Friday, December 23, 2011

So you think you had a bad day?

The 1st Platoon "Punishers" Squad Leaders SSG Diaz (1st Squad), SSG Johnson (3rd Squad), SGT Kreilaus (Stryker and my Vehicle Commander), and SSG Collier (Weapons)
Here is another piece I wrote from Iraq 2004 - 2005.

The day had started off as usual. Wake up and get ready for a 0900 patrol. But it is funny how things can change so fast. We drove into “old town” the section of Mosul that runs parallel to the Tigris River. A dilapidated section of closely sectioned houses, I don’t think you can fart without the rest of the neighborhood hearing you. We had been their conducting dismounted patrols. Patrolling the streets and talking to various people the usual things, “How is the neighborhood?” “Are there any bad people around?” The usual. About an hour into the patrol I heard an explosion relatively close to where we were but far enough away that the residents did not seemed to be alarmed. Much like the responses they give when you ask them questions, if it does not directly affect them they don’t care about it.

I called my Platoon Leader and told him about the explosion, told him we were pretty close and were going to try and move to check it out. Not even two minuets later I got the call to mount up. “We are going to assist a platoon that that has just been hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Was the reply I got to my message. I quickly moved back to my Stryker and loaded up the weapons squad and myself.

We moved to the site, as we arrived I could see six cars on an off ramp stopped and black smoke rising from them. “I am dismounting with the medic.” I told the PL and quickly got off my vehicle with three of my soldiers. We were on a four-lane highway with guardrails running through the center as a medium. As I jump the guardrails I saw the platoon that had been hit scrambling to evacuate their casualties and immediately met up with the Platoon Sergeant on the ground.

 “Hey man I have my platoon here and my medic we are here to help casevac.” I told him. He looked at me.” Okay man but I can’t hear shit, because the fucking thing blew up right next to me, we are getting out of here. My casualties are gone and we are all that is left.”

“Ok get your guy’s and we will lock it down and I will take care of the civilian casualties.” I told him as his Stryker pulled up and dropped the ramp for him to load up and leave.

I looked around it was now only us four were on the ground. SPC Farmer, SPC Manley (my medic), SGT Feliciano, and myself. The rest of the platoon still on Strykers were moving into blocking positions to prevent us from being attacked again. The AIF are known for attacking the initial responders by direct fire, mortars, or subsequent IED’s. I honestly didn’t think about this. But now that I do it scares the crap out of me. I had injured people and had to help and they had priority over my safety.

A woman runs up to me with her daughter and crying she said something in Arabic that I could not understand. “Calm down.” I told her.” Sit down over there.” I tried to get her away from the cars that were leaking gas and the various other injured people and body parts laying all over the road. My medic was running around treating people with injuries ranging from blown off hands to shrapnel imbedded in there legs, arms, face, and chest. “SFC Hicks, this guy has no hand come here quick.” SGT Feliciano yelled at me I ran over and saw the nub of his right hand blood gushing from it. There was only a piece of a shirt wrapped around his wrist that was very badly trying to stop the constant flow of blood. “Oh shit, Doc get over and help this guy.” I yelled as my medic ran up with a tourniquet. Blood ran everywhere and body parts lay strewn over the road. My squads were now dismounting so I pushed them into security positions to over watch the scene. I saw a man crying and I walked up to him to make sure he was okay. He was again he was yelling in Arabic and I could not understand what he was trying to say. “Red 6 this is Red 7, I need the interpreter now.” I said into my handset. “Roger he is enroute, now.” I grabbed the interpreter and led him too the lady and man. I later found out that she was trying to tell me a man had ran up to her car grabbed her 3 year old and ran off. The PL told her to check the hospital, because the guy may have been trying to help. We found out later that that was in fact what had happened and the child had died on the way to the hospital. I moved to assess the rest of the casualties and see if I had missed anyone. The IED had been place on the side of the road in a medium, in the attempt to kill or at least blow up a convoy. Unfortunately I found the car that took the brunt of the blast was a civilian family. I looked in the back and the slumped down in the back seat lay a nine or ten-year-old boy he had been totally decapitated. I knew he was dead so I went ahead and left him there for now and concentrated on the wounded still alive. I saw a SUV parked on the opposite side of the road, the side we had just come from and saw an old lady bleeding and stumbling over to the SUV, which turned out to be a taxi. I ran over there to see if she was all right. I grabbed the medic and he fixed shrapnel wound in her thigh. I told the driver (through my interpreter, who was also running around with me) to cross over the highway and help take the rest of the wounded to the hospital. I ran back to the other side of the street. The taxi pulled up and we loaded the rest of the wounded up in it.

