I was a machine gunner during a major Iraq war battle that was blacked out by the media, now we're struggling to get the story to the public AMA
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I tested out of high school and joined the Army when I was 17. Two years later I was a machine gun team leader in an urban assault Stryker unit known as "Bull Company." We served a 15 month deployment from Aug 2007 to Nov 2008 as the only conventional task force running kill-or-capture raids in a district of Baghdad known as Sadr City. Our mission was to hunt down high value targets in the Mahdi Army and secure the north western flank of Sadr City from their influence.
On the 23rd of March one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the war broke out right there in Sadr City. The Mahdi Army rose up to overthrow the occupation. Our rules of engagement were lifted, and both sides went to town. Open street fighting lasted for nearly three months. Thousands of people were killed and wounded. That includes some two-hundred Americans and countless civilians - and it barely made a headline back here in the west.
At that point Iraq was considered "old news" and the politicians didn't want to talk about the war. 2008 was an election year so the ratings were more important than the truth. Both sides had something to lose if any word of battle made it home. The most attention it got back here was a 60 Minutes segment about high-tech UAV's - one which completely overlooked the actual fight. Other than that, were just a few back-page articles that never made it into print, and blog posts later on down the road as it solidified into a niche subject.
Instead, the biggest headlines that spring were the impending Twilight sequel, American Idol hiring a new judge, and Elliot Spitzer getting caught with a prostitute.
I recently wrote a book about my experience during the battle, and I've teamed up with some other vetsto get their stories out to the public. Together we're trying to raise awareness for what happened and some of my friends said an IAMA might help. While it would be totally cool if you want to head over to Kickstarter and pre-order a copy of the book, I'm not here to pull a Woody Harrelson. I just want to get the word out about what happened in Sadr City, help people get a more complete picture of what really happens "on the ground" during modern combat, and answer any questions you may have about... well... anything at all.
edit: I'm sorry it's taking me so long to work through these questions! I'm really blown away by all the interest! I'll be here all day working through as much as I can, so please forgive me if it takes a while.
edit: It's been brought up and I apologize for the phrase "blacked out." It's more appropriate to say it was unreported. That makes a difference, and I apologize to the community for the accidental sensationalism.
edit: I have to go eat and take a short break. I'll be back in about an hour (6pm ET) to wrap this up. Thanks for the awesome discussion!
edit: Thanks for all the awesome questions, support and interest! I'm sorry I have to sign off for the day (8pm ET)! To all the vets of Sadr City who joined in on this thread, thank you. I might chime in later to respond to a few open threads, but I had no idea how intense this could get and how fast it could get there.
edit: If you're interested in donating to the book's Kickstarter campaign, here's the link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/148551030/stryker-the-siege-of-sadr-city
Thanks for serving man!
I wasn't there for the start of the siege back in 2004, but I can imagine what must've gone down. That's another event that needs to get more coverage...
Do you know anybody who would be interested in putting together a book?
Thanks for your service too brother. Just got back from my son's speech therapy and holy upvotes! Thank you to everyone for your support, and I didn't mean to hijack this thread I swear!
As for the book, a buddy of mine wrote one while we were over there, and has a rough cut of a documentary to go with it. He has a degree in film post production and went on many missions with. Handycam strapped to his helmet. It puts gunner palace to shame and really shows the true nature of what happened there.
Unfortunately he suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result from an IED and as such has horrible short term memory problems, so I really don't know if he'll ever publish the book/have his film looked at. I truly hope he does.
What is the book about? I'm linked up with another guy who's mission is to help soldiers tell their stories and get published. Maybe we can help.
It's about our unit's whole deployment, really. The documentary is amazing but I honestly haven't looked at his writing. Haven't talked to him in a bit, I'll have to hit him up
That would be sweet. Send me a PM when you have the info!
Enrolled at 17, you were technically a child soldier, taking lead at 19 and entering what was by your accounts a very major fight. Your perspective of the world must be really skewed.
Apologies if I sound patronizing or condescending, not my intention at all, I am just amazed by the stark contrast, you one one hand and an average American late teen on the other, lazing in bed playing on their xbox or getting wasted.
I'm 19 now. I'm really curious as to how you think your service has moulded who you are now.
Would you be willing to elaborate a little bit more on this?
I joined the army a month after I turned 18 and deployed a day after I turned 19 for a year long deployment.
