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Stories from the al-Andalas District (The "Pizza Slice")

No one cared that I had only slept five hours on the first day of our cycle conducting operations from the train station. I'm sure I wasn't the only sleep-deprived, running on caffeine and supplements. On the second day, we were out in force, either doing missions in the city or responding to calls from somebody who needed support.

Late in the afternoon, we were tasked with responding to a suicide car bomb that exploded and demolished a couple of Iraq Army (IA) trucks. We proceeded south through the city, navigating incredibly tight alleys and side streets. Claustrophobia huddled over me like a raven hawking its meal. When we arrived at Fran (where the truck was hit), it was pretty quiet. A few IA guys were blocking off the area. Civilian traffic was minimal.

Our mission became patrolling around the area to ensure no further attacks would occur. As we were going through the Pizza Slice (likely the most dangerous part of the city), the lead vehicle spotted some guy loading belongings into the trunk of a dark blue car. I imagine he turned, made eye contact with the Marines, and hauled ass out of there.

"Holy shit," Sully said from the turret to Witt and me. "Did you see that car take off?"

Almost simultaneously, the lead truck driver shouted something incoherent over the personal radio I was wearing. It took me a few seconds to realize that he had put the accelerator to the floor and was chasing the suspicious car.

"It's on, baby!" I shouted as I pushed the accelerator down. The diesel engine whinnied like a horse charging into the fray.

The conditions weren't favorable. Imagine trying to push the limits of an up-armored HMMWV through alleys and streets jam-packed with pedestrians. Yet, despite the adrenaline and other stimulants getting dumped into my body, I was relatively calm as I gave a quick SITREP to my vehicle commander.

"Sergeant Witt, I'm getting dusted out, so you'll have to tell me which way they go in case I lose them."

Inside the cabin was a calm, collected nineteen-year-old that was itching to catch a bad guy. Outside, the five-ton HMMWV lurched, heaved, and screeched. The horn, as comical as it sounded while I pressed down on it nearly continuously, was instrumental in saving the lives of the citizens that weren't paying attention to the car chase that was crashing through their marketplace.

Focused and determined, I kept on the truck's tail. The driver kept shouting over the personal radio, but I didn't pay attention. Stay on his ass. Stay on his ass. I knew I was one of the best drivers in the platoon. I wasn't going to lose this guy.

The blue car suddenly pulled down an alley and abruptly stopped. Within a few seconds of him bailing the vehicle, the lead truck was on top of him. I don't imagine our trucks were even entirely stopped when the Marines dismounted to give chase on foot.

"He's on the roof!" one of the Marines shouted as I pulled up to the scene and hung my body out the truck door.

Sergeant Witt disembarked, rifle at the ready. He began coordinating blocking positions, and within a few moments, a team of a dozen Marines started knocking doors down. No one was getting in or out. We were going to get this guy.

While the assault teams were moving through the area, I assisted by taking pictures of the armaments in the trunk of the blue car. Machine guns with belts of ammunition loosely stacked on them. Rocket launchers. Rifles. Magazines duct taped to one another to allow for a speedier reload.

"This is the real deal, man," I said to a Marine between snapping photos.

He nodded. Fallujah was undoubtedly the real deal. The summer was bringing in a slew of dangerous men that wanted to kill us. We had almost grabbed one red-handed.

This work reflects the author’s present recollections of experiences over time. Some names and characteristics have been changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialog has been recreated.

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