Fear and Loathing in Iraq: July 25, 2004

bullet hole

What a fucking week!

Things are getting just plain loco here. Take Monday for example. I was visiting my buddy Lunde during his shift at the firehouse. I enjoy going over to the firehouse because they are some of the craziest bastards on the base. They have taken the building they were given — which was an old pilot training facility, complete with two computer simulated cockpits for dogfight training — and turned the thing into an Animal House-like setting.

They built an entire second level with the floor precisely cut around the simulators. They put in a makeshift fire pole, a pool, a movie theatre, a backyard gazebo using a parachute as shade, and they grill steaks and chicken every Saturday night without fail. They trade booze, porn, use of the water trucks, whatever they can hook or crook to get steaks. They are just a bunch of wild guys who work hard and play even harder. So I enjoy visiting them when I can and I love the steaks they make. They usually burn old wooden tent stakes as the briquettes in a grill made out of an old oil drum they welded in half.

Well, I was visiting with Lunde before my shift at the TOC and a call came in. I decided to ride with Lunde and Sgt. Rodriguez to see what was the all hubbub. We drove by the PX and saw soldiers down the street waving their arms. The fire team kept driving and we turned around and drove down the street. When we arrived everyone was yelling and saying someone was shot. We came around the port-o-potty and found out that a soldier had committed suicide in a port-o-potty. We must have missed it by five minutes and when we opened the door there was the soldier slumped forward with a huge gaping hole in the top of his head and a long pool of blood on the floor and the ground. We looked up and saw where the bullet had exited the port-o-potty and left a small jagged hole in the plastic.

People were yelling for us to do something and their company commander was freaking out. He was on the verge of tears. The first sergeant was a typical first sergeant and was asking people if they suspected this or if they knew anything. There was nothing we could do, obviously, so I held his head up as Sgt Rod wrapped the head in Kerlex to cover the head and make it less… disturbing.

By then the fire team had arrived and was in contact with the base Mayor’s Cell and was told that a CID (Criminal Investigation Division) team was on the way and we were to meet them at the morgue. Lunde and Rod hauled out the body into a body bag while I took photos for the investigation. We grabbed his rifle and the empty shell cartridge and placed it a Ziploc baggie. The fire team pulled the port-o-potty out and put it the back of a truck so it could be taken to the burn pit. Others took torches and blazed the ground where the blood was pooled and then covered the area with dirt.

We drove to the morgue and waited on CID, which ended up taking two hours because they were busy in Samarra at the time. So we baked in the hot sun waiting for them and when they did arrive they said we should have left the body in the port-o-potty. We told them the body would have been horrible with a temperature inside the john almost 120 degrees. We gave them an account of the story and saved the photos to a disk so they could take them back to their headquarters. We kept copies and showed some people back at the TOC.

It really was an awful sight. This was the second dead body I have seen from a suicide and the imprint stays in your mind, even if you don’t save pictures like we did. This was the first suicide on the base and it really shook things up for a while. They are going to make us all take suicide prevention classes, like they always do when someone kills himself. And then the stress counselors will come in soon to give us the production line speech about how to think about happy places and meditation. It never works, but it does show the Army cares.

On a lighter note, we are knee deep in this new role as convoy medical support. And just as we all knew it would be, it is a dangerous, stupid mission and we are all full of anxiety. Just about every convoy since we began the medical support has come under attack. On Thursday, some buddies of mine went on a convoy and they were hit with an IED on the way to Balad. The explosion blew the axle off the semi truck and the tires went flying into the desert. Sgt. Ravenel and Sgt. Ramotar were not hurt, but it was exciting, I was told.

But it got better. On the way home from Balad they got hit again. Out of a 30 vehicle convoy 25 vehicles avoided a dirt lump in the middle of the road, but one humvee did not. The humvee was blown up from directly underneath killing the gunner instantly and badly wounding the diver and TC. The gunner was cut in half and the driver had her entire buttocks blown off and had multiple fractures of her femurs and pelvis. The third guy had a gash in the neck. Sgt Rav and Ramotar were called up and they drove up to the scene. One was obviously dead, being in two pieces, but the driver was responsive and talking. She was clearly in shock but since she was talking it means she was breathing. So they put her on a litter and got fluids started. When they rolled her over they saw her backside and knew it was serious. A bird was called in and she was flown to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital) here on Speicher where she died just after arrival. Lunde was on shift and said he never saw such a white person before. She had massive internal bleeding; there was nothing that could have been done.

So if you saw on Yahoo or whatever two soldiers that were killed near Samarra this week, that was the convoy and our medics were there. Sgt Rav and Ramotar were shaken up and looked weary when they finally came back to the TOC. They saw the stress counselor the next day, as required for soldiers who encounter anything harsh. Wanna hear the clincher? The convoy company had removed all the Kevlar blankets from their vehicles because they were, and I quote, “uncomfortable on long drives.”

Since we started this convoy shit there have been IEDs going off, people taking potshots, people throwing rocks, cars honking horns, people waving their fists. My convoy was uneventful but people were giving us mean looks that day. I was expecting every car on the road was going to be a vehicle born IED, where they drive up next to you and explode.