For me it made me realize I can accomplish anything. If I want something, I get it with hard work and determination. Nothing is given to you. Also coming to college at 20 after being in the infantry I really wanted to punch the vast majority of the people in my classes in the face sometimes. They really expect EVERYTHING to be given to them, it's like their being coddled the entire time. If someone finds out I'm in the army their first question is always some bullshit question like "so...HOW WAS IT?!" or "How many people did you kill?!?!". Even though there was only a 2/3 year difference in age it felt like we were ages apart maturity wise.
Took me a couple months to wrap my head around the way they act but I'm cool with it now. I would just think of the way I was before I joined and sort of be like, "ohhh...alright, gotcha."
You spoke my mind.
Just out of curiosity, are there any questions you would prefer 'civilians' to ask, or put differently, are there any questions civilians have asked when they found out you were in the military that you found really engaging?
"Big picture" questions are the most engaging. Teaching people about what was going on in my own corner, so that when they meet up with somebody else there will be a chance that they connect the dots.
That's what I was hoping for with this AMA, to talk about the build-up and aftermath of the Siege of Sadr City as best I can so that people can get a better picture of what happened during the war, what each area was fighting for, and why.
I was an infantry squad leader in the Alaskan Stryker Brigade that got extended for the surge on Baghdad right before your deployment. We cleared every house of every neighborhood (no exaggeration) and the news reported that Iraqi Army and Police were doing over 90% of the clearing. They weren't. Whenever we would bust open a huge weapons cache or whoop ass in a firefight, we would call in the IA/IP and have to wait around for their dumbasses to arrive late, jump off their trucks with untied boots, negligently firing shots off... so we could take pictures of them with our successes to "put an Iraqi face on the war." We even had a newsweek reporter with us in our stryker for almost a week, and we cracked open 6 dirty mosques in one day, all with huge weapons, munitions, and first aid caches...we figured we'd be heroes when the story went to print. I held open an MRE bag so the reporter could blow chunks into it from heat exhaustion during our 12 hour endless patrol of gun battles and house clearing. When we finally read his story, he had only written about our extension and how it was affecting morale, and the only interview was with a pogue supply piece of shit in a line company that never left the wire, but he missed his wife. I will check your book out, friend, and I am putting one together also, but it is going to be more of a contrast of Iraq/Afghanistan so the uninformed (all of America) can figure out that they are two different wars. Good luck, brother!
Thanks for chiming in, brother! Were you the guys that got fucked with that 18 month deployment?
You betcha!!!!! 172nd Stryker brigade. I did over 17 months because I left on ADVON before my unit. I'm pretty sure Donny Rumsfeld lost his job because of us. Less than 4 months after I got back to Alaska from Iraq I was sent to Afghanistan from Italy for a 15 month tour where we got raped. It was a ride to say the least.
Words cannot describe how well and truly fucked that was.
I'm glad you made it back.
I am sorry if this sounds pretentious or seems to devalue you and your comrades' efforts and sacrifices. On a personal level, I hold very high value for the plight of military men in battle.
With that in mind, because of so many casualties and so much violence, did the blackout devalue your opinion on the war and patriotism? You state that knowledge of your plight was NOT valuable to the politicians, who sent you there. How do you feel about the Iraq war now in comparison to 2003? How do you feel about the idea American 'Imperialism', the politicization of the wars in the middle east, especially during an election year?
edit: reworded since my wording was polarizing. Question stands. Reason is, The two Iraq/Afghan vets I call very close friends both feel like they've been used for political gain rather than higher-morality purpose.
The media/political portrayal of the battle was more of a shrug for me. Of course, I believe this is important, mostly for it's cause and effect within the framework of the bigger picture of the war.
Ultimately I believe that wars are all fought for the same reasons, in varying proportions. Typically there is some ideal at play, that later becomes crystallized as unquestionable or totally bogus. As a political point, it will always become a tool and a catchphrase. Speaking to the corruption of a conflict, somebody will always get rich with a new and different, custom-tailored hack. In the end, it's ugly as hell and a deal with the devil, in which the best you could possibly do is a score a 49% "worthwhile shit" rate. Realistically speaking, I don't see any war scoring better than a "20%" (forgive the arbitrary numbering).
Essentially I'd say the ultimate question is if the little good you are going to achieve is really worth the pile of shit you're going to unleash.