 I now knew that I had to get the boy out of the vehicle. I attempted to open the door, but the blast had pushed the door out so it would not budge. I grabbed a hooligan tool my squad leader brought over with a body bag and we both attempted to pry the door open, nothing. I grabbed the window railing and in a feat I did not know I was capable of I bent the window frame almost all the way down to the door. Still nothing, I can not explain why I felt the need to get this child out of there I knew he was dead, I was staring at his headless corpse. But I had to get him out of there. I opened the passenger side door and pushed the seat forward and reached in and grabbed the child’s knee. Why? Again I cannot explain, maybe I was wanting him to be alive or awake, maybe to even hearing him cry, would have relieved me. But again I knew he was dead. I reached in and grabbed the boy by the leg and pulled him out a little his shoe came off. Then grabbed under his arms and picked him up. I was holding this child in my hands his lower jaw and ear hung there inches from my face as my soldiers laid out the body bag for me to put him in. I put him in and zipped up the bag. An ambulance had arrived while I was getting the boy out of the vehicle and I told one of my soldiers to help pick up the body bag and we headed to the ambulance and placed him inside. I walked over to take a knee beside the highway and a foot away from me lay a part of a hand, just the index and the middle finger, I got up and linked up the PL to brief him on what was going on.

We stayed there for about 45 minuets to talk to the people in the neighborhood. “Did you see anything?” “Have you seen anyone suspicious?” But the same answers from everyone. No. We loaded up and headed back to the Forward Operating Base. The day was not starting out good.

At 1500 we headed out for our second patrol, nothing hard go talk to some people coordinate a community meeting. Show our presence through the neighborhoods in our company area of operation (AO). We had just started when the patrol passed a suspicious vehicle with about 7 men standing around it talking to the driver I could see three other males in the vehicle. This is the way AIF meetings are held. Quick on the side of the road, meet and take off. As we drove by the PL called back “Red 7 check out that car, that is really suspicious.” I agreed and we slowed down. As we did everyone took off in different directions, and the vehicle drove down the street. We began to follow the car. It took an immediate right, we followed, and then it slowed down. I stood as high as I could in my hatch and yelled, “STOP.” The driver looked at me slowed down and then again attempted to take off. I called the PL “he is evading us”. I fired a warning shot. The driver gunned it. My next shot would hit the driver, shattering the back window immediately the car stopped. The passenger got out and then I saw the driver get out a bloodstain steadily spreading over his right shoulder. I had hit him. We dismounted and my medic began to work on him. He had three wounds where the bullet had broken up and entered his right shoulder and his left trapezoid. Blood poured from the wounds and we loaded him up and took him to the hospital. I learned later that he died later the next day. I looked down to see my uniform and kit covered in blood. I wanted to change so badly. We left and continued our patrol.

Later that evening I attended a memorial service for three soldiers who died from our battalion. They would add to the already growing number (which now total 14) we have taken in the 8 months we have been here.

I write this as a way of letting it go, a way that helps me sleep, and a way to not remember. If you can understand that. I have been shot at so many times that the sound does not really affect me anymore. I have learned that you cannot control fate, accept it and what happens will happen. My men do outstanding work everyday; they can make decisions in a split second. Weighing numerous options and in the fraction of a second and then act. So when you have a bad day or think that things are cannot get any worse, I can one up you.
SGT Feliciano on the C-130


  1. I had a hard time reading this son, I am so sorry that you young men had to go through so much horrible horror, my heart breaks reading about the children and what it had to be like to find a child decapitated. I am so fortuniate to live in USA and have not had to experience war as you have seen it in the 3rd world county. I salute you all for your bravery and endurance.

  2. Wow. I remember this day! Manley was a damn good medic who took his position very seriously. We definitely had a great squad of medics in the company.