Abu Ghraib Attack

This pretty much sums up my war time experience.

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.)

That's my baby! I called her "Big Medicine." A pain in the butt to haul around, but in a fire fight it's your best friend.

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.

Home Sweet home!

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.

Here's a corner tower. High walls and guard towers manned by Marines with machine guns.

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.

Me and "Big Medicine" in the covered area. (A dramatic recreation!)

This is me and my clone. I'm on the right. You can tell us apart by the guns and the goggles.

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.”
“Great timing.”
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.
Meanwhile….
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.

This is the sign that hung in front of Camp 4.

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.

The bottom right corner of the prison is where the truck bomb went off. At the bottom center where it says CP, that's where I was. My Twin was at the bulge on the middle right.

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.

Yes, someone graffitied "Dropkick Murphy's" over Saddam Hussein. PUNK ROCK!!

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18 comments on “Abu Ghraib Attack

  1. george hill says:

    Should be expanded into a book.What about the guy hiding in the porta potty?
    Did the IDIOTA sgt. do anything later?

  2. Glenda says:

    Wow, that was great Zach. I just wish you had gotten your combat medal. You deserved it. You earned it. I know you didn’t care, but it is a symbol of what you did. A reminder of all you experienced. I know you will never forget. I’ve heard you talk about what you saw. You saw things, you are not willing to share. It did change you. We saw it. We hurt for you, as do your brother. No man should see the things you had to see. Those who received the medal, and did so, so easily will not appreciate it as those who went on, doing their duty, with no recognition. Life is so unfair. It is tiring. I love you Zach, and I am so glad you came home, and that you are so very talented, and have such a love of life, and history. Thank you for this post.

  3. Bethany says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have a brother over there at the moment and I often wonder what he’s doing and what battles he’s fighting. This gave me a little insight into what he might be facing. He’s a history buff, too.

    Thank you so much for your valiant service.

    • zacharyhill says:

      Then we wish the best of luck to him. One thing I couldn’t really portray in my post was the chaos, confusion and the adrenaline. I’m glad you liked it. Remember, even a simple letter to a soldier while over there makes a HUGE difference.

  4. Chaos, confusion and adrenaline is pretty much what life/war is, if you scrunch it up into a tiny ball. But if you lay it flat and step away, you eventually see there is some kind of sense to the madness, albeit very vague sometimes.

  5. Rex Rouviere says:

    This may sound dumb or repetitive but what about the Sergeant? Was there any fallout from taking the vehicles and ammo?

    • zacharyhill says:

      The guys taking the vehicles and ammo were not punished. Rightfully so. In fact, the First Sergent douche bag was discretely moved to another FOB. (Forward Operating Base.)

      • Sounds like this Sergeant took himself a little too seriously, wasn’t looking at the whole picture and didn’t have the welfare of those he looked after/commanded in mind. Most successful leaders have these qualities, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles III, Queen Victoria (even though it is said that her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was a very influential force behind her decisions) Muhammad, Jesus, and Joseph Smith (I don’t know how you feel about him, but to me he was a good leader)., etc. I too have been in some dire circumstances and know that someone who can look at the situation in its entirety and have their head about them makes all the difference.

        Also, how in the heck did you write so much during your tour?? I would like more often, but between working a full-time job, looking for a job out in SLC, UT and life in general I only have time for my very new blog. That is my only release.

  6. cthulhu says:

    I being the aforementioned clone, was also there. I was sitting in a guard tower overlooking the level 5 detention facility…really boring job cuz they were all in cages. I saw the very first mortar round hit, about 50 meters from my tower. I shrugged it off…no biggie, that kinda thing happens every day. Then a second round landed. I thought it was a little weird because the insurgent SOP was to fire one round and get out of dodge. Still, no biggie. Then a third and fourth and fifth round, then it was raining mortars and rockets. I grabbed my weapons and ammo and evacuated the tower. I went to the bunker that was near my tower and that was overlooking an unguarded and unused side gate. For almost two hours the ground trembled with explosions and I could hear the crack of sniper fire that came to close. There was an apartment complex that overlooked the walls of Abu and snipers were pouring fire into the base. I remember when the AH-64 Apache helicopters finally arrived. I saw them return the favor and pour 30mm cannon fire and rockets into the enemy position…it was a beautiful sight. Of course there was only 1 confirmed enemy casualty because there was only one body found. Insurgent SOP was to drag bodies away. The next day a patrol found about 90 dead bodies in a local mosque all riddled with 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds. The bastard Zarqauwi (sp??) was the one that planned the operation. Thankfully about 2 years later we dropped a bomb on his head. FTW.

  7. Desert Rat says:

    Holy crap, that’s wild. Thanks for the write-up, Zach. I’ve read bits and snippets of the battle that you’ve written elsewhere, but it’s interesting to get a deeper account of the battle. I remember reading that you thought Abu Graib wasn’t just cursed, but is actually one of the worst places on earth.

    I can’t believe the actions of that First Sergeant. That’s unbelievable.

    Thanks also, Cthulhu, for your post. It’s crazy that you guys got so used to being mortared that one or two rounds exploding nearby was just routine.

    Thanks for your service, gentlemen.

  8. recreoanacronista says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal part in History.

    I don’t find strange the Sergeant’s worries. The people under pressure can became blocked or do strange things like that. Training is done to solve that, making people do the right sort of things to get out, but not always works…

    PS: I agree with the grafitti XD

  9. Henrich says:

    I will call him out his name was Riddel and he was a winner. I was there and Recreoanacronista your right people do act different under pressure especially in combat. When your a leader a real leader of men you have those that make things happen and those that just make life difficult for Leaders. I have served with Zach twice overseas and i would go with him again. great post and look forward to hear about a boring second trip which is the best kind if trip for a deployment.

  10. cthulhu says:

    Joseph Smith was an awesome leader and Henrich…you rock.

  11. Anna Komemne says:

    Now I have a slightly better idea of what my own father, Emperor Alexios I went through when he fought those Norman barbarians! Well, he wasn’t shot at by guns obviously, but still…

  12. Steve says:

    You’re not gonna believe this, but I was there as well. I’m not sure I remember you, but I was in the 1/119th FA. The only other FA unit there was the 623rd out of KY I believe, but they came in half way through the tour. Contact me if you can… sms7347@gmail.com

  13. Rob says:

    I was also there. I was in the 115th CSH. We ran the healthcare for the detention camps. That was a crazy night! Still cant believe we made it through. Several mortars landed awful close to me. Then that night walking back to the LSA there was an unexploded RPG stuck in the group right off the path next to the road, a round laying on the basketball court outside my room and a round on another Soldiers bed…. WOW

  14. Justanotherone says:

    I dont think my husband or the boys of 2/10 E will ever forget that night.

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