Surprising Truths About People I Learned During Two Combat Tours

Unit pictures from both combat tours with 101st ABN DIV (AASLT). (Right) B Co 3/327 INF REG. Known for the battle of Uday and Qusay. Layer is me as a Section Leader pre-deployment (Left) 4th Plt. D co 1/506 BCT. Layer is me as a Specialist holding a 25lb. gold bar confiscated from a pickup heading to Syria.

Two Combat Tours and One Constant

It was my first tour that I learned the Arabic language and became an unofficial interpreter for the battalion. I spent most of my downtime learning the culture and speaking to the locals, which wasn’t much. On the second tour, there wasn’t much need to interpret just look out for the man to your left and right. But I learned a lot about myself, my brothers and the Iraqi people.

I will be covering the first tour mostly in this article. The second tour is more difficult to discuss. There will be a link at the end to the book about those men though.

What I learned about soldiers

I was an Infantryman. Front lines, in the shit, ground-pounder. This meant a lot of interactions with people and a special bond with my fellow soldiers; my brothers in arms. No matter the current situation, which usually sucked, these men were sharing the same experience with you. I wanted to go home; get a cheeseburger; tacos; showers; drive to the store. So did they. We were counting on each other to bring one another home.

We also relied heavily on each other for motivation. Everyone came from a little different background so we were self reliant for the most part. We had soldiers who were good with plumbing that setup cold showers for us after the initial push into Baghdad. That freezing shower felt amazing. Some soldiers had experience with electrical and set us up with power in an abandoned building. All of us knew we had to do whatever it takes to get the job done so we could go home.

After several months of getting the job done, mostly in a diplomatic sense, we received intel on a possible location for Uday and Qusay, Saddam’s sons. I was in 3rd squad and my roommate SPC. Joseph Brown was in 2nd squad. It was their turn on QRF (Quick Readiness Force), so they headed out the wire for a battle that would land and exhibit in the National Infantry Museum. Brown received a Purple Heart during that battle.

The display at the National Infantry Museum with a squad from D co. firing tow missiles at the Uday and Qusay house.

What I Learned About The People

No one wants war or chaos in their lives. War has lent me a lot of perspective into the difference of trivial first-world problems and real third-world problems. Driving cars that constantly overheat, a couple decades old. Huddling down with no TV while explosions and gun fights take place on your street. Soldiers raiding your neighborhood, house by house looking for intel and contraband. Sharing a bowl of rice with flies and dysentery. Blackened water running through the streets, staining anything it touches. Electrical wires tangled and dangling between streets and spliced at random points.

The people were afraid at first (maybe continually), but they were resilient. Having the ability to speak their language and understand their culture, I could empathize and in return get valuable information. I got my nickname “Tunnel Rat” from that first tour for being the first man in every door and even a cave up North. Plus I am only 5 and a half feet tall. I digress.

These folks wanted the same things we do. To feel safe at home or at the market. They wanted a good future for their children, free from oppression and war. While they were used to the fighting (all their lives), they don’t like it. I speak for most of them here. I was welcomed into nearly every home, of thousands, with a nice glass of hot Chi Tea. Loved the stuff. We became welcome guests at different tribes and villages, swimming in the Euphrates and having big feasts.

Photo taken in a small town north of Mosul, Iraq. Cpl Akin left, me on the right.

People Want The Same Things

Our Constitution in the U.S. grants citizens the right to the Pursuit of Happiness. Not happiness itself. Isn’t that ultimately what we’re all after anyway? I mean that pursuit can lead to wars and greed with the misunderstanding that money will buy happiness. However, no one really wants to live in a hostile environment. As soldiers, we had a mission, but we primarily fought to bring each other home and hopefully improve the situation before we left. As people we want the opportunity to pursue a better life for ourselves and our children.

Not such a surprising revelation, but the will to survive is exaggerated in combat.

More information about the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Brigade or the war in Iraq 2003 – 2004 can be found readily with a simple Google Search. I may share more stories and photos over time as well. LTC Carlson (our BN Commander at the time), is orchestrating a book to tell the story from our perspective. Retired CSM Womac wrote a book about the incident in Kuwait where SGT Akbar through a grenade in the S-2 tent, killing Capt. Seifert and wounding others. His book is available on Amazon, called Embedded Enemy.

In 2005-2006, Delta Company 1st BN, 506th Brigade Combat Team was deployed to Ar Ramadi, Iraq. After the Marines pushed the insurgency out of Fallujah, they setup in Ramadi and fought daily, blacklisting routes due to IEDs. I was sent home early due to injuries sustained in a complex ambush that killed my driver SGT Corey Dan and SSG Marco Silva from B Co.

In 2009, Delta renamed to Dog Company with Cpt. Hill at the helm. What happened to them that tour, I don’t envy. You can read about the experience in the book Dog Company co-authored by Cpt. Roger Hill and Lynn Vincent. Inside you’ll see pictures about the men I served with and some I still see once a year at our reunions or more frequently.

Thank you for reading, following and supporting my blog. Some stories are harder to tell than others, but if you enjoyed this article, I will write more about some of my Army experiences.