The Alamo is over-rated as a tourist attraction, dammit.
Note: I am editing this post for various security reasons.
We just got back on base. For a while there, I didn’t think that would happen. We got ambushed yesterday, except it was a twenty-one hour ambush.
At about four AM the other day, the coalition force rode out the gate and took back the town. At nine thirty we rolled out, arrived at our usual destination, and by ten thirty, we were under fire. We were in a compound of five or six major buildings, large enough to be hotels, not quite large enough to be palaces, that had once been owned by Chemical Ali.
We started out on the roofs, looking for snipers. But RPGs and mortar fire forced us down and as we retreated, the shooters started hitting the building more often because they were walking their weapons closer. Eventually, our safe area was reduced to just one hallway in a central building.
I have never been so scared in my life. Scared doesn’t cover it: terrified doesn’t, either. I'd never known it was possible to be terrified and be totally calm. I’d look around, seeing the trails of weapons, seeing the F-16s overhead---they never dropped bombs, they just flew around------and then look down and see the chameleons running in the grass. And then you’d hear the thump of another mortar round, but you don’t really hear those---you feel them, somehow. They’re loud enough to make you flinch, and these were all close----I saw one land in front of me at about three thirty AM, no more than fifty meters away.
My captain didn’t know I heard him say what he just said. “Honestly, last night, I think every one of us thought that was it, that we weren’t going to make it back. It was that bad.”
We faced a force of four to five hundred rebels, with mortars, RPGs and various handheld weapons. There were four US soldiers---myself and the other people in my team----about twenty coalition soldiers, and thirty or so scared British and Aussie expats, including the British governor. The coalition soldiers had a couple tank/hybrid vehicles, but they didn’t have much ammo for them. By midnight, everyone was running out. We kept impressing this on Higher, and they just couldn’t get that through their heads. What the **** good are they? We are running out of ammo. We will be over-run if light hits this place in the morning and finds us still here.
More than that, it was the concrete reality that you were going to die. I felt that a few times yesterday, last night, and this morning. Escape attempt after attempt fell through, and those mortars started hitting the grounds, the gate, the vehicles. The enemy sent word that when darkness fell, they were going to over-run the compound and exterminate everyone there. The whole Iraqi security force just up and quit. One guy claimed that his mother had had a heart attack and he had to go home. I heard that on the radio myself. It’s the dog-ate-my-schoolwork excuse as applied to battle.
Fallujah was on everyone’s mind, but nobody---thank God----said it.
I can’t even grasp that we lived through it. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.
What makes it worse was that we kept trying to get reinforcements and air cover and evac, and eventually we had to do it ourselves. We called up around 1500 because it became apparent that we weren’t going to get out, requesting air cover. We thought it would be over by 1700. By then, though, we realized something else was going on---darkness falls at seven. We heard that the whole province was under control, and that Sadr’s representatives had offered a cease fire while they negotiated. No other government building in the province was not under his control. Our little force, outmanned and outgunned, held him off for better than twenty hours, and then slipped out under his nose. He wanted to keep us there, be his bargaining chips while he tightened his fist around the province. And that ****ing governor went along with it. We eventually found out the governor was contacting the command and telling them, no, no Evac behind our backs. He wanted US Marines dropped off and the civilians put in the helicopters while they secured his villa and offices. His own people were running around trying to arrange Evac, and kept counter-manding him. Then he’d go on the air and countermand them. I kept overhearing conversations I wasn’t supposed to hear.
I can’t describe what it’s like. You’re wearing twenty pounds of gear in helmet and vest, and the sound the bombs make screeching in seems not so much audible as it sensory. You feel it first. You know what sound a bullet makes going through the air? SWWWWWiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssssssssssssshhhhh. It seems to burrow through the air with an odd slowness, as if it were greasy and that makes it slip through the air. If I were 11 Bravo, I’d have earned my combat infantrymen’s badge, except of course the fact that I’m a woman means I don’t get stuff like that. The way the Army has it set up, it doesn’t matter if you do the job, if you’re a woman----you’re not supposed to do it, so you don’t get acknowledgement if you do.
