Monday, March 28, 2005

The Adventures of Cody Badger Part 2

This is the second installment of The Adventures of Cody Badger, and I think it will be the last for now. I started it to get some of this out of my head. Just processing it into a story did the trick. I'm not saying Cody is gone forever, I just don't need him anymore right now. This is violent, graphic and contains profanity so consider yourself warned. Please don't let you kids read this until you have. This story and everyone in it is completely fictional. It is based on actual events but it is all made up.

"Badger, Badger, G** D*** it, get that 50 going"

I new somebody was yelling, but it just didn't make sense.

"Badger, are you listening, they're shooting at us, kill em!"

I knew they were yelling, I just couldn't hear them. All I could hear was the ringing in my ears. I was looking straight down the gunners hatch in our Humvee at Schmidt. He was pounding on my leg yelling but I couldn't figure out what was going on. I could see the intensity in his face, I just couldn't make any sense of the words.

I was the gunner in the last Humvee of a four truck convoy. Steve was the gunner in the third truck, and Tanner, one of the guys from our unit, was the gunner in the second truck. The lead truck was a group of MPs providing security for our convoy. We were on our way to raid the house of a target we had been working on for some time.

All of the sudden the sound flooded back in my ears like a rush. There was shooting on both sides of the road. Fire and smoke in front of us, and everyone was yelling. We needed to get out of there fast.

"Go, Go, Go" I shouted as I slammed my fist on the roof of the Humvee. "They're shooting at us!" It was an ambush. As soon as I said it I knew we couldn't. The fire and smoke in front of us was a Humvee. An American Humvee. Everything came back into focus. The blast, the gun fire, the screaming. One of the Trucks had hit an IED. The blast dazed me for a second but it all came back into sharp view. I saw Steve's truck in front of us but the gunners hatch was empty.

"Steve!" I yelled hoping he would pop up a start shooting


His gun wasn't firing.

"Steve!" I couldn't see him in his hatch. The hood had been blown off of his truck, but people were firing out the windows. Somebody was alive in there.

"Badger, shoot the F****** 50 cal!" Schmidt kept pounding on my leg as he was shooting out his window.

Pop pop pop, I fired a burst toward the gun fire. I wasn't sure who was shooting yet, but they were shooting at us. Bullets were pinging off the armor on our Humvee, and it looked like one of the tires was flat.

Pop pop pop, another burst. I was coming back out of the initial shock of the blast. My mouth tasted like copper. I ran my hand across my face. Blood.

Pop pop pop, I saw the guy out of the corner of my eye. He had a bead on Steve's truck and was firing his AK-47 towards the gunners hatch. I spun my turret toward him as I saw his bullets walk up the road and then up the back of the Humvee as he tried to find his mark.

Pop pop pop pop pop, I fired a long burst and walked the shots up toward his body. He turned his head just as the last few 50 caliber rounds ripped into his hip and tore into his chest.

"Holy S***!" It literally ripped him in half. His head and arms flew back away from his torso as his lower body just slumped into a pile on the ground.

"S***!" I'd never shot anyone before. Ping, ping, ping. I didn't even have time to feel the shock before more bullets ricocheted off the coupola around the hatch I was standing in.

Pop pop pop, they were all over on both sides. Two more insurgent ran out to avenge their friend. Another long burst and both of them lay in a bloody pile.

It was a beautiful morning. There was a cool breeze and the morning sun was a blazing crest just popping up on the horizon. We had left the wire at about 0500 for the raid that morning. We were supposed to leave earlier so we'd be in and out before the sun came up. We'd done some raids in the daytime before but they always went better at night. We have a definite advantage in the dark. Some stupid mechanical problems held us up, but the target wouldn't be there all day. It was now or never. We'd been tracking this guy for a while and knew he'd be gone in a few hours. We pulled over the hill about 20 miles west of Baghdad just as the little village rose up over the hill. That's where we hit the IED. It hit the second truck. Tanner's truck. Their Humvee lay upside down in the ditch next to the road on fire. Smoke was pouring out of it and the flames were shooting up into the sky. The blast had shot the truck and it's five passengers up in the air, flipped it over twice before it landed upside down in the ditch. The third truck, Steve's truck, had the front two tries flat and the whole hood was gone. It looked like it was still running though.

