Monday, May 22, 2006

Stories of the past

Well, as you know, I was in the Army. So here's an experience of mine. Not too pleasant, and I thought I might have posted it before, but I didn't find it in the archives, so here it is. Sorry for the lack of format, but I had typed it this past fall when I was having a bad time of it after finding out a buddy of mine was killed in Iraq.

So today in the mail I got some of my now deceased friend Prairie's journal from his sis. She typed it up and sent me entries that pertain to me. I'm really happy she did, but sad, too. For me my combat tours are like an alcoholic haze or blackout, I remember very little, just certain details of certain days. It all just became a big blur, but when I read or talk to someone who was there, they mention something that awakes memories, like after a night of partying, where you don't recall much if at all, then you hear something and it comes back.

Like the following which Prairie wrote:

Another tough mission where we fought our way to the extraction point, carrying wounded and dead. Ski's squad was taking it on the chin for us on our left flank, and he and his guys were hitting back just as hard. His radio called for close support, and they directed the gunships as we were boarding. They got on the last chopper out of town, as always, and we started to leave. Suddenly we heard over the intercom words that make us all sick: "We're missing four!!!!! Four unaccounted!!!" First squad was missing four guys, and in the confusion no one made a good head count. As our bird banked hard right, I saw four guys running into the clearing, tracers passing them left and right. They were waving to us to come back. Then I heard "Roger that, we got four on the deck still. We'll keep them covered till you boys can get them." It was the gunship pilots, who turned sharply and started making passes and unloading ordnance wherever tracers came from. For a few moments, our guys were safe. I got on the intercom:"Ok, we got four on the deck, second squad will go in and extract, we need to get in and out, we can't lose a bird or we're all dead. Ski, can you hear me?"

"Roger that, Prairie. Fourth squad ready to cover you guys when you hit the ground, we're going in hot." Ski was amazing. He never refused to go in and do cover/security. His squad was absolutely fearless, for they had to get back on the ground, draw fire and reengage the enemy, cover us, then disengage and get back on the bird without getting overrun. His chopper banked hard, I saw his guys get ready at the doors, and at about 10 or 12 feet off the ground at close to 15 mph they jumped out both sides, deploying themselves in a neat firing line. We were coming in right behind them. Our bird set down as close as possible to our four guys, and myself and two of my squad, Swick and Charts, ran over to them. Charts threw one over his shoulder, Swick grabbed another by the web gear and started dragging, and I helped grab their gear. All of us made it back to the bird and we started to lift off. I put my headset back on. "Where's Ski's squad?" I saw his chopper circling back towards us.

"They said they were in close range with the enemy and to not land for them yet." was my pilot's reply. God, we may have lost a whole squad to get four guys. I couldn't see them as we climbed towards relative safety. I switched channels so I could hear his radio chatter and the chopper intercom. His radio was calling in more close support.

"I need whatever you got on (coordinates) now!!!! We can't disengage until we have a hole punched in them somewhere. We have nowhere to go!!" I was sick to my stomach. One of my best friends and his squad went down there to protect us and now they couldn't get out, like fire fighters trapped in a burning building. I started to pray on the intercom, not even knowing I was speaking. Suddenly all my guys were saying the Hail Mary with me...Out of nowhere some F-18s and then A-10s went rushing by us. We turned to circle at a safe distance. It was like watching hell explode in front of you. We saw the detonations of the bombs, and heard them over the radio, followed by more gunfire, screams, grenades, everything. I felt so worthless, watching and hearing it, but unable to help those guys. The radio crackled again:

"Meet us at the southwest side of the clearing, we're making a run for it, be advised we have one dead, two wounded." While the gunships and planes kept pounding with all they had, we saw Ski's bird go in really hot and low. The pilot almost stood the bird on it's tail to stop in time, but we saw it lift off only seconds later. Ski's squad, the masters of quick boarding, even with dead and wounded.We got back to camp, and waited for Ski's bird to land. His squad got off quietly, eyes blank, uniforms bloodied, bayonets still fixed to their weapons, coated with blood. It was obvious they had fought hand to hand.

"Ski, you ok? You need anything?" He just sat down and cried. Others of his squad walked aimlessly to our area. The aircrew came over and tried to comfort him. I saw he had something on his head, and went to wipe it off, but he swatted my hand away. Normally he'd be quiet, or just kind of walk slowly. This time something really had him rattled. So I went to the chopper and saw why he was upset. Radio, his squad's radioman, was lying dead on the floor of the chopper, shot through the head. Then it hit me. Ski had some of his brain on him and in his hair. Not only had it been close for Ski, but he and Radio were good friends. The only lefties in our company, they used to joke about being a minority, things like that. I helped carry Radio to the morgue, and let Ski recover at his own pace.

So, that's what Prairie wrote. I'd forgotten about that day until now. This is my abridged side of the story, picking up where we heard the four guys were on the deck.

"Are you guys up to covering second squad?" They all nodded yes. "Alright, we need to set up a screen between our guys and them. It's too hot to land, so we're doing a moving deployment, we need to get out as fast as possible. As soon as we hit the ground, fix your bayonets, I think it's going to get close and personal down there. Lock and load, check your ammo!!! Let's go get our guys!" We banked hard, came in low and fast, jumped, fixed bayonets, and took fire immediately. It's really a jumbled mess of memory fragments for me. I recall closing with the enemy, and some hand to hand combat, but not details. We were now stuck with no way out, and fought like cornered animals to find a way out. Somehow Radio kept his cool in all this to shoot with one hand and call in air support with the other. When it looked hopeless we heard some planes and they dropped all kinds of stuff right on top of us, so close that I was knocked to the ground by the concussion. That bought us time to be able to finish off the enemy around us and make a run for it. Except as we were about to get going, I was right next to Radio and as we got up, I heard a buzz and all of a sudden I was wiping his brain off my face and head. I'm so thankful he died instantly. So I picked up the radio, made the last transmission, grabbed radio, and ran to the chopper. The ride home was tough, but it wasn't until we landed that things sank in. I was numb. One of my friends was dead, we had almost been annihilated, we were in hand to hand combat in a struggle for our lives, and now it sank in. I got off the chopper, and took a few dazed steps. My legs went to jell-o, and I sat down and began sobbing. This ain't Kansas anymore, and it was becoming apparent we were involved in something that was way bigger than we ever thought.

Prairie was a friend who only had another 3 years before he could retire. He was killed his first day of his 2nd tour of Iraq. He volunteered to take the place of who he was replacing two days early, because he was the type of guy who wouldn't have been able to live with himself if something were to happen and he could have prevented it. On the way back from a firefight with insurgents another patrol radioed the codeword which means they were about to be overrun. Having been in that position, I can say I would have asked my pilot to divert so we could help out. Doug asked his guys, and they were up for it, so they went in to a really hot fight. When it was apparent they couldn't hold out, the choppers came back to extract everyone. Doug got off his chopper to give the space to a wounded soldier, and saw another wounded soldier trying to get to the chopper. He ran to him, started carrying him, and was shot in the back 3 times, but managed to carry the other guy to the chopper. Doug was pulled in by the crew and he bled out on the way to the triage center. He never thought of himself, and we should all be so lucky to have friends like that.


Capybaras United said...

Sounds awful. Do you regret enlisting?

Caloi-Rider said...

I agree--that sounds downright traumatic.

Mike said...

IT made me who I am today, so I don't regret it, but I wish I did some stuff differently.

Lora said...

I'm pretty speechless, but I'm glad that his sister thought to give this to you.