Two Inches Sir...

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: October 24, 2017

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Submitted: October 24, 2017



"Two fucking inches Sir..."

It started out like a normal patrol on 29 MARCH 2004 - albeit, this one was a three day event that would keep us out in Ubaydi proper for the entire duration. As Executive Officer of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines of the famous 1st Marine Division, it was my responsibility to engage the local populace in order to promote a "pro-coalition" mentality and also gain intelligence on our enemy, Al Qaeda. These were big gains as I had successfully negotiated our position with the governing tribal leader in the area Sheik Sabah. A notorious pedophile, Sabah had directed me to work with his cousin, Lieutenant Farid of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC), essentially their State Police. This shady character worked out of the Police Headquarters located in the middle of this "planned community" which sat off the marshes of the great Euphrates River.

The plan would be for me to take CAAT Blue Charlie, under the leadership of Sergeant Kris Benson, in to the area where I would spend the day engaging key business and government leaders and then at night, we would set up observation positions overlooking the MSR into the city. The hopes were that we would catch insurgents possibly digging in IEDs or other nefarious acts. We set up a few checkpoints outside the city and nabbed several military aged males that were out and about after our established 2100 curfew during the days before. 

The first day of this three day evolution kicked off just swell. I was working off of the momentum I had after the Regimental Commander credited me for these breakthrough negotiations with the Sheik. General Mattis was all the way up his ass as well, as this was our Division imperative to work with the local populace with these types of projects. The Regimental Commander told me that we were the first in the Division to achieve this and this gave me and my Marines great enthusiasm.

As the sun began to set, I led a dismounted patrol through the business district of New Ubaydi. There were bazaars and restaurants there and the locals tried their best not look at us as we were looking to extract human intelligence. Out of the blue, I hear someone in a deep Arabic accent say, "Lieutenant O'Neeeel, can you come here for a minute." I glanced over to see a tall skinny Iraqi man standing outside the local bank, sucking heavily on a cheap cigarette. I stop the patrol and one of the gun trucks covering us pulled over in the back of the column and two motivators dismount while the 240 gunner kept a watchful eye. I took my assistant, LCpl John Collonder from St. Louis, in with me to the man's office. The lights were dim due to crappy power and he offered me some classic Iraqi tea which I accepted. He gave me one of his cheap cigarettes and I took it - despite the fact that I had just gotten rid of a massive lower decker of Kodiak wintergreen seconds before. 

"Lieutenant", said the Haaji. "You are a good man and I know you are working very hard. But you are wasting your time..."

"Excuse me Sir?" I replied baffled, I stubbed out the butt on the deck and swallowed the sugar tea. 

"Lieutenant Farid is an Al Qaeda Man..." he said to me.

I instantly went red. I knew it, and this nice man just reinforced this fact. Ever since I met Farid one month before, I had this bad feeling about him. This banker who told me this in private with no one else around me, was doing this because he respected me as a man and nothing else. I quickly thanked him and Collonder and I left and went outside to the comforting view of about 25 Marine killers looking vigilant and aware of every possible variable on that street. Scanning every rooftop and so forth...

I told Sergeant Benson, "Get everybody back in the fucking vehicles Sergeant....time to go have a little chat with that cocksucker Farid. Oh, and tell your boys to watch every one of those ICDC idiots as well when we get there."

"Roger that Sir"

Minutes later we pull into the ICDC headquarters and Collonder, me and my linguist charge into Farid's office. We close the door and now it is the three of us plus Farid and he is sitting in one of those cheap Chinese leather chairs thinking he is Sadam Hussein. This was the same asshole that asked me if the Battalion Commander would give him a custom Italian hunting shotgun as a present. I told the linguist to tell him to get to his fucking feet because I have something to say to him.

Farid stands up, and I get about one foot away from his face, and I tell the linguist to tell him, "If I find out, and can prove, you are working with Al Qaeda, I personally will shoot you right in the fucking face. Do you understand that Lieutenant?" I was patting down the 9mm Berretta that was on my hip, and he slowly looks into my eyes, and says in broken English, “no problem Sir." His eyes had it though, he was telling me to go fuck myself.