Steve still wasn't in the hatch. Nobody was moving in the ditch.

Steve's truck was sitting sideways in the road. I don't know if the blast spun it around or if the driver was reacting to the explosion. I could see the rounds spraying across the bullet proof windshield. It cracked and spiderwebbed but it held together. Garrett stood up in the gunners hatch and lit up Steve's 50 cal. He got two of them before they even knew he was firing. Our main goal now was to kill all of the enemy or keep them from firing so we could attempt a rescue.

The flames from Tanners truck were licking at the sides of Steve's truck. I was at least 50 meters away but I could feel the intense heat on my face and hands. I could hear the RTO trying to scream into the radio over the noise. He was trying to call in air support. In a few minutes there would be attack helicopters circling the area ready to empty their mini guns into the sides of the road. The insurgents knew this too. This would be over very quickly one way or the other. And it was. Just as soon as it started it was over. I don't know where these people disappear to but it's like magic. A few more stray bullets in the distance and they were gone.

We cautiously dismounted our vehicles and set up a quick perimeter. We couldn't chase them, we had to protect the burning Humvee. We didn't know if there would be a second bomb, or another ambush. We needed to see if we could help the guys in the ditch.

Still no Steve and nobody in the ditch was moving.

By the time we got out of our vehicle Tanner's truck had burned to almost nothing. It was a mound of metal and a pile of ashes. Parts of the Humvee were scattered across the road and in those parts were five American soldiers I will never forget.

The blast had torn Tanners head and shoulders away from his body, threw him out of the hatch and into the ditch. The other four must have still been in the truck. Steve was laying across the backseats of his Humvee bleeding pretty badly from his head. One of the guys in the truck was a combat lifesaver and had given him first aid during the fire fight. Steve would lose his left ear and most of the side of his face before it was all over. His helmet saved his head and the throat guard on his Body Armor kept the shrapnel from tearing away his neck. I had some minor cuts on my face from Shrapnel but nothing major. It's not like in the movies where they shoot the place up, people die and then it cuts to the next scene nice and clean. It's not like that at all. You have to stay there and pick up the pieces. You clean up the metal and flesh and you carry on. You wash the blood from the Humvees so you can go on the next mission. You say goodbye to your friends and you wake up and do it all over the next day. And for what? We killed seven insurgents that day. A small victory for such a precious price. Five American families lost their sons and fathers and brothers. Steve has to call his wife and kids and tell them he's alive, but only has half of his face. What good can come from that? According to Steve Hope comes from that. I'll never forget what he told me that day.

The medivac helicopters came and took Steve back to the FOB. Another convoy came out to recover what they could of the vehicles and the bodies. We drove back to the FOB with their gun trucks. I went to see Steve before they flew him to Germany for surgery. His head was all bandaged and bloody, but he could still talk. I didn't know what to say to him. But he knew what to say to me.

"Cody, this was all part of God's plan."

"F*** God." I said, mad that he would even say something like that. "How can this be part of his plan."

"I don't know", Steve said, "But my hope is in him. I know he'll take care of me. He always has."

"No, man that's stupid why would God let this happen. It doesn't make sense."

"I don't know why, but I don't need to know. I trust him. Maybe someone else can see him through what happened."

The nurse was putting some medicine into a syringe next to Steve's bed.

"Cody, do me a favor."

"Sure man, anything."

"Give God a try."

