“Where the hell is the armor? ” I remember asking myself as I lumbered up into the open back of a Humble with canvas doors. By the looks on the squad and translators’ faces, they were asking themselves the same question. These days we kept our questions to ourselves, asking questions was not in the Job description.
Our Job, at all times, was to do what we were told and do it fast. You see, up until this point we had traveled in the relative safety of our Amphibious Assault Vehicles, Vass, or tractors as we referred to them. To 10 men with weapons crammed into a space bout the size of an average bathroom, an average bathroom packed with crates of thousands of rounds of ammunition, grenades, anti-armor rockets, and Meals Ready to Eat, for hours at a time. We hated those machines, they choked us with diesel fumes, there was no moving around to stretch or stand up, we would be packed so tight that you couldn’t even reposition your feet once they fell asleep. Despite these facts, they had kept us safe. They at least had armor.
However they were slow cumbersome machines and according to our Platoon Sergeant SST Cribs, the latest we used in our vests, designed to stop no more than two well placed AK-47 rounds, would protect us from any number of lethal projectiles the enemy could hurl at us, and what the plates couldn’t protect us from, our warrior mentalities could. We weren’t buying it, but we also weren’t in any position to argue. Any questions regarding the safety of our transportation were left by the wayside and after a quick roll call, we were on our way to a real deal firefight, but we didn’t know that at the time.
This operation would last two full days and would prove to be two of the worst says of my life. Within an hour, our translator would be dead, we would have taken a number of human lives, and I would walk away with an experience that would ultimately mold me as a Marine, a leader, and a human being. Later in my life, this experience would be a reservoir from which I could draw strength during times when giving up would have been easy. It would help me to rise above and come out relatively unscathed, with an appreciation for life most will never have. My translator was from Alexandria, Egypt.
He spoke perfect English and a number of there languages including French and Arabic. He had studied in Cairo before coming to Iraq to study at the University of Baghdad. He was in his early ass’s and was rail thin, very soft spoken, the furthest thing from a warrior that you could find. He had been with us since before we arrived in Kraal, coming out on patrols, standing guard with Marines, hunkering down with us during the weekly, inaccurate, enemy mortar attacks. He also carried a photograph of Michael Jackson in his wallet, and we took every opportunity presented to us to make fun of him about it.
He was not eloping us for the money, no amount of money could compensate him for what he was doing, hours of guard, sometimes standing four or more two hour rotations in a row. The patrols he went on unarmed, patrolling more than most Marines in my squad. He did what he did because in his heart he felt it was the right thing to do. He risked his own life on the off chance it would make others lives better. I like to think he succeeded although I am sure there are some who would disagree with me. One thing is certain, when he was around, he saved lives.
On either side, sometimes language barrier is all it takes for someone to not go home. His name was Kafuffle, but we called him Safe, pronounced Coffee, like the drink. A number of years later I discovered his name translates into “Would Die For”, ever since Vive wished I had used his name properly. I considered him to be a good friend, better even next to some of my own comrades. On downtime we would discuss the war, and our fears, we would discuss our plans for if we made it home. He would answer my many questions about Egypt, and l, in turn, would answer his many questions regarding my life in the
United States. We shared a form of friendship that can only come from being in a theatre of war. We were all brothers in the same terrible situation. Together in the back of the Humble with our other friends, we sat silent, no small talk, no bravado. We weren’t sure what to expect and we were nervous Another false alarm? Another fight? Looking back on it I can see the signs, the streets were virtually empty as we careened down the main strip through the center of the city, hardly even a stray dog.
As we passed the Martyrs Cemetery and drew closer to the Great Mosque, the man’s ice on the loud speaker used to call devotees to prayer was becoming much clearer. With a half grin I turned to Safe and asked him what he was griping about this time. “He’s not griping,” Safe replied. “He is calling people to come fight. ” Smile gone, I immediately regretted asking him. “Shut the hell up Safe,” said our machine gunner, and Safe obliged as did the rest of us. Safe had certainly said enough. Once we got within a few blocks of our destination, exposed in the back of our hummer, we encountered our first burst of automatic gunfire.
Trying to get off of the road, our driver Jumped a one and a half foot curb almost launching our gunner out of the back and essentially knocking us all down to floor. We couldn’t have asked for better timing. What ensued was utter chaos, all of us trying to get up and out at the same time, full gear and under fire. I still believe that if it had been a burst fired from a well trained fighter, I would not be here today, along with everyone else who was in the back of that hummer. This would be our one lucky strike for the duration of the operation.
It would be another few minutes before the shooting started again, but this time it would be coming from our Staff Sergeants . 50 caliber machine gun. The . 50 makes a very unique sound, especially when it echoes in between buildings and down alleyways. It sounds something like a giant robot with a bad mechanical cough, eerie to say the least, almost evil. Unsettling to those who are not familiar with it, soothing to those whom it protects. Having dismounted the Humbles, we moved through the streets methodically, engaging targets as they came, and doing what we loud to keep each other safe.
At one point we came to an intersection where some Army MSP had secured a building, they were happy to see us to say the least, and the feeling was mutual. At that intersection we would hold out for 2 days, repelling enemy attacks, taking casualties, and hoping that it would end soon. I remember during one of attacks, Safe pressed between myself and an assault man from another squad, his hands over his ears like a small child at the worst part of a scary movie. This instance is one of my last memories of Safe, another was the look on his