Sgt Garcia came in from his convoy to Balad last night and told us about his convoy coming under machine gun fire. You are supposed to speed up, as speed is your greatest asset, but the transportation numbnuts slowed down. The gunners with night scopes laid waste to the area with .50 caliber machine guns and MK-19 grenade machine guns. They came under attack a few miles further down the road and our soldiers took care of everything rather quickly. He says it was very exciting and was glad to be near the end of the convoy.

After working with these trucking companies and hearing the horror stories, our medics have found out these guys are fucking morons! And we still cannot figure out why the commander has signed us up for this detail in the first place. Does he want to get a Silver Star that badly to risk his own troops getting killed? Having this detail is bad enough but the convoy commanders are assholes, treat the medics like shit and even hooked an ambulance up to a tow truck because they said it wasn’t driving fast enough. Our commander, on a convoy last week, almost got into a fight with a crazy 1st Lieutenant who was angry that our commander was calling their convoy sergeant an idiot, which he was. But yet he is still keeping us on these missions. We just don’t see the logic. They don’t know how to drive; they are assholes, and they are putting us all in danger.

So why is he keeping us working with them? He is pushing this company to the limit and the trucks are starting to break down from the constant abuse. This defies all logic so we can only assume it is because of his ego and his desires to make his evaluation report look good and to ensure he makes Major by the time we get home. Whenever anyone asks him why he is doing this to us he just says, “Because I am the commander and this is our mission.”

But this is not our mission. This did not come from battalion, or from brigade or even from division. This was his damn idea and he can put an end to it anytime he wants. We don’t get it and we are all angry and depressed around here. The company commander does go one convoy a week, I guess to show us that he is willing to risk his life too, but I am told from a higher up that he is only doing it for a few weeks to get the required hours in for the Silver Star consideration. Fucking prick.

Now I don’t want you all to worry too much, we are in a fairly good position. We are kept near the end of the convoys, which means there are up to 30 vehicles in front of us to run over land mines and IEDs before they would get to us. Plus they have added so many gun trucks to each convoy there is almost a one to one ratio of gun trucks to cargo trucks. So we have massive amounts of firepower with us at all times. And we still have Up Armor and Kevlar blankets on all our trucks, so it doesn’t matter what these truckers do, we do our own things and do what it takes to survive. So yes it is dangerous and this mission sucks ass, but the truckers are still the ones in more danger of injury.

On Friday we had three new soldiers arrive to the base from Germany and I was glad to see them. It means more drivers for these dumb convoys and people can get a day off now and again. As I was showing them around the TOC I remarked that they were on a safe base and that we have not been attacked in two weeks. And just after I said that BOOM and rocket hits right by battalion. We hit the deck and I yelled at them to get their gear on. Then another rocket hit right by us and then a third and final one came down in a field next to the camp. What coincidence! When it was all over I said, “Welcome to Iraq!"

I have been having trouble sleeping since I moved to second shift and I sat up that night reading a great book called The Log Cabin, about a guy who decides to build a log cabin and be a pioneer for a year. The book was so interesting because he wrote it as a Thoreau type nature story, but it was also written as a how-to book and showed pencil-drawn illustrations. It was wonderful and I couldn’t put it down. It really fed that deep desire most men have of building a log cabin in the woods with their own two hands.

I decided to go to sleep around 3:30am and I lay there thinking about the rocket attacks that day. It was wild, I thought, and long overdue. And wouldn’t you know it, just as I thought about it: BOOM, BOOM, two explosions. I stand up to get my Kevlar on and BOOM, BOOM, two more. I woke up Sergeant Vice (who can sleep through a nuclear bomb blast) and told him we’re under attack. Right after I said that: BOOM, BOOM, two more blasts. I figured that was 6 in two minutes and I was going to the bunkers! I ran into the bunker and waited for the rest of the expected rockets. Sgt Vice stumbled in a few minutes later. I called the TOC on the old Vietnam era phones (the one you crank to get through) and asked them what the Hell was going on. They said it was Apache helicopters test-firing rockets. I was livid. What the fuck were they doing test firing rockets at 3:30 in the morning without giving everyone notice! We were all scared shitless thinking this was the mother of all attacks and those of us not diving into bunkers were busy stretching trying to kiss their asses goodbye.

So with all the shit going on this week there were some good points. Lance Armstrong will win the Tour De France today, a record sixth time with over 6 minutes leading. I have only one week left of this awful, horrendous, boring and inane Business Law class I have been taking. I have been reading a new book every 1.5 days (thanks to insomnia). I found out an online brokerage account I tried to set up in February did in fact get set up, but I was never given notice. So I just found out and bought Microsoft a day after they announced a 30 million share buy back, which will drive the price up nicely all the way through September. The Army is paying for flights anywhere you want to go in the world for R&R and I decided that if I get R&R before we leave I am going to Nairobi, Kenya, to see family. A free flight to Africa?—heck yeah! And last but not least: there are only 5 months left of this nightmare!

Well that was about it. Not much else to report. I am fine, Bush blows, the world is nuts, this place sucks, and I miss you all.

Chris Sachs