Zach – Welcome to a personal edition of Minimum Wage Historian.
Anna – Personal? How so?
Zach – As some of you may have noticed, we do a lot of posts about military history. Also, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I was in the Army National Guard. I served two tours over in the Mid-East. The first tour, and the subject of this post is the attack on Abu Ghraib by insurgent forces. To help us discuss this battle and understand the personal and the larger story, we have a few people who have seen battle as well. We have Hua Mulan: woman soldier from China, Charles Martel: Frankish war lord. Countess Matilda of Tuscany: Medieval mercenary for the Pope and Buffalo Calf Road, woman warrior of the Cheyenne that killed Custer. Thank you all for coming today.
Mulan – No problem. This is something we can all share We’re united in the brotherhood…and sisterhood of people who have faced the dragon.
Martel – Indeed. It is something that changes a person once it is experienced can never be forgotten.
Buffalo – There’s always a price to pay. Some, like my husband, pay with their lives and others pay in a much more subtle way that even their close friends might not notice.
Matilda – Personal sacrifice of many different shades.
Zach – Thank you. To start off with, I will recount my experience during the night of April 2nd, 2005. I will also relate stories as I’ve heard them. What I am about to tell you is true as far as I can possibly make it. As a historian we are always faced with the fact hat history is always biased. Someone wrote history and that person is imperfect. He got his information from imperfect sources and also, even our very memory of the experiences can be imperfect. I will try to be as factual as I can while changes names and units.
I was originally in a field artillery unit. I knew how to fire the big guns. 155mm howitzers. But then we were called up to go to Iraq as Military Police. I thought “Cool! We won’t have to haul around giant, back breaking guns all day!” My optimism was misplaced. We didn’t have to haul cannons around, but we had to do everything else. During that stage of the Iraq war, MP was a catch all phrase that meant “you’ll do anything we tell you to do.” We ran convoys, stood guard in towers, transported detainees and whatever else. Mostly I was a tower guard and prisoner transporter. It wasn’t fun and the weather was killer. Literally. 130 degree heat. That’s hot.
Matilda – I think my chain mail would have melted!
Mulan – My armor got very hot. Did you wear armor?
Zach – As a matter of fact I did. I had a helmet and an IBA, a bullet proof breastplate. And yes, it got VERY hot under my armor. Also, I carried a SAW. (Squad Automatic Weapon.)
So, I got off my shift around noon on April Second. I had been manning towers and patrolling the prisoner compound. 13 hour shifts. (counting guard mount) So I went back to my cell and…
Martel – Wait, cell? Like a monk?
Zach – No, we slept in the old prison area in cells. So I go back to my tiny closet sized hooch, take a shower, chill and write in my book.
Anna – You were writing during the war?
Zach – I wrote three or four books during that first deployment. Well, it was my night off so I figured I’d stay up a little later than usual. So eventually I lay my head down and begin to fall asleep. No sooner had I done that when I hear an explosion, a mortar by the sound of it.
Anna – What’s a mortar?
Zach – Think of it as a bomb launcher that shoots very high and it comes down on top of the enemy.
Matilda – Ah! Perfect for fortifications!
Zach – Exactly. Abu Ghraib looked like a castle. Let me see if I can bring up a picture for you.
I didn’t think anything of the explosion because we got bombed every day. I figured, if I heard it, I’m still alive. So I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. Then there was another explosion. “Boy, these guys are persistent today!” I thought. But then there was another explosion and another. Then I hear gun fire and machine guns going off followed by more explosions! Okay, now I now this aint normal. So I jump out of bed throw on my pants, boots, armor helmet, grabbed my SAW and ammo and ran down stairs to a little covered meeting area we had.
I find several other soldiers gathered there, some in their gym clothes with their armor and weapons. All we hear are explosions and gunfire. None of us know what the heck is going on. Then I hear a corporal say “They got Humvees over there. Let’s mount up and go see what we got to do!”
Sounded like a plan so I follow this corporal (a former Marine and really cool guy) and we come across several parked Humvees that were getting ready to head out. So, I jump in one of them and close the door.
Suddenly I hear “Zach! What are you doing here?” I turn to the driver and see that it’s my good friend Cappello! I’ve known this guy since High School and he was stationed down south.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“I came up on convoy.”
