Last week, Echo Troop of the 196th Cavalry conducted a raid in one of the least hospitable cities in the area. To understand the raid, it is first useful to get a little bit of background on the unit’s operations since they arrived in country. Echo 196 did not come directly to FOB Bernstein, but was previously deployed at a location near the Iranian border. When things started to heat up in the south, the troops deployed at Bernstein were shifted to one of these hotspots, and Echo 196 was called in to take over Bernstein while they were gone. The impression that the troop was given by the departing battalion was that they would be taking over FOB security—a limited mission that made sense given that the array of operations run out of the FOB were calibrated for a battalion-sized unit, not a company-sized unit. Nonetheless, the rocket attacks on the FOB continued, and so “the little troop that could” was forced to take on a task previously performed by a much larger military unit—a task which included providing security for the FOB, running raids, and tracking down “Rocketman,” the source of the then frequent rocket attacks on the FOB.
During this month, the fourth platoon had a few of engagements of particular note. In one raid, Lt. Naum, Sfc. Hutton, Ssg. Gleason, Sgt. Black, Spc. Vorhies, and Pv1 Harkless entered a house, seizing a suspect, $4500 of US currency, and a computer. The detained suspect’s brother was out of the house at the time of the raid—an absence made all the more telling when three rockets “coincidentally” were fired on the FOB during the raid. The brother “turned himself in” the next day when he came to the FOB to ask about his detained relative. Since his arrest, there have been no rocket attacks on the base.
Then there was the mission at an unfriendly city in the south. The fourth platoon and Cpt. Bumgardner were providing an outer cordon for Bravo Company, while Charlie Company was running a mission just south of their location, with LT Williams’s 1st Platoon providing the outer cordon there. Lt. Naum’s Humvee, with Spc. Woehler driving, Sgt. Black gunning, Doc, and Spc. Russ took up a position by a water tower juxtaposed roughly in the middle of the two operations—a position just up the street from Lt. Williams’s Humvee. The ground appeared stable, however when Lt. Naum’s vehicle stopped, it quickly sank up to the floorboards. The water tower had a leak, and the water had collected beneath the visible surface. Their Humvee was stuck, and in a rather precarious place.
Lt. Naum, Spc. Woehler, and Spc. Russ dismounted from the vehicle to control traffic in the area. A couple of young men who were trying to get through on the road caused a minor disturbance, and after running a check on their names, the decision was made to detain them. Naum, Woehler, and Russ were standing with the detainees outside their vehicle. Then it happened. An RPG hit just short of Lt. Williams’s Humvee, with Sgt. Miller gunning, discharging some portion of its explosive force backwards on impact. The cone and tail of the RPG skipped, continuing to hurtle forward before landing five meters from Spc. Woehler, Spc. Russ, Sgt. Black and Lt. Naum. Not content to stop, the RPG spun in place, throwing up sparks like an oversized “ground flower” firework.
At nearly the same time, Staff Sergeant Pugh was walking down a pitch black street with the aid of his night visions goggles, or NODs. The one problem with NODs is that they distort depth perception—a fact that had painful consequences for Pugh, who stepped into a four-foot deep hole in the middle of the road, thereby partially tearing a ligament.
Later that same early morning, an AK-47 opened fire on the Lt. Naum’s Humvee—the bullets coming so close that Sgt. Black could hear the telltale crack above his head in the gunner’s hatch. The shots seemed to be coming from one of the rooftops. The Humvee maneuvered to engage the shooter, who quickly darted out of sight. Contrary to the uninformed nonsense frequently touted in the press—the rules of engagement prohibited the soldiers from returning fire in the absence of a clear shot. First Platoon came to the scene to search the buildings, but by then the shooter had made his way off the roof and out of the area.
This brings us to last week’s raid. Intelligence suggested that an individual at a house in the city of the previous RPG attack had a cache of rockets. It was unclear whether he was involved in the previous attack, either as the triggerman or the supplier, but given the proximity, there was that chance. And, of course, even if he had nothing to do with the previous attack, he was a threat that needed to be addressed.
The Humvees drove lights out to the city, turning on the white lights only for passing cars, which might not be able to see the military column proceeding through the darkness. When the vehicles reached the city, they went to white lights, presumably because of the anticipated increase in street traffic. I was riding in Lt. Naum’s vehicle, with Spc. Woehler driving, Sgt. Black gunning, and Spc. Russ as dismount. My instructions were to stay with Russ once we reached the house, who would take up a position on the corner of the building, following which Lt. Naum would direct me to link up with Cpt. Bumgardner to enter the building after the insertion team. We reached the house very quickly once we hit the city. The vehicle stopped, I jumped out and came around the back of the vehicle, and Lt. Naum and Spc. Russ moved quickly across the rocky field to a corner of the house. I thanked my lucky stars (or in this case, moon) for the 90+% illumination that evening, which prevented me from following in Pugh’s footsteps as I jogged across the field without the aid of NODs.
The house had a wall creating a courtyard in the front. Naum and Russ took up a position at the corner of the building, with me in tow. Elements of 2d Platoon and Cpt. Bumgardner entered the gate to the courtyard, and I followed. Someone shouted that there was movement on the roof. A quick scan revealed that the family was sleeping on the roof. They were quickly brought to the lawn so that a full search could begin. While the translator explained what was happening, Lt. Hunt and the 2d Platoon searched the inside of the house, and members of fourth platoon searched the courtyard and the fields surrounding the building. The search came up empty, with only one (permitted) AK-47 found.
All the while, the commotion of the raid aroused gawking from the rooftops of neighboring homes. The gunners used their night vision and scopes to scan the rooftops to identify potential threats, while Spc. Woehler, Spc. Russ, and Lt. Naum ran traffic control, checking vehicles traveling through the area. At the end of the evening, the Coalition had thrown a party, but Ali Baba failed to show up. Given the nature of this particular city, however, that merely postpones their meeting until a later date.