I then replied, "I know there is no problem motherfucker" and the three of us stormed out of the office and out to my Marines and the vics. I told Sergeant Benson to load everyone up and we were going back to base. He was confused because we were going to go out to a nearby hilltop and set up the OP for the next two days. I quickly told him about this new intelligence and how the Battalion's number one partner, Lieutenant Farid, was an Al Qaeda informant. 

The sun had set and it was dark now as we rolled out quickly past the ICDC checkpoint on the edge of the city, along a desolate road called ASR TIN. The road was surrounded by hardened dirt and wadis that had perfect terrain for an ambush. I was inside my command variant humvee, a MRC-145 with zero armor and strictly fiberglass and canvas, and I had the handset on my ear listening to Benson coordinate with his team leaders. I was irate and saying something to Collonder about, "This Farid motherfucker is finished". I was already going through the things I would say to Major Schreffler about all of this when I get back to Battalion at Camp Al Qaim. 

And then it happened. The darkness lit up with a giant orange fireball and a high pressure wave blew right into the vehicle. The thunderous report of a large explosive right off the starboard side of my vic. The entire right side of my face caved in and it felt like my brain was being squished out of my ear drums. Dust and dirt filled the inside of the humvee and I blacked out for one second or two. I came too and looked through the dust at Collonder who was driving and I grabbed his arm forcefully and yelled, "ARE YOU ALLRIGHT?" He coughed and said, "Yes sir". And then instinctively, I reached down and grabbed my testicles, and yes, they were still there. I then looked in the back seat and my linguist was balled up in a fetal position. I grabbed him too and said the same. "His reply was a muffled, "YES SIR!” I then looked up and saw the red lights of the humvee in front of us and that our convoy was miraculously still moving. I got right on that handset and clicked, “GET DOWN TO FUCKING CHECKPOINT 6 NOW SERGEANT!" He clicked back and rogered up and said he and his people were ok. All the drivers floored it out of the engagement area, as we were anticipating a medium machine gun or RPG to hit us from one of our flanks. Fortunately, that never happened.

Minutes later, the wounded patrol gets down to that intersection of Route Bronze and ASR Tin and we pull over. All the Marines fall out of their vehicles and Sergeant Benson quickly gets reports. Our Corpsman Doc Luis Valle Vega, was busy checking every Marine, looking into their eyes with a flashlight. Then the motivated Doc comes to me and flashes the light in my eyes and says, "you're fucked Sir...and so is like half the section" We had all sustained concussions from the massive blast, some Marines were bleeding out of their noses while others, like myself had clear fluid coming out of our nostrils. Benson and I agreed that we needed to "get the fuck out of dodge most ricky tick" and head back to Battalion. We all got back in the vehicles and slowly moved down to the next checkpoint, surrounded by the spooky desert and pitch darkness. We had the lights off to prevent us from getting shot by insurgents if they were on the road or surrounding terrain.

We got down to the next checkpoint and Benson calls me up and says we've got a problem. "Now what?" I say to myself. Turns out, CAAT Red had the intersection cordoned off because they found a massive IED on it and were waiting for EOD to come clear it. We pulled up next to the Marines and I asked for Lieutenant Justin Englehardt, one of the Platoon Commanders from my Company. Moments later, I am briefing Englehart on the hood of his humvee, again the pitch dark and shadows of Marines hovering around.

"You don't sound too good Tommy" said Justin. I told him that we just got lit up by a massive IED and I need to get back to Major Schreffler now and tell him we have been compromised in Ubaydi. I knew it was Farid who ordered that IED attack, since we never got hit once on that road and I also just threatened to kill him. I guess I would have done the same thing if I was him. A compassionate Englehardt quickly guided us around the cordon area and we are able to move back to Battalion. 

