The Murhardeen Strike on the 258 F.A
The day started like every other day my team was assigned to conduct a convoy escort mission. We were to escort twenty tractor trailers filled with supplies driven by civilian contractors from third world nations to Baghdad International Airport (BIOP). It was a standard mission conducted by three teams. My team consisted of me Sgt.True_George; my Gunner Specialist. big Lu and Driver. Specialist. Fish. The other teams were: convoy commander, Sgt. Fields; his Gunner Specialist. Monciglio; his Driver Specialist. R. Johnson. The rear Platform team was from second platoon assigned to the mission filling in for the soldiers on leave, I only remember the team leader was Sgt. Marcus who is a long time member of the C-btry 258 Field Artillery.
At five in the evening we went to the Tactical Operation Center (T.O.C) area to set up the platforms for the mission. Then I got the news that my regular Humvee had been repaired and was ready to go. I was relived because my vehicle overall was a superior vehicle then the ragged vehicle that was generic to everyone using it when their vehicle is down.
When I got back my vehicle I found that the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) were taken out which is something that is not normally done especially given the type of repairs that was done to the vehicle. OK, I thought this was a relative minor thing because all we had to do was to insert the SINCGARS into the slot and fill it with the configuration that corresponded to the various units that were operating in our area of operations (A.O). You see theater wide all vehicles had to have two SINCGARS. One SINCGARS was the local channel which is used to communicate with the unit’s T.O.C, each unit has a designated channel; the local channel is also used for team to team communication on a separate channel from the channel used to talk to the T.O.C. and with other units in the A.O. The other SINCGARS was the emergency channel. The emergency channel is the common channel to all units in Iraq. The Medical Evacuation (Medivac) calls are done on that channel and messages relayed from mobile units to their T.O.C that are out of local channel’s communication range. The SINCGARS radio had a limited range, and that in parts of Iraq there is an FM dead space. The Air Force deployed an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) flying at high attitude over Iraq 24 hours per day. The AWACS administered the emergency frequency and the relay messages between the mobile units who were out of range from their respective headquarters and they directed and coordinated radio traffic for the entire Iraqi theater in addition to the regular mission, their call sign was “Quarterback.”
First Sign of Trouble
I had big Lu and Fish move all of our equipment from that ragged spare Humvee to our Humvee. It took a while to move the equipment and set it up for the mission. Once the equipment was in our vehicle, I mounted the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR aka Plugger) when I turned it on I found that there was no signal. I did a visual inspection and discovered that the external antenna was removed. This was strange because each platform has a standard plugger external antenna mounted. O.K, to me that was another relative minor thing, since I am a resourceful Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) I quickly salvaged another external antenna and mounted it. The time to be at the starting point (S.P) was rapidly approaching and I have yet to fill the configuration in both of the SINCGARS. Sgt. Fields was pushing me to hurry up because we are supposed to be down at the North Gate to pick up the convoy. He said he is taking the other team to get the Convoy and that to make sure that I be at the S.P at the appointed time.
The supply people finally brought out two SINCGARS, as I mounted one in the radio mount and filled it, there was a problem with the second SINCGARS. For some reason the filler device would not coupling onto that SINCGARS unit. By this time the First Sergeant came out and was looking at his watch and giving me that move your ass look. I took the SINCGARS that was giving me problems to the commo room and the commo Sergeant, SSgt. Pinnock helped me out and filled in the configuration and told me that I have six minutes to put the SINCGARS in the mount because that’s how long the internal battery will hold the charge before the configuration is lost. It took a couple of seconds for me to double time back to the vehicle. By that time the First Sergeant had the look and said “what are you still doing here?” I told him we’ll leave as soon as I secure the SINCGAR in the mount. I inserted the SINCGARS in the mount and it did not slide in. What the hell is going on? I pushed the SINCGARS in the mount harder and it still wouldn’t fit in. Then I put my hand in the mount to see if anything was obstructing the SINCGARS from fitting into the mount. I felt that the coupling in the radio mount was bent and my visual inspection confirmed it. I don’t know what the hell happened when the vehicle was in the maintenance. How the hell could they allow the radio mount to become damaged? That bitch ass motor Sergeant did not safe guard my vehicle and allowed an essential equipment to become damaged. I’ll deal with him later. It was too late to change vehicles and to top it off the Platoon Sergeant, and First Sergeant are on my ass to get to the S.P on time. The SINCGARS has now lost the configuration fill because it wasn’t connected to a power source within six minutes. So I made the decision to go on the mission with only one operational SINCGARS since the distance to BIOP is short (approx. 90 miles away) I did not reveal this to anyone. If any of my fellow Soldiers is reading this, now you know I committed a no, no.