On that note, I totally believed in interventionist military action and fighting for good in the world. I have since become a lot more negative to the idea of sending troops overseas for anything. As far as Iraq goes, I know what we were doing in my own little corner, I believed in the mission we were carrying out, and I couldn't care less about the endless list of factors going into what started the war.
I have to nod to the credibility of the "imperialism" tag, since that's exactly what we are doing in my mind. That being said, it's sort of a catch-22. Our entire way of life (in the whole west) is predicated on the American "gun for hire." It's a perfect scapegoat: our allies keep barely enough of a military to fight defensively and "participate" in a major conflict, and American politicians go around white-knighting the world at the expense of the people and the American soldier. At the end of the day, our flag takes the PR hit and the people are left footing the bill.
I am really liking the way you break down your opinions. Very articulate. You say a lot with a little. Your book might be worth a read if this AMA is any indication.
Essentially I'd say the ultimate question is if the little good you are going to achieve is really worth the pile of shit you're going to unleash.
This is a great line, I'm going to be adding this to my list of quotes. :)
Thank you for the compliment, and 'whether' makes a lot more sense ;)
Sorry it's taken me so long... let me hash out a response.
I was in Baghdad up until November 2007, flying Shadow UAV and I'm betting we watched your team at some point. Was your unit with 10th Mountain by chance, I was with 2BSTB 10 MTN and Sadr was in our AO. To Reddit: I called BS when I read the headline, but his pics and details check out folks, I support this guy. They definitely turned a blind eye to a huge amout of what we accomplished and/or dealt with.
My brother was KIA in Iraq he was part of the 10th mountain division. If there is anyway I could talk to you it would mean a lot to me. I don't know if you knew him but if you did I would love to hear any stories you might have. It's a part of his life I know nothing about.
I'm so sorry for your loss.
Thanks for your support man! It really means a lot to me when another vet from the battle supports the cause!
I was with 1/2 SCR. Our primary AO before the battle was to the north and west of Sadr City. 10th MTN was to the south and east. When the battle kicked off that sort of over-lapped a bit towards the southern corner of the city, but if I have the right information we didn't really interface that much.
1/2 SCR was "hosting" D 4-64 AR, C 1-68 CAB, and B 1-14 IN at the time. I forgot who was up north, but it's in my notes.
I'm glad you have the specific details because things are pretty cloudy after 5 years for me. You are right though, even though we did occasional freelance overwatch for other units, we stuck more to the Yusafiyah, Mahmadia (sp?) triangle and up through Route Tampa towards the end. Thanks for your service, especially in the aggressive warfare that I rarely saw in person over there, just UAV cams. I wish you the best with getting your story out.
Well I wish I would have seen this sooner so it wouldn't get buried but... I was there from April '08 to May '09 doing route clearance, building/maintaining that fucking wall and lots of other fun stuff. I was the engineer company attached to TF 1-6. Here's a few pictures you might find familiar:
IRAM at JSS Sadr the day before we got there, had to sleep on/in our trucks.
BEARSEX on Pluto...? Never understood this
Town hall right after one of their Thursday meetings got bombed
Building a tower at that fucking wall
I saw a comment you made earlier about Grizzlies; that route was shit, we lost one of our guys to an EFP there. Sorry we couldn't do a better job clearing, they knew exactly who we were and what we were doing.
Edit: I forgot to actually ask a question. Any chance you'll release just a hardcover copy of the book? More importantly, thanks for telling the story. I agree that this didn't get covered very much at all, and with how hard it is to explain, I can hopefully just refer people to your book.
Also, here's a few more pictures just for the hell of it:
One of my friends just told me to check this out... I was replying via the inbox. Sorry.
DUDE. Thank you for your service. RE: Inter-MOS rivalries... we were escorting some route clearance guys once and I made a slight about you. The THT on the truck looked at me and said, "Yeah, how about you show a little fucking respect. These guys have to drive down all these motherfucking roads and know they're gonna get hit."
I have to admit to being shut the fuck up.
I love the pictures man. Thanks for the throwback!
Haha, anytime man. If you want to use any of the pictures, just ask and I'll send you the original files.
I think we got a bad rep for having to roll so fucking slow. The guys in the TOC at War Eagle (I wanna say 2 SCR) would follow us on the BFT and bitch if we broke 15kph.
