Nick swung the HiLux around the corner and gunned it, accelerating rapidly toward the target building. As he did, I heard the snap of shots overhead even over the roar of the engine, and three dim figures in the street dropped. A fourth tried to run, but a flurry of gunfire cut him down, sending him sprawling on his face in the middle of the street, his limbs gone loose in death. Then we were in front of the gate and jumping out of the vehicle.

We had to rely on Mike’s team to keep anyone outside off the trucks. We simply didn’t have the manpower to keep security on the vehicles while the rest went inside. We needed every gun on the assault, so seven of us piled out and stacked on the gate, while Cyrus drove the second HiLux almost directly in front of it. Little Bob grabbed the chain in the back, which was already hooked to the truck’s frame, looped it through the lattice at the top of the gate, and hooked it onto itself. Cyrus gunned the engine, ripping the gate off its hinges with an ear-splitting clatter, and then he was out and running to join the stack as we flooded into the courtyard.

There was no stealth involved in this raid. We’d opened with gunfire and the screech and clatter of sheet metal getting ripped apart and dropped in the street. The ISIS fighters were already up and moving as we stormed through the gateway.

Two were already on the porch; they might have been on guard or they might have just been hanging out there like the ones in the street. They were both armed, so, even though neither of them had apparently made up their minds whether or not to bring their rifles up or just drop ‘em, they were cut down by at least three pairs of shots apiece. They crumpled where they stood, one of them rolling off the porch into the dirt.

Larry was the first one to the door. There were good-sized windows in the front of the building, and we had to stay clear of them or risk getting shot, so it wasn’t a large stack; most of us were spread out, with two on the gate, watching the street, and the others either at the edges of the windows, looking in, or on the door. The ISIS types were smart enough they hadn’t turned the lights on, but with our thermals on, that wasn’t going to matter that much.

Little Bob was right behind Larry. I couldn’t help but think he’d pushed to get there; Little Bob liked smashing in doors. He stepped out, donkey-kicked the sheet metal door in, tossed one of our last nine-bangers in, and rolled out of the way, almost colliding with Jim, who was covering one of the windows. At the same time his boot hit the door, three more flash bangs went in the windows.

The concussion was jarring even from outside, with active earpro in. I’d managed to dredge the electronic earplugs up, even in Basra, after the fight for the Police Station, which had left me even deafer than an adult life full of gunfire and explosions had already made me. Shattered glass flew out on the dirt courtyard, followed by billows of dark smoke. Even before the glass had settled to the ground, we were going in the door.

We’d all raised our NVGs before the breach; trying to fight in close quarters on NVGs is difficult, and on a hard hit it can be a liability. This hit was about as hard as it got.

Brilliant white weapon lights flashed through the smoke, further blinding the men inside as we spread out through the entryway and the first rooms. I caught a skinny man in a t-shirt and loose pajama pants in my light as he tried to pick a flash to shoot at, and dropped him with four quick shots. The suppressed gunfire didn’t make much more noise than the clack of the bolt cycling.

The initial shock of our entry was starting to wear off. Somebody stuck an AK out of one of the back rooms, unaimed, and opened fire, spraying the main room with bullets, most of which went high and smacked dust and plaster off the walls. We were already moving, angling around the room to get a shot at him. I strobed my light through the door, and saw another shooter squinting against the light.

Fuck it. I shot him through the door, then pulled out one of my Swiss grenades out of my vest, let my rifle dangle on its sling while I pulled the pin, and lobbed it through the open door, hard enough to hopefully bounce it around long enough for it to go off before one of them could get their hands on it and toss it back out. Sure, we wanted intel on this raid, but as far as the bad guys went, dead was just as good.

The grenade’s detonation shook the whole house, and smoke, dust, and fragments billowed out of the doorway. We were moving before the dust had settled.

I led the way in, pushing toward the corpse of the guy I’d shot, while Jim, Little Bob, and Nick went in the opposite door. Larry was on my heels, hooking into the room behind me, while Cyrus, Marcus, and Bryan headed for the stairs and the second floor.

The room I’d fragged was a mess. Those Swiss L109s were just as good as our M67s. There had been four men in the room, all now dead or dying. Quick shots finished off the dying and made sure of the dead. None of us took chances anymore. Too many times, the jihadis had played possum, trying to get a soldier, Marine, or contractor close enough to either shoot them or detonate a grenade. So, unless we were trying to take somebody alive, it was headshots to clean up.

Something bounced down the stairs. It was a distinctive enough noise that, bad hearing and earpro notwithstanding, I still picked it out. I’d heard the same sound moments before Bob was killed.

Hilux – the defacto Middle East war mascot

Read Next: Hilux – the defacto Middle East war mascot

“Grenade!” Cyrus bellowed. All three who had been heading for the stairs came barreling through the door, still with weapons up in case we hadn’t taken care of all the resistance, but fast. A heartbeat later, the building shook again, and we got slapped by the shockwave and the debris flying through the door as the grenade detonated with a bone-jarring thud.

Bryan was starting to go back out into the slowly dissipating smoke, but I reached out and held him back. Just as I grabbed his sleeve, I heard another grenade come bouncing down the stairs. These fuckers weren’t playing around.

“Well, we can sit here until they run out of grenades and half the neighborhood comes down around our ears, or we can do something else,” I half-shouted. “Outside. Up to the roof.”

While there was an interior stairway, a lot of the houses in Iraq have exterior stairways leading from the second floor to the roof. There wasn’t another one from ground level here, so we’d have to get creative. Fortunately, we weren’t wearing that much gear, so we weren‘t as heavy as we might have been.

