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The Story of an American Soldier in Iraq
Life as a soldier in Baghdad, Iraq is definitely interesting and full of life changing experiences, like... being shot at and blown up! Yee haw, what fun eh?
Actually, it has its ups and downs, and as a journalist in the US Army (assigned to CJTF-7 Public Affairs) I've had the chance to see many things that others have only heard of through the news themselves - I hope you'll enjoy them too, through my eyes. ; )
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Inside the Attack on the Al Rasheed Hotel, Baghdad, Iraq
My mind tried to incorporate the sounds into my dream, but somehow the low reverberations didn’t quite fit into my idyllic meadow scene…
“BURT! GET UP!” said my friend and sergeant Amy Abbott, a Army fellow journalist.
I was awake suddenly..
That was NOT in my dream!! Neither was the terror that filled Abbott’s face. We were under attack, and I wasn’t sleeping through this one.
The vibrations and volume told us both the impacts of the mortars or RPGs was close.
The door of my room blew inward, peeling off of it’s hinges and straight into the room like something out of a police action flick.
At the exact same time I rolled between our two beds and Abbott flung to the floor.
I saw flashes of what I thought were people… the enemy, my brain told me. I reached across my bed and grabbed for my weapon and ammo.
One of the figures came in my door, not one of the enemy at all but one of the young Pakistani men who worked in the cafeteria and lived on our floor. He was holding his arms over his head, whimpering. I ushered him to lie on the floor, returning to my small space between the beds as the thudding sounds continued, louder now without the door.
Thick, dusty smoke floated into the room as well as chunks of plaster.
The thuds stopped for a moment and Abbott ran to the door just as a young couple, the woman clad only in underwear, the man covered only by his hands, found the way to our door.
Abbott grabbed a pair of jogging pants for the man and he ducked into our bathroom.
“Hey Burt, should I open the window? To get some air?” Abbott asked.
The question hit me as a little ironic and I wondered if Abbott was going into shock, but then I noticed just how thick the smoke was getting… breathing was getting hard and it burned my throat.
“Yeah – good idea,” I said as I looked to see if the woman was bleeding.
The woman sat on our door, sitting at an angle and blocking the rest of the room.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I asked her.
“No understand, Italiono.” She shakily replied, her pretty face contorted in shock and fear.
“It’s okay… here’s some clothing…”
But her face was buried in her hands. Abbott rapped a towel around her shoulders and she held it close. She seemed okay, several small wounds on her back trickled slightly, but nothing seemed life threatening.
One of the security officials for Bremmer appeared in the doorway.
“Get out of here! Go downstairs… don’t take the elevator…” he bellowed down the hallway. “Go down the stairs…”
“Get our masks Burt,” yelled Abbott.
“My gas mask is at the office…”I replied before noticing the small canisters on our wall – the emergency breathing masks the hotel had installed less than a month ago.
I jumped over the door and grabbed the green canisters as our guests hobbled out into the dust filled hallway, tossing one back to Abbott and working to put a pair of jogging pans and sneakers on – I wasn’t about to go outside in my undies (a stupid thought maybe, but God knows when I might find clothing again) and the hallways would be full of debris.
We stepped into the hallway, the air practically white with plaster dust and smoke.
I popped open the mask canister and slipped the hood over my head as I walked. I couldn’t see anything! After a few steps I was sprayed by a broken water line (I hadn’t seen) and took the mask back off… it wasn’t helping any.
We walked to the stairs and started down amidst a crowd of people, some wearing their emergency masks, others to struck with the horror of the situation to move, being carried down by friends, made in the moment.
The stairs were covered with glass, and after a few floors I yelled back to warn people they were slick too – slick with blood.
Coming down the stairs we ran into Lt. Col. Kevin Gainer – our commander, who was running up stairs to look for us with one of the most worried looks I’ve ever seen on anyone.
“We’re okay – me and Abbott are okay,” I yelled to him.
A look of relief washed across his face and we continued down.
“MEDIC! We need a medic!!” yelled a man from on of the floor doors.
I looked around but no one was responding.
“I’m a vet (tech) but maybe I can help,” I said, jogging through the door.
“315! Room 315!” he called.
As I got closer to the room I could see the legs of someone inside, and someone else wiping away blood.
“Is someone hurt over here?” I asked.
“We need to carry him out! We need help to carry!”
I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to help with a full grown man. I ran back to the stairwell.
“Hey! You,” I yelled pointing at one of the men, “we need help in here! We need to carry someone out!”
The man, who turned out to be Sgt. Wes Wooten, a broadcaster in our office, ran past me.
“Hey, I’ll help!” yelled another guy I recognized from 124th infantry.
A colonel with what I assumed to be a combat medic bag came through the door.
“Someone need help?”
“Over there,” I said, pointing. “In 315.”
The group of volunteers started bringing someone out of the room toward the stairs. Knowing things were under control, I headed back to the stairs and started down again.
I saw several people I knew, American and Iraqis alike, and gave them reassuring smiles or held their hand for a second. Downstairs in the lobby people from our office were gathering together to make sure that no one was hurt.
I broke off to go to the bathroom (nothing like waking up to bombs with a full bladder!) and a young lady was using a cel phone. She let me use it to call my parents.
It was so strange getting my Dad’s usual happy greeting. I told them I was okay and that no matter what they saw on the news, not to worry because I was okay. They started to freak out (of course – what are parents for?) but I was trying to get off the phone so I could regroup with my office which was leaving the building. It did make ME feel better to talk to them, even briefly, but I felt bad for starting their day so ‘nicely’.
As I sit here, less than an hour after all of this mess, I find that I have an answer to a question every soldier asks themselves – “How would I react under fire?” True, it wasn’t gun fire, but it was still an attack. Now I know how I’ll react – with a rush of adrenaline, a little excitement and all the right stuff.