That said, the escorts were always welcomed. The day after we got hit on Grizzlies we had 2 Abrams and 2 Apaches come along for the party.
Good luck with the book man, I'm looking forward to reading it!
HAHA "Wareagle" was our Squadron TOC - 1/2 SCR
I know what you mean...
As soon as I saw your unit patch in the pics I knew you were 2 SCR. I was guessing 2/2 SCR because we were so close to Sadr City at FOB Falcon.
I was a contractor with 2 SCR and moved with the regiment up to FOB Warhorse, where I stayed for another two and a half years. I swear your face is familiar, but I'm sure I would have seen you in the DFAC 100 times if you were on the main FOB. If you knew me I was "Mr. Bailey" one your CSSAMO contractors.
Sorry to say the name doesn't ring a bell. Our company lived out at COP Callahan for a while, then moved to a more permanent location at COP Old MOD. Never really lived on a FOB.
Can you actually PM me any info you have about 2-2 and 3-2 during that deployment? We were totally detached from the rest of the regiment so it's been hard finding information on what they were up to.
God that place looks like a depressing shit hole.
I can't complain, really. I feel sorry for the people who live there.
It got better, but not good. A little while before I left they built a water treatment plant and also got all the black water out of the Jamilla Market.
Holy shit! They cleaned up the shit rivers?!
Man that was brutal.
Agreed: better - not good.
What is the significance of that fucking wall?
The Gold Wall was built to interdict the Mahdi Army from interfering with our humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in the southern district of the city.
After a month of straight fighting, people were essentially holed up in their homes trying to get out of the shit. Given the manpower issues, however, we couldn't stop the Mahdi Army from coming into "secured" sectors and picking another fight.
By building the wall, we could block their maneuver, put their rockets out of range of the Green Zone and stage for a second advance. Half way through the job, a tenuous ceasefire was declared and we finished up.
North of the wall, the Mahdi Army was still at large (though heavily impacted by the fight) and the Iraqi Army moved in to take responsibility of the sector. South of the wall, American soldiers were in charge.
The idea was to limit violence by having the Iraqi Army - and thereby Iraqi politicians - responsible for what happened north of the wall, and begin the phase-in of the Iraqi government's control over security.
That strategy sounds pretty solid on paper...how did it work in actuality?
This is actually a very contended academic subject within the Army right now. A lot of research is going into why and how and what happened, etc.
For my money: despite the overwhelming violence and collateral damage to the southern districts of Sadr City during the fighting, our efforts to re-build and aid those who were caught in the crossfire were a huge success.
Aside from distributing food, etc. to Iraqi locals, we issued interest free micro-loans to vendors and paid for a ton of damage so the local markets and economy could get back to business. Once those were up and running, the area really was relatively cleared of Madhi Army troops, so the local economy flourished.
We spent the next few months living in a patrol base out there in the streets as a sign of good faith that the Americans were there to stick around and keep the Mahdi Army from coming back. For the local businesses, that meant they could operate without paying "protection" to the militia, could do what they wanted, could sell what they pleased and vote as they'd like without as much of a threat of getting murdered and tortured.
North of the wall, the local Iraqi Government essentially embezzled all the money and doled it out to Al Sadr and his militia, who carried on with the same old shit.
By the time we left, the area south of the wall was doing alright. We could kick it with the locals, shop for ice and food and stuff on the street and we had a lot of support for what we had done.
North of the wall it was still a derelict shithole where you'd get murdered on a whim for going against the militia.
As a combat veteran of WWII, I fought on this little island called Peleliu for 30 days in 1944. I was in the 3rd fire team, 3rd squad, 3rd platoon, K/3/5, 1st Marine Divison. I carried the BAR, so in a sense I was a machine gunner, as well.
See, the press really downplayed that battle, as well, since what we were doing in the Pacific was unpopular after a fiasco like Tarawa. The press didn't want to report another fuck up by the brass...and Peleliu was just that!
That's 1794 killed and 8010 missing and wounded and it barely touches the press?
The point is, chin up and keep your book going and people will realize. You'll be able to honor those who served and those who fell. Hell, I wrote my book and I'm 88 years old! Your story will be told. Don't worry.
Sterling G Mace, USMC 1942-1945, Peleliu, Ngesebus and Okinawa.
