Dispatch From Downrange



Dispatch From Downrange –IRAQ

The towers at Ballad are occupied by the Iraqi Army.  These are the locations that were shooting at the Iraqi Air Force.  They are "supposed" to be on the same side.


 Just when you thought, you had seen it all

Last night while I was walking in the pouring down rain to the dining facility (DFAC for short) I heard the unmistakable sound of automatic rifle fire off to my right.  I turned to see what was going on and I heard another burst.  This started a firefight that lasted about an hour.  I asked one of the Protective Security Detail (PSD) guys I knew what was going on. He was listening to his radio and was trying to find out the same thing.  About that time, we heard more rifle fire, but this was from another direction and much closer.  His radio came to life directing him to gather his team and meet at a predetermined spot.  From there they would try to determine what was going on.

About a month earlier, the Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army, both stationed here, got into a fight with each other. That firefight between the perimeter towers (Army) and the flight operations area (Air Force) lasted most of the night.  Hundreds of rounds were fired, and if the reports are to be believed, no one was injured.  Now I don’t know it that makes me feel better or worse.  Either they were not trying to hit each other and just show their frustration by shooting over the heads of their target OR they are just that bad of shots. The latter is easier to believe, and that doesn’t  give me that warm and fuzzy feeling if I’m counting on them to protect my posterior area.

Tonight was the first sustained gunfire I’ve heard since arriving at this location.  We get the errant round from time to time, but most of those are written off as unintentional discharges. There are a good number of weapons in the hands of less than properly trained Iraqis here. We also get mortar fire two or three times a month, but very little gets damaged. That is usually only three or so rounds.

Tonight the weapons fire was coming from the east perimeter area, and clearly, there were several points of the wall where the fire was active.  I heard AK47s, pistols, and at least two RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) fired.  With the PSD operator off to go to his spot and with him my source of information, I continued to the DFAC.  If it all went sideways, I would at least have my ice cream. Speaking of that, it is soft self-serve ice cream and those summers long ago working at Dairy Queen allowed me to make some pretty good looking ice cream cones.  Just like riding a bike, you never forget the little things.  I even got the little curl of ice cream on the top.

Dinner finished, I went back to my room and checked my Go bag to make sure the essentials were ready. The Go bag is the one you grab when you have to leave in a hurry. It has the things you MUST have not the things you would like to have. Like all of us here, I keep it ready.  I checked it anyway. Passport, wallet,  ID, medical records for me and the dog, one change of clothes, two weeks’ worth of meds, knife, flashlight, first aid kit (not my main one but one that could take care of the dog in a pinch and me) and a few other things.  I would be wearing the body armor, helmet, and helmet camera. I had the camera mounted to the helmet just in case, as I wanted some cool pictures.  I would also grab the laptop and shove it in the side pouch of my bag. There was a slot made for it. If it came to that, I’d grab the dog and my stuff and head for the rally point where we would wait for evac.  Air evac is promised within an hour via a C-130, but that is controlled by the same group that controlled the Benghazi affair so that may be, well, iffy.

After satisfied with my evac pre-checks, I went outside to watch the festivities.  Tracers could be seen intermittently, and every once in a while something would go BOOM! but that was it.  No breach and not really sure what went on.  The next morning at chow I found out there was an altercation with a vehicle just outside the wall and one of the towers opened up on it. That started the hour long firefight between two towers the car and a bunch of people hidden in the vineyards outside the wall shooting at the Iraqi guards in the towers and launching mortars their way.  One hit about 10 feet from one of the engaged towers, but it didn’t detonate.  Those vineyards, by the way, are where most of the mortar fire directed at us comes from.  Again, no reports of anyone hurt. Hey, at least it broke up the boredom a bit. Like Martha says, “That was a good thing.”

From about 100 kilometers north of Baghdad,

this is Jon Harris, and you have been reading

A Dispatch from Downrange-Iraq