Friday, February 24, 2006

More rocket attacks! and bringing down insurgants....

Nothing can prepare you for witnessing a real life fight for some ones life. Once the ambulance doors were open the patient inside had severe injuries including lower and upper limb loss, his injuries had left him in a very bad way and he was engulfed in a last ditch attempt to save his life. The Naval medic was giving chest compressions while another bagged air into him, before we moved him from the ambulance she gave him a few more as there’s no way compressions could be done whilst carrying him from the ambulance to the waiting sea king. Any medic training you receive be it civilian or military when you cover CPR your always told that if your doing it correctly you will probably break a rib, I’ve always had a mental picture of what that would be like but now I’ve seen CPR being done for real correctly and it fits the image I had but when its real it looks a whole lot worse! It will probably be the one memory that sticks with me more than the loss of limbs.. He was a big guy and as she gave a compression her hands dipped into his chest and his body wobbled, you could see he was out of it by the way his body was so relaxed and his arm was dangling of the edge of the stretcher until it was put back in place by some one. While that’s happening your caught up by the adrenalin and the need to get him away as quickly as possible, you don’t really think about it all, just make a quick mental note to think about it later… We got the stretcher of the ambulance and four of us carried it over to the heli and lifted it on. It’s harder than you think when you’ve got a bloke weighing probably 14 – 16 stone. Lifting the stretcher onto the sea king you’re lifting it to head height from the ground. Once he was on board my team was told there wasn’t enough room to get on as well so they’d fly back for us once they’d dropped him off at Shiaba (logistics base with a hospital). We got all our kit and placed it up against the hesco wall, the heli was getting ready to lift off so we got our goggles on and made sure all the kit was huddled in front of us, the last thing you want is kit to start blowing all over the place! The heli took off and sand blasted every thing in sight with an almighty roar of wind, dust, rota’s and engines. Once it had gone and the dust settled you could see we were all having our own moments of reflection the mood was different but every one was on the same page. We sat down leaning against the Hesco and then I realized how hot it was, we were so used to it being wet and cold all the time it was quite nice to be sat in the sun with no wind. With the heli gone the silence was quite deafening there were lots of warriors parked up and people sat around them but no noise, every thing had been so hectic and then there was a still silence and sunshine. All of a sudden the noise of prayer came drifting over the walls, the one thing we hadn’t heard since we’d been here! We’re not based in the city and there’s no mosks near us. The ayatollah was chanting his prayers over a tanoy system from up in a tower on a local mosk. It was quite surreal everyone reflecting on the poor sods we just loaded onto the heli sitting in the quite sunshine, no wind and the whining chanting sound of prayer drifting over us reminding us exactly were we are and the whole motivation behind those blokes getting blown to pieces….. Recently I went home for 2 weeks on my R&R (rest and recuperation, Leave) on my return to Iraq 2 days later we had the largest rocket attack recorded at the Air Station, 12 rockets were fired over one night, a couple early evening and then the main body late at night, nothing was hit and no one was hurt but it made for an eventful night.

The first rocket came down when my whole platoon had just got back to our accommodation after finishing 3 days of guard. We were just chilling out having a shower etc. I was in my room with about 3 others watching a DVD when we heard what sounded like the worlds largest whistling fire work, those little ones you get that whistle and pop. It flew right over our accommodation and then we heard the dull boom as it landed over the far side of the air field. Rocket attacks have been more frequent recently, a highly amusing routine has developed, every one puts on there body armor and helmets then stands out side there rooms on the street talking about the rocket that just flew over head, waiting for the next one to come whizzing over. We’re still under cover on the street as there’s a big dome that site over the accommodation. Its just highly amusing as it’s the only time everyone socializes as a platoon on the street chatting, the chairs come out the rooms, the brews start flowing. It got me thinking of a scene from monty python when the Zulus are attacking the British, the brits are getting slaughtered but they're all still drinking tea and talking about other more pressing matters, the stereo typed British stiff upper lip thats blantantly just madness! Eventually the camp tannoy kicks in, with its droaning mortar alarm about 2 rockets to late, a big cheer follows from the whole platoon as we can never understand how they get the alarm so late every time. In this sitting 3 rockets flew over and boomed away no were near anything or any body. The second lot came over just as we got back from a patrol later that night/early morning, we pulled into camp with the wagons and were just about to de kit them when the first rocket flew over and made one hell of a bang that seemed pretty close by so we all darted under hard cover in case any more followed and they did. For the next 20 minutes another 8 came flying over and some were in quick succession so you got the boom, boom one after the other or nearly at the same time.
Al our platoon sergeant came flying out of the guard room “Immediate notice to move!” shit that means we’re going to go out and find the b’stards, everyone was pleased with the prospect of going out to get them so we started moving the wagons back round and checking the kit, we new they were ready as we’d just come of a patrol but it was best to be safe. An American officer who was sharing our hard cover heard what was going on and asked if he could join us “Your’ll going out there to get em!?? Can I come with ya??!!” sadly we had to refuse the last thing we needed was an extra person with us. Then moments later we got stood down and every one was pissed of then, we couldn’t understand why when we were ready to move nobody on camp would have been able to get out faster than us…. After the notice to move the rockets flew over for another ten minutes, we could have got to the firing point and taken them in ten minutes easily! But ours is not to reason why….

