This story was told to me by one of my Army buddies and it takes place in Iraq during the height of the Gulf War. My friend (Sergeant Smith, to protect his identity) had a job to lead convoys from his Forward Operating Base (FOB) to the Green Zone inside Baghdad. The Green Zone, some 40 miles from the nearest FOB, is sometimes called “The American Bubble in Baghdad” and “The Ultimate Gated Community.” It is a very heavily guarded area and home for diplomats and high-ranking military personnel. There are numerous checkpoints to get in the area and it is surrounded by razor wire, chain-link fences, and reinforced blastproof walls. Safety being the priority and comfort being the premium.
Life inside the FOB was completely different than the conditions in the Green Zone. The images seen on TV where casualties are brought in by medivac helicopters and the sparse surroundings for the troops are filmed in these areas. The FOB’s are heavily guarded, but they are far from safe. Leaving the FOB is called “going outside the wire,” and at this point you and your party are on their own.
As Sergeant Smith described it, the situation was like the wild west in American history. Along the convoy route it was a lawless land, just one road in the middle of the desert with no security provided. This meant there were no air strikes that could be called in if they got in trouble and no armored vehicles were on site. The only items they had to protect themselves was what they had on them.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were – and still are – the largest hazard for troops stationed in Iraq. IEDs killed almost 100 troops during this time and seriously wounded 300 more. To date, IEDs have killed 2,000 troops and wounded 20,000. The rules of engagement were simple, “Shoot anything that moves because there should be none of our people where you are going.” Tough words for an even tougher situation.
As the weeks and months passed in the FOB, some of Sergeant Smith’s soldiers began to feel the weight of the casualties that kept piling up, some of them being carried out in body bags. One young soldier who was especially distraught came to the attention of Sergeant Smith and they had a counselling session. The young soldier was fixated on the numbers that kept coming in and eventually, in his eyes, he would be one of those numbers. He said that it was inevitable, that the unit to the left of his barracks and to the right had both sustained casualties and fatalities. “It’s just a matter of time until we get hit, Sarge” he would say.
Being strongly versed in the Bible, Sergeant Smith asked the young man if others in the squad felt the same way. The young man said that they did, and the squad was assembled. Something had to be done quickly to get these guys back on track and in the right head space and “Sarge” knew just what to do.
Read part 2 of 2 of Alan Shoalmire’s Off the Grill column entitled “Fearless Faith” in the Aug. 12 edition of The Examiner.
Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.