I'm too short on time today to post any meaningful literary content, so I've gone back to the pages of the journal I kept during my year in Iraq to give you three days' worth of entries. Readers of Fobbit will perhaps find the September 14 incident vaguely familiar....
September 12, 2005: I hear about some hardcore battalion commander with too much time and money on his hands who had a bunch of patches made at his own expense. They looked just like Ranger tabs, but said “Fobbit.” He also had some that had “REMF” and “POG” (“People Other Than Grunts,” another derogatory for us Fobbits). They looked just like the real thing and he went around handing them out—with no small measure of amused derision, I imagine—to admin guys he came across in his travels.
September 13, 2005: I saw a wild dog while I was out running around the lake this morning. I rounded the bend and there he was, this mangy coyote-like dog trotting alongside me for about 20 feet, his sharp, knife-like muzzle pointed in my direction. He and I looked at each other for a few seconds before he veered off into the tall reeds alongside the road.
September 14, 2005: We started feeling the first explosions around 8 a.m., just after the morning briefing. As always, when the percussion rippled through the air, nudging us slightly in our chests and making our hearts skip half a beat, we collectively said, “Whoa,” but then kept on with our work. When the second one came about 15 minutes later, we paused a little longer, looked at each other and said, “Well, here we go again.” But along about the third one and then the fourth one on its heels, we knew this wasn’t just another ordinary day. It was like the feeling we had on Sept. 11th when we watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center and we knew this was no “accident.”
From a neighboring cubicle, I heard one officer say: “Man, it’s a VBIED day in Baghdad today!”
Another cubicle shot back: “Yeah, we’ve got a whole fuckload of ’em.”
By the end of the day, our Significant Activities chart was riddled with more than a dozen Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices—14 in all, matching the previous record (in case you’re keeping a scorecard) set back on April 29. It was a deadly day for civilians (more than 140 killed), but our U.S. Soldiers only took it on the chin with three or four wounded. It was a carefully crafted, coordinated attack on the part of the terrorists. They’d been squeezed out of Tal Afar, so they returned to Baghdad to show us the stuff they were made of.
Not all of the attacks were successful, however. At least one suicide driver failed miserably. Here’s how I described it in a press release (which we ended up never sending out):
In Eastern Baghdad, at about 10 a.m. today, a homicide bomber crashed his explosives-laden vehicle into a coalition tank and survived. The driver’s right leg was pinned under the dash of the damaged vehicle. Coalition forces, working in concert with Iraqi Police, cordoned off the area around the vehicle to ensure the safety of civilian bystanders. The vehicle was inspected by a camera-equipped Explosive Ordnance Disposal robot and it was determined that the vehicle contained explosives. The driver was observed drinking water and told an Iraqi Police officer that he was from Syria and that his (terrorist) group had launched numerous vehicle bomb attacks today and that other attacks would follow. The driver said he was here to kill Americans.
It was considered unsafe for soldiers to approach the vehicle while the terrorist was still capable of detonating his explosives. To reduce the threat, the EOD robot placed an explosive charge (water charge) beneath the vehicle to blow the munitions out of the rear seat and render the vehicle safe. The water charge was detonated. The driver survived the blast. The EOD robot investigated the vehicle again and found the water charge did not successfully render the vehicle safe; explosives were still present.
An EOD specialist approached the vehicle in his explosive protective suit and found a grenade within reach of the driver and a landmine was at his foot. When the EOD specialist went to remove the grenade, the driver began to move. The EOD specialist moved away from the vehicle as the intent of the driver was unknown.
The EOD robot was again called into action and approached the driver. The bomber became agitated when the EOD robot attempted to pull him to safety, preventing his removal from the vehicle. It was determined the driver still wanted to blow up his vehicle to cause casualties.
As the driver was still considered a threat, it would have been an unacceptable risk to have soldiers approach the vehicle. The driver was engaged with small-arms fire and was killed.
EOD investigated the car and discovered the driver’s foot was indeed still placed on top of a mine and he could have detonated it if soldiers or civilians had approached.
At 2:30 p.m., EOD technicians completed removing all ordnance from the vehicle, which included three propane tanks, two 152-millimeter artillery shells, several anti-tank mines and a grenade. Iraqi Police then assumed control of the scene.