Thanks for posting this and I really want to go check out your AMA!
I'm not surprised by the lack in coverage, though it was a little jarring to come home and find all that out. I'm just here to tell the story and get people talking. I don't expect anything but for soldiers to step up and speak out. It's promising to see so much action on this AMA.
I feel like a child whenever I think about what previous generations went through in war. We were doing training in southern Germany once in the freezing cold. After a short gripe session, one of our squad leaders told us to can it. "There were men out here in a winter that was twice as cold with nothing but a wool blanket and a canvas a canvas trench coat, and they had been fighting non-stop for a year and a half."
Thank you for your service.
Sgt. Ludwig You and I have a lot more in common than you think.
When I came home, the same knuckleheads that were standing on the street corners were still there after the war (minus a few who had been killed over there), and they asked me where I'd been. I told them I had been to Peleliu and they said, "Where?" Nobody knew; nobody cared, so I just stopped talking about it.
That's where you and I differ. I buttoned up for years and you're coming right out and talking about it. That takes balls, kiddo. Besides, you outrank me. I mustered out a corporal.
I'll tell you what. I might have an offer for you. If you're interested send me an email and we'll see how we can get your word out.
< Sterling G Mace
Thanks. I'll PM you right now.
I ask this in every AMA with people who are or were in the military.
What do you think of Bradley Manning?
I do this just so people on Reddit can get a better perspective on the issue.
That's a tough issue...
Bradley Manning was a uniformed official of the military who was trusted with maintaining secrets that were critical to the success of the mission, and therefore the safety of countless lives. He was trusted to uphold a duty, and he intentionally took advantage of his position to act in his own personal interest. In addition, his intention was to erode the effectiveness of the mission, and thereby harm the efforts of countless men and women who were putting their lives on the line and doing their job. For that, I believe he is guilty and should be tried for many of the charges that have been brought forward.
That being said, I also believe that whistle-blowing is a vital element in a democracy, and that "the people" cannot control a government that aggressively keeps secrets from them, when those secrets could change the face of the entire game.
To keep my answer short, I think that Bradley Manning knew what he was doing and intentionally violated orders, common sense, and the trust of his position. Furthermore, it betrayed a ton of people who were depending on his job and position to keep them safe. For that - given what I know - I would personally convict him on all counts.
In my mind, whistle-blowing is a form of martyrdom. It's rarely the answer, and we can't set the precedent that soldiers entrusted with military secrets can just say "fuck it" on a whim because they don't like what's going on. Yet it's still an important act of insurrection, which can sometimes change the world for the better.
Ultimately, I don't have any more answers than the next guy. In the long run, however, I hope we look at what happened as a call to reel back the insane amount of classified information that is put in a vault every day and hidden from the American public.
I too joined at 17. I really don't think they should allow that.
They like them young. They still have hot blood, they'll still do what they're told if it's shouted at them. They don't have set opinions about the world yet. They're easier to control and they can fight and work much longer. If you get them young, you've probably got them for life.
I don't think they should allow it either.
Yup. Hopped up on emotion. Not hindered by objective rational experience. Easily formed into a killing machine.
I don't like it, I can't deny it, and it's fucking effective.
What kind of implications do you face, if any, from disclosing what you did in Iraq? What do you hope to accomplish by letting the public know about your experience? I mean, it was a war, it was fought amidst civilian populated cities, it was the same as many of the other strikes in that country. What's the end game to sharing your story? Awareness?
1) Hopefully none.
I don't disclose any top secret shit; I don't violate any OPSEC considerations regarding standard operating procedures, the knowledge of which could endanger lives; and now that I'm a civilian I have 1st Amendment protections on my speech so long as what I'm disclosing is open to the public.
2) I hope to accomplish awareness.
The entire spring of 2008 was effectively Iraq's equivalent to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. We lost control of nearly half the country. It played a major role in defining Iraq war policy and strategy for the remainder of the conflict.
But American foreign policy is becoming increasingly subjected to popular opinion - which is easily manipulated by half-truths, undisclosed facts, and the general squalor of corporate media.
Ultimately, if the average citizen is going to have such a major role in defining the methods, nature, place, time and reasons for modern war-fighting policy, it's critical that they are knowledgeable of the facts and aware of major events. In other words, anybody who wants to participate in the dialogue surrounding foreign policy and voice an opinion on the matter has a responsibility to know what is going on.