We arrested our first suspected insurgent recently. We were on IRT ARF again and we were crashed to what we were told was an IED so we were expecting more injured people to pick up and deal with, once we got on the frame (sea king) and got in the air our 4 man team again were then in the dark as we couldn’t hear what was happening due to the noise and not being plugged into the internal comms. It was late at night about 11.30pm after being in the air for about 10 minutes flying south I noticed through the window we’d passed over Shiaba but other than that didn’t know were we were going. The Chris turns to me and shouts “We’ve got to arrest some one!” I wasn’t expecting that! A million questions than passed through my mind, were we going to land in a built up area? A road? In the desert? Was he armed? Was there more than one person there? Were there any of our troops there already? All of these things we didn’t know and couldn’t find out! The frame started to loose height I turned to Chris and pointed down to ask if we were landing he nodded and the loady who hangs out the side with the GPMG (machine gun) cocked his gun, Chris shouted “make ready!” so we all made ready as well, by making ready you’ve got a round in the chamber so all you need to do is take off the safety and pull the trigger. When you make ready you know it’s serious! In a few minutes you might have to take off the safety and start getting rounds down. The frame came into land; this was it we were getting off! We literally didn’t know anything we could jump off and some one could be shooting at us straight away, we all jumped off and it was pitch black I don’t carry night viewing aids as I’m normally driving but the team commander does and so does one other. I couldn’t see anything especially with all the dust and grit flying round, we weren’t in a built up area and it wasn’t a road it looked like we were in the middle of the desert some were. Once on the ground I pulled my weapon up into my shoulder scanning round and moving out from the frame at the same time, finger hovering over the trigger guard and thumb by the safety ready to click it off if needed. We spread out to get some kind of all round defense but still with the main aim of finding the person we were to arrest and needing to keep eyes on each other. Then I clocked him to my right he was stood up facing us in a white jumper, he was obviously disorientated by the dust flying in his face from the down draft and the noise of the massive sea king that just landed about 40m away from him, I shouted to the rest of the team giving them an indication to were he was not that they could hear me over the roar of the sea king. I pointed my weapon at him and moved in towards him all he would be able to see is the red light on my head and my weapon pointing right at him with another three red lights also moving in his direction. Once I was right by him I shouted “British Army! Stay were you are!” there was no point shouting it sooner he wouldn’t have been able to see or hear me. He probably wouldn’t have been able to understand either but by shouting at him with a weapon pointing at him any would get the message. I saw Chris in my peripheral vision just coming into position on my right weapon pointing as this bewildered bloke as well, Warner and chiders came into position, pointing there weapons out into the darkness as we didn’t know if there was any one waiting to open up on us from the vast expance of blackness. Chris got his plasty cuffs out while I continued to cover; Warner came into cover Chris while I moved into a better position to cover our left flank. Once Chris had him cuffed Chris and Warner moved him back to the frame while me and chiders covered them, once they were on we covered each other bounding back to the frame. Finally we were all on board and the frame lifted off, the detainee was sat in between me and chiders with Warner in front weapon pointing towards him. My job then was to make sure he didn’t pose a threat didn’t try move around and watch for any dodgy hand movements, my rifle was between my legs so it would be useless if he tried anything as I couldn’t wave it round fast enough so close up. So I sat with my elbow poised in a casual yet prime position to give him the good news in the face if he did try anything. Once we’d all settled I realized something funny, when we took of from the air station one of the nurses had passed chewing gum round and every one had had a piece. There were 6 of us sat staring at the detainee our 4 man team and the 2 nurses and we were all excited a bit of adrenalin pumping and chewing this gum at a million miles an hour like ravid dogs, it was like a scene out of a dodgy American cop film. Now we’d go this bloke we had to drop him off. It turned out he had been one of a group of 5 men found digging the side of the road on one of our main supply routes. Probably laying a road side bomb for the next convoy to go past, a British patrol had seen them arrested 4 and the one we got had ran off, he got 5 miles into the desert only to be picked up by us after his marathon run, no wonder he rolled over without much of a fight, he must have been knackered! We dropped him back at his starting point were the patrol were waiting to take him off our hands…..

