Fair warning. This post will be a tough read for some. It does not have a happy ending, and illustrates one of the many unpleasant experiences of a work day in Baghdad 2004.
We had been lucky…again. My team had missed its third IED by seconds. The checkpoint we had just driven through exploded. We were the first team through, and the lucky ones. The team directly behind us had their luck run out.
Thirty minutes prior to all hell breaking loose in the checkpoint we had been to yet another meeting at the Ministry of Oil. A large, mostly intact, building that housed all the oil honchos in Iraq. It’s main entrance was next to a highway overpass. I had always thought that if we were going to get hit it would be at that entrance. Waiting to be let in left us vulnerable to pretty much anything from the highway above.
Once inside the compound we had large walls that gave us the illusion of safety. The stark reality was that no place was safe for us, and we behaved accordingly. Despite being in a “secure” compound we set security for the vehicles. So while the team leader and 4 shooters took the client into the building, I stayed behind with my Kurdish coworkers and watched the vehicles.
We parked in a secluded corner of the lot, and set up a loose perimeter. We made it very clear to potential observers that were anyone to approach the cars they would pay dearly. As harsh as it sounds the only people that mattered were my teammates, and our protectee. Everyone else was a bad guy. That’s the mentality required when keeping someone safe in a combat zone.
We had probably been to this venue six or seven times, and each time was a different experience. On this particular day we enjoyed quiet. No mortars, no rockets, and no gunfire. We all laughed and speculated that the reason for the quiet was that the bad guys didn’t want to hit their friends working inside.
There were two other teams there that day. They made their drops, parked their vehicles, and went inside. They didn’t leave security with their cars. After baking in the sun for two hours, the radio squawked and our team leader informed us they were coming out. Our curbside pickup went flawlessly, as did the pickups for the other teams. We all left the compound together.
The ride back to the green zone was uneventful. By the summer of 2004 the Iraqis were used to seeing security teams, and gave us a wide berth. Nonetheless we rolled windows down,rifles out, safety off. The message was very clear. Approach us at your peril. Nobody approached us that day. It turned out there were easier targets to hit.
I dont remember the nationality of the team that came up behind us. I do remember their Nissan Pajero guntrucks, and their armored land cruiser. They had their windows rolled up, and rifles in…low profile.
Checkpoints into the green zone were the most dangerous part of any excursion. It doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to figure out that the best place to kill Americans is at the entrance/exit of where we were living. Much to the chagrin of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps guys manning the outer portion of the checkpoint, we blew right by. We didn’t stop for anyone but American Soldiers. The ICDC guys made a fuss but none of us cared…fuck ‘em. The American soldiers waved us right through. They knew we were targets, and nobody likes standing next to a target.
The shockwave hit us about six hundred yards past the checkpoint. The bomb must have been enormous. I’m not sure how many people it killed but it was a lot. The team behind us died. All of them. Several Iraqis waiting in line for work inside the green zone were also killed.
Apparently the bomb was attached to one of the guntrucks of the team coming up behind us. They had not secured their vehicles, and it cost them their lives. As we drove back to the palace in the relative safety of the greenzone, I watched the cloud of black smoke billowing into the blue sky and remembered the advice I received from my friend Geno. He told me “never let your guard down, walk softly, carry a big stick, and use it”. My resolve was strengthened by those words.
I had just witnessed complacency kill a lot of people, and I resolved to not become a casualty of complacency. Twenty minutes after the checkpoint exploded found me with my team in the chow hall eating mango ice cream, gearing up to go out on another run…