Twenty minutes later, the patrol gets into friendly lines and parks the VICs in their respective spaces. I take off my shit (flak, kevlar and deuce gear) and place the Remington 870 shotgun I was carrying back in the Company Office. Sergeant Benson and I march over to the Combat Operations Center (COC) situated in a big administration building that once housed the offices of the Iraqi National Railroad Company. Our base was a giant railhead that sat right in the middle of the desolate, lunar like landscape. Benson and I stroll in to the impressive office with giant video screen and computers and "three shop" Marines doing their duty. The "Watch Officer", an Infantry Captain that worked for Major Schreffler immediately comes up to me and says "what the fuck are you doing here?" He was referring to the fact that I was supposed to be out on "a three day op". He then says, "no one gave you the order to come back here Lieutenant..." 

I went red again and I was an electron away from beating this jerk off Captain to death right there with the satellite phone I was gripping in my right hand. Benson and I were completely fucked up from the concussion, and I forced myself to answer professionally by telling him that our Corpsman had said half the section was wounded and needed further evaluation. The Captain barely acknowledges it and says, "well, you can explain all that to Major Schreffler tomorrow - he is currently racked out".

Benson and I left furious and went over to the chow hall to eat tray rats of egg loaf, sausage and kool aid. The sausage was ok if you put syrup on it, everything else just tasted like preservatives. Doc Luis Valle Vega came in and did a brilliant job of evaluating all of the Marines, telling us we can't fall asleep yet because of our injuries. We just sat in that chow hall and drooled and stared at a large TV set that was in the corner of the big open room. On it was Comedy Central, and John Stewart was there in front of his awestruck audience making fun of Bush and the Iraq War. I mumbled to myself, "this motherfucker" and I thought back to the green pastures of my hometown of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. We both went to the same high school and I thought for one second about how life is so strange and he is there and I am here. Benson and I stumbled out of the chow hall and threw two epic sized lower deckers in and walked round for a little bit. We went to check up on the guys and then finally as the sun came up, we all went over to the Battalion Aid Station (BAS) and got checked out by the Navy surgeon. We were told to wait two days and stay off our feet before we could go out and conduct operations again. 

Finally, after two days, the wounded section and I drive back out there to Ubaydi, very cautiously. We were not going to do any interface with the populace, but we wanted to check out the impact area of where we were hit. We slowly roll up to the long stretch of highway coming out of the town and we were stunned at what we saw. Three huge craters about 25m apart from each other along the side of the road. "Holy Shit Sir," said a stunned Collonder. The section pulls over and Benson comes over to my VIC and drops a massive goober of tobacco juice on the deck before letting out a "Fuck me..."

I cautiously inspected the holes and I looked carefully and could see what appeared to be an outline of where the "detonation cord" was laying. I followed the cord to each hole and the middle one had it running off out into the desert. I followed it until I came upon something sticking out of the ground and I just froze. It was an antennae sticking out of the ground. I stood there looking down at it and called Benson over. "Look at this Sergeant". He takes off his glasses and says "Fuck Sir". 

At that point, I determined that we needed to call EOD and have them come out there and take care of it. I thought maybe that antennae might be booby trapped and I didn't want to fuck with it. I dialed up Battalion on the satellite phone, since we were way out of comm range, and requested EOD to come out. We all waited in the hot sun, our heads throbbing form the injuries, for roughly 1 hour before the familiar sight of the EOD convoy approached. It was a high back humvee with two gun trucks with 240s. The high back humvee had a remote controlled robot in the back of it that would lay explosives on IEDs that were in the ground (Johnny Five). The EOD team leader was a crusty Master Sergeant from Pendleton, who would yell profanity all the time to motivate his people. It worked and we all loved the guy for it. As soon as he pulls up he yells, "Lieutenant, why they fuck are your Marines hanging all over the impact area?!" referring to the fact that we were way inside the prescribed 200m safezone of the ordinance.

"Top, the fuckers are already detonated. There is an antennae out there that triggered it - I think it might be booby trapped". He then tells me, "Get all of your fucking people down the road now". 