Then the door opens up and another friend jumps in. (His code name is “Hardcore” who makes an appearance in “Uprising: Italia” one of my books.) So Hardcore looks around and says:
“What are you guys doing here?”
“I don’t know!” Cappello says. “Is this normal here?”
“Oh, heck no!” I say.
Now, you must understand that in the Army, no joke gets old. Me and Hardcore were always speaking in a cliche Italian accent and Hardcore did it even more when Cappello was around.
“No!” Shouts Hardcore. “This is not like the Italian Army!”
“We only eat the cheese and eat the spicy meat ball!” I respond.
About 70% of all conversation between the three of us was in the cartoon Italian accent for the remainder of the battle. So we take our humvee out of our small compound and out into the larger Abu Ghraib compound. What we see is a setting sun and pillars of smoke rising up all over the place. We drive to the front gate and help support them there. A passing officer makes me give up half my ammo for the SAW gunners in the towers.
A certain First sergent, attached to our platoon but not from our unit, is going around telling people to get back inside and get in proper uniform.
Martel – He did realize that this was a surprise attack, right?”
Zach – Oh, I’m sure he did, but he didn’t care. To him, combat was the secondary importance and proper uniform was the real purpose of the military!
Mulan – I would have had his head cut off.
Zach – Hold on, it gets worse. The tower gunners are running low on ammo so a bunch of our boys go to the armory and find it locked. So they break in and begin loading up humvees with ammo to take to the fight that’s raging all around us. Here comes good ole First Sergent and starts yelling at them that they can’t take the ammo or the Humvees because they hadn’t signed for it. I don’t know who this was but I’d give him a medal, this one soldier basically says, “Forget you!”
The First Sergent gets angry and demands his name and number, so the soldier gives him both and tells him that if he has a problem to come see him after the battle.
Matilda – I think decapitation is too easy a punishment for someone as stupid as that.
Buffalo – What I don’t understand is, what was this Sargent thinking? Did he not understand what a battle is? I think he suffered from the same madness Custer did. He cared more about appearances and order than actual fighting ability.
Zach – That may be so. Meanwhile, my twin brother was in a tower guarding the detainee compound 4 when all this went down.
When everything starts blowing up, he is ordered down into a bunker. There’s an unused gate about fifty yards from his position and him and one other soldier, “Pee Wee” are there to guard it…and that’s it. Also, an RPG landed a few feet from my twin and didn’t blow up. The next day the whole prison was littered with unexploded ordinance.
If you look up on Youtube, “Abu Ghraib, April 2nd, 2005,” you’ll find a video of one of the watch towers under attack. Towards the end of the video you see a massive explosion rock the whole prison. It was a truck that had been loaded up with explosives and was trying to blow a hole in the wall, but the idiots detonated it too soon and it didn’t take down the wall. Good thing too because if they had, they would have let all the detainees out and that would have been a whole other mess.
No Americans were killed though many were wounded. My Sergent went outside the walls with a small group of Marines, Army and even a few Air Force guys and were chucking grenades at the enemy. The Marines were manning the towers and holding the enemy off. Official reports say there were 60-80 insurgent attackers. Bull crap. The next day they found a hundred dead bodies that had been dragged into a nearby mosque. 100 + however many it takes to haul that many bodies and you’ll get your magic number there.
After nightfall I remember the Apache helicopters coming. I could hear their chain guns going off. It was like the cavalry had arrived.
One of my friends codenamed “Jiujitsu Master” was in the central control building, a small wooden office building that coordinated the entire prison. A mortar landed so close that it blew out all the windows. He stayed there relaying information and keeping things organized and running. Did he get a metal? No. He absolutely deserved one.
I could have gotten my Action Combat Badge, an award to put on my uniform, but it was too much red tape and I just didn’t care about it. Our leaders were supposed to do that for us. The New York unit of MP’s all got theirs and one of our Lieutenants got a purple heart for getting hit in the face with a dirt clod…that didn’t even break the skin. Go Army.
But that day was quite a day. I’ll never forget it or the brave men and women that were with me. Every April 2nd I remember this day and go over in my thoughts the events that happened there.
I dedicate this post to the men that were with me, Hardcore, Cappello Jujitsu Master, my Twin, and so many others that it would take all day to list them and their stories. And all the soldiers across time and the world. We all share a fraternity that few others will understand. I’ll end with the words of “The Poet.” (Shakespere, btw)
This is from his “Henry V’
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.