I guess the trip down to An Najaf was when I really fell in love with the army. That trip was when Basic Training ended, and it was when my life became a war movie. "Haji" was in the bushes, helocopters were running constant sorties into the city, and we were building a new camp. FOB Duke may not have been more than a patch of sand at the time, but it was home. I was a PFC (Private First Class-dont forget that there were two rank levels below me now), and I was in charge of all the Class I supplies for the entire company. 150 soldiers depended on me to have water and chow available at every meal, and the company first seargeant was depending on me to maintain a three day supply.
This was a lot of responsibility for a private, but i was first class at it. I was making deals, bartering fuel, and, on some occasions, stealing when necessary, but we never ran out of food or water. I had enough of a stockpile at one point that soldiers were getting 2 MRE's(the army calls them Meals Ready to Eat, but soldiers fondly refer to them as Meals Rejected by Etheopians). This becomes very important after eating MRE's for two or more weeks because the meals, as arranged, become boring. allowing each soldier 2 MRE's, allows the soldier to pick and choose what they want to eat, and, in some cases, build their own meal using what was supplied. This increases the morale of soldiers who are already fed up with the army, and increases in overall mission accomplishment.
The typical day in An Najaf was almost always the same. The sun would wake me up-we did not like sleeping in the tents, too hot and stuffy-and i would slowly climb out of my hammock. I had "Built" quite the living space between two of our trucks, and with the tarp over the top i had an excellent living space. We never wore our body armor, there was no need that prompted such measures. in fact, we never really wore the tops to our uniforms. just a brown t-shirt and sunglasses. I liked that a lot. After i got out of bed and put my pants on, i would walk over to the mechanics trailer and get a cup of coffee. we were only allowed to get coffee after first sergeant got his first cup, and there was only enough for each of us to get one cup. but if you needed more, there was always coffee crystals in the MRE that you ate for breakfast. Nothing like a boneless porkchop, chunked and formed, for breakfast. I usually had a bean and rice burrito for lunch, but that would make for a rough afternoon. You see-when you dont even have laundry service, that means that you dont really have bathrooms either. our "Toilet" was a 2 foot by 4 foot trench that was 4 feet deep. Not exactly luxury, but who really cares. when you can literally scrape the dirt off of any part of your body, it doesnt really matter that you are sitting on a tank road wheel, taking a crap in a trench, and not looking forward to a shower at night, or anytime in the near future. eventually you just let go.
It seemed like the political battle was the war we were really fighting in Najaf. You see, we were sent down to An Najaf with the orders that we were going to destroy the city-something along the lines of the Roman Army vs. Jeruselem. This was the image always conjured in my mind. I would be in Downtown An Najaf, refueling and rearming an Abrams tank, while death and destruction was raining down all around me. this was not quite the case. instead we mostly played spades. not joking. from the time we finished breakfast until the time the sun went down, we played spades. In Fact, I played the hell out of spades. my partner and I were untouchable. people came into our house and thought they could play. They were sent back to their tank with an MRE and the shame of defeat. I love my job.
the downside of Najaf was the fact that there was an army-well a malitia, supporters of Muqtada al Sadr, that wanted us dead. we had more than one run-in with these SOB's. My TC, Sgt Long, almost died one night in a traffic circle. their tank was hit with 6 RPG's(rocket propelled grenades) in rapid succession. the fuel can in the bustle rack caught on fire and spilled down into the engine. the tank commander did not want to extinguish the fire for fear that the engine would not restart, and made a decision to drive balls to the wall trying to put the fire out. the RPG's did not stop coming, and small arms fire joined in. a mission that was started as a raid, turned, rapidly, into a mission to save a tank. Just so you know, an Abrams tank is so fast it can out run fire. 22 or more rpgs hit the tank, and the crew lived to tell the tale. the tank was badly damaged, and the maintenance team quickly recovered, repaired, and returned the tank to the battle. I love my job. i would gladly give my life for the men that I served with in Najaf. They are my hero's.
Col. Dana J. H. Pittard, commander of the 3rd BDE, 1st Infantry Division, had been working with the local national government, the President of the United States, and Muqtada Al Sadr-a rouge terrorist who, i believe to this day, should have been killed in that battle for the hundreds of marines killed at his commands. a truce was reached after Sadr's hideout was hit with a deadly barage of artillery, and he suddenly changed his mind about the war for Najaf. It was a great day as we prepared to leave the camp we built. the Alabama national guard arrived the day we left. they brought showers, phones, laundry, and a world class dining facility with them. Man i love my job.
We pulled out of the gate of FOB Duke and headed for Highway one-Northbound, back to FOB Scunion where my bed, showers, and real toilet waited for me. 45 days of hell-45 days of filth-45 days that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
i love my job.