It’s dusk in mid-October. We’re situated in a row, slumped behind an embankment along a muddy, sulfuric canal somewhere outside Ramadi, flush against the ground at about an 80 percent grade, craning our necks with our spines curved in and trying not to slide downward. The earth beneath our bellies is loose, blond and gravelly, making the SAW a bit inconvenient to set in place without burying the tripod and sending kitty litter down into our faces. But the reeds poking up from the canal side are profuse and they’re good cover.
About a hundred yards north across the desert, three old Toyota pickups come into view, traveling eastward with a squad apiece hunkered into the flatbed. That’s them – the martyrs of the local God-Knows-Who-Brigades, of which there are too many to keep track in Iraq nowadays. For reasons unbeknownst to us, our assignment is to torch these motherfuckers extra crispy. We crawl toward the crest of the embankment and begin firing wildly into the encroaching darkness. The crawling was about as much coordination as we had in us.
The trucks all come to a halt. The one in back plows into the one in between, but the one in front floors it in the direction of a mud brick shanty down the mesa, about 200 yards east. At that point we all directed fire toward the escaping lead, like cats tracking a ball of yarn. This gave the back two squads respite to bail and take cover behind their vehicles – the guys who weren’t dead, anyway.
Under fire, the lead truck managed to make the shanty, and now we’ve got x out of a dozen or so guys dug in real good, and we’re taking fire from two directions. The shanty has no roof but there are pretty high, thick walls and it’s farther away than the two trucks, but Lieutenant orders some of the guys with M4s off to my left to start firing grenades at it. Obviously these would be better spent on the dudes behind the trucks, and pretty soon Sarge and Lieutenant are conferring at the tops of their lungs.
Sarge and Lieutenant are way off to my left, about a dozen guys over; I’m at the far right, on the 240, so naturally I’m firing in the direction of this stupid hut. Because of the high walls, our counterparts don’t have a real good way to aim, but they manage, and every minute or so a spurt kicks up dirt and rocks right in front of me. Pretty soon a game of telephone makes its way down, and the guy to my left is shouting into my ear to do exactly what I’m already doing. Then all of a sudden I hear the shrieking of the Jav. In the darkness the back blast blinds my left peripheral vision, and in seconds the building I’ve been firing on is a cloud of ash and smoke.
The boys have been on those two trucks with the grenades meanwhile, and as the dust from the mud brick hut is settling, the return fire from that direction starts to die down. Then a lone Iraqi staggered out from behind the Toyotas, which were shredded pretty badly. He wasn’t moving fast, but he was ambulatory, and he just started screaming curses at the sky as he made his way toward us, firing his Klatch erratically. Then Sarge stood up, slapped a new magazine into the 249, and emptied it into him.
Back: Part IV