As the we pulled into the outskirts of Mosul I began seeing indicators that something was very fucking wrong. Pick-up trucks with masked men carrying weapons seemed to show up on every corner. The stress was rising… Even though we were traveling in a local vehicle, had beards and were wearing local clothes, the never ending sense of death and danger was palpable in the small, four-door sedan. If stopped, I could pass as a Jordanian or Palestinian, Bob however, could not. We had rehearsed the ruse of him pretending he was deaf and dumb but this cover was only surface deep and couldn’t be relied upon in truly dangerous encounters.

I told him to cover his M4 as we pulled up to the first police checkpoint coming into the eastern edge of the city. Being a fluent Arabic speaker, negotiating checkpoints was a little easier for me than some of the other guys in the unit but, the pucker factor always high. We slowly inched forward, my left hand on the steering wheel and my right hand clasping the loosely concealed 9mm pistol on my lap. I always pointed my Sig towards the driver’s side door at the Iraqis manning the checkpoints, always ready to kill if things went south.

I engaged the tired looking Iraqi Police (IP) Officer with a thunderous Assalamu Alaykum ya akhi, shlownuk? (Peace Be Upon You my brother, how are you?) The IP Officer mumbled something back in Mosul dialect and waved us through. If only he had known I was aiming my pistol at his balls perhaps his demeanor would have been less nonchalant. But nonchalant was good, and lazy Iraqis meant less interaction with us while we were on the street.

As we were pulling away from the checkpoint, we both noticed that the policeman appeared to immediately get on his mobile phone and stand in the middle of the road looking at our vehicle as it was pulling away. “Fuck…” I said. “I wonder if he’s a spotter and calling us out to his boys down the road for an fucking ambush?”

Bob mumbled something in Spanish as he was prone to do when under a lot of stress and grabbed his M4 from under his dishdasha. As we continued forward into the bowels of the beast my intuition continued to tell me that something bad was going to happen. The trucks of masked men with weapons everywhere, the policeman making a call on his cell phone, the lack of kids on the streets, it all meant something. All the sights, sounds, and smells of that morning would indelibly be etched into my mind forever.

“Looks like we made it in pretty good time. I didn’t notice any surveillance coming from Kirkuk and other than the insurgents running around like they always do I think we’re gol…” I couldn’t even finish my sentence before Bob began screaming in his Puerto Rican accent, “Back up fokker, back up, it’s a fokking riot!!”

As I looked over the crest of the four-lane divided road heading north towards the back side of Mosul University the car in front of us came to an abrupt halt. Instinctively, I slammed on my brakes and brought the shitty four-door Toyota to a complete stop. I immediately surveyed left and right and felt a sickening feeling overtake me. We had driven into the middle of an anti-coalition riot that had started at the University and had begun spreading throughout the city. The immediate action drills that I had learned at the offensive driving and shooting course in rural Virginia instantly came to mind. “Get of the X, get off the X, get off the X…”

I kept repeating this to myself as I frantically looked for a way to turn around and exit the debacle of epic proportions into which I had just driven us. In many Iraqi cities, two-lane roads were often divided by a tall cement median that precluded normal civilian vehicles from driving onto or over them. Hummers and other military vehicles had no issues but the trusty Toyota would not make it and would potentially expose us if we got stuck. As Mother Fucking Murphy would have it, there was a large median that early April morning in Mosul as Bob and I prepped for some gunplay.