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Posted on May 6, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Red Bulls in Iraq – Pt. 2

By Cpt. Fernando A Franco

Sandstorm on camp

Now, it has been few days since we flew into our permanent (at least for the time being) base in theater. The base is very nice and the food is excellent. I guess this is Uncle Sam’s way of saying, ‘Thanks for coming here.” After eating MREs for several months at the training station, the great food we have at the mess hall is really starting to put some weight on some of the soldiers, forcing our First Sergeant to implement some remedial PT to keep us in shape.

I learned today that I’ll be going on my first patrol. A thousand thoughts flew through my head. I felt a combination of fear, excitement, and apprehension. Will I be able to do my duty as a soldier? Will I be able to react to any situation I will encounter? Will I be able to look into the eyes of the soldier next to me in the HMMWV and see that he depends on me as much as I depend on him? We are now united with a common bond and it does not matter if you just met the soldier next to you. We are outside of the wire and the relative safety of the base, facing an enemy that has no mercy and really is out there to get us. I am sure the months of training will kick in when the time comes and I will do what I’m supposed to do, the same way the thousands of soldiers before me have done since we came into Iraq.


We arrived to the link-up point of the patrol on time and the briefing for the mission went ahead without a problem. All of our soldiers understood their roles — what to do and what sector to watch. Once the briefing concluded, we waited a while before leaving the wire since there were other patrols ahead of us that were waiting to go out. The most difficult part is the wait. You talk about everything, try to know your soldiers a little better, understand what they’re feeling and what their families are feeling. It’s hard not to think about all this. The NCO who was with me in the gun truck, one of the best NCOs I have ever seen, mentioned how much he wants to go back and see his kids. He told me of the time he showed them the stars and pointed out Orion’s Belt, and then he said, “Sir, you know that if I follow the star to the right of the belt, I can get home.” He hit my soul, and all I could do was look at him and say, “Sgt., I’m happy you can follow that star. Your year of duty will be over soon and you’ll be back home with your loved ones.” My year of duty is just starting and the soldiers in my unit and I will be looking at that star one year from now too.

Patrolling in the desert

Just a few minutes into the patrol, we had to stop because we found an IED (improvised explosive device); the engineers were already working on it. These guys are real heroes, clearing the routes of IEDs. They walk the line up and down to make sure the convoys have a clear path to their destination.

I can’t explain all you feel while driving on the highways of Iraq and think that at the next stop you make or the next bridge you cross, there might be an IED with your name on it. Only those who have been over here can understand that feeling. You try to remember all your training and look left and right searching for signs of IEDs. Everybody in the convoy is doing their job. The driver, the commander, and the gunner are like modern cowboys who need to take their cargo to the final destination without losing anybody.

Over a city

Driving in a highway in Iraq is not like driving at home. If you are from Minnesota you will understand this better. During the winter the ice and snow makes big potholes in the highways back home, well, here in Iraq the same things happens expect the ice and snow are sometimes replaced by IEDs. The convoy commander, with whom I was riding, told me that the route we were taking is called “IED Alley” due to the amount of craters and IEDs along the highway. And I am not talking about a short ride- it is about 100 miles of highway nicknamed IED alley. In just a short portion of the road I personally counted 10 craters, big enough to break the axels of a SUV if you fall in. Then, add IEDs plus bad guys hunting you and you will get an interesting result.

I feel the need to praise my driver, he really put a lot of effort to avoid the craters and keep the HUMMER out of harms way. As I mentioned before, we encounter an IED not just 2 minutes into the patrol, avoided it, but there was a second one we encountered 20 minutes later, that really put us on high alert. We had to stop the convoy completely in the middle of nowhere until we were able to bypass the IED. The feeling is probably the same a deer feels when he sees the hunter aiming at him and he has no place to run. You start wandering and looking for the bad guys who may be waiting for you in the middle of nowhere and all your soldier training kicks out and you know that not matter what comes you will fight back.

A main river

My first patrol went well. We accomplished our mission and delivered the cargo. But I have to tell you, the adrenaline rush stays with you for a few days after you’re done. And it’s the adrenaline that keeps you moving forward, thinking about how to do things better the next time.

Dear friends of ACG, this is my entry for today. I’ll write more soon, and will do my best to keep the articles coming more often. With my new duties, my days are more and more full but I feel a personal commitment to write for a magazine that supports the soldiers. I have read the postings in the website, and I’m really glad to see the outstanding support from the readers.

Me taking a break

CPT Franco

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