That was it. Not tell my wife I love her. No patriotic keep on fighting crap. Just give God a try. That was the last thing Steve said to me. The nurses were sedating him for the trip to Germany and they made me leave. I haven't seen Steve since then. He had always talked about God. He'd tell me stuff but he never forced it on me. I knew what he believed. I didn't understand why he did, but I knew what he believed. I can't see how the loving God Steve talked about would let this happen. If there is a God I don't see how this could be part of a plan. But you know what. I'm going to give God a try. If Steve can go through this and still believe then maybe there's something to it I don't understand. I'm not making any promises, but we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What a Good Day

Yesterday was a pretty good day. All the mail that has been accumulating since February showed up. It was like Christmas. Packages, letters, books. It was a good day. Everybody got a bunch of mail, and for about 20 minutes there wasn't a war going on. People shared details from letters, cookies, gum, all kinds of stuff. Mail is a wonderful magical thing. I think the most universally enjoyed item was the selection of nerf guns some anonymous sender sent to us out here. We were dodging darts and mounting nerf attacks against one another all night. We found that a tiny dab of shaving cream will make a dart stick much better to a bald head. What a good day.

I updated the pictures. I put a little section called Mahmudiah Mud. You can get a small glimpse of how it looked here after the rain.

Cody Badger part 2 is in the works. The first installment didn't go exactly how I wanted it to. I didn't really want to spend much time developing the character, but just wanted to get right to the action. It just played out differently in my mind. I just couldn't make it work how I wanted it to. I think the next few episodes will be better.

Anyway, I've been having a pretty good time here lately. They worked the laundry issue out, I picked some up today and I think I know how they're turning it around quicker. It was still wet. I've got laundry hung, draped, laid out all over my little area. It shouldn't take too long to dry, it's just inconvenient, but it smells better.

Check out the pictures and stay tuned for part 2 of Cody Badger.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Adventures of Cody Badger Part 1

This is a series I want to write about how it is over here in the war. My blog has been mostly humorous and light hearted so far. If that's the experience you want from my blog that's fine, just don't read any of the entries about the fictitious Cody Badger. All the events are fabricated and are in no way meant to reflect real events that happened here. They are, however based on real events that have happened while I've been here. Some of the experiences are mine, and some are things that have happened to other guys. Also there is some profanity and violence in these entries. There is no way to capture the feeling without them. I apologize if it offends, but that's what it's like here. I'll post a disclaimer before each entry so you can consider yourself forewarned. Please don't let your children read these. This one is pretty mild, but the will get worse.

My name is Cody Badger. I'm a soldier in Iraq. I didn't grow up wanting to be a soldier, it sort of just happened. I got out of High School about a year ago and didn't really have anything better to do. An Army recruiter came to our school before we graduated and it sounded like a good idea, so I joined. When I went through the MEPS station I took the ASVAB test and had to pick a job based on my score. I never was all that smart and didn't really care what I scored. I just wanted to shoot stuff so I was going to pick Infantry no matter what my score. A month later I was at Basic Training at Fort Benning. That's where I met Steve Bennett. Steve was a lot older than me, but we were assigned to be battle buddies from day one. A battle buddy is a guy that goes where you go and you sort of keep track of each other. Since everything is done alphabetically we were always together. He stood right behind me in line for chow, we drew our weapons and turned them in in the same order. I think the only time in Basic I didn't see Steve was when I was asleep. But even then I could hear him. He slept on the bunk above me. A year later he's my room mate and my squad leader in the infantry unit I'm in in Iraq. I'm glad we got stuck together back in Basic. I know nothing's gunna happen to me as long as Steve's around.

I don't really know why Steve joined the Army. He'd already been to college, and was married. His wife had a daughter the month we left to come here. He only got to see her for a week before we mobilized and started heading out. That must really suck. Anyway, he's the smartest guy I know. He knows when the insurgents are going to hit us. It's like he can feel em coming. I guess it's a gift, but all I know is I'm glad he's on our team.

One of the first things we did when we got to Iraq was go to the range and zero our weapons. We had taken our turn and were waiting outside the area they made up for the range when some jerk takes a shot at us over the wall. It was over and done before we could even react. We were standing next to one of the Humvees talking and all of the sudden "POP" "ZING" and it was over.

"Steve, what the F*** was that?"

"Dude, get behind the truck" Steve said as he jumped behind the armored Humvee.

"S*** man, they're shooting at us", I said just standing there looking at the wall.

"Get down stupid!" Steve yelled as he grabbed the loop on the back of my body armor.

