Yes, you read the headline correctly and you’ll soon know just how true it is.
In 2002 our Mechanized Infantry unit deployed to Kuwait for Operation Desert Spring. Since it was right after 9/11/2001, we had a sneaky feeling that we weren’t just going on a rotation to train with the Kuwaitis. Six months later, we went home for a couple of months and then found ourselves right back in the Middle East.
Celebrating my 21st birthday in Kuwait isn’t precisely how I had imagined it. I thought I would be with the boys in a college town drinking until I couldn’t walk and then being carried to some couch somewhere. Instead, we were sitting in a white tent in the middle of the desert being issued brand new war stock Bradleys and depleted uranium rounds and sweating our balls off, because you know, no AC. Did I mention we were all sick too? As soon as we had arrived, the good ol’ Doc gave us the smallpox vaccine. So that was pretty terrible.
So, on that day, in walks a CSM we didn’t know and someone had the state of mind to yell “AT EASE.” A few moments later, an older man walks in with three stars on his collars, and the same guy yells “ATTENTION?” with a confused tone.
The two men were CSM Kenneth Preston, who later became the Sergeant Major of the Army, and LTG William Wallace of 5th Corp, who later became the TRADOC commander.
LTG William Wallace was the Ground Force Commander for ALL U.S. troops.
Most of the talking was done by the CSM, who told us about how great we were and that we were the selected platoon to escort the general to Saddam International Airport. Holy shit… We had just been given our mission, and I was the lead vehicle responsible for navigation. FUCK!
Keep in mind it’s 2003, and many modern technologies weren’t available. We had paper maps and a plugger. Imagine a whole tube of numbered maps that were approximate six by six feet.
We would be on the front lines with the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) and absolutely couldn’t let anything happen to the general.
We dubbed ourselves “Willy’s Renegades,” made our way to the border, and prepared for war.
The night of the invasion was very bright. We were launching so many rockets over the border it was like walking around at dusk.
We crossed the border into Iraq on the morning of March 21st, 2003, at around o1:00. Wait? Didn’t it start on the 20th? Not for those that were there; think about the time change.
I remember wearing my socks and not taking my boots off for over a week. In my mind, the moment I wouldn’t have my boots on was the exact moment I would need to run. So nope, the 21-year-old kid from California wasn’t going to risk it. Fuck clean socks; we will worry about that later.
The one great thing about guarding the general was that we always had an Apache above us. Nothing was going to sneak upon us. The general would also leave every so often. I just assumed it was for a press conference or something.
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Many nights the general and CSM would sit outside their vehicles and smoke a cigar. In my mind, it was a complete Boss move. I loved it and was proud to be serving my country to overthrow a vicious man.
War is hell. At one point during the invasion, you might have thought you had woken up and landed on Mars. A massive sand storm had come in, and on top of that, it was raining. Seemingly everything was gross, wet, and muddy. Awesome. This ultimately put the invasion on hold, and we waited it out.
I remember looking through the sights of the main gun on the Bradley and not seeing a thing. But when I looked out the top hatch, I could see a little. After a while, I finally figured out that the lens had been covered in mud by the storm.
I saw things and did things I would never wish for my kids to have to go through: From seeing burned vehicles full of people to pulling the trigger on many different weapon systems to stay alive. It’s a weird state of mind to be in.
Little did I know that it would become a way of life for me, and I would feel the most incredible highs and the lowest lows associated with it.
On or about April 7, we breached Saddam International Airport, with Rangers and SF clearing the airport’s interior. By the time we had arrived, the airport had long been empty; however, the fighting was far from over as the 3rd ID was still securing Baghdad.
The following day the A-10s were fighting hard, and we had a front-row seat. A missile was launched and hit one. It looked like it was missing a wing and was going to crash. I don’t remember seeing it crash.
We had succeeded, we brought the three-star to the airport! We were done!
He said that when he went home, we would too! Not so much…
Now imagine you and your platoon are at the airport for several weeks. The ground war was over at least. We went to a very light security posture, and OMG, they had toilets in the airport. Sometimes the most little things seem so perfect.
Now imagine you’re in a place with basically no rules and you could do whatever, and as long as your boss was ok with it, you were just fine.
So we decided to save Johnny Walker!
For the rest of the story, assume the word “allegedly” is in every paragraph, and you can decide for yourself if it’s a fact or fiction.
So you and your friends are at the airport, having just invaded a country, and none of your friends got hurt. Where is every infantryman going to go? The Duty-Free, of course! So the next thing you know, the infantrymen are conducting a “thorough search” to make sure there weren’t any bad guys still hiding while bringing out boxes and boxes of cigarettes and Johny Walker.
Where in the world are we going to put all this stuff? In our already loaded-down vehicles? Fuck it, take out the TOW missiles; we don’t need those anymore anyway. I mean, we won the invasion and were just hanging out. And while we are at it, let’s build a fire inside with all the furniture, that’ll be fun.
Me: Hey McGuffin, you think this place has firetrucks?
McGuffin: (In a very southern voice) I’m mean, it’s an airport.
Me: You can hotwire cars, right?
McGuffin: Yup, let’s find them.
There are a ton of vehicles at an airport and we had a guy that could hotwire them! Well, it didn’t last long, because you know… the whole boss thing we talked about earlier. But firetruck chicken at the airport might have been the funniest and dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
Shortly after this, we drove to south Baghdad to link up with our company. There, we lived in the middle of an open field for two months, waiting for our ride home. Needless to say, I don’t like camping quite so much anymore.
But at least we had Johnny and “Wiley’s Renegades” had gone to war with William Wallace.
Cheers. War is hell.
This article was published in February 2021.
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