Soldiers Face Mortar Attack on 'Quiet' Mission
By Sgt. Christina Rockhill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP Al-ISTIQLAL, Iraq, Nov. 17, 2004 The troops crammed into the back of the Bradley fighting vehicle, shoulder to shoulder. It was Veterans Day, Nov. 11. As the hatch closed shutting out the light of midday, the faces of these 1st Cavalry Division soldiers held a mixture of anticipation and nervousness.
Sgt. Brian Haiku, Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry
Regiment, scans his sector during a reconnaissance mission on Haifa Street in
Baghdad. Haiku and his fellow soldiers were attacked with a mortar on the
rooftop, but miraculously no one was injured. Photo by Sgt. Christina
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Bradley started moving, and Army Spc. Matt Nichols made the sign of the cross.
"Do you always do that," Army Staff Sgt. Justin Mallery yelled over the vehicle's loud noise.
"Always. Always," Nicholson mouthed.
The troops were heading to a relatively quiet area of Haifa Street, in Baghdad where they would be on a reconnaissance mission, checking out the neighborhood for any insurgent activity.
"We're just observing today," Mallery said. "We hope if they see us out here, it will disrupt whatever they're doing in sector. We like going on missions like this. It's nice to do these missions because it's a break from the norm."
The soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, are more than used to action. They routinely patrol the volatile Haifa Street. Mallery said nearly every one of his soldiers has received a Purple Heart Medal.
The Bradley pulled up to a building. This particular building had been the target of many attacks and was vacant except for a few Iraqi workers, who were repairing damage from the last attack. The Bradley's hatch opened, and the soldiers ran inside the building, looking from room to room, climbing floor after floor before finally settling on the roof as a suitable vantage point.
"Keep your heads on swivel," Mallery said. "They're shooting from all over today."
The soldiers set up hasty firing positions using old metal bookshelves that had seen better days. Small-arms fire echoed in the distance.
"Keep your heads down," Mallery ordered. "They could just be trying to get our heads up."
The soldiers remained intent on their sectors, scanning for sniper pockets or anything out of the ordinary. Even a slight disruption in traffic around the area could mean an attack was imminent, Mallery said.
The soldiers are aware of the danger. And even though this is a less volatile area of Haifa Street, it is far from safe.
"This is one of the quieter areas of Haifa Street," Mallery said. "It's normal for us to only take one or two grenades on a mission out here. It's a shock if it doesn't happen."
The long drawn-out whistle of a mortar is heard nearby. The soldiers freeze in place. "Get down! Get down!" Mallery shouted.
The soldiers crouched close to the walls of the roof and tucked their chins to their chests.
"Boom!" The mortar impacted the center of the roof about 15 feet from the troops.
"Stay down!" Mallery yelled. The soldiers stayed crouched, expecting another round to follow.
After it was apparent that a second mortar was not going to impact, the soldiers scrambled to their feet and rushed toward the stairwell, hugging the walls and staying low.
"They had eyes on us," Mallery said. "They knew we were here. They even had time to aim."
The soldiers rushed down the stairs and rested against a safe piece of wall. Small-arms fire erupted closer this time. The soldiers joined the rest of their group to provide security throughout the building. Miraculously, no one was injured in the attack.
Army Pfc. William Jones, who has only been in Iraq for two weeks, was standing right where the mortar had hit only moments before the impact. "I wouldn't still be here if you didn't tell me to move," he said to Mallery. "At least it was only one."
The soldiers maintained security of the building waiting for signs of an ambush or a secondary mortar attack. Mallery radioed down to the waiting Bradleys as the soldiers prepared to evacuate the building.
Maintaining security was vital, they were not sure if there were snipers in the area waiting for the kill or if they would face another mortar attack. Shots rang from nearby, and the soldiers rushed from the building and climbed into their vehicles.
The hatches closed behind the troops, and they sighed with relief, finally able to catch their breath. As his Bradley roared away, and Nichols made the sign of the cross. His prayer had worked again, and the troops smiled, ready to be home after a "quiet" mission.
(Army Sgt. Christina Rockhill is assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division.)