Soldier in Iraq unscathed after close encounter with rocket
By Robert Hodierne
Times staff writer
FALLUJAH, Iraq There are two ways of looking at it. First way, Ruben Garcia should have put all his money on a lottery ticket because Saturday was his lucky day. Or, he should never bet on anything ever again because he had just used up all of his luck.
He and his friends debated this philosophical point as they examined the hole punched through the plywood-covered window just alongside the 27-year-old specialists head. The hole punched by the 57mm anti-tank rocket that then passed through a wooden computer desk leaving the computer unharmed and planted itself harmlessly in the concrete wall on the other side of the room. A rocket with a warhead powerful enough to punch through four inches of armor.
Garcia, of Miami, was stretched out on his upper bunk, the rock band Tools Lateralus blaring in his headphones, when the rocket hit at 10:40 Saturday morning.
There was a lot of smoke in the room, Garcia said. I didnt notice the hole at first. What I figured happened is a mortar landed on the roof and the roof was caving in.
When he looked around he said he saw the hole there (in the plywood) and it had fin traces ... I knew a rocket came through. ... I figured, the rocket didnt detonate, the best thing to do was just get out of the room.
Rocket, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks are so common at this 82nd Airborne Division forward operating base on the outskirts of Fallujah that it takes something as remarkable as Garcias near miss to raise eyebrows.
In that same Saturday attack, one of the four rockets fired exploded just 70 feet from three soldiers walking down a road picking up trash. Moments after the dust settled, the soldiers continued on their way, picking up cigarette butts and candy wrappers.
One of those three, Sgt. Joshua Carroll, 23, of Atlanta, said later of their quick return to their work, I know it sounds weird, but theres nothing you can do about it. ... I figured it was over. They usually only fire five or six rounds.
Besides, Carroll said, 70 feet isnt especially close. He said he had a rocket-propelled grenade whiz past him three weeks ago, missing by two feet.
And it wasnt the first time Garcias house has been attacked. A few months earlier, a mortar landed just outside, slightly wounding a member of his unit. On Saturday, fifteen minutes after the rocket careened past his head, Garcia smoked a cigar and made jokes.
Spc. Mary Bigalk, 22, a reservist from Oshkosh, Wis., was in the same building with Garcia, 20 feet from the rockets path. Bigalk goes into downtown Fallujah on a regular basis and shrugged off the near miss.
This is nothing, she said. Its just another day in Fallujah.
"A plot to carry out a large-scale terror attack against the United States in the near future is being directed by Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda members, senior intelligence officials said Thursday.
"Bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are overseeing the attack plans from their remote hideouts somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to senior intelligence officials."
It says that the guy who gave them this hot tip "spoke on condition of anonymity."
Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, said that the planned attack is "an effort to disrupt the democratic process," i.e., the November presidential election.
Sec'y Ridge also said that "we know that [Mr. bin Laden and colleagues] have the capability to succeed and they also hold the mistaken belief that their attacks will have an impact on America's resolve."
The article then quotes some other no-name person who drew an analogy to the Madrid bombing. He said that bin Laden's plan is to cause some major bloodshed which will intimidate the voters into voting out the incumbent administration.
My completely unscientific, man-in-the street impression is that most folks here have stopped paying attention to these pronouncements, because there have been so many of them, over so long a period of time, with so little correlation with subsequent events.
All the same, I won't be too amazed if something big and bad happens anyway.