I hurried up and squatted down next to Steve behind the truck.

"Did you see em?"

"No, but it was about an inch from my head"

"Mine too",I said "what ear'd you hear it out of?"

"Left." Steve said as he scanned the top of the wall. We both had our M-16s propped up on the hood and aimed at the wall where the round had come from.

"I heard it out of my right." I said. "S*** a couple of inches either way and that would have been it."

Nobody ever saw who did it or how far away they were, but we heard it zing right between our heads and we were only about a foot apart. Plus we saw where the round went into the Humvee. That was day one.

That was the first time I'd ever been shot at. I wasn't as scary as I thought it would have been. It just happened and then it was over. I guess since we didn't anticipate it happening we didn't have time to be scared. I thought it would have been more dramatic, but it wasn't.

Our job is mostly driving around on patrols in the city in the day time, and doing raids and searches at night. The first few patrols weren't too bad. We usually convoy out with four or five Humvees and patrol around to see what's going on. Steve is usually the gunner in the middle truck, and I'm usually the gunner in the last truck. We're the guys who stand up in the middle of the Humvee in the gunners hatch and fire the 50 Caliber machine gun. It's pretty cool. There's an armored pod that we stand in and there's a place for the 50 to stick out the front. The whole pod rotates 360 so you can fire from any direction. I face backwards most of the time so I don't know what's coming, but the guys in the truck yell up to me and let me know what's going on. There's a little sling that you can sit in, but it always makes my butt go to sleep. We spend most of our time with our heads stuck out of the top of the Humvee swinging the 50 cal around from side to side. Not a bad job if you don't mind being the only guy with your head sticking out the armored Humvee. I'm not too worried though with Steve in the Convoy.

The biggest threat we face in Iraq isn't getting shot, it's IEDs. Improvised Explosive Devices. These jerks put old artillery rounds, land mines, or anything they can find in the road and blow them up when we drive over them. The lead trucks main job is to scan for IEDs. I'm glad I'm usually in the back.

We got hit with our first IED on the third or fourth mission outside the wire. We were just driving down a road and had no clue it was there. It hit the second truck. It was a pretty small one though and didn't do any damage. We didn't even stop. He ran right through the smoke and looked around for who set it off. We didn't see anybody. And didn't want to stop either. Sometimes they use the IEDs to stop the convoy so they can ambush it. We didn't plan on getting ambushed so we pushed through. When we got back we looked at the truck and it only looked like someone shot it with a shotgun or something. It had some shrapnel marks on the front fender, but it didn't even make the tire flat. So we just left it like it was and went to get some chow.

Friday, March 18, 2005

It's Your Money, You Just Can't Have It

After proof reading this it came off a lot more negative than I planned, but it makes the point so I'll leave it. Don't think I flipped my lid, I'm actually having a half way decent time here. So, here goes.

There are certain things you can do in the Army. You can not see your family for long periods of time. You can give and receive gun fire. You can slosh through muddy water mixed with raw sewage. You can even pay for your own hotel room when the Army recalls you and doesn't have room for you.

There are certain things you can't do in the Army. You can't grow a beard. You can't sleep in. You can not, contrary to popular belief, shoot someone because you think they look like an insurgent. And, you can't get your own money out of finance if you are an E7 or below.

I haven't had shampoo or deodorant for a while because I don't have any money because they don't have finance here. Today finance came through for their once a month visit. I trudged through the mud and stood in line to take out my $50.00. When it was my turn I signed in and said,

"I'd like to take out $50.00 please."

"No problem Sergeant, just take this form and have someone E7 or above counsel you on the possible impact it could have on you to use your money and then have them sign this form and then come back."

I looked around for a second to see if they were kidding.

"You're serious, I have to get someone's permission to get my own money to buy toiletries? Surely you're kidding me."

They weren't. So I walked back through the mud and got someone 5 years younger than me with no wife and no kids and has never had a job because he's still in college counsel me on the use of my money. It amazes me that I even survived out of the military. It amazes me that I am a general manager for a company that did one Billion dollars in business last year. Billion with a B, but can't manage 50 of my own dollars. It amazes me that my family even gets out of bed in the morning and eats breakfast without an E7 or above to counsel us on the possible effects of eating the cereal out of the cupboard.

