Friday, February 22, 2008

Tikrit

From SPC Mark. FYI, there is a language alert on this post.

We had some where in the neighborhood of 50 Humvees.
At first, I really had no idea why. Normally, Our mission was to
go in by helicopter where ever we thought the bad guys
were hiding. Not Humvees.

They were rather sad looking Humvees.
Reminded me of old pack mules, broken down by years of
hard labor. It took a crew of about 20 mechanics
working around the clock for two and half months to get
them all mission capable, which wasn't saying much
considering mechanics were adjusting them and
replacing parts when I was mounting the machine gun on
the roof.

So many of the casualties in Iraq after the invasion
were roadside bombs or IEDs. If you were there and
weren't scared of them you were probably a moron or
someone who was blessed with a job that kept you off
the dangerous Iraqi roads.

Until then I had thought I was one of the lucky ones. I had told my family that
I was much safer cause I didn't have to drive anywhere. Helicopters took me where the brass wanted me to be and picked me up when the job was done. I
walked everywhere in between. Later I realized
that telling my family not to worry about IEDs was as
much for my benefit as it was for theirs.

That night when I was given the warning order of the
mission to come, all I could think was, “Crap.” We
were to "ground assault convoy" or GAC to a small
village just outside Tikirt, the city of Sadaam’s
birth. It's been about a year and half since then and
I'm not sure who exactly we were going after or if we
we had caught him.

I can only remember what happened that first night.
I should have known I was in for something interesting
when I was told that I wouldn't be traveling with my
company. Not only that, I was to be separated from my
squad leader and half my squad. You really only can
trust those you know out there.

My team leader and I were attached to Delta company for the initial
movement. Delta company was to stop at a specific
intersection within the village and let us out. We
were then to wait there for the rest of my squad to
link up and hit the house on the intersection . . . hit
and hold that house to control the intersection and
provide watch for our buddies as they went ahead
with the task at hand.

Not only that, I was to be riding in the very first truck in the first of two
convoys. . .the bomb finder.

Before I went to Iraq I had been a smoker for several
years. When I got to Iraq, I decided to quit.
It went pretty well for the most part and it had
been almost a month without a single cigarette. As
the sun set that afternoon, I chain smoked, one after
another. We got the word sometime around midnight to,
“mount up” and so I strapped on all my combat gear and
climbed into the Humvee.

It was about a 45-minute ride from Camp Speicher to that little village. I
breathed low, hunched forward, muscles tensed and ready as
I peered through my night vision goggles, watching and studying
every foot of the dusty road. After a very tense hour
we turned off MSR (main supply route) Tampa and into the village.

I had studied the maps ahead of time and memorized every
turn that would take us to our intersection. We
hadn't gone into the village but ten feet when we
had to turn around because of a road block. From that
point on I had no idea where I was going but I prayed
that Delta company did.

It's not a good feeling being away from your guys and that feeling was growing worse by
the minute. Twenty minutes and six turn-arounds
later, I was sure that we were all completely lost.
Just then and without warning, the Humvee skidded
to a halt and the sergeant in the front passenger seat
said, “This is you, get out.”

I went through the open Humvee door with a little help from the adrenaline
flowing through my veins. Ran over to a wall and picked up
security with my machine gun. My team leader, Murph,
ran over throwing his back into mine and picking up
security the other way down the road. The final member of our team, Jenkins, came up throwing himself between the two of us.

The humvees dropped into drive and drove off kicking up the dusty road and leaving us
in a cloud. Then, quiet. Nothing. No sound, only
helicopters criss-crossing overhead. Jenkins broke
the silence and said exactly what all three of us were
thinking, “Well, this isn't where we’re supposed to
be.”

It was totally obvious seeing as how there wasn't even an intersection in sight.

“Yeah I know, where the hell are we?” Murph said in a
yelled whisper.

“Fuck man, I don't know,”I said in between breaths.

“Middlebrook, did you see our intersection?”

“Fuck me man, I don't know. Everything looks the same.”

“Shit uh... shit.”

“Well we cant just sit here man. We’ve got to mo. . .”

“Goddamit, I know.... Middlebrook, which way do you
think our intersection is?”

“Uhmm. . . . fuck man. . . uhmm. That way I think, man . . . fuck man, I
don't know.”

