Stories from the Jolan District
It was a nighttime operation. The only mission was to look for contact. We would find it, just not in the way I had hoped. As the convoy pushed south towards phase line Fran, a group of Iraqi Police (IP) stopped us. Sergeant Witt relayed the word to Sully and me. “They’re saying there’s a possible IED a few hundred meters west of here.” “You’re joking, right?” I scoffed. “We can’t trust these guys. They’re hiding something.” “For all we know, they were in on it,” Sully chimed from the turret. “All vics, we are pushing West.” The platoon commander’s voice came over the radio. “Fucking great.” I sighed. With our lights out, the seven-truck convoy snaked its way through the corridors of the Jolan District. With night-vision goggles pulled down in front of our eyes, we could see the world in a shade of green that haunts my memories. It reminded me of the sort of vision a less-than-cool T-800 might have. Like the Nintendo Gameboy version of a terminator.
Unconvinced that the IPs were being honest, I was scanning rooftops and alleyways for fighters: a rocket team that might expose themselves for a brief moment to get a shot off. Or a machine gunner barricaded in a hasty pillbox. The IEDs simply had to be a decoy for something grander. “Stop, stop!” “Possible IED to our front,” the platoon commander advised over the radio. “Alright. Eyes up,” Witt ordered. “Fives and twenty-fives.” This was a reference to a procedure that had changed dramatically since we had arrived in the city. When we were first taught the tactic, we were trained to disembark from the vehicle, thoroughly scan the immediate five meters of our position for the ordinance, and continue scanning up to twenty-five meters for any other evidence of a threat. It didn’t take long for us to start realizing that you didn’t want to dismount from your vehicle for a multitude of reasons in the city of Fallujah, up to and including lethal and accurate sniper fire. The same sort of sniper fire that killed King. And McKenna. And Glover. And who could forget that douchebag that shot through the Captain’s pants? (We had some lucky moments.) As Marines have done for many years, we adapted to the battlefield. We continued to scan but from the mild comfort of our up-armored trucks. Little did we know, we had fallen for it. After a few short moments of halting the convoy, the two artillery shells wired together just twenty meters from us went off. It sounded like Sully set off a grenade next to my ear. For a moment, the green night vision became white. My body shook as if I had been standing before a sub-woofer at a metal concert.
I thought Witt had slapped my hand for some reason. After I realized it was an explosion, I checked my hand for shrapnel. It was fine. I must have hit my hand on the steering column while shielding myself from the blast. “Everyone OK?” Sully asked.
“What?” I asked, disoriented. “I’m OK,” Witt replied. I was in a daze, as I’m sure we all were. It felt like someone had cut my skull open and run a steel rake over my brain. My nerves felt like burned, frayed ropes barely clinging to my insides. Then, a light cloud of dust began to settle down through the turret. “They fucking warned us.” I shamefully admitted. “Black Five is up,” Witt said over the radio. “Four, are you good?” The truck behind us had also endured the brunt of the blast. “Yeah, we’re good.” The white flash from the explosion became a staple in my nightmares, reinforced by subsequent IED attacks that flared our night vision. It was an emblem of violent, fiery death or dismemberment. It would be accompanied by a deafening, body-jolting eruption that felt like it was detonating inside my jaw, blowing my head apart in grisly slow motion.
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.