The First Seargent asked if I’m ready to go, I said, yeah. Big Lu and I got in the vehicle; however Fish the Driver was nowhere to be found. Dam this motherfucker; I neglected to pay attention to him while I was fucking around preparing the PLUGGER and SINCGARS. He is the type of soldier that would end up in some type of mischief, mess things up and ruin your day if you do not stay on top of him. At the moment I neglected to give him something to do and now my day is ruined; as if I didn’t figure that out already. We are going to show up at the S.P late. It took ten minutes before somebody located and told Fish to get his ass where he is supposed to be. My thoughts were now that fucking pussy masquerading as a Lieutenant will now have something to hang me with. Lieutenant Noonan, had it in for me since I looked him in his eyes and exposed that he was less than a man when he started shaking like a little girl. I refused to pay him any military curiosity and probably would have smacked him in his face if the Platoon Sergeant wasn’t there. Well that is another story for another time. But he was trying to get me on something ever since, even going behind my back sneaking around gathering information in an attempt to do some type of administrative action against me. He was so ate up that he was oblivious to the fact that Soldiers have some type of respect for their NCO’s and I was told of his activities. It’s been months and up until now he had nothing, now he has something, so I guess I’m fucked when I return from the mission.
We arrived to the S.P point and the convoy left Convoy Support Camp (CSC) Scania on route to BIOP fifteen minutes late. Unbeknown to everyone including my own team I was one SINCGARS down. In my experience the time when a piece of equipment that is usually available fails always come at a time when you are in need of it most. My instincts were screaming at me, too many stuff was happening beyond my control. Under normal circumstance, I would have taken it as a queue and find some way to get out of being in that place (the convoy mission) where I am not meant to be. But, this is the military, I can’t just bow out of a mission because I feel I shouldn’t be on it; another factor beyond my control. Yet, I could have told the operations Sergeant that it would be a while before the team is ready and ask if I could exchange missions with another team. But I did not want to deal with the fall out, so as we say I sucked it up and drove on.
On The Road
The convoy was rolling along maintaining a good speed; we go past the Marine check point 17A about three or five miles when all the trucks ahead suddenly stopped. My team was behind the tenth tractor trailer and plus it was pitch dark and no moonlight so we couldn’t see what was going on, except for I saw a spark of light that lasted for a few seconds on the right side of the road. We didn’t hear any noise so I didn’t give it a second thought. The lead vehicle did not send a message over the SINCGARS (I was tuned to the squad’s channel); there was just an eerie silence. My thoughts were, “these motherfuckers did not go fast enough to keep up with Fields.” He has not answered my call he might have went so far that he is out of range and don’t realize that some trucks have not kept pace. I told Fish to pull the vehicle to the front so that we can lead the trucks until we catch up with Fields.
As we were going to the front of the convoy passing the second truck we saw a wrecked Humvee on the left side of the road. It looked like it has been laying there for days. But suddenly Fields came out from his cover and shouted something, and then we realized that the wrecked Humvee was the lead vehicle; it hit an Improvise Explosive Device (I.E.D) and the damage was bad. Fields shouted that he needed assistance because his Gunner Specialist Moncigilio is wounded. Then Fish put the vehicle in park and was getting out the vehicle, I said to Fish in a stern voice “where are you going?” and Fish said, Sarge “don’t you remember? I’m a Combat life saver.” Oh, yeah! we made Fish take the Combat Life Saver course during the pre-deployment training at Fort Dix. Big Lu, threw him the medical bag and said “go.” I took over the driving while Fish went over to the wreck to administer first aide to Sgt. Field’s wounded Gunner.