I don't claim myself or expect people to know and understand everything, but knowing the "what" and "why" of major events like Sadr City are critical. Each one is part of a long, specific and complicated narrative that is unique to the conflict at hand, but with bigger-picture lessons that apply to future conflict management, strategy and policy.
Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that none of the past strikes in that country were the same. That perception is largely a symptom of short-hand and sensationalist journalism. Each one is important in its own right. Sadr City is important, as it marks a sort of final lesson in the greater discussion of Counterinsurgency, the role of our military in war, and the successes/failures of nation building abroad.
Army recruitment within the school system is a touchy subject. As a school counselor, do you have any advice you would have me share with individuals that are mulling over the fact of enlisting?
Let them do it.
IMHO, there is nothing really objective or fair about denying recruiters access to students. Schools do just as much brainwashing and control as the Army - it's just that school skate by with the illusion of enlightenment. Our public education system is just recruiting students for the rat race, and they get pissed when somebody takes their crop.
The Army isn't a good fit for everybody, and it's always a case-by-case basis. And yes, recruiters lie - a lot. That being said, a number of kids (me included) stand nothing to gain from the educational opportunities they face. The military can provide them with a place that is just as constructive, ten times as disciplined, and rocked with an overwhelming and unavoidable present-tense pay-off. Hell, they don't even have to go to combat.
If people really concerned about a kid going off to war and getting killed, show him the list of jobs that have nothing to do with actual fighting. You can be a helicopter crew chief that never sees combat, and after three years of service slide right out of the Army and into a kush job with some Aerospace contractor.
I was in the Stryker Unit that you guys replaced (July 06-Oct 07). It seems that many of the most intense battles that occurred this late in the war were not covered. We ended up having to rescue a Special Forces / Iraqi army company that accidentally ran into a weird Cult compound when they were trying to rescue a downed Helicopter. It turns out that this compound had shot it down with an old AA gun. There was about 800 of them entrenched within a bunker system with wire obstacles all the way around. After shooting 50 cal and mortars at them all night about 250 surrendered.
If I remember right this story was a two line bit on the news about heavy fighting near the town of Najaf. I have heard several other stories from people in other units that saw crazy fights and it was never on the news. Makes me wonder what we will see when historians write about this conflict in 20 years.
Just re-read that shit and realized you were the guys WE replaced.
Holy shit man. I have some major props. All our "lessons learned" were yours.
Thanks for your service!
I believe this will get the word out because so many are interested in this, and if u get people to press the pretty blue arrow.
Did you actually ever kill anyone during your battle that you were aiming for? If you killed do you regret it at times?
I usually don't answer questions like this because it has been my experience that people don't really understand what they are asking. That is to say that on an emotional level they are expecting a different meaning behind the answer, and they have asked it for a different reason.
Yes, I have killed a lot of people who I was aiming for. In the majority of the cases, no I don't regret a thing.
We got some great advice from our chaplain in the beginning of the tour. He told us that what will keep us up late at nights is if we doubted a single thing about pulling the trigger. His suggestion was that we "make absolutely sure that man needs to die - then kill him."
I followed that as closely as I could, and on the whole I think he was right. There has only been one time that I regret pulling the trigger:
We got a confirmed intel hit that a silver opal with tinted windows was loaded up with "special group" snipers and heading our way. This was during a 36-hour counter attack at an OP behind enemy lines. We got a detailed description, and a confirmation that they were moving in to target our machine gunners.
The "special groups" in Sadr City were a big deal. They were trained by Iranian SF, supplied with state-of-the art weapons and tactics, etc. Their snipers were the best in the country. As soon as I saw a silver opal that matched the description (down to the hubcaps) moving in on my position with a creep, I lit the fucker up.
Turns out the intel was wrong.
Wow so you were around 19 when this happened. How did you cope with being a machine gun team leader at a young age? Also, were your achievements agknowledged respectfully by the military?
It hasn't been very easy. Of course, I didn't have any perspective on how young I was back then - and I didn't have the experience to know how that would effect me.
Back then I had a mission, a job, and it was obvious that if I didn't fight I was going to get somebody killed and/or die myself. One of my squad leaders put it right when he told me "You just fucking do it."
