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They have Earthquakes in Iraq? (The Mexican hat dance on Wattban Road)

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Before I ever treated my first casualty in combat, I had actually already gotten contact from the enemy.  I wish I could say it was a brave and ferocious scene of skill and victory, but, that would be a lie.


Not every firefight is sexy and not every firefight is really a firefight.  Some of them are just spawned out of complete absence of mind or complacency.  This story falls into a grey area of the two but should still be very entertaining, none the less.

 

Still a young medic in Iraq in my first weeks of my first deployment, I was moving out to a marketplace called “wattban road”.  Don’t ask me where this was relative to our AO in Iraq.  I had no idea then and I have no idea now.  But, it was a road and it was a market.  I can’t even remember what we were doing out there that day, but I’ve never forgotten what happened.



(Photo courtesy of the author)

 

Our platoon pulled into a long single road with not much scenery besides shops on both sides and the desert in the background.  It was very dusty and mostly just earth, sky, shops and people on the road.  We came to a stop and pulled the usual security positions with my vehicle pulling up the rear. We dismounted and began to do our thing.


Dismounting and stomping around the neighborhoods was still a nervous experience for me.  This was my second or third patrol and I was still in breath hold mode every time I got outside the vehicle.  This wasn’t because of anything in particular, I was just a cherry and thought a balaclava masked insurgent was behind every corner and was going to jump out and shoot me at any moment.  I won’t even tell you what taking a piss was like in those first few weeks. 

 

Our team began moving about, shop to shop.  I watched how everyone else moved and acted and tried to do the same. Even though I was dressed like everyone else I still stuck out like a sore thumb.  Every Iraqi we came by was always looking and focused directly on me.  Some of them had side conversations in Arabic while staring at me. Others starred with a grin on their face and chuckled at me.  This is when I would try and make my mean face. Trust me when I say no one was scared of me and some of them were down right amused.



(Not even a PKM could make me look scary. Iraq, 2007)

 

Right about this time, my vehicle leader takes another dismount with him to take a piss.  “Stay here doc, and get off the road” were the last things he said to me.  As he went to the side of a shop to relieve himself, I stood there looking around the marketplace in typical “pulling security” fassion.  I looked across the street and saw a whole family standing in the doorway of their shop directly under the frame.  They were all staring directly at me and the man had his arms around his wife and children like he was holding them close.  The scene reminded me of when I was a kid and I learned what to do in case of an earthquake.  They always told us to stand under a doorframe because it was the strongest part of the house and our best chance if the ceiling came crashing down. 

 

About this time is when I looked down the road and noticed nobody was in the market.  All the people were gone.  I started looking more closely down the dusty road and at the shops and noticed more people in the doorways…and looking directly at me.  Like, what the fuck?  Do we have earthquakes in Iraq?

 

The very next thing I knew I heard an engine reving full speed from out in the distance.  I looked down the street and saw a large dust cloud from a small white Mercedes spining it's tires full speed.  The vehicle peeled out and made a hard right turn that exposed it’s driver side to me and I saw the back window was rolled down and pitch black inside.  The next thing I knew the air just started snaping inches from my face, SNAP, SNAP,SNAP,SNAP,SNAP and then buzzed like a bee flying by my ears. 

 

I've never dropped to the ground so hard and so fast in my entire life! I flattened myself out in the moondust on nasty rocks and gravel and all I could hear was “crack, crack, crack, crack, crack, crack, crack!”  Now I was completely prone, never so close to the earth in my entire life, cheek welded to the stock of my M4 and dialed in on a white Mercedes that suddenly disappeared in the cloud of dust I had kicked up in my drop the ground.  When that dust cleared a moment later, the white Mercedes was gone. 

 

I was frozen.  Still hugging the earth, still heart racing out of my chest, white knuckling the pistol grip of my M4 and staring down the sight of my M68 with my mouth hanging wide open.  My brain went nuts with questions. How far out in the road had I been?  How long was that car looking at me?  Why did everyone clear the street like that?  You always imagine combat being like a Hollywood action scene from Black Hawk Down.  These motherfuckers went straight gangster and did drive by on me!

 

Suddenly, I heard a “whadaya got!”  I thought to my self, “Is someone talking to me?"  I was still to scared to look away from the road and was tunnel visioned through my M4's sight.  Then I heard it loud and intense, “What doya got!”.  I quickly looked away to my right and saw our LT down behind cover with the terp.  I was still in shock and frozen, but I managed to yell, “Contact!  Down the street!”.  I jumped up and dead sprinted to his position and tried to gather myself.  I could see our terp, Laisure, right next me and he looked scared to death.  At some point in all of this the order to move my vehicle up the road and towards the contact was given.  What I failed to notice, was that everyone else had moved with it.

 

I stayed behind cover and watched my vehicle move forward slowly.  After a few moments, I noticed it was still going…like all the way down the whole market road.  My platoon was starting to turn into little specks in my line of sight and I didn’t have an icom to say “hey!  Me and the terp are still back here!”. 

 

Now, I found myself alone, at least two blocks away from my platoon and with the terp. Fucking outstanding.  I told Laisure we had to move and to stay behind me.  I started heading up the street shop by shop, clearing every hesco, corner and doorway in what seemed like an eternity.  Lot’s of civilians still peeking around corners trying to see what was going on. Once I finaly made it to the rest of my platoon I just remember staring daggers at everyone I saw.  Not one person even knew I was missing. 

 

A hudle of teammates had formed up at the intersection where I took contact from.  Dany was looking at the shell casings and asking, “Hey, is this armor piercing ammo?”.  Someone quickly replied, “Damn, Doc.  You would’ve been fucked if that had hit you! Why were you out in the middle of the road, anyway?” The whole huddle started laughing uncontrollably. I seemed to be the only one who didn't think it was funny and I sulked the whole ride back as we RTB'd.

 

Back at the FOB, I was in for another fun after action review.  These were typically led by SSG Cas and he always got straight to the point.  He wasn’t a big guy but he had huge personality.  He was also completely, 100% squared away and damn near always correct in everything he did.  This made it very hard to argue with anything he had to say. He wasn’t just good at his job, he was the picture of what “right” looked like. 

 

As he started the AAR, he got to the point where I had gotten shot up.  He started clasping his hands together and chuckling with laughter before he said, “and that’s when Smith did the fucking Mexican hat dance!  Man, I ain’t ever seen somebody hit the ground that fast in my LIFE!  I thought you were dead!”  This was met with more head swinging laughter and clapping.  I went along with the crowd and laughed too, like it wasn't anything and I couldn't care less. The truth was I was fucking rattled to my core. I still remember the heat from those rounds as they zipped by my face. However, when in Rome, do as the Roman's do.


When the chuckles started to slow down and everybody regained composure, he said, “no, but seriously, that’s exactly what your supposed to do.  Get down and make yourself as small as possible.”  Well, he didn’t have to worry about that, I was feeling pretty small right about then. 

 

I headed back to my hut once we were done and tried to hide how shaken up I was. I walked in the door to see my then roommate, Reid, ready to greet me with a big grin on his face and his arms wide open. He said, “Man! I heard you had fun today!”



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