The Following is a factual Account of December 8, 2004 on the north edge of Ramadi, names are omitted and changed to protect privacy.
December 8, 2004. Tactical area 336, the intersection between Y-Road and Route Nova, on the north side or Ar Ramadi Iraq.
War is gray. I had always thought it was red. The burning red fires, the red hot metal, and the red tracers flying overhead. But then I went to the modern war and saw what color it really was. It was gray.
The cache I had just found was a decent sized one and I couldn't help but feel at least a small amount of accomplishment. Afterall it was my job to find weapons buried in the ground. These particular Arabs had thought that it would be clever to hide them in 55 gallon drums dug into the ground and then have the dirt leveled out on top of them after their lids were put back on. But as I crossed the stream of feces approaching the site, I had noticed a small depression in the ground, and slightly looser dirt. I waved my metal detector over the spot, and it gave off its distinct whine.
"Oh great, looks like Paxton has found the weapons of mass destruction," my squad leader remarked in sarcastic fashion. As he followed up behind me the grunts fanning out to form a security perimeter as we began to dig.
Gray dust kicking up as the bullets hit the ground, gray smoke from exploding mortars and grenades, gray shrapnel flying through the air, gray weapons gleaming dully until they're coated in the same gray dust that coats mine.
"Alright Sappers, nice find." One of the Infantry Lieutenants remarked as he approached, congratulating us on our find. The three barrels had contained some AK-47s, grenades, a few RPG launchers, a RPK machine gun, some rusty looking mortars, and about 200 mortar fuses.
"I am a Sapper, the cutting edge of my country's sword. I will always endeavor to complete my Sapper mission…" I can't be bothered to remember the rest. Not that by knowing any part of the Sapper creed would help me on my mission. I wasn't an official Sapper, I hadn't gone through the course to earn that. I was an MOS-12b, a Combat Engineer in the United States Army, assigned to 1st platoon, C co, 44th Engineer Battalion, detached to the 1/503rd Infantry Battalion. To everyone that we supported, we were Sappers though. Men who moved with the Infantry, fought with the Infantry, and when the infantry ran into something they were too scared to touch, or something they couldn't get around, they called us forward. To blow it up.
"Alright, move up and check 336, bring the Engineers." The same Lieutenant was giving out orders to his men. 336 was a typical part of our search. The Marines and we used it frequently for patrols and it was constantly littered with Improvised Explosive Devices. Big bombs placed on the sides of the road for the purpose of taking out Hum-Vees. And to date, they were one of their most effective weapons. And they were unofficially our job.
So I found myself walking up on the road looking for anything unusual as quickly as I can, metal detector gripped in one hand and my weapon in the other. I was behind my squad leader and one of the grunts was farther up. And…
In an instant, everything went gray. Faster than you could lift a finger, faster than you could bat an eyelash, everything went gray. It was almost like things had slowed down as my mind absorbed what was going on. I was being blown up.
It was like I was walking in slow motion, and then the shock wave hit me, knocking me off balance. I went with the force of the explosion and dove off to the side of the road.
I didn't notice it at the time, but I had broken the rules. So had my squad leader. When a huge IED goes of next to you; you die. You get to see the gray, and then that's it. Next thing you know there are seven men with three rounds each waiting for the sound of taps. Next thing you know there are men in suits delivering a folded flag home to your parents, or wife, or kids. Next thing you know is that you don't know, because you're dead. And for an instant, and just in that instant as your life flows onto the gray pavement, things are red. But that goes away, and the gray returns.
My ears were ringing and my eyes were irritated because of the dust. I saw my squad leader lying in front of me on the side of the road. He opened his eyes and shouted "Are you okay?" I realized that I had no clue if I was okay or not. I patted myself down checking for signs of blood, any sign of injury. There were none. The shrapnel had traveled around me. By some miracle I was alive. By God's Grace I was unscathed. I stood up on solid legs and continued my Sapper mission.
No folded flags that day. No taps, no amazing grace, and no 21 gun salute. It turned out to be a good day, because I went on to find a cache that had over 3 tons of explosives and weapons in it. One of the biggest finds yet. And then we blew it all up. Those kind of shockwaves feel pretty good, because I know I'm the one setting it off.