FIRE FIGHT IN SADR CITY- My war stories
36 ENG BRG 20th ENG BN 510 “SAPPER” CO 1st PLT
Location: Sadr City, Iraq
During 2006 to 2008, 15 months, I was part of an engineering unit tasked with conducting route clearance around the greater Baghdad area. We were given the job of driving up and down the roads in our very heavy armored vehicles. We mostly drove around in RG31’s, Buffalos, and Husky vehicle mounted mine detectors.
Fun fact- The Husky was made to be driven over mine fields so it was DESIGNED to blow apart to minimize injury to the driver.
Any way this job can be either very boring, driving up and down the roads extremely slowly seeing little, or very exciting if you get into the right area. On this day we were to head into one of the more hostile areas that we patrolled, Sadr City. This place was no joke hostel to Coalition personnel. Countless units have been ambushed and at least twice the US Army has completely shut it off from the outside to recover hostages.
At the time it was completely controlled by a group called the Mahdi Army. These guys’ MO was to use IED’s to cripple convoys, then open up on them with small arms and RPG’s. It wasn’t uncommon for the haji’s to employ heavy machine guns, Russian made DShK ( pronounced dishka)as well. The Mahdi Army was also notorious for using EFP’s smuggled in from the Revolutionary Guard Corp of Iran. They used them to try and negate our heavy armored vehicles and boy were they effective.
Nothing scared me more than those three little letters. They stand for Explosively Formed Projectile ( or Penetrator). Basically it’s just a thin inverted copper or sometimes steel cone placed into a thick sturdy metal cylinder. Behind that cylinder is placed some HME (explosives). Prop that up on a road side about mid vehicle high out of immediate sight and someone is going to have a really bad day. The only saving grace is that they are exceptionally expensive to manufacture because the metal thats used has to be exceptionally pure, especially the metal that makes up the projectile.
Driving through the city on that day was it was almost completely empty and quiet. Very unusual for the time and place. Every car we would come across would immediacy upon seeing us turn around as quick as they could and take off in the other direction. We knew what was coming next and could do exactly nothing about it.
I was the gunner in the lead vehicle with my .50 cal and my M4. We were doing our route clearance thing trying to focus on finding the bombs before they found us. Them BOOM! They let our first couple vehicle through then hit the third which was the Buff. The EFP hit perfect broad side cut through the RPG cage and 6 inches of armor like butter. No survivors. Then we start hearing the staccato crack crack crack over you’re head. The very distinct sound of chunks of lead breaking the sound barrier. They opened up from both sides of the road. RPGs were literally skipping off the road under my vehicle and exploding behind.
When you’re in an up armored vehicle there is very little danger from you’re standard AK but RPGs are a different story. They in themselves are little EFPs fires from the shoulder. So I started to bypass targets to try and pick off the Haj with the launchers.
As soon as that vehicle went down thing went to shit. At the time in all the confusing we had no idea what hit them or if they fragged. So step one was to lay down a base of fire so we can eventually gain fire superiority (more bullets going then coming). We had no radio contact with our Buff. So we circled it with our vehicles so first our medic could give aid if needed and second so our mechanics could check the damage. The doors of the vehicle were literally welded shut so no medic or mechanic could access the inside of the vehicle. From the outside they could see no life saving measures would be necessary.
About that time my complete focus was on trying to keep the insurgents far enough away that their fire was inaccurate. My .50 was extremely effective at this. You have to be careful though not to melt you’re barrel. I shot my complete personal load out and some of my Lt’s. I saw and did a lot of shit. Most vivid memory I have is seeing an insurgent come around a corner about 50 meters up the road I had just enough time to turn my turret and fire a burst in to him at the same time he fired. The round clipped the RPG cage around our vehicle sending shrapnel into my shoulder and arm. At first I felt nothing. Just a huge ringing in my ears and blurred vision. Thankfully the cage saved everybody in that vehicle. My .50 at that point was pretty damaged and The charging handle wouldn’t work so I switched to my M4. When I went to shoulder the weapon that’s when something didn’t feel right. That something was the razor sharp shrapnel being jostled around in my body. I had to keep firing so I proper my rifle on the Armor plates protecting my cupola and just tried to suppress as much fire as I could.
In what felt like a decade they got the disabled vehicle hooked up to the M88 heavy recovery vehicle and started the long slow dangerous journey to the nearest coalition FOB ( forward operating base) which was FOB War Eagle. We were finally able to recover the bodies of those heroes. I was able to make it back to the FOB still in my turret barely. After the adrenaline wore off I and before I got the good stuff I was in quite a bit of pain. And long story short I got a nice helicopter flight to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) and from there a medivac flight on a C17 bound for Germany. Don’t remember much because I was heavily medicated, which is standard because you don’t want injured traumatized warfighters freaking out at 30000 ft.
All in all we lost four great men that I will remember till I die, but it could have been or probably should have been much worse. Thanks to our exceedingly brave mechanics who had to recover a vehicle through withering small arms fire quickly, we only lost one vehicle. Those guys were also hero’s.
M88 HEAVY RECOVERY VEHICLE
SADR CITY, IRAQ