17-22 is a really defining time in somebody's life when they find out what kind of adult they're going to be. I basically spent the entire period learning how to kill, killing, and then teaching people how to kill.
Within the military, Sadr City is a really big deal and a lot of "higher-ups" are very aware of the whole thing. It was the first time in modern warfare that a "Counterinsurgent" posture became balls-out kinetic warfare overnight, then right back to "Counterinsurgency" within a single day again. In that way, many of the men who served have made their careers with the battle.
17-22 is a really defining time in somebody's life
You we're defining yourself at 19 behind a machine gun. I was defining myself drunk and high at parties in college. Thanks for your service, it's shit like this makes me realize I need to get my shit together.
Edit: To all the people talking down on the military. War sucks, no one is gonna argue that. But what is this guy supposed to do? Dissent in the middle of a battle? Discuss global politics and the justice of the war when people are shooting at him? Fuck no. Hes there to follow orders to the end, that's how every nation ever won wars in the past. The fact that there are people who will die for my country is enough to garner my respect.
To be fair, it's not like I was curing cancer. All I had to do was sign the paperwork; orders did the rest.
What is your goal? Simply raising awareness about a battle doesn't make sense to me. Are you just irritated that so many civilians don't have a clue what's going on there and want to tell your story?
Are you doing the IAMA for publicity and/or to raise money?
Why are you raising money? What will the kickstarter money go toward?
Why are you going the print route?
Do you already have distributors or are you hoping to get them after it's done?
Raise awareness. Tell a good true story about an important event. Lend a voice to a significant event and do my part to tell my story. Offer an important dataset in ongoing discourse about the effects, methods and intentions of modern warfare. That way when people go out to vote, protest, etc. they can have a more complete understanding of what the hell it's all about.
Doing the IAMA to get people talking about the battle and asking questions about what happened towards the end of the war.
The Kickstarter campaign was for my book (which this AMA was not supposed to be about). Already met the goal before I came here. Wasn't trying to sell copies. Just trying to offer a voice about my experiences in a lesser known battle.
Cost assessment vs. target markets. There was feedback in my primary market to provide a non-ebook format. POD makes that possible without breaking the bank. Kickstarter was a method of raising those funds. Also, I'm working with other soldier/authors to put together an anthology. Print books lend credibility for academic use.
Already have printing and distribution lined up.
This is a little silly, but my first thought was "Whoah, really? I remember hearing a lot about Sadr City right about that time." I realized that it's because I listen to NPR every day in my car. I was just now surprised at the difference in what I'm getting and what most Americans are getting.
Here's a search for NPR and Sadr City, and you can see a whole archive of coverage: https://www.google.com/search?sugexp=chrome,mod=16&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=npr+sadr+city
I wonder if the mass murders in Homs, Syria, is similarly being downplayed outside of NPR. I'm not even aware if it has been mentioned in mainstream media at all, but if you've been listening to NPR last month it would seem like one of the most important events in history. Now I'm wondering if all the things like this are just totally gone from most peoples' radars.
I can totally nod to that. I get a kick out of every time I hear somebody that knows what happened. Typically, it's because they seek out specific types of news instead of sitting back to read the major headlines.
Every once and a while I find somebody who totally knows what I'm talking about. 99% of the time I get a strange look and the explanation becomes a massive lecture.
Being at such a young age, have you developed PTSD? Im sorry if that came off blunt, i couldnt imagine what youve been through
Yes. I have pretty severe PTSD as well as a TBI. I don't mind blunt.
Are you getting treatment from the Army for your PTSD? I know a good number of people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them have struggled with PTSD. They say the worst part was that they felt like they didn't have enough support from the VA or the public. they felt like the government created this really severe mental health crisis among the troops, and now everyone was brushing it under the rug, and treating them like they were ticking time bombs.
I was. It's kind of worthless, so I stopped.
I realized after about two years of bashing my head up against the wall of incompetence that writing my story down, working with veterans to get it out there and helping my brothers with their shit did more for me than any hour-long game of "20 questions" with the wizzard.
The government totally created this crisis, and they didn't even think about it at the time. Due to the nature of modern warfare and counterinsurgent conflict, PTSD is practically engineered these days in our troops.
Why did you test out of high school for the military, rather than finish first? 17 seems on the younger side for enlisting. Did you always have a dream of serving?
I hated high school.