“All right. All right. Well then, that's the way were going.
We're going to keep bounding (bounding is a movement
where one moves while the other covers you then
covers the other while he moves) until we find where
we’re supposed to be. . .All right... Go Middlebrook,
go!”

I picked up my gun and hoisted myself and took off at
a dead sprint. Wheeling left and right I got about a
hundred meters and dove on the ground just like in
training. Seconds later, the heavy foot steps of an
over-loaded paratrooper came up behind me and gave a
“hughhh” as he hit the ground, lying there huffing and
puffing, sweat pouring and pulling security until the
final member of our little party ran up.

When he did, I instinctively jumped up and took off again. This
continued for nearly a click (1000 meters). It broke down to this: the further we went, the more nervous we became. Towards the end, we were just running . . . running for our lives.
In my mind - I think in all of our minds - we were beginning to panic. But in that situation, fear and panic is what will get you killed. We kept to our training. We stayed together and we kept moving.

By ourselves, it wouldn't have taken much for us to be overrun or even captured. Huffing along those dusty roads and alleys, all that could be heard was heavy
breathing , footsteps, barking dogs and distant helicopters.

I was running low on gas. Picking up and running, dropping then picking up again with a full combat load of an M249 machine gunner is not an easy task. Plus food and water, I was carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 pounds of gear. When we set out, I was in the front. Now, nearly a mile down the road, I was in the rear and trailing. Everyone always
gets angry with SAW gunners for slowing them down. But when things start happening and you let that thing loose, everyone loves you.

When we got to the very end of the road, we turned a
corner and spotted three Americans running across the
street under some sort of make shift street light. A
hundred meters away and through distorted night vision,
I instantly recognized one of them as American.
Not only American but my squad leader.

“It's Sergeant Medina!”

We took off again at a dead sprint giving it everything we had left. Without even saying a word we stacked on the courtyard door and SGT Medina kicked
it in. Within seconds the house was clear and I was on the roof training my gun across the village.

Through my night vision, I could see paratroopers hitting houses and clearing to the roofs. Flash bangs, popping tactical lights searching houses, infrared
strobe lights blinking while Apache helicopters flew lazy figure eights overhead.

A year and half later, I think back to that night and how lucky I was that nothing happened. At the time, I didn't think about it. I just did what I was trained to do. When I thought about it later, it dawned on me just how bad it could have gone.

Just hearing the name Tikrit today . . . my veins open and adrenaline begins to flow.
Remembering that night is a conscious re-occurring nightmare.

6 comments:

MightyMom said...

wow, what an awesome post! Thanks for sharing. Do you mind a link-back from my little neck o woods??

Maria Mark said...

Mark, altho we've never officially met, I have gotten to know your family over the past 16 months through working with your dad and meeting your mom at social events. Mike and I shore-bird monitor on a weekly basis. When I started working with your dad, I must admit that the Iraq war was far from my daily thoughts. The newspaper and tv media would bring it to the fore-front, but it was not anything that I would dwell on during the day. But after a few weeks of working with your dad and experiencing first-hand with someone who had a son in the midst of that hell, the Iraq war now had a face...a young man who represented all the soldiers fighting and trying to survive...I didn't ask too many questions, but I would listen and be thankful every day...every minute...that you stayed safe. Reading your stories, knowing your experiences were/are real, gives us "outsiders" a rare "inside" pass into that foreign world that few of us could even begin to relate. Your stories are filled with humor, horror, fear and sadness -- pure emotions beautifully written. You are truly a gifted writer -- a natural, as one would say!! This talent may be your greatest yet!! I hope that you will continue to share your experiences -- it is your gift to all of us!

And finally, THANK YOU for laying your life on the line every minute that you were in Iraq -- May you stay blessed and safe always.

MightyMom said...

thank you, your link/post is up.

MammyT said...

Thank you. You made me feel like I was there watching, from a distance. And thank your for your service to us.
Nancy

Dayngr said...

Thank you so much for this post and your blog and a great big THANK YOU to your son for serving! I'm in Florida too. I'm a blogger and a veteran's daughter, cousin, neice and the list goes on. I'm also the president of eMail Our Military and I'll be sure to let our volunteers know about your blog. Thanks for ALL you do!

MightyMom said...

you have been tagged.