The Last Week
Our replacements had arrived and we had been talking to, briefing and training them to take over our piece of Baghdad, for the past couple of days. Their platoon sergeant and mine decided to go out together on our evening patrol, and also our final MSR (Main Supply Route) security, where our task is to search for bombs to ensure that the highways remain as safe as we can make them for supply convoys and other patrolling units who use those routes. My A Team leader and a couple of my soldiers took the tank that evening while my platoon sergeant took the truck. None of us even suspected what was going to happen that evening. A few words of humor to my platoon sergeant before he went out, and then he left for his mission. I went to my room to relax for a little while and rest a bit, and a knock came on my door requesting my presence in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). Our platoon's patrol had been hit with a bomb and soldiers were hurt. At first, the reports were sketchy at best, but as the confusion, which always accompanies such attacks, subsided, it became clear that my platoon sergeant was injured, seriously enough to go the the Combat Support Hospital, and another soldier in my platoon had received minor injuries. I felt helpless. Those were my men, leader, friend, mentor and confidant out there hurt and I could do nothing to help. I felt feelings of guilt that I should have been out there, maybe even that it should have been me taking the trip to the hospital. The order from the Commander that we needed to take another truck out there to replace the one that had been damaged came, and I immediately rounded up enough people to make a crew and we left. I arrived on the scene just as they were taking him to the hospital. Confusion still reigned somewhat as I had to make the attempt to find everyone who was left, round them up and continue with our mission. We continued on and completed our rounds. We were going back to the camp when my convoy was hit with a bomb as well. No one was hurt and no damage was done, but I felt so angry. Twice in one night. Only instance of this happening to my platoon the entire year. During the last week at that! On a side note, and to add a bit of comic relief, my gunner for my truck told me the following day that he had thought to himself, “Wouldn't it just be fitting if an IED went off on us right now?” and then BOOM! I informed him, jokingly of course, that his thinking privileges were now revoked until our return home.
I took the platoon to see our leader the following day, and he was in good spirits. We talked, laughed and joked for a while and it was good to see him doing well. He was injured in the ankle, enough so that they will have to now put pins and rods in, but, thankfully he will be able to keep his foot, and he will walk again. It was hard for me to see him there, this man seeming indefatigable will, of uncompromising principles and a demeanor that he was untouchable, and unable to be hurt, lying in the bed, foot propped up on a pillow. The man who had successfully, honorably and throughly led us through an entire year, getting ready for a plane ride home. As I left, I knew that I would see him again, but, noticed not by any other, tears came to my eyes as I walked down the corridor, and this I cannot explain. I had said goodbye to fallen comrades who I know I will never see again, however, I do not know why I was pained in this instance. I would see him again, talk to him again, laugh and joke with him, but it was hard to say “So long”. Our interpreter, who had worked with us the entire year, was very broken up, but was glad that he could see him one more time.
The responsibility that now weighed on my shoulders as the acting platoon sergeant was a heavy burden on my heart. I wanted to carry out our platoon sergeant's promise to our soldier's families that he would bring them home. I feared greatly that during his absence I would not be able to fulfill this promise. I wanted to do everything right and bring everyone home. I now had not a squad to worry about but an entire platoon of men who relied heavily on his strong leadership. Was I up to the task? I did not know.
It was only a week, but it was the longest week of my life. It was a constant concern that my soldiers make it through each patrol with no one else getting hurt. We made it through that week, thank God, without any further incident, and we are now all home safely. I was able to see our platoon sergeant the day I returned home, and he had just gotten out of surgery to put the pins in. I was so glad and my heart sang when I saw him in relatively good health, complaining about the doctors, the hospital, and just being his general gruff self. I knew that his ankle but not his spirit was broken. I have seen him again since and every time, it seems like being reunited with an old friend. He has been one of the best leaders I have ever had and I thank God every day for his guidance and leadership. Most of all, I am thankful that he will continue his career in the Army and continue to train soldiers to the highest standards and help make the Army a better organization.
This last week closed with our final preparations for our departure home. We said our good-byes to our friends in our sector, and that in itself was a difficult task. The little girl who wrote the letter to the President in October was very upset with out having to leave and requested that I stay. Well, her father told her that if I stayed, I would be taking a risk of being blown up or shot and her answer was, “Well, not if he stays here in our house!” My men got quite a laugh out of that. Our friends were sad to see us go, but glad that we were able to make it home to our families safe. I sincerely pray for their safety and a free country for them to live in. I shall never forget any of them. They are the reason I had to be there and their friendship will always reside in my heart.