"Roger Top" and everyone quickly moves down the road and lets these specialists do their job. Anytime EOD rolls up on a scene to conduct their operations, they had immediate control of that battle space, regardless of rank. Top and I were good friends anyway, and we all respected him and his Marines for what they were doing. His boys pull Johnny Five down off the humvee and turn it on. A Marine was in the back of the humvee with a control pad and a small video screen that he would use to navigate Johnny Five. Benson and I jumped in the back to help the young motivator locate the antennae as he drove the fancy robot. After five minutes, Johnny Five is on the antennae and is using its mechanical arm to pull the antennae out of the ground. “Holy Shit” said the young Marine as the device was out of the ground and in full view. Top Roberson glanced at the monitor and said, “Would you look at that…those fuckers used a cordless phone and it looks like a motorcycle battery attached to it”. The explosive was detonated by a standard cordless phone, and the motorcycle battery was used to give the radio signal more range. The old cordless phones had a button on the base station that you could press, and a beep would emit from the phone. If you lost the phone somewhere in your house, you would push this button and you would hear it beeping as it was nestled in the depths of your favorite recliner. 

This was the first of its kind that Top Roberson ever saw. He told the Marine on the controls of Johnny Five, “Well, bring the motherfucker down here and let’s have a look at it”. Just as Johnny Five makes its way to the “hardball” or asphalt road, it stops moving. The Marine at the controls starts to push buttons and then turning on the device and on again, before blurting out, “Fuck Top, the battery is dead”. Now we have a downed robot sitting right next to those craters. Without a word, Top orders one of his Staff Sergeants, a nice but kind of tall, goofy mustachioed Iowan to put on the bomb suit and go down and retrieve Johnny Five. The robot weighed about 100 pounds, and that bomb suit was like wearing one big piece of Kevlar. It was just like the one in the movie “Hurt Locker”. So this motivator puts this lead suit on, in 120 degree baking Mesopotamian heat and makes his way down to the impact area. At this point, Sergeant Benson, Collander and the rest of CAAT Blue Charlie are all huddled around Top and his Marines watching this fiasco. The Marine keyed up on the radio and says he is there and he is going to pick up Johnny Five and walk him back to our position. I am looking through my binoculars as this armored Marine bends over and picks up the robot and starts to slowly move back towards us.

I looked at Benson and said, “Wow, that has to fucking suck Sergeant” as he nods in the affirmative, firing off a stream of tobacco juice on the deck. It was almost like torture for the poor Marine – but there was nothing anybody could do about it. This was all Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and Top was in charge. He would have to walk back 200 meters to our humvees before anyone could do anything. There was only one bomb suit, so no one could help the guy. It takes him about 15 minutes to get to us. He stopped several times and bent over, sucking wind for several minutes before Top yells, “Hurry up and get your fucking ass down here Sergeant!” As he got closer, the Marines started to cheer him on and give him encouragement. “”You can do it Marine! It aint shit!” He gets to within 20 meters and one of our guys jumps out to help him – Top snaps “get your ass back Marine, he isn’t outside the minimum safe distance!” 

Finally he gets right up to the group, drops Johnny Five on the ground and literally falls to his knees. He rips the protective helmet off and his eyes were wide open and he is sucking air. In between breaths he says “CIGARETTE…NOW” and one of his Marines whips out a Marlboro light and gives it to him. Top was busy “finger fucking” the detonating device and quickly saying to himself, “sneaky little fuckers”. At that moment, Top decides that the area is clear and him, me and a select few can move down to the impact area. We walk slowly up to the giant craters on the road, and my eyes quickly glance down at a one foot piece of shrapnel in the middle crater. My MRC-145 humvee was 10 feet away from it when the ordinance popped. Top says “Ho-leee Sheet” and he marvels down at the crater. A South African 155mm artillery round was buried in each hole, albeit about two inches too deep. Only two inches had kept us alive. 

“Two fucking inches Sir” replies the crusty Master Sergeant. “If it was buried any less than that, all of your fucking asses would have been turned into tomato soup.”

© Copyright 2018 Thomas O'Neil. All rights reserved.

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