Everyday I try to make sense of my time in Iraq. To be clear, I was very lucky. I never fired my weapon nor were we ever fired upon. The only injuries I sustained in Iraq was a recurrent skin condition I acquired on my feet from wearing boots/shoes pretty much all day. The closest I ever came to direct enemy contact was on a patrol one day, right outside Camp Ramadi, in Al Anbar Province. Our small convoy was headed to the Khaldiyah sector to the east of Ramadi, when our convoy leader decided to take an alternate route. It was then, in the summer of 2011, when the lead truck of our four vehicle convoy ran over a poorly made Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. We immediately reacted; established our 5-25s (or security perimeter around us) just in case there were any follow-on attacks. None came. When we assessed the damage, the small, yet destructive IED had blown off the leading truck’s hood, engine block and pretty much entire front end to shit. However, besides that small “contact,” my time in Iraq was calm. It was like being in the eye of the hurricane.
I don’t want to make it seem like Iraq was completely violence free, either. In fact, I had a buddy from Basic and AIT (job training course) that was with another major combat division in eastern Iraq, near Iran, and I remember him telling me about the daily firefights with insurgent and other groups. Additionally, that summer, Camp Liberty in Baghdad was attacked by several water heater packed rockets that were launched into the base and that killed several US service members. And I’m sure that there was much more violence through Iraq as well. But as far as Iraq’s majority sunni Arab Al Anbar Province went, things were under control, for the most part.
After the surge called in by President Bush in 2006 and into 2007, Iraq was suddenly filled with dozens of US Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) and other units to quell the rising violence and instability. Around that same time, in Anbar Province, the local Sunni Arab tribal leaders, or sheiks, mustered their authority and started what’s known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Awakening. A movement that focused on ridding Anbar of Al Qaida in Iraq. The point is that by the time my BCT got to country and relieved the unit before us, the SOI movement had been relatively successful in controlling Ramadi and the rest of Anbar.
The only problem area was the Khaldiyah sector that I mentioned earlier. Situated east of Ramadi, along the Euphrates, immediately before the city of Habbaniyah, apparently this sector was still a pimple on the US and Iraqi Forces’ asses. Here, several of the previous units’ trucks had been attacked by Russian made anti-tank grenades that were being tossed at US convoys by “bystanders.” I remember that our truck commander would always tell us to open up the overhead hatches and pull “air guard” while we drove through. But again, in all of the patrols I was a part of during my six months in Anbar, and except for that one incident, we never got hit.
During one of our patrols to an Iraqi Police station, if you can call it that, I remember speaking to an Iraqi officer that told me that there were insurgent elements coming in from Syria. At the time, that didn’t surprise me much, since Iraq and Syria do share a border. Now remember, that at that point in the war, the campaign had been rebranded as “Operation New Dawn.” President Obama made good on his promise to pull all US combat troops out of Iraq, and essentially we were just there to advise and assist. The American people were sick of Iraq and the Iraqis just wanted us to leave. Consequently, our mission was just to make sure that nothing went to shit until we left in December 2011. The point is that we couldn’t really act on any intel unless it was an imminent danger to US or Iraqi Forces and personnel.
On another occasion, I recall being in another police station and watching the Syrian people on TV in the streets calling for Bashar Al Assad to resign. Little did I know then, in the summer and fall months of 2011, that in a few years both Iraq and Syria will fall into utter and complete chaos in the hands of godless terrorists and a ruthless leader who murders his own people. Only now, five years later and many thousands of miles away, do I understand that my time in Iraq was like being inside the eye of hurricane.
I falsely believed that we were successful in Iraq by the time the US left because it had been a “boring” deployment. In fact, for my team leader and most of the more experienced Non-Comissioned Officers (NCO) in our unit, this was their second, third and even fourth time in Iraq. A lot of them had taken part of the campaign during the initial invasion and surge, when Iraq was the most dangerous place on earth. Some of those NCOs even scoffed when the junior NCOs and lower enlisted exchanged experiences later claiming that our time in Iraq “wasn’t shit.” And they were right. Compared to some of the crazy stories I had heard from day one of bootcamp and then later in my unit, our deployment was comparatively mild. But still, for me it meant a lot. After all, I had finally been deployed to one of the two theaters of war four years after I enlisted. And it’s kind of messed up that a soldier looks forward to war, to other people’s misery. But that’s what you train for. Can you blame a hammer for wanting to do its job?
Once we were back stateside, there was no World War II style welcome. We didn’t parade down any street. In fact, no one in my family was even able to make it to my return home. That night, when we got back to the barracks, I took a nice hot shower in a clean bathroom, got some beer and ordered Papa John’s. And that was it. There was no existential revelation, no major internal conflict.
A few days later, I stood in the bay area waiting on formation and some of the guys were passing around the Army Times. I specifically remember looking at a picture of a Syrian “rebel.” I then noticed that he was armed with a M4 issue riffle with an ACOG or telescopic sight system fixed, which is considered a sensitive item. So even though I was in the eye of the hurricane, others were and continue to be in the path of the flesh consuming hurricane.