Monday, February 06, 2006

The realities of war.....

Realities of War…. That would technically be the wrong choice of words, as we’re not at war we’re helping to restore democracy and stability in Iraq. As such we’re a peace keeping force with rules of engagement, but as a peace keeping force we can still get shot up or blown across grid squares by the insurgents… we have our hands tied with what we can do about it or how we respond to it, we’re here for security and there are set rules of engagement to follow. From what I’ve been told by the ex regulars we have amongst us in Cambrai Company it’s much the same as Northern Ireland but here the rules of engagement are even stricter. How ever I’m no expert on Northern Ireland that’s just the impression I’ve got of the old sweats amongst us. Rules of engagement don’t exist for the insurgents as they plant IED’s loaded with anything they can find, nuts, bolts, staples, rocks, anything that will maim and kill… but they are far from stupid as the amount of small arms contacts is virtually nil these days, they know they don’t stand a chance in a fire fight against us, as they have found out against the British and the Americans all over Iraq. They’ve realized the best way for them to fight is by planting a bomb on a road, disappearing and detonating it from a safe distance out of sight, were they can’t get killed and will live another day to plant another bomb. As infantry soldiers we talk about traditional war fighting, referring to being in our greens (temperate camouflage) “the enemies situated here, we’re situated here we attack at dawn” typical infantry fighting, what we train for back in the UK. In reality that’s never going to happen again the last war we had fighting in a temperate environment was the Falklands, the other conflicts have mainly been won by air power resulting in long term peace keeping commitments. The British army has got the right background for this kind of conflict after being in Northern Ireland for so long, Bosnia, Kosovo etc and it shows if you look how well we’re doing in Southern Iraq with minimal numbers. The area is relatively happy and if you compare it to the north, our casualty ratio is very small, we loose more soldiers through injuries in road traffic accidents than from Insurgent attacks. As I’ve explained before one of our roles is to provide an ARF(Armed response force) 4 man team to go with the Navy’s Sea King born IRT(Incident response team, medics) When we get a shout we take allot of heavy kit and the medics have allot of kit as well, the equipment we take is communications and other equipment that enables us to provide protection to the medics and chopper crew whilst on the ground, as when there’s been an incident there is a high risk of follow up by the insurgents and a Sea King is not really the easiest of things to conceal, so it attracts allot of attention. Once it’s dropped us and the medics off it might have to get airborne again to provide top cover, as it’s going to take to long to stabilize the casualties before they can be loaded on the chopper. The last thing you want is a Sea King parked up on the ground in that environment. Once on the ground we’re then basically on our own with the medics and any other call signs that may be at the incident, our role then kicks in providing ground protection for the medics. The best example of this was during the rescue of the 2 SAS soldiers from an Iraqi police station in Basrah city, IRT was crashed to go and deal with the subsequent casualties, the medics and ARF ended up being left on the ground for at least an hour, the situation on the ground got very hostile as you probably saw on the news, pictures of the warrior getting petrol bombed and the crew being attacked by an angry crowd. The Robuck company lads who were doing our job before we got here were then left with a public order situation and had to join the line to try and control the public order situation while the medics did there thing with the casualties. Every situation is different, the location, the casualties and the threat level no incident will unfold the same way so what happens and what actions are taken are always dictated to you at the time by the situation on the ground it self. Recently we were crashed on IRT (incident response team), it was our first serious incident to respond to. Luckily in the morning we’d been up in the Sea King practicing our drills entering and exiting the chopper and winching drills so we were confident with what we had to do, the last thing we would want is to be crashed and proceed to flap around not knowing what we were supposed to be doing. When we got crashed it was mid afternoon I’d just drifted off to sleep and woke up with a jump as I heard the metal steps outside the room clattering with some one flying up them. That sound wakes me up with a start every time, when ever I’m sleeping at IRT I’m always lying there wondering if it’s going to happen. Will we get crashed out or won’t we? Even when I’m asleep my senses must still subconsciously be waiting for some one to come up the steps and though the door giving us the news “you’ve got a job!” every time I hear bumping or banging I wake up with a start ready to fall into my kit and out the door and every time its either nothing or some one popping in with dinner, breakfast or just to say hello on there way to the ops room. This time though it was a real job not lunch. We all jumped out of bed and picked up our kit which is always packed ready to go. Ever thing is always kept close to hand as we need to move straight away and board the heli, speed is essential as the medics have to get to the casualties as fast as possible to give the patients the best chance of hospital treatment within the golden hour. Once we got on the heli we don’t know where we’re going or what sort of incident we’re going to. The