We didn’t sleep last night. The cease fire lasted seven hours. The attack resumed at one AM with RPGs and machine guns opening up on us from across the other bank of the river. We kept calling to Higher for Air Support, for Evac, for reinforcements. They’d say, “Sure, they’re on their way…” Twenty minutes later, we’d find out--not be told---that in fact they weren’t. This happened about eight times. During the time they weren’t reinforcing us, the enemy mined the bridge that’s the sole way out of there with IEDs. Then Higher ordered us to Evac our way across that bridge. It was explained to them over and over that the bridge was mined. They’d listen, then issue the order again.
The worse attempted rescue was the first attempt because that one actually got off the ground. We could see that bridge that led to base, and the other unit from base offered to convoy in and get us, and the cease fire negotiators agreed to it.
They were attacked before they even got to the bridge. And we had to watch it happen. That was the last time we got our hopes up. Everyone uses tracers, but different colors, so we could see who was attacking and so on. After that, the attackers blocked everything off with vehicles. An SUV got hit by an RPG at the gate to the compound, and we left it burning there because it kept them out as well as kept us in.
You can’t think of home and things like that during lulls. I found that out. After a few hours under attack, hope just gets too cruel---and impossible. Every lull gets your hopes up, as does every plan for evacuation. “Oh, God, it’s quiet.“ Bullets, mortars, all those things make you flinch deep down inside, automatically, on some almost genetic level. Things like warm beds and cats become utter impossibilities, in the face of gunfire dodged while on your belly in the dirt, the reality of death in a narrow hallway. You can’t believe then that such things exist. You just want a refuge, but they become impossible dreams. I stopped believing that there are cats and beds. In my world during that battle, I had crumbling buildings and a narrow hallway. Nothing good existed in that world, and the worst part was there was no way from that hallway to any other place. That was my world, my environment. Everything else was erased. You just shut down, and think of nothing else. You can’t. It’s too painful. That’s the only time I came close to feeling sorry for myself. It’s the little things----purring cats and beds. I had time to wonder even then what other things become impossibilities when your situation is bad enough. I think combat probably produces the worst symptoms the fastest, because let’s face it….there’s nothing worse. Over time, I think lesser situations probably produce the same hopelessness.
All three of the other guys got wounded slightly----nothing much. I wasn’t one of them, obviously. One guy fell down when an RPG whistled too close and fell, but he’s okay. Everybody else got chipped by flying bricks and mortar, stuff like that. We had one guy who got clipped on the head a little bit closer than I did. That bullet gave him a permanent part to his hair, a real good story to tell---assuming he can ever put it into words----and took one of his nine lives. A coalition soldier died, and two were wounded.
Two Iraqi guards stayed with us. I’m very impressed with that. Everyone else fled.
I can’t believe we made it out of there. I just can’t.
I was the only woman there.
Even at the end, the governor was still playing games. We worked it out with the Ukrainians to get out, and the governor refused to go. He wanted to negotiate or whatever. With people like this? I’m sorry, but Sadr just has that Jim Jones glint in his eye, except with well-armed followers. Furthermore, they’re a lot more hostile than Jones’ followers were, too. I kept thinking that we were going to have a Fallujah repeat on our hands, except perhaps they weren’t going to wait till we were dead. And I didn’t want my brother to go through that. I mean, I’d have been dead. If it looked really bad, I’m sure I could have saved some rounds, and even then, it would have had to have to be they’re-on-the-other-side-of-the-door-with-an-RPG-and-there’s-five-people-left-bad.
That’s what we kept thinking in that hallway. They’re going to pound the building to dust around us, and then open that door. We’ll pour fire at them, and they’ll back off. Then they’ll aim everything right at this door. Some people might live through that. Then what? But waiting for that door to open gave me an ulcer.
The other thing was that some of these guys were just ****ing fools. At night, when you’re surrounded by the enemy, light is another enemy. So some dumb **** turned on a light in the vestibule. One ****** turned on the light in his room, which shone right out into the hallway of the building and right across the river. Great way to give the enemy something to sight on, dimwad. And these guys were all ex-military! One guy insisted on loading up his SUV with the contents of his entire room, managing to set off his car alarm as he did so. Three times. I found myself ordering him to turn everything off and get the **** away from the car, and emphasizing the point with my rifle. He wound up being the person who ran back to grab one last thing on the way out, thereby delaying the convoy.
