The entire country went to shit soon after the riot my buddy and I survived in Mosul in early May of 2004. In discussion with the senior intelligence officer in Mosul, a decision was made to limit my team’s adventures outside the wire to only mission-essential travel until things calmed down. Attacks by “Anti-Iraqi Forces (AIF),” as we were ordered to call them, had steadily increased since March of 2004 with no end in sight. Forward Operating Base (FOB) Freedom, my home in 2004, was located on the grounds of a former Saddam-era palace that had been taken over by the 101st Airborne Division and General David Petraeus.
FOB Freedom was located on the eastern side of Mosul, across the Tigris from Mosul International Airport, which was also known as LSA Diamondback. The compound was one square mile in area and was bounded on three sides by a highway that served the insurgents well for drive-bys and RPG fun. I remember walking back to the hooch early one evening and seeing an RPG shot from a car on the highway overlooking the FOB. The car had pulled over, a dude jumped out of the back door, posted up, and fucking let loose with that bitch. It was kind of cool and scary at the same time.
We were hit with either mortars, rockets, or a combination of the two, no less than 76 times over a three-month period in mid-2004. The Army had counter-mortar radar that was supposed to geo-locate the launch site within minutes. For reasons unknown, we rarely heard counter-mortar fire.
In any event, the insurgents became quite creative with firing all sorts of ordnance and hitting us at all hours of the day and night. These fuckers were ingenious. They had infiltrated the base as street sweepers—trash collectors and the like—and had acted as spotters during the numerous attacks, providing targeting info to their jihadi friends when they left for the day. I guess they must have figured out about the counter-mortar radar, because they started freezing mortar rounds above the mortar tubes so that they could haul ass before the rounds were shot. The ice would melt, the round would drop into the tube, then POOF!
One day in particular stands out as having really affected me. I was on my way to the chow hall just down the street from my office when I heard the whistle of incoming mortars. This happened a lot, and you never really got used to it because you knew that, within seconds, you would either be dead or the rounds would hit somewhere and no one would get hurt. Most times, I would just hear the whistling sound, hit the deck, and then see a small puff of smoke and hear the explosion somewhere in the distance.
This particular day, as I hit the ground, I knew it was going to be closer than normal. As the four 60mm mortars slammed into the road in front of me and exploded, I heard the whiz of shrapnel flying in every direction. I could hear the ZING as it cut through the air over my head. I remember hearing someone start screaming a few seconds after I looked up trying to find a bunker in which to seek shelter in case there were more to follow.
I looked about 150-200 meters to my front and saw two soldiers lying on the ground. Blood was everywhere and only one of them seemed to be screaming in pain from the explosions and resulting shrapnel wounds they had suffered. Within seconds, the indirect fire alarm began to sound its shrill cry and had drowned out everything.
I saw three or four other soldiers rushing to the injured troops and begin administering first aid to them. Every time there was an attack on the base we were supposed to immediately seek overhead cover, and then once the all-clear was given, we were to report to our places of duty for accountability. As I watched the soldiers administer first aid to the wounded, a military ambulance screeched to a halt just feet from the scene and evacuated the injured troops to the medical center.
A few hours later, news began spreading around the base that there had been two fatalities in the attack earlier that day near the chow hall. I knew as soon as I heard this that the two soldiers I had seen lying on the road in front of me were the ones that had died. Why them and not me? If I had left 30 seconds earlier, I would’ve been dead from the attack. Had fate intervened for some reason and made me wait just those few extra seconds?
I felt strangely guilty that I hadn’t died and that the two other soldiers had their lives taken from them so prematurely. Soon after that incident, I began having nightmares where those two dead soldiers would come and visit me in my office to talk about how much the shrapnel hurt as it ripped through their bodies. In my dream, they would always come by my office at lunch time in their blood-stained uniforms with bits of flesh hanging from them and huge gashes in their faces and necks.
About three weeks after my arrival at FOB Freedom, the trailer next to mine took a direct hit with an 82mm mortar. The round had landed right in the middle of the trailer, the shrapnel tearing it to shreds and causing a fire that consumed the entire structure. I tried to sleep in my trailer for several nights after that but I could not. I lay in bed with my body armor and Kevlar on, thinking that if an attack happened when I was sleeping and I could not hear the whistling sound, that at least I might get lucky and survive the initial impact if I had my gear on.
After three nights of sleepless, fearful waiting, where every little sound represented a threat, I decided to call it quits and moved into my office to sleep at night. My office was in a real building that could withstand most mortar attacks, and I finally began to get some sleep. But after seeing the two soldiers in front of me get torn to shreds by shrapnel, no matter what I did, the nightmares would not stop.
(Editor’s Note: We’re honored to present the writings of Stringer Dan, who has been chronicling his experiences while deployed in Iraq and his resulting PTSD. Do not let his titles fool you – these are hardcore stories of combat and post traumatic stress told with wit, humor, humility and brutal honesty.)