"You know Sergeant, that if you eat that cereal now you won't have it later. I know it's your cereal and that you need to eat it to survive, but I don't think you are capable of making that decision on your own."

"Oh, E7 or above, thank you so much for your insight into the use of my own cereal. Whatever was I thinking wanting to eat the cereal out of the cupboard. I would be better to never touch the cereal for fear of it not being there in the future. Thank you so much for your concern when I'm being shot at, or when I have to make the split second decision to let a vehicle speed up on me and possibly blow me up, or fill the cabin full of bullets and take the chance that it wasn't a suicide bomber but just a bad driver taking her kids to school. Thank you for wasting my time having me walk across the mud to get your signature to get my own money that I earned by getting shot at. You're right, I am incapable of making a decision. Thank you Thank you Thank you."

On a lighter note, the PX is out of Shampoo and deodorant.

Whew, I feel better. I think I will write that little fictitious series on the war.

Thank you. Elvis has left the building.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rain, Rain go Away

The last week here at beautiful FOB Mahmudiah has been rain, rain, and in between the drizzles we had full on downpours. Everything flooded. Most of the area was at least ankle deep mud. Some of it was knee deep, and there is one part that is still chest deep mud and water. I don't know this from first hand experience, just from observation. Marines will do anything. One of the perks of a flooded FOB is that the water trucks can't get in. No water, no showers. No water, no laundry. Not that it matters. They were supposed to have worked out the laundry issue but I've only been able to do laundry once this past month. So, I went about four days in the same stinky muddy clothes. Then one glorious day the water trucks showed up. I had my laundry done and a shower all in the same day. It was like Christmas, only muddier. On second thought Christmas was muddy too. So, it was just like Christmas.

Let's talk mail. I haven't gotten any for a few months. There are convoys that come here all the time. I look at them with the sad puppy eyes as everyone else is getting their mail but it doesn't help. I called back to my unit on Liberty and they said, "Oh, you have a pile of mail here." "Well, why don't you send it?" I asked in my most annoyed yet don't want to make them mad so they don't send my mail tone. "Yeah, I guess we could do that." Well, I don't want to inconvenience anyone.

Things have been going full bore here in Mahmudiah. It's like we're at war or something. However the end is in sight. The official word came out last week that my Brigade would leave Iraq in September. Woo Hoo. I always liked September, it always had that end of the war feeling to it. Based on my military history I figure September means I'll be home by Christmas.

I have a question for the comments section. My blog is generally light and humorous, but that isn't really how the war is here. I've been toying with the idea of writing a small series about some fictitious characters experiencing the war based on real events. The catch is it would be realistic. War is violent and full of profanity. It would mostly be for me to get some of this stuff off of my chest, but partially for you to get a glimpse of how it really is. Would that be too much for the blog or would you be interested in reading it. I figure it would be about 4 or 5 blog posts worth and would sort of follow a few main characters. I'll probably write it anyway but I'll wait for your comments to see if I'll post it.

Other than that not much going on here. I'll be interested to read your comments.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

If You Can't Laugh at Yourself.....

You know the old saying If You Can't Laugh at Yourself blah blah blah. Well, I wrestled with posting or not posting this one. It one of those that if you hear it about someone else it's hilarious, but if it's you it just sucks rocks. Well, it's a little funny. Anyway here goes.

You know about the port-o-podies so I don't have to set much up there. The setting does need a little set up though. Picture middle of the desert, middle of the night, pitch black, almost asleep.

