Friday, February 22, 2008
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
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
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
“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
“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,
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.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Saturday, February 9, 2008
I consider myself lucky. Lucky to be alive. And
that's it. That's what it boils down to.
If those mortar rounds had landed a little closer. Had those bullets
been aimed just a little bit lower. Had those three
IED kill teams got me instead of me them. In the nearly
16 months I served in Iraq, my unit of about 700 men
lost 13. We came home with 13 fewer men - brothers - than
we had left with. About three times as many wounded. Though I
didn't know any of them personally, it was hard just
Memorial services. God I hate them. A paratrooper.
A battle hardened veteran is supposed to be almost
numb and without emotion. I think back to standing
there in the desert in a mass battalion formation
surrounded by barbed wire and 10-foot tall concrete
blast walls at one of those damn services.
Always a light desert breeze and fiery golden sunset as a back
drop when we honored our fallen brothers. Every man
there quietly swallows hard pushes those emotions deep
deep inside. Tear ducts screaming for permission to
shed tears, teeth bite down hard and from the outside
little shows the battle waging inside.
It's the end where most lose it. Roll call. A senior NCO begins
calling names. One after the other: “HERE FIRST
SERGEANT!. . . HERE FIRST SERGEANT!’’ until the name
of the deceased is reached. Nothing but silence as
they attempt to call his name three times.
Two days ago was a nice day here. Breezy and cool, great
blue sky overhead with a brilliant sun to warm the
skin. I walked the short distance to my battalion
headquarters running a errand for a platoon sergeant
in my company. Walking inside, by happenstance, I ran
into an old battle buddy. I'd known him from the
beginning of my Army career. Him, me and three other
guys had all gone through basic together, airborne
school and came here to Bragg. Medina, Blaske, Coats,
and Baez, good friends eventually separated by the war.
“What's up man”
“Oh you know man, livin' the dream.”
Smiling and continuing on without stopping. Truth is, I didn't really
want to talk to him all that much. I'd only made it five steps past him...
“Hey man, listen.”
“What's up?” Turning to face him.
“Hey, sorry to be the one to tell you dude. You know
those couple guys that got killed in 1/73 (a cavalry
battalion in my brigade) the other day?”
“Yeah. . .”
“One of them, man, was Baez.” Hit me like a punch to
“Yeah man, Baez is dead.”
I wasn't sure how to react. I was in shock and didn't truly believe it. Safe and
sound in the United States, a thousand of miles from that damn desert, and the war ripped me right back. Hell, I may as well be still in Iraq because that unmistakable feeling took hold of my soul.
Spc. Miguel A. Baez was killed in action in Balad, Iraq by an improvised explosive device as he entered a house. He was set to come home to his wife and four children next month. He died on his last mission outside the wire.
An all around great guy. Hell of a sense of humor. After all the things the Army put us
through, I never heard him utter a word in anger. He was a very devoted family man and if you asked him about his kids his eyes would light up and a smile always followed.
How did I survive and Baez not? He had so much more to live for. If I could change places, I would without hesitation. But that is the way it seems to be. Those lost are always most missed.
I will never forget him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. His memory will always occupy a place in my heart.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Miguel Baez and Mark attended basic training together at Ft. Benning, went to airborne school together. There were five of them that went from basic to the 82nd Airborne Division together. Now there are four.
Here's the story from the Fayetteville Observer:
Two Fort Bragg soldiers died this week in Iraq of injuries suffered in a bomb blast.
Cpl. Miguel A. Baez III, 32, of Bonaire, Ga., and Sgt. John C. Osmolski, 23, of Eustis, Fla., died Tuesday in Balad. A third soldier, Sgt. Timothy R. Van Orman, 24, of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., also was killed.
The explosion hit the three soldiers near Al Muqdadiyah during combat operations, the Defense Department said Thursday. The city is in Diyala province,
Baez and Osmolski were assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Baez was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment; Osmolski was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion.
Baez, an assistant machine gunner, was on his first deployment.
“Baez was the best kind of soldier,” said 1st Sgt. Kevin Spooner, Baez’s company first sergeant. “He always volunteered and never hesitated to help out a brother.”
Baez joined the Army in May 2005 and arrived at Fort Bragg in October of that year.
“He was a clown, a loving father and a wonderful husband,” Spooner said. “He’ll be greatly missed.”
Baez’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
He is survived by his wife, Elena Deer-Baez and his children, Selena, Miguel, Aaliyah and Breanna, all of Fort Bragg; and his parents, Miguel A. Baez Jr. and Ramona Baez of Byron, Georgia.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
That's how we had been living while Mark was deployed to Iraq. Everyday: Get up, fret about the war, go to work, worry about the war, come home, eat dinner, watch the news and fret some more. I thought that cycle would snap instantly after he came back to the States. But it hasn't. After three months since his arrival, we are still living a modified version of the same routine. Ground Hog Day redux.
Yesterday, we decided to try to break the cycle and head to a 9,000 acre marine and coastal hammock preserve called the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas Natural Estuarine Research Reserve 15 minutes from our house. We had heard that the two eagles were back and had hatched at least one chick in a nest near the education center. It was a balmy day so we abandoned the Internet and the television news for a healthy sun-screened dose of vitamin D. One of the eagles was there but it was too hazy to try for photograph. I went back today and didn't see either bird. The picture above was taken in 2006 before Mark deployed.
We don't know what normal is anymore. Part of it is the war. We have forgotten what we used to do when we were blissful ninety-nine percenters. Part of it is that we are nearing the empty-nester stage. Our youngest will be 17 and he was outgrowing his parents about the time Mark joined the Army. For 26 years, our kids have been the focus of our lives. So we are now entering a new phase. Should be a new adventure.
But the war will always be with us.