Just another day at the office (if said office is in Baghdad)

As I promised at one point, here is a war story. The flowing account takes place in March of 2008, in the neighborhoods just south of Baghdad. I had just taken command of my company…

It was about this time that Baghdad experienced a spike in violence. I was not really tracking that as closely as I should have been, because I would soon find myself directly affected. When we were first planning this day’s mission, it was initially just to pick up some equipment at Third Infantry (3rd ID) Headquarters at Camp Victory. By the time we actually executed, it had been greatly expanded and revised. The original mission was nothing earth shattering or dangerous per say, but trouble did find us. Camp Victory was located at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), by the way.

After leaving Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu in the morning, our first stop was to drop some items off at FOB Falcon. As we were rolling up Route Jackson (which is actually a main highway into southern Baghdad – Highway 8 if I remember correctly), one of the vehicle gunners called out a suspicious looking piece of trash. Turns out that it was nothing, but who knows if it was actually just a piece of trash, or it really was a component of an IED at one time? Stuff like that definitely gets your attention. Things were improving, but IEDs remained an unfortunate fact of life in Iraq, and incidents like this one are bound to happen if you roll outside the wire enough times. We got to Falcon without further incident, and continued our mission.

We got word before we left Falcon that we were unauthorized to continue north through Baghdad to BIAP, so that necessitated us going back south to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and proceeding to BIAP via Main Supply Route Tampa, or Highway 1. This of course added to our mission time, and affected the link up I had arranged to pick up equipment at 3ID Headquarters – can’t mess with lunch hour on Camp Victory, I guess. They complained that I was late, which I tried to explain was due to operational constraints. In hind sight, I might have been a little overbearing, but I made it clear that if I had to leave empty handed, I was not going to make a second trip to come get this stuff. Again, I might have been a little overbearing. I guess on some level I was insulted that they didn’t want to believe I was who I said I was without a memo. Also in hindsight, the memo is important. As it turns out, getting paperwork wrong where military property accountability is concerned can cost you thousands of dollars in docked pay. But at that moment, I was just a dumbass, new-guy commander full of piss and vinegar. Anyway…

After concluding our business at Camp Victory, we were getting ready to return to Kalsu when the message came through for us to divert to the Green Zone to make an unscheduled pickup. This was when things started to get a little interesting.

This is what I heard over the radio: “Sir, you’re not going to believe this. We have to go to the Green Zone to pick up Mr. Smith.”

Me: “You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re not serious.” (Of course what I actually said was more F-Bomb laced.)

Sergeant: “Sir, I haven’t been in a joking mood all day.”

We were also informed that we needed to swing by FOB Falcon – again – to make a second pick up. My guess is that Air had gone Red (meaning weather had grounded all helicopters), but I was never really sure. And if I have not made it clear, the route into Falcon was treacherous; it was known to be booby trapped with explosively formed projectiles (EFPs). Whatever the reason, the soldier in question had been stranded, and my patrol was in the neighborhood. This meant we had to drive through Baghdad to the Green Zone (IZ), make the pick-up of the State Dept. guy, come back through BIAP and head south on MSR Tampa to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and then turn north up to FOB Falcon. After that was done, then were could return to base at FOB Kalsu. Remember, we couldn’t travel on certain routes in the city, which is why we were stuck taking the long way around. This is the type of crap that happens in movies – usually before something bad – and apparently, it was par for the course here as well.

The main road from BIAP to the IZ is designated as Route Irish. It is not that long of a drive, but there was plenty of radio chatter at the time, and I was about to find out why. Once we got to the IZ, we had to pass one of the main hospitals. There was a crowd outside, and some were injured. Rockets had hit earlier. As soon as we pulled into our link up site, the guys we were picking up lost no time in making contact with us. They were anxious to leave, as the Green Zone had already been hit with 5 or 6 rocket attacks that day. As we were moving to leave, everyone in the immediate area started to run towards the nearest bunker. More rockets were inbound. As far as we were concerned, a moving target was safer than a stationary one and we hauled ass.

By the time we passed back through BIAP and reached the Hwy1/Hwy8 Interchange, it was beginning to get dark. As we started to roll north on ASR Jackson, things got very eerie. The streets were deserted. There was absolutely no vehicle or pedestrian traffic. This is known to happen when the enemy is planning an ambush.

Sergeant #1: “Hey, are you seeing this? There’s nothing here. Not good. I don’t like it.”

Sergeant #2: “Keep rolling. Let’s just get through and get it done.”

Thankfully, we reached Falcon without incident, and completed our second pickup. On the way back south to MSR Tampa, one of the gunners again called out a suspicious looking object. As before, it was just a piece of debris. However, this time the object in question really did look like it could have been a component for an EFP. It was even resting at an odd angle. It was a definite “Oh Crap” moment. In the end, who knows what it really was? I was certainly glad to get back to FOB Kalsu later that night. Missions that I subsequently went on proceeded much more smoothly.

I later found out that everything that had happened that afternoon was all related to the Shia uprising that took place at the end of March. The streets were possibly deserted because a curfew might have been in effect. As you can see, even with all our technology and communications capabilities, the fog of war still very much exists. The ultimate end state in response to the repeated attacks on the Green Zone was that U.S. and Iraqi Forces took the fight into the Sadr City slum on the eastern side of Baghdad. We had to go into that area eventually. Hopefully some lasting measure of law and order was put into place due that effort and the many that followed for the next few years.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Just another day at the office (if said office is in Baghdad)

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Fred. I always feel so thankful to have the opportunity to sit in a grad school lecture while so many of our fellow service members are out putting their lives on the line daily.

  2. cameronellis88

    I just think about my stressful days at work, and they seem like cake walks compared to what you have been through. I have an even greater appreciation for our armed forces! Regardless of political affiliation, there has to be appreciation for the complex strategies and logistics the military executes on our behalf as American citizens.

  3. Great story Fred, gotta love the Fog of War. Strip away all the technology, a soldier is always left with situational awareness.

  4. Ning Huang

    Wonderful story! I’m so happy that I could meet a story with truth and sincerity!

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