Cyrus and Bryan, it turned out, were the lightest of us, even though Bryan was over six feet. They’d be the first two up. Larry and Little Bob braced themselves against the porch pillars, hands interlaced into stirrups, while Nick covered the gate, Marcus stayed inside the front door to cover the stairs, and Jim and I stepped out into the courtyard, grenades prepped.

As soon as Cyrus and Bryan were ready, Jim and I stepped back and lobbed two L109s through the upper windows. It was a tricky throw in the dark, since the top floor was terraced on top of the first story. Both of us made it, though, and Larry and Little Bob hoisted Cyrus and Bryan up to the ledge even as the grenades went off, their twin booms rolling across the neighborhood. For damned certain there was going to be some unwelcome attention to all the noise we were making. The PPF wouldn’t interfere—we’d told Hussein Ali what was going down—but the PPF was a long way from completely controlling the city. We were running out of time.

Jim and I were next; I wasn’t willing to send just two guys up into that top floor. I stuck my boot in Larry’s cupped hands, slinging my rifle to my back, and jumped upward, catching the lip of the balcony and heaving myself up. That felt like it got harder every damned time. With Larry pushing up on my foot, I got my elbow up over the lip and dragged myself over.

I stayed flat for a second, which probably saved my life. Gunfire crackled through the open window, where my head might have been if I’d stood up as soon as I was on the balcony. Bryan was against the wall next to the window, staying low, and as soon as the shots stopped, he popped up and fired three times, the suppressor spitting almost silently after the noise of the hajji inside spraying half his mag out the window.

I got my rifle off my back and scrabbled along the balcony to get behind Bryan. Off to my left, Jim was doing the same, prepping another grenade. We were going to bring this whole fucking house down at this rate. Fuck it. As long as they were dead and we were still standing at the end, I’d bring the whole fucking neighborhood down.

Bryan ducked back from the window and nodded at Jim. Jim pulled the pin, let the lever fly, cooked the grenade for what felt like forever but was only three seconds, and chucked it in the window.

The whole building rocked with the flash and concussion as the grenade detonated, throwing smoke, dust, and whickering shrapnel through the windows and part of the walls. I felt something smack into my soft armor just behind my shoulder, which had been pressed up against the wall. Those cinderblock walls weren’t the best for ballistic protection sometimes.

Bryan was moving as soon as the detonation was over, vaulting through the window. I followed as fast as I could, my boots hitting the floor inside as soon as he’d cleared the opening. He went right, so I went left, getting out of the window as fast as possible. Jim and Cyrus opted to come in through the door, which damned near hit me as Cyrus kicked it open.

All four of us were intermittently flashing our brilliant weapon lights into the corners of the room. There had been three men in the upper room. Two were unmistakably dead. They were lying crumpled and bloodied in unnatural positions. The third was stirring and moaning until Cyrus put a bullet through his brain.

Several more shots popped downstairs, followed by the sound of a falling body, audible in the sudden quiet. “Tango down on the stairs,” Larry called up. “Lower floor clear.”

The top floor was only one room, so that made it easy. “Top floor clear,” I replied. “Now let’s search this place real quick and get the fuck out of here. Five minutes. Marcus, Little Bob, you’ve got exterior security.”

It didn’t take even that long. There were three laptops and a bunch of loose-leaf papers in Arabic that got shoved into an assault pack. Abu Tariq was quickly identified; he’d been shot through the upper chest about four times, but his face was intact and helpfully staring sightlessly at the ceiling. We took quick pictures of the rest of the corpses, in case we’d inadvertently bagged somebody else of some import, then we were moving to the door to exfil.

“Just in time,” Little Bob said quietly as we came downstairs. “We’d better find another way out. Four technicals just rolled up to the gate, and we’re going to have company really soon.”

“Up,” I said, without hesitation. “Onto the roof, over to the next building, and out that way. Rendezvous at Point 559.” We hadn’t driven the fighting vehicles on this op, so we weren’t worried about abandoning the trucks.

We pounded back up the stairs, lugging our weapons and the intel we’d gathered. I started to pause, but Jim grabbed me by the shoulder. “I’ve got it. Go.” I nodded, then got out on the roof. It was a short jump to the next house, though the homeowner was probably awake and wondering about the heavy footfalls on his ceiling. Come to think of it, after the explosions next door, he might not be wondering that much.

We got down to the ground, one at a time, holding security for each other as we went. As pairs hit the ground, they scattered, heading into the warren of streets that was the local neighborhood. Single and in pairs would be harder to spot, and evasion was our best hope of survival. A stand up fight in the streets was not going to end well, especially as the local militias descended on us en masse.

I waited around for Jim. Thirty seconds after Little Bob and Cyrus had disappeared into the dark he arrived, slithering down the side of the building. He hung by one hand for a second, then dropped, landing on all fours with a faint grunt. “I’m getting too old for this high-speed shit, man,” he whispered.

In spite of his old-man grumblings, Jim was on his feet quickly and smoothly. “Ten more seconds,” he whispered, as I peered out of the compound gate, trying to see if the street was still clear. I just nodded, and led the way, sprinting across the street and into a narrow alley.

Ten seconds later, on the dot, there was another explosion from the direction of the target house. By then, we were moving down the street a block and a half away, SBRs hidden under our coats, trying to walk as normally and as much like Iraqis as possible, in case anyone was looking out their windows.