Ironically, I wanted to give the system a huge middle finger and bail - so I joined the Army (O.o)
Ultimately it came down to the fact that I believed in what we were doing, but more than that I believed that we had no business doing anything in the first place if we didn't finish what we had started. 2004 was the bloodiest year up to that point and by 2005 nobody was enlisting. Since I met every requirement I figured if people like me didn't serve, nobody ever would. Rather than follow the rat-race through higher education I just tested out and decided to do something real.
Haha that's interesting motivation. Has your opinion changed on systems/do you feel less constrained than you did in high school?
My opinion on service hasn't changed, but my opinion on war was. I strongly believed that I was just a fucking hypocrite if I didn't go. My first night out at our outpost I had to listen to a ten minute mortar barrage down on Comanche company. I remember thinking "I have fifteen months of this shit, and I'm on day-one." I also remember the stark realization that I finally understood what it meant to truly "support" a war.
Ever since I got back I've been fundamentally opposed to our foreign policy. Things like Lybia, for example. Don't get me wrong: The world is a better place without guys like that around. Still, I had to sit here and listen to all these kids my age crying out for intervention - and when it finally happened not a damn one signed up to serve. Oh yeah, and at the end of the day we (the west) were scratching that fuckers back for years before the intervention happened - all thanks to an interventionalist foreign policy.
What are you doing now? how did you adjust to civilian life?
Now I'm a writer and I'm trying to make time to go to school. Hopefully I can get that done when this book is finished, and I can finally be free of everything that happened.
Adjusting to civilian life hasn't been easy, but I have a lot of great support here. Family that loves me, a good home, etc. These things all help. Probably the biggest help, however, was simply writing about what happened so I can put it all into place, bind it in a book and leave it on the shelf.
Have you found that lots of battles are not covered by the media? How does that make the folks involved feel?
I'd say the vast majority of conflicts are unreported, but I have to admit that is also perfectly reasonable.
I'd say my biggest issue is not with the quantity of reporting, but the quality.
The media's "narrative" of what's going on in the world hardly matches what's really going on in the world, because any facts that cant be crammed into a five minute segment are largely ignored. People might even know about some battle somewhere, but the biggest anger I've noticed among the veteran population is that nobody knows "why."
what was your favorite street in Sadr?
Safi Al-Din Al-Hilli Street (aka: "Route Grizzlies")
That's kind of a joke, actually.
Route Grizzlies was a death trap. It marked the border to Sadr City and the whole thing was rigged to the teeth. We tried a route clearance operation there once, and it was hit more than a dozen EFP attacks within a 200m span. I don't think I've ever successfully driven the length of it.
edit: spelling, sorry
I was in your regiment (4-2) and your brigade (you 1-5? me 3-21), part of the move from Lewis to Vilseck ,and I am proud that we have someone who can actually tell the tale of what really happened over there not the media's sensationalized view. Keep on keeping on man. Always Ready and Lancers.
Thanks man! Right back at you!
I got to 1-5 right after their 2004 deployment. It's awesome to see people from the unit!
Would you ever go back there, once it's peaceful and safe?
Maybe one day. A long time from now. If ever - and I hope it is.
My dad was telling me about a documentary he watched about the Vietnam war, where two generals from opposite sides were sitting down to discuss what happened. He said that long after the war, the hatred was gone. I hope that'll be the same for me.
On the flip side, Generals have a much more "academic" view of the battle. It's a little different when you're the one making statistics with a machine gun.
Have you thought of possibly getting together with a reporter for some other media outlet? This is a story that should be acknowledged, as you said on a much broader scale.
I/we have. We reached out to a number of outlets before and during the Kickstarter campaign but didn't get anything back. My belief is that they don't want to bring up the story now, since it would effectively admit to negligence on their part back in the day, and further prove that our media only cares about what sells, and not about honest journalism.
Were you ever injured over this 3-month span?
Yes. I was in an IED strike that inflicted a traumatic brain injury, and I revived minor wounds from shrapnel, etc. Nothing Purple Heart worthy or anything (thank god)
I was a medic in Sadr City for April 4th, 2004. 56 casualties, 8 KIA. When they turned the phone back on, I called my parents immediately (I was 19) and told them I was OK. They had no idea what I was talking about. Years later Martha Raddatz released a mostly butchered version of the story in her book "the long road home" but other than that, it received no real coverage.
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