Patrolling With ‘Palehorse’

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Everyone going on patrol had gathered in the ‘hooch’ where I lived. The patrol leader stood at the front and briefed us all on the mission that lay ahead, using 5 Paragraph format

I knew how to take notes from op orders. The past 7 months I had been training to go to combat. The first patrol I went on, I had sat down and copied another Marine’s notes to ensure I had the standard operating procedures correctly written out. Every Marine on the team did that, so when a leader runs through a partial or “fragmentary order”, out in the combat zone, we all are on the same page.

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The briefing took 45 minutes. Some people asked some questions. I wrought down 3 notes. What truck I was in, what seat I was sitting in, and where we were going; so I could find it on the map.

After, I went out of the building and out into the sun and dust. Dust. Dust on the ground, in the air, in my hair, in my lungs. The burn bit only a few yards away still stunk of the morning deposits made by Marines on high protein diets.

Walking from my hooch to the clearing barrels near the entrance of our patrol base, a smart alec Lance Corporal came up to me. He was an E-3, one rank above me, and had been on deployment for 6 months already.

“Ya ever been shot at?”, the first question asked to me on my first patrol ever in Ramadi.

“No – not here – not yet.”, I told the other Marine, a Lance Corporal.

“You will.”, the Lance Corporal said as he smiled back and turned to look out the window.

“Eyes out!”, shouted the VC: vehicle commander from the front seat, a Sergeant on his 3rd tour.

I was riding back right, directly behind the VC. He started telling me about the curbs, trash, puddles, and what to look for when the enemy puts an IED: improvised explosive device in each type of terrain.

The mission, on order ‘Palehorse’ conducts reconnaissance patrol in the northern sector of Ramadi, concentrating efforts near the ‘water treatment center’.

I had seen the area on a map plenty of times but I’d never been on patrol to see it from the ground. Months of map recon, staring, studying, and memorizing street names and prominent terrain features, it was all about to come to a headway as we crossed “the wire” and made our way out into the city.

Tan dust filled the air. The faint smell of tires burning mixed with the stench of sewer water, which lined the road and formed puddles. Compound walls displayed scars from years of conflict. Rhythmic bullet holes punctured clean through. Shrapnel carved craters in buildings. Tortured burned metal remnants of cars lay as black husks on the curb while children play soccer in the street. Grown ups usher them inside as we pass in large armored HMWVVs.

“Man, I will be happy to get outta this truck.”, I thought to myself as we past by businesses with street meat and concessions; soda and candy.  

The truck halted on an asphalt road north of the water treatment center. I dismounted along with the VC and the smart alec Lance Corporal.

---HISS – SNAP, as a bullet went overhead.

“Told ya you’d get shot at.”, laughed the Lance Corporal, and we all ran into the compound at the front of the treatment center.

“This should take 30 guys to clear properly.” Blurted the VC. “We have 8 dudes, so we are rolling fast and light, no sound. Any contact with enemy, make the boomstick crack (pointing to his rifle) and we’ll maneuver on said terrorizer; flashbangs, no FRAG grenades. Everyone is in a buddy pair. Comms on personal radio headset, those without a headset roll with one who does; gimme a radio check.” 

I stood next to my ‘buddy’ and watched in aww as this leader of men, this hunter of the enemy, stood tall and announced our intention to go destroy them. This was the first time I had been given a “fragmentary order” in combat, and I was awestruck watching a Sergeant take charge and lead from the front.

“Radio checks up – let’s go win a war gents.” Said the VC as he made his way toward the entrance.

The whole scene took 30 seconds and the team and I were rolling through the building like velociraptors hunting dinner. From the blazing sun to near dark conditions. There were times I had to flip down my night vision goggles to see. The compound had 6 large containers 3X3 in formation on the west side of the building. Internally the structure was 30,000 square feet. Steal catwalks and staircases ran up to pump couplings and workstations that monitored the treatment of H2O. Now, in the height of the war, it acted as a cesspool in a shell of it’s former self.

It took an hour to work our way through the building. Each corner and causeway, an intense experience. Finally we reached the other side having found 6 locals in total and, luckily, didn’t get shot at any more …that day.

Later, in the truck I was sitting in my spot behind the VC, riding back to base, when I heard the call come out across the radio, “we just lost a man due to mortar strike”.

I remember thinking to myself, “this is going to be a long deployment”.


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