My very first raid story
TALL AFAR, Iraq – In a dilapidated two-story building on the outskirts of Tall Afar, the loud bass and electrical guitar of heavy metal music echoes off the faded white walls. On this chilly April night, Soldiers pace up and down the stairs and hallways, pushing each other like football players just minutes before they walk onto the field. Only this isn’t a game, and the opponent isn’t a rival they will shake hands with afterwards.
Under a full moon, superstitions and nerves run high as the infantrymen prepare to seek and possibly destroy their opponent. The goal of their mission is to detain people suspected of leading attacks against Coalition forces.
“This is how we get pumped up for a major mission. I’m a little worried though, because I didn’t listen to Pantera like I normally do,” jokingly says Sgt. Ryan Griffin, a team leader for 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).
Music and superstitions aside, Griffin and his fellow squad members rehearse until they are absolutely ready for the mission. They practice scaling a wall similar to what they might encounter on the battlefield, moving in teams, just like they will in a few short hours.
Their preparation is necessary to complete the 10-hour, two-phase raid. Company C’s 2nd Platoon (Reapers) has the largest responsibility with four objectives.
Softly purring and making less noise than the average motor vehicle, Company C Strykers transport Soldiers to the first objective in Tall Afar. Inside the vehicle, the Soldiers mentally prepare for their individual responsibilities. The only sounds are radio transmissions and Soldiers slapping magazines into their M4s.
The Stryker ramp drops and Soldiers of Reaper Platoon’s 1st Squad swiftly move into position.
They reach the target house within 45 seconds and immediately establish 360-degree security. As expected a 12-foot-high wall stands in the way, but as rehearsed, the Soldiers breach it, blow open a door and move into the house. Inside is an Iraqi family stunned by the arrival of Coalition forces.
“Do you have weapons,” Reaper Platoon’s Spc. Enrique Murillo asks an older man who has two forms of identification and is suspected of leading attacks against Coalition forces. After questioning the man, the Soldiers confirm he is the suspect they are searching for.
Meanwhile, a team searches each 10-foot by 10-foot room in the house. Blankets are piled everywhere in three of the rooms and broken flour bags lay on the green-stained concrete floor in the other room.
“I have to search everything,” says Sgt. Corey Reeves as he turns over a blanket and finds a baby underneath the blanket pile.
The Soldiers ask why the baby is hidden under a blanket as they ensure that the infant is returned to his mother.
“We are here to make people accountable for their terrorist acts, not inflict harm on families,” says 1st Lt. Leo Flor, Reaper Platoon leader.
The detained man is placed in a Stryker and later moved to a detainee camp for further questioning. Reaper Platoon moves on to the next objective.
Just like the move through Tall Afar, the virtually silent movement to the second objective 45 minutes away in Barzone is uneventful. This time, however, the Soldiers inside the vehicle talk.
“It’s always such an adrenaline rush not knowing what’s on the other side of the door, and the look on the guy’s face when he knew he was caught was priceless,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Watson says about capturing the previous suspect. “When we get a bad guy like that, it’s a great feeling because we know we’ve done our job.”
Ten minutes before they reach the objective of phase two, the silence settles over each man.
When they emerge from the back of the Stryker in front of the target house, each has his battle face in place. In drill team precision, the Soldiers move into position. With the rest of their squad as back up, the breach team moves into the house.
“Do you have any weapons,” Griffin asks the suspected targets. The response is no but the search yields an unlicensed AK-47 in one large room and underneath an uneven bed lying on concrete blocks, three magazines.
The Soldiers detain the two individuals, both of whom are suspected of attacking Iraqi government officials and Coalition forces. They move the suspects to the detainment area with 17 other individuals detained by Company C.
The final move of the night is back to the closest thing to home these Soldiers have in Iraq. The sun is shining brightly by the time they return to their home base.
Although tired and already talking about how long they’re going to sleep, Reaper Platoon’s 1st squad gathers around the Stryker vehicles to reflect on the night’s activities, proud that once again it’s mission accomplished.
“Everyone did a great job last night; I mean, this morning,” Watson says with a laugh. “Get some rest, we’ve got patrols tomorrow.”
Twenty-four hours later, a Pantera CD is placed into a stereo and these infantrymen are ready to start all over again.