Thursday, August 17, 2006

Firefight at Harithiya

I am not sure I want to write about this. I am not sure I want to remember it, or even if what I remember really happened the way I remember it. But I remember a man going down, over and over and over, like when coach Sahadi would stop and rewind the game tape at a really good hit and show it again and again. Only now it’s not a game

We had left Slayer four and a half hours ago, but already it seemed like we’d been on the road for days. My uniform is soaked with sweat and covered with the fine Iraqi dust that gets into everything - I can even taste it in my mouth. As we approach the FOB, I notice that the road leading to the gate is cluttered with the litter of incinerated car parts… a twisted drive train, blackened engine blocks, unrecognizable twisted metal. A very bored sentry casually cradles his AK as he waves us through.

The base itself is fairly primitive, not like an American base. Mostly an open expanse of dirt, packed hard with a layer of dust on top. The perimeter consists of 8 foot high concrete barriers, dressed and aligned as if on parade. Each is spaced so that there is a gap of several inches between it and the next in line – just enough for a rifleman to fire through. The wall is topped with concertina wire… the grey cement monotony broken only by a guard tower about every one-hundred yards or so. The motor pool is off a ways, its dirt parking lot empty except for a few pick up trucks and a Red Crescent ambulance - our interpreter tells us that the vehicles get very little use because the soldiers are afraid to take them outside of the wire. Several unpainted cement block barracks buildings and a couple of scraggly date palms complete the scene.

The Iraqi commander greets us. ISS-mee Ra-id Muhumad, ISS-mee Major Binkowski Yes, yes, welcome, welcome. Air Force? You are welcome here, my friend. We exchange platitudes as I wonder what it is the commander is thinking he can get out of the rich Americans. He’s obviously surprised that I am Air Force, and not Army. In the distance we hear some shots. It is nothing, my friend. Just some shooting outside of the walls. But as the staccato reports increase in frequency I wonder whether it would be better to move inside. Our conversation is strained. No, nothing to worry about, my friend. The sound of gunfire is louder.

The men are running now, running to the wall. Their boots thump on the ground. To the wall and the sound of the fighting. The familiar sound of AKs rip through the air closer now ratatatata POP!; I can see little puffs of dust where they strike the tower. I can’t find the commander. More men are running, the Iraqi Sergeant of the Guard with his red sash is shouting. More shots. I am thinking that the sash looks like something a small town homecoming queen would wear, except it’s wrapped in plastic to keep it clean. It’s funny the different things that pop into your head when time slows down like this. Remember Jack when he first learned to ride his bike? Christ what if they blow the wall? They did that at Abu Ghraib. Concentrate. The PK finally opens up – it sounds like one of those machine guns in the war movies. Pop, pop rata thumpa-yhumpa-yhumpa Concentrate. What are you supposed to do? More shouting. CLICK I take my pistol off safe. Shit, we only have one rifle between us. Pop pop I’m not coming out here again without a rifle get the damn civilians in the building should I fire oh God what if they sent some of our guys out there do the Iraqis do that? Daddy when ‘you comin’ home / son I don’t know when BAM!!! BAM!! But we’ll have a good time then JACK!!! BAM! Fuck! Where’s my fuckin vest? Thumpa-yhumpa-yhumpa-yhumpa what in the hell are they saying? WHAT ARE THEY SAYING??!!

I remember the shouting. The sound of firing comes and goes in waves. Peering through the spaces between the concrete barriers it seems quiet out there now. OH THERE’S TWO GUYS RUNNING, running, thumpa popopopoppop!! Shit here we go are they firing back? What if they have an RPG I need to get to a tower to see what’s going on stay away from the tower this isn’t even your fight BAM! WHERE’S THE TRANSLATOR???! Fuck. Pop BAM! Popopop. I am shaking. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I never saw bullets that close before what if I got hurt? Jack is crying now, as Lisanne holds him next to her. try to concentrate. Where is everyone? I scraped my knuckle. God I am thirsty.

A million years pass by in a second. Peering out, I see two bodies in the dirt. Fuck the sweat stings my eyes. I don’t think he’s moving. POP! a splash of dust in the distance. POP! what in the hell are they still shooting at? They’re not shooting at those guys are they? Did I just see someone shoot a wounded man? No, they’re dead. They’ve been dead. I didn’t see them die but I see them dead. I need to sit down.

Later I asked the Iraqi warrant officer what would happen to the bodies? He shrugged and said “we leave them.” “You just leave them?” “Someone will come out at night and take them.”


Anonymous Keith said...

Shit Mark When are you coming home? Maybe start wearing your every time you step outside. And also, you know how to use an M-16, why not bring the thing with you? Keep safe.

August 17, 2006 6:50 PM  
Blogger Pixie said...



Be careful as you can be....

August 17, 2006 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey you # 1--

I am speechless. I was so sad and angry reading what you ar e going through. I can't stop thinking about you and I don't want to. It is ok to ask your men to do things you don't do, you worked your butt off to become a major and be the boss, not the grunt. But because you are Mark and who you are, you would never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn,t do. I don't think any of that makes sense, but what I really mean is ,Come home and out of harms way!


Yo Yo Ma

August 18, 2006 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I AM bringing an M16 from now on. Just in case.

Thanks, Shell...

August 18, 2006 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mom, don't make ME cry...

I am doing my best, and I WILL be coming home. Bet on it.

August 18, 2006 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark be careful.


August 20, 2006 9:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home