Gunfire was close, but not so close I needed to worry.
The gate, guarded by the Iraqi Army, should be enough protection.
The gunfire exchange was both ways.
I am not too superstitious; well maybe not anymore superstitious then the next guy.
During my second deployment to Iraq mobilization training, I never ‘talked smack’; ‘trash talked’ or talk about how great I was during my first tour to Iraq in 2004.
During my first deployment to Iraq, I did some good and sometimes dangerous[but not too dangerous] work but I never tempted the ‘gods of war’ by bragging about it or becoming complacent.
In college, I read enough Greek tragedies to realize that modesty is the best policy. No tragic character flaw for me. During all my convoys and civil affairs missions, I was scared, not uncontrollably, wet-my-pants scared, but enough to show respect to the ‘gods of war’.
During my second mobilization training, summer of 2005 at Camp Atterbury, IN, I met several rather immodest officers who did not show the ‘gods of war’ sufficient respect. Some of their talk was just bravado; many never had been in combat or were in Desert Storm, 15 years earlier. This war was a lot more difficult and dangerous then Desert Storm. Besides, no one likes or respects a ‘know-it-all’, so why brag, what you have ‘done’ and can ‘do’?
I meet a fellow Lieutenant Colonel who will be called LTC BBBBB. He was a rather unusual officer. I did not hang out or buddy up with him, but for some reason he felt comfortable talking to me. Lucky me.
Army Reserve unit mobilization training varied in length from 60 to 75 days long depending on the training status and size of the mobilizing unit. My unit was at mobilization station for a painful 75 days during the summer of 2005. Some days were slow and a waste of time, others were busy until 10 PM. Mobilization training covered current and relevant tactics like convoy operations, close quarter combat, marksmanship, advanced first aide, how to use an interpreter and importantly dealing with civilians on the battle field.
In addition, the soldiers were issued all sorts of new and improved equipment including the new Army Combat Uniform[ACU]. Despite the length, over all, this mobilization training was by far and way, much better training then I received during my first mobilization at Fort Drum, NY, DEC 2003- FEB 2004.
One mobilization training aspect I think gets over looked is team building. Team building is a non-trainable, non-quantifiable, yet a very essential element to any unit’s cohesion and success. The smaller the unit or team, the more important team work becomes.
Our mission in Iraq was to train Iraqi Army, Police and Border Police. I volunteered and was a cross level from the 167th Corps Support Group. I needed the mobilization time to meet and bond with my fellow soldiers. Once I found out who my team would be, I needed to start the team building process with them. Not to state the obvious, but it is very important that leaders earn the trust and respect of their subordinates. Rank alone does not matter.
During down time, one Sunday afternoon at the Camp Atterbury snack bar, LTC BBBBB sat down next to my team sergeant, First Sergeant Murphy and I. We started talking about our military careers as most soldiers do when meeting someone new.
LTC BBBBB discussed how he was a military intelligence officer. He discussed his time served in Central America during the mid-1980’s. Then conversation got weird. LTC BBBBB said he could not discuss what he did there because it was ‘secret squirrel’ stuff. I thought that was strange; if you cannot talk about your assignment, why bring it up? There is always something you can discuss about an event 20 years later; especially when no one cares anymore. LTC BBBBB tried to come across as an officer who had some operational[read: scary stuff] time. I was intrigued but also skeptical; I observed nothing he did during mobilization training indicating he was telling the truth. When he talked, I just smiled, listened and nodded my head.
The fire fight at Camp Taji’s Phoenix Academy
Camp Taji, Iraq, located about 10 miles north of Baghdad and was the largest American base in Iraq. On the base complex, in addition to the US Army there were Iraqi Army units and the Phoenix Academy. Typically, training of foreign soldiers and armies is the responsibility of the US Army Special Forces[aka Green Berets]. During their 18 to 24 month training, Green Berets learn how to work with and train foreign soldiers.
However, this war did not allow for that – too many Iraqi Army soldiers had to be trained and the Special Forces units were split between Iraq and Afghanistan conducting combat operations against high value targets. The Special Forces teams where training and mentoring the Iraqi Army’s most elite units[surprised?] and also hunting down the most wanted Iraqi insurgent leaders. The rest of the Iraqi Army had to be trained by regular reserve soldiers, like me. The Phoenix Academy was established just for the purpose to train the American Army soldiers who would be training and mentoring the Iraqi Army.
The Phoenix Academy is where non-commissioned and commissioned officers received additional cultural training, interpreter use, Iraqi Army weapons familiarization training and training team techniques to be utilized during their training mission. We had the opportunity to watch the Iraqi Army in training, tour their barracks and eat some of their food. This was the last opportunity for team to bond.
The fire fight- Sometime after 7 pm, 1SG Murphy and I were talking outside his building when the sound of gun fire broke up the night’s relative silence. Murphy and I looked at each other and continued our conversation. The automatic gun fire sounded like AK-47s. When fired, all gun types have a different sound signature. The gun fire did not sound close, maybe 250-300 meters away and not heading in our direction. Tracer rounds were shooting up at the tower and the tower was returning fire. No need to worry, 1SG Murphy and I wondered what was going on, but not too concerned.
There was an explosion or two, maybe a hand grenade or a rocket propelled grenade[RPG]. This event seemed surreal, but really, nothing to worry about.
As it turned out it was …Iraqi Army versus Iraqi Army: blue on blue.
The Iraqi Army was shooting at…the Iraqi Army. I guess the tower guard woke up, got scared and opened fire on the incoming Iraqi soldiers and of course the soldiers on the ground had to return fire…
LTC BBBBBB’s happened to be near by and quickly came over to Murphy and I. He was all bug-eyed and breathing rapidly. Without a doubt, LTC BBBBBB was quite scared and very concerned about the fire fight.
I admit taking savage glee watching him all bug-eyed and scared, at times I can be a jerk and this was one time. Here is an officer, who was all ‘bad ass’, ‘secret squirrel’ during mobilization and is now a bowl of jello, quivering in public, setting a poor example for the junior soldiers.
To my knowledge he did not crap himself.
The next morning I did not see LTC BBBB at breakfast or anywhere in the training area. Rumor has it; he went on sick call and never came back.