According to what Fish told me, when he got to the downed Gunner he said that shrapnel penetrated the Gunner’s Kevlar helmet and that the Gunner had a head wound, as well as the loss of the tip of his nose and other wounds. Fish said that the Gunner’s driver attempted to patch up the wounds but the standard field dressing issuance between the team was not enough, which resulted in the Gunner losing a significant amount of blood placing his life in danger. Fish also said that the field dressing in the combat medical kit was inadequate, but unknown to me he took my advice about taking more equipment then is needed and made up a package with extra medical supplies. The measure of being prepared for the worst, plus the fact that Fish used to be an Emergency Medical Technique (EMT) at one point during civilian life; these factors tipped the scales in favor of preserving the Gunner’s life. Fish said that he had to pinch the head wound together and used the additional field dressings to stabilize the wound effectively controlling the bleeding and stopping further loss of blood.
At the same time when Fish was doing his thing I was on the SINCGARS switching back and forth from the local channel to emergency channel. I switched to the emergency channel notifying Quarterback to let the unit TOC know that we’ve been hit and that we are one platform down; and to suspend convoy traffic going North until after we clear the zone. I switched to the local channel to talk to the rear platform and to see if I could get help from the local unit. We never really got any input from Quarterback or local units; they were strangely silent and I wondered why the local area’s Main Supply Route (MSR) patrol did not respond. However before we had the opportunity to call in a medivac, a squad of Marines pulled up and the squad leader told me that they have orders to escort us out of the kill zone. Oh shit, it darned on me that we are indeed still in the kill zone and were sitting ducks. But, as it stood the Iraqi Muhardeen did not have any military sense and their operations were pretty sloppy. They did not follow up with an attack after they disabled the convoy; it was just a hit and run.
Assistance from the Marines
The Marines intended to escort the convoy out of the kill zone to Camp Kalsu, but I told the Marines that we have to complete the mission. The Marines said that they will take charge of the causality and take him to the trauma center in Camp Kalsu. I released the causality to the Marines and I assumed command of the convoy and continued on with Sgt. Marcus’s team. Then Quarterback told me that the unit said that they are sending a replacement vehicle. So we continued to check point 21A just past another Marine check point and waited for the unit to arrive. I switched to the local channel to check on the other platform. But then instead of getting them I got a unit who identified themselves as the “Long rifles.” These were elements of the Kentucky National Guard; how did they hear me over the SINCGARS when the configuration does not cover their AO? Anyway the 258 FA unit’s Quick Reactionary Force (QRF) arrived along with the Platoon Sergeant and the First Sergeant. They took Sgt. Fields and his Driver Spec. R. Johnson back to Scania, and another team took his team’s place. My team lead the convoy to BIOP. Our arrival was over two hours past the expected time of arrival. The civilian contractor asked if we ran into problems, I just shook my head and said “if only you knew.” Then we headed back to Scania.
Back in Scania
After getting some sleep and getting up and walking to the latrine to take a shower each soldier that I passed uttered the words “great job,” “congratulations,” “outstanding” Some stopped and shook my hand, told me they heard what happened and to keep up the good work. I saw Fields, and he hugged me as he would hug his brother; after all he was a survivor of a devastating IED attack. I went to the dining facility get some chow and I was getting the same reception from other soldiers. I saw Fish and he said that he was receiving similar greetings. I said that it looks like we’re now fucking celebrities.
I went to the T.O.C to fill out the sworn statement and even the senior NCO’s were speaking to me in a manner of new found respect. I was told that the Gunner survived his ordeal. The operation sergeant said that they went to the ambush site to recover the wrecked Humvee and to investigate how the attack was conducted. They showed me the pictures of the attack site. The IED was a daisy chain of three 105mm artillery shell, and that the trigger was a fishing line that was stretched from the highway median across the main road. The line was invisible at night, there was no way to avoid hitting the trigger. We were 20 minutes behind another convoy and after that convoy passed the attack point, it took the Muhardeen less then fifteen minutes to set up the ambush. But it must have taken a while to dig, place and conceal the explosives.
Then we walked to maintenance to inspect the damaged vehicle. That is when the magnitude of how close Field’s entire team came to losing their lives. The Humvee itself was brand new that came in the day prior. The new Humvees had a reinforced second armored shield. The shrapnel penetrated the first armored shield but did not penetrate the second armored shield. That saved the rest of the team from getting hit. Also shrapnel penetrated the window but it did not go all the way through and the window did not shatter.
The event also exposed flaws in the unit’s operations. It seemed that the filler configuration for the SINCGAR was incorrect the reason why there was difficultly making contact on the local channels. That problem was fixed. Otherwise, giving the events what took placed; showing up at the S.P late was not even an afterthought. It looks like the hand that fate dealt was a wild deuce.