Most of the time, right before I roll out of the gate on a mission, I get the jitters. Maybe not so much jitters, just a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s this queasy knot of fear that I can’t quite control but doesn’t really incapacitate me. Usually it hits after the mission brief, as we are loading up, buckling in, doing that last second check of your gear to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be and is secure. It sits in my stomach, and I usually think something like “it would be really embarrassing to throw up in front of these kids. That wouldn’t do at all.” It goes away when we hit the gate and all that excess adrenaline is routed to my eyes and ears, where it is needed. Then it is all business, yelling about what you see and what to do, pointing out potential hazards to the driver and gunner, yelling into the radio, and trying to stay on top of the chaos of Baghdad traffic. Last week, as we were rolling out, we were talking about one of the villages we would be going through, doing an assessment of some construction being completed there. I told my crew to that this was a nasty insurgent village. I mentioned that the last time I was there, doing a cordon and search, we had gotten into a firefight with some jokers on the other side of the Tigris, who lit up our cordon as we were searching a riverside house. I said that during the firefight, I was hiding behind a wall, wetting my pants and sucking my thumb (Only partially true). The laughter shed some tension, and my stomach relaxed.
We hit the road and pulled into our first stop, everything went great, happy smiling kids waving, yada yada yada. The poverty in this little squatter’s village, alongside a canal leading to the Tigris, is as abject as it gets. One of the “homes” we parked beside was an old conex container with a door and window cut out of it, with a satellite dish on the roof. One of these days I will get around to posting about the post war Baghdad real estate market. Anyway, as we were leaving that village, rounding a line of buildings that border the highway, we spotted a guy digging a hole next to the road. Now in Iraq there is only one reason why some guy would dig a hole next to the road, and that is to throw an IED in the hole. Imagine his surprise to suddenly find 3 humvee’s surrounding him, and 3 M240 Bravo’s pointed at him. We searched him and his car, and turned him over to the Battalion QRF (quick reaction force). A short lived success, 2 days later another US patrol was hit by an IED in the same spot. We moved down the road to our next stop, a school we are renovating. We were supposed to meet a civilian contractor there, who was going with us to the “nasty” village. The contractor showed up without his car, and asked if he could ride with us. The fact that he was unwilling to drive his own car into that particular village was enough to make us reassess the necessity of going into that village that day. We decided the work could wait for another day, when perhaps we weren’t expected. In Iraq, dropping by unexpectedly is a good way to do business.
We revised our route, and stopped into another village to talk with some of the local civilian leadership. This village is reasonably friendly, and full of happy smiling kids, yada yada yada. We started handing out toys and goodies, which always causes a near riot of kids fighting over the best stuff. We had a couple of soccer balls to hand out. These are the prime items for the boy in the village. Scoring a “futbul” makes their week. One of the things I have learned over the years is that if you want to know what is going on somewhere, ask the kids. So I did. I asked, in Arabic, one of the preteen boys surrounding us if there were any problems with bad guys. He replied in perfect English, while rolling his eyes and pointing to the village across the highway, “yeah there are wahhabis in that village, now give me a F#*&ing futbul”. OK then, I guess I am not the first American soldier this kid has had contact with!
Finally, the glad handing is over, the goodies are distributed, progress is made. We mount up, and head in. Final tally: an IED delayed, a terrorist in jail, a school gets just a little closer to complete, and a village gets maybe too Americanized. Not a bad morning.