pilots, medics, loady and our team commander have headsets linked into the Sea King so they can all talk to each other but the remaining 3 of us don’t, we remain relatively in the dark as to what’s happening. As a four man team we do have our own comms that we use once we’re on the ground but that’s no use t o us on board the sea king. The team commander usually puts the mouth piece of his comms with us inside the headset from the sea king leaving it on permanent send so we can here what’s happening but over the roar of the sea king it’s very hard to make out through our small light weight headsets. So really we rely on a bit of charades and shouting with Chris our team commander. We were first told on the strip running towards the chopper we were going up as top cover, so the heli would fly round above the incident incase it was needed but this time it turned out we were going to land. Chris shouted to me we were landing in 2 minutes, there were some serious casualties and then gestured a chopping motion over his leg implying one had lost a limb. My thought process then went into preparation, mental preparation bearing in mind I’d never seen or experienced any thing like I was about to, the last thing I’d want is to freeze or puke and lots of other ridiculous things that flashed through my mind. I new I’d be alright though as I did have the right frame of mind, dig in and get in with it, think about it later, once it was over. The sea king rolled round steeply, we could see through the windows we were flying low over Basrah city along the river, from up high Basrah looks just as I’d imagined, dry and dusty a random patch work of squares walled areas that may be gardens or courtyards, small houses made from rough brown dusty brick, lots of grey shades to them as breeze blocks seem to be the popular building blocks over here. From up there the roads were just thin dusty strips randomly weaving between the buildings. We were flying low enough to see children running around and rest of Basra’s populous going about there business, its hard to picture what it would be like to live in this environment. In the UK if you saw a sea king flying low above your homes with a gunner hanging out the side all the children would be out in the street, staring up in amazement but here they just carry on as if nothings wrong, they’ve all seen and heard so much in there lives already I’m sure nothing surprise’s them. The heli started banking steeply again and there was several large bangs as chaff was fired from the heli’s defenses, we new this was nothing to worry about its activated automatically by sensors all round the heli as soon as a threat is detected it dispenses chaff but this can be caused by reflections off the water hitting the sensors. After a quick cursory glance at the loady I new it was nothing to worry about, if the loady looks calm enough hanging out the side door with his gpmg (machine gun) you know its ok. Eventually we came into land, Chris shouted to me we had landed at he Shat, the Shat being the Shatal Arab hotel, now a British base location for the Basrah battle group, the Highlanders. There were no signals to get out yet and as we can’t hear what’s going on we sat tight, we could see they were all talking over the sea kings comms and the medics were getting there kit ready so we just made sure we were ready to jump out as soon as some one gave us the signal. After what seemed like an eternity we were ushered out of the heli, the medics jumped out first and as we jumped out we could see we were on a secure landing site surrounded by hesco (huge wire baskets filled with sand and stones to provide blast protection), so we had landed in the Shat not outside it. My first thoughts had been we were landing on a road outside the shat as an IED had been detonated hitting a call sign and we would have to get out and provide all round protection for the medics and help with casualties. As I climbed out the down draft from the propellers was throwing dust up into my face luckily I had my goggles on so I could still see, so I kept my head down and semi blindly ran forwards till I was a safe distance from the chopper. It took a few minutes before we new fully what was going on as the medics were in discussions with people already on the ground. As we weren’t being used we were out of the loop for the time being, eventually Chris came back to us and explained. A civilian close protection team had been hit by an IED(road side bomb) about 800m away form the Shat, being non military they don’t have communications with the military and no one new they’d been hit until the injured members of the team had been brought to the front gate of the Shat by Iraqi civilians. The fact Iraqi civilians brought the injured men to a British camp shows how the mood towards the multinational forces is good, as in the past there’ve been incidents of bodies being dragged round city streets as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news at times. Now we new what was going on we then found out what the plan was, the casualties were being stabilized in the tiny med centre at the shat so the medics jumped in some transport and went down to the med center to deal with the casualties and assess what to do, who to move first etc. While the medics did that we had to wait, as we were within the protection of the shat we didn’t need to do anything so we just waited until the first ambulance came with the more serious casualty on. We got up and ran over to the back doors, we new we’d be needed to lift the stretcher of the ambulance onto the heli. I had a million things going through my mind, we were about to deal with something none of us had experienced before, I had a churning feeling in my stomach almost like butterflies before a public appearance. The back doors to the ambulance flew open and we all got our first slice of reality pie…..