Even at the last minute, the governor still didn’t want to go with. Higher finally had a sharp remark for him. “What is his purpose in remaining there? And what he wants us to do with the remains?” Speeding out of the compound, I had a glance back at the walls, which had huge vehicle-sized scorch marks on them from direct hits. Even when we were finally underway and going at a good speed, this git of a governor didn’t seem capable of grasping the significance of that damage to his compound. He sped up in front of the convoy, then came to a dead stop, making the whole group sitting ducks. And he either didn’t care or didn’t know. All he knew was that we weren’t doing what he wanted us to.
They say women don’t belong in combat. I don’t think that anybody does, frankly. But after today, the only thing I can say is that this woman doesn’t belong anywhere where she has to listen to twits have conversations like this:
“Our ammo situation is red. Over.”
“Come morning, we will be over-run, with high casualties. The enemy has stated they will eliminate everyone in the compound. Over. Have you relayed my last transmission to Higher?”
“Roger that, over.”
And then nothing. “What was their response?”
There was none.
We were running out of rounds, and they just didn’t do anything. We did have choppers and the occasional F-16, but the gov wouldn’t allow them to drop any bombs. He never did explain why. All I know is, when I looked up at the chopper, and it was close enough to see the pilot’s profile in the sunset, I thought that was as close as I was going to get to getting out.
I can’t do anything but repeat myself, now, so I’m just going to go shake.
Presumably this was the British governor, ballsing things up?
Dangerous to comment at a distance, facts unclear, but it doesn't sound unrealistic. True FCO bedwetting form, I suspect.
Actions on having any politico or u/s civi with you in a tight spot-plasticuff them, treat them as PWs and explain it to the inquiry after. Better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6.
On the other hand, this girl could have been very green indeed, and not been too sure of what you can and can't get away with. She writes well, though. Not sure about the cats, though.
I was certain that civvies - all civvies came under a military commander in the field, regardless of that soldier's rank?
A decent full-screw or sergeant would have told the gov to Fcuk off - though maybe an officer wouldn't...
Certainly UK civs (civ servants and some contractors) who are part of UK units are under command of the CO of that unit, and are subject to military law. However, FCO pers and journos are subject to different rules, as far as I know.
I read this as a rather scared junior soldier (face it, four yanks? The highest ranking guy might be a Sgt). NB: I SAW a morter explode 50m from where I was... I've seen morters come that close on live firing ranges, if she was in a multi-story building all she needs to do is stay low in a centre of a room surely. And a 21 hour ambush doesn't occur at a government building, ambushes only happen when you are mobile.
The fact that 400-500 bad guys were shooting up her compound but didn't assault it or gain entry indicates to me that either the Iraqi's are worse than I thought or that she was worrying about nothing, perhaps the estimate of en forces was a little over? NB: They were shooting at us across the river.... hardly indicates they were planning an amphibious assault...
The ex-mil guys loading up their vehicles and turning lights on indicate to me that perhaps it was she that was worried and over-reacting and they were calmly going about their business. Certainly if any female pfc hiding from incoming in a corridor pointed her weapon at me we'd be having words.
The failure of 'higher' to provide support in a timely manner would normally indicate that they (higher) are crap but something tells me that maybe they just didn't see it as badly as four scared americans nco's did. Or alternately they were Brits and the only hele available had a mandatory crew rest....
Her gripe about not get the CIF medal (sp?) seems fair as no where did she say she engaged the enemy. As far as I can tell she went up on the roof and then hid in a corridor.
As for the Brit FCO chap, he does sound like a tosser, but then so were his security team apparently so perhaps a scared pfc's opinion matters less to me - after all, it woudl appear that everyone that wasn't screaming for help was wrong in her opinion.
Perhaps if she had also done Bos, Kos, NI, SL I would respect this woman but in the absence of any proof that she wasn't mobilised NG I have little respect for her contact report.....
I'm off to plump up the cushions on my arm chair now