but it amazes me how a human can adapt to their surroundings. Damn we are an adaptable species. Remember when I said I would never take anything for granted again? Well, looking at where I live now, I will never look at a broom closet the same way. When one day my kids tell me they want their own rooms I can say, “When I was your age I was in Iraq living in a barrel… and we loved it!”

Another thought I had was about this war and where we are now. The mission is over as far as I can see. Whatever good we are doing is getting blown up in some other form. We build oil pipelines and they blow them up all over the country. We connect the power to a city and then we shut it down and place martial law (like in Samarra). The congress approved $300 million to rebuild Iraq’s rail system and the Iraqis blow up the tracks. We build schools and then we send in tanks and blow up buildings fighting insurgents. The infrastructure we are building up is being torn down at the same rate. It is a no-win situation. This is a case of positives and negatives. The good and bad are canceling each other out. Pluses and minuses, folks. Nothing left over. Zero! And quite ironic since Iraq was where the concept of the Zero in mathematics was invented.

So since the mission is negated, there is no more mission. It is over. So what are the 150,000 troops doing then? What are we doing here? The main goal for all the troops here is to support all the troops here. That’s it. All this time and money is to fight to stay here and to fight to stay alive. We are not doing the country any good anymore. It is a stalemate. So let’s leave. Otherwise we are paying to stay here like some hotel from Hell. The bill is outrageous and the room service sucks!

Think of it this way: do you see anything that would prevent what we are doing now from continuing for the next 100 years? Do you see any end in sight? Do you see a “mission accomplished” in the future? The light at the end of the tunnel is an angry mob with torches, folks. The prez and his monkeys keep saying we continue to hunt down the terrorists in Iraq, and that we are winning this fight. What? Are you shitting me? We keep sending troops in and things are getting worse every month. We are not winning anything; we are keeping our heads above water because there is no winning a war on terrorism. Do you really think that one day we will announce, “Today the final terrorist was caught. He was hiding in a closet and will stand trial in The Hague. It is all over folks, you can breathe easy for now on.”
Does the American public really think this will happen one day?

The best way to fight terrorism to not fight terrorism like a war. Deal with terrorism, use the CIA, FBI, NSA, people on the ground around the world gathering information and dealing with the terrorists they way we have been dealing with them since the dawn of time. Deal with them the same way the UK does, the same way Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and dozens of other countries deal with terrorism. The answer is to not freak out and change the very fabric of the entire country. You don’t alter the entire country and send hundreds of thousands of troops all over the world. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even make sense! Doesn’t anyone every look at history? You are going to send in tanks to fight faces hiding in crowds all over the world? Amazing stupidity. You ever throw rocks at a hornets nest? It brings out more hornets! You fight terrorism quietly, efficiently, effectively.

You remember Afghanistan? We sent in the CIA, and then the Special Forces. We had help from many countries. We beat the Taliban quickly, quietly, and efficiently. When you declare war on terrorism you feed into the terrorists hands and make terrorism popular. Just look at the increases in terrorism all over the world. It is the new fad, the new popular thing to do. The US made terrorism a fucking sporting event. They are now telling people to not wave American flags at the Olympics this year because you may make targets for terrorists. Are you fucking kidding me!? When will the madness end? I cannot believe we have let things get this bad.

Look, we need our own faces in the crowd. Ask anyone in the CIA or intelligence community and they will tell you you need people on the ground. You need agents all over the world, spending money, getting leads, finding cells and taking them out. You need worldwide cooperation and joint efforts. You need ambassadors and politicians working the phones making friends and talking with countries again. We used to do that. But our dumb asses, we frighten our people into catatonic states, piss off the world, attack everyone with tanks and planes, and make terrorism worse than it EVER was, all at the same time telling the public “We are winning this war.” We have to accept the fact that there will never be an end to terrorism. Ever. You just have to learn to live with it like all the other countries do. You don’t lie down and take it, but you don’t go to the other extreme either.

Do you know what the odds are getting killed by a terrorist before 9/11? They were zero. (There’s that number again.) Do you know what the odds are of getting killed by a terrorist now are? Just a smidge above zero. Is that worth changing an entire country? I miss the halcyon days of common sense and rational thought. Those were the days. But what do I know?
On a lighter note, Lance Armstrong is doing well and playing it cool. I think he has a great shot at a sixth Tour win. I miss biking in Germany and I cannot wait to get back and ride again. I have gotten out of shape and I miss the hobby I fell in love with. I looked at websites that offer tours of the US. Cross country tours from coast to coast. Sounds like a blast. I ordered a couple of books about riding across the States and I may try it when I get home one day and settle down. It would be a great vacation from this shit pit.

I have also decided I most likely will stay in Germany. I found out that Afghanistan tours are only 6 months long, not a year. So if we did get turned around at the 6 month mark, and I did go to Afghanistan, I would still be able to get out when my contract is up and not have to stay in longer than the four years. Afghanistan is much safer than Iraq and I would enjoy seeing a new country in the Middle East. Now there is always a chance of going back to Iraq, but that would be the case no matter where I went, except Korea. But I don’t think Korea will work out because I would have extend my time in the Army by 4-5 months. And I will be goddamned if I will ever do that.

I would love to stay in Germany for the rest of my time and continue to travel and bike in the mountains. It would be a great way to finish up my service. So I will keep you all informed as to what happens.

Well, thanks for reading this week’s news and ramblings. I hope you all are well and I miss you all. Thanks for the love and support and I will see you again next week.

--Chris Sachs