It was getting toward the end of my shift tonight and the computers weren't working. I decided to take the time to visit one of the port-o-podies. As I learned in a previous lesson I used my little flashlight upon entering the port-o-pody. All was clear so I continued on with the mission at hand. I sat there, did my business, hummed a few tunes, Yada Yada Yada, the usual. When I was done I stood up and pulled my pants up. When I did I heard a faint but distinct "ker plunk". Curious, that doesn't usually happen. I wonder what that could be. I had been carrying my digital camera in my front pocket which I don't usually do. I know what you're thinking and you're wrong. I frantically felt my pockets thinking my camera had fallen into the abyss. No, the camera was still there, as was the flashlight and my memory stick. Hmm, must have been my imagination. I buckled my belt and started out the door. I have this little ritual I do when I leave a place. I pat my front pocket to feel for my keys, and I pat my back pocket to feel for my OH CRAP, MY WALLET. NO NO NO NO. I ran back into the port-o-pody flashlight blazing and peered into the place nobody ever want to put their hand. History will only tell if the next event was fortunate or unfortunate, but some one before me had left a large squishy pile right in the middle of the tank. There, scoffing at me, was about one inch of black nylon and velcro. Life slowed to a stop. If the wallet had fallen even one inch further in any direction it would have sunk to the bottom. I was staring down into a dark hole of human sludge engulfing my wallet and all of my identification. Oh No, my ID. If you lose your military ID in a hostile foreign country you're in deep doo doo (pun intended). There was no question about it, I had to go in, it was slowly sinking. Throwing caution to the wind I reached into the pile of unmentionable and retrieved my soggy wallet. I didn't really care about the cash, but I couldn't let anyone find my ID and my Credit Card. I plopped the wallet down on the little ledge and pulled out about 52 miles of toilet paper from the roll. I carefully opened the wallet and extracted my ID and Credit Cards. The pictures were ruined but the money was dry. So as of right now I have a cargo pocket full of things you'd find in a wallet. It's over you say? Not even close. I'm standing there with a wallet full of crap and blue fingers. How am I going to walk out of this with a modicum of dignity. There's only one answer. Ditch the wallet. So, with a quick remorseful flick of the wrist, I pitched the wallet back into the deep blue and wrapped the pictures up in toilet paper. I tried to scrub my fingertips as much as possible and then got the heck out of there. They have little dispensers with that hand sanitizer stuff in them attached to the outside of the port-o-podies. Well, the one where I was in now empty.

There it is. I suppose in a few days it will seem funny, but right now I've got to come up with a wallet. I'm sure I'll find one somewhere. I do have some ziplocks.

I also updated the photo album. I added a page for Camp Mahmudiah.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Would You Do It?

I'm sitting here at the computer shaking my head. I just read an e-mail addressed to me from an Army Recruiter. He was singing the praises of being in the IRR and wanted to know if I was interested in re enlisting. After I dismissed the usual "when pigs fly, when hell freezes over, not on your life" responses I wrote him a cordial reply with a few demands in order for me to re enlist. I really doubt any of them will be met, so I probably won't be re enlisting any time soon. And if I do I'll be a rich person with no possibility of ever being recalled again. I don't think it will happen though.

I got hooked up with a Segovia VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) account the other day. They have these phones set up in the computer lab that you can talk on if you have an account. You go to their website and charge your account up with your credit card and they give you a pin number. I can talk to the States for 4 cents a minute. I think that's less than my long distance plan at home. It's a pretty good connection too. That beats the heck out of the 60 cents a minute for my cell phone.

We're expecting, of all things, a hail storm tonight. I can't really believe it'll happen though. It's pretty calm here and doesn't seem like a storm is coming. Hail is definitely one thing I didn't think I'd see here in Iraq, but stranger things have happened I'm sure.

Well, Someday I'll get to the Haji internet cafe and upload some pictures to the photo album. Until then just picture green tents full of cots with sleeping snoring stinking men, and dirt. That pretty much sums it up. I love it here though. I even volunteered to stay longer if they needed me to. The work environment is so much better. We're working 12 on and 12 off seven days a week and that's fine. There's not really anything to do here anyway. On the flip side, one day is just like the last day which will be just like the next one. The days go fast though.

Some people have asked about mail. We still get it here, it's just a little slower. It has to make it's way to Camp Liberty and get sorted to a bag that comes out to FOB Mahmudiah whenever there's a convoy. I'm sure it'll get here before the war is over.