Memorial Day Weekend

The following was an email that I sent out on 6 Jan 2006. It was my 23rd week in Iraq at the time. I kept the email as it was originally written, so the Camp Fallujah part was earlier that week. The second part of the email was 5 Jan 2006.


This week started off being the best and most exciting week I have had here, but as you read on you will find out that the week ended as the worst day I have had in my entire life.

So, Monday we flew to Camp Fallujiah.  The reason this was the highlight of my time here so far is because I got to fly on a Black Hawk helicopter for the trip.  We took off from here, had 3 stops on the way, and then landed at Camp Fallujah.  Our reason for flying there was to talk with the G2 (Intelligence Commander) to get his views on the Joint Regional Intelligence Facilities (JRIF) we are trying to get built in the 6 regions around Iraq.  This was a critical step because the Marines own the battle space in that area and if you don’t have their buy-in, than nothing gets done.  Marines are very territorial. LOL  That being said, the trip was a huge success and we even learned of a couple of projects that were going on that we will be able to piggyback on to save some money.  LTC Lima (Marine) is the project head for the JRIFs, but he wanted Lt Stone and I there since we are the “Regional Experts”.

Now, you all know how much I love the Air Force, but I’ve gotta tell ya…..the Marines impress the hell out of me.  They are so professional and disciplined.  There was not one young Marine I talked to that didn’t stand at parade-rest as I talked to them.  LTC Lima kept laughing at me because I kept talking about it and how I have never seen that before.  I sometimes wish my brother wouldn’t have told me he would, “kick my ass” if I joined the Marines.  I am sure he was just being a typical big brother and protecting me though, so I can’t hold it against him to much.  The other thing I found interesting, as we were talking with a few at the chow hall, is that they loved being in the middle of nowhere.  They asked where we were from and when we told them the International Zone, they said a few expletives in true Marine fashion.  They said that we get way more attacks than they ever do.  The city of Fallujiah is about 5 miles away, so these guys are in the middle of the desert.  All-in-all it was an awesome trip.

Now for the part of the week that I hope I never have to experience again.  I am going to put this in a story format so it makes sense and so I make sure I have my thoughts correct.  You will understand as you read it why my thoughts may be off a bit.

It started off as any “normal” day over here.  I had scheduled a convoy to go to Camp Taji to pick up the students that were graduating from the Central Region.  We had a show time of 12:30 at the staging area and arrived early as I always do.  I met with the Convoy Commander and he rallied everyone up for the convoy brief.  It was the standard brief and standard route that I have taken 3-4 other times.  LTC Parker (Marine) was going along as well.  He runs the Intelligence school up there, so since we were going I told him to just ride with us instead of trying to get on a helo.  We also had Sgt Ludwig (Army), TSgt Hollingsworth (AF), and Sonia (translator) going up.  The reason for Sgt Ludwig going up is because she is new to the office and was going up as an orientation.  TSgt Hollingsworth is the one that we request the Rhino (think armored bus) support through and went as an orientation as well.  Now, after the convoy brief LTC Parker asked if this was a transitional escort.  The Convoy Commander said it was.  What that means is, it was a mix of 3 ID and 4 ID personnel.  The 3 ID folks are getting ready to return to the states, so most everything is combined right now.  You have a mix of experience and no experience.  So, the brief was over and it was time to mount up (military speak for “Get your ass in the vehicle”).  LTC Parker and Sonia got in the second Rhino and TSgt Hollingsworth, Sgt Ludwig, and I got in the first Rhino.  I can’t get into specifics on how we were lined up, but think of the Rhino buses as “The Package”, and that should give you a rough idea.

As we are going out the checkpoint both TSgt Hollingsworth and Sgt Ludwig asked me if anything has happened before on one of these trips.  Of course my answer was no.  I said it’s always been a standard up and back.  Then I got to thinking to myself as we continued out the checkpoint; the guys in the gun trucks in front of us were heading back to the states soon.  I instantly had this feeling that today was going to be different.  Now, as we were going, I was pointing different things out to the “newbies”.  We were talking and Sgt Ludwig was taking pictures just as I did on all the other trips.  Well, we were about ¼ of the way to Taji when it all happened.  Sgt Ludwig had just told me that something didn’t look right in the median.  There were a couple of concrete pieces missing and it just looked out of place (every guardrail in Iraq had been removed as it was a perfect place to hide IEDs, but the curbs in the medians remained).  The gun trucks in front of us were in a staggered formation and basically weaving from side to side.  Well, when the gun truck directly in front of us weaved back towards the median, the first IED detonated.  All I remember is this huge explosion, and a bunch of smoke, and dirt chunks hitting the Rhino.  The driver slammed on the brakes and waited for the smoke to clear.  The HUMVEE that was in front of us was gone and there was all kinds of liquid on the road.  We noticed that that HUMVEE went directly left after the blast, crossed the median, the two on coming lanes of traffic, and came to rest in the brush.  I knew instantly that the driver and gunner probably didn’t make it.  But at that point I thought we were hit.  It all happened so fast, but once the smoke cleared I started yelling at the driver to move the Rhino forward.  Convoy Rule #1: YOU NEVER STOP IN A KILL ZONE unless you can’t move.  The rest of the convoy stopped under the over pass (not sure why, probably because our driver stopped).  The escorts immediately started securing the area and Tanks came out of nowhere to assist.  Within minutes we had 2 Apache helicopters, about 4 tanks and I don’t know how many Bradley fighting vehicles show up that helped secure the area.  This was really hard for me because during the convoy briefing we are directed to stay on the Rhinos if anything happened, unless it was on fire.  But you want to get out there and do what you can to help, it’s what we do.  So, we were stuck in the Rhino watching the rest of this unfold behind us.

One of the gun trucks behind us started unloading .50 cal rounds toward the over pass and there was traffic everywhere.  I was looking out the back window of the Rhino to try and find out what was going on and I see two guys run around the front of the second Rhino headed towards the gun truck that was hit to assist.  That’s when the second IED was detonated.  I saw smoke and pink mist….I only saw one guy return back to where they came from.  I knew then that I had just witnessed someone literally get blown to pieces…. The guy that made it ran to the second Rhino for cover and Sonia immediately opened the door and her nursing training kicked in.  She bandaged this guy up and calmed him down.  She told me later that all he wanted to know is where his medic was…I’ll pause to let that sink in……

There was also another gun truck that took damage from that blast.  At this point 2 other gunners opened fire on anything that moved.  Two Bradleys went up the on/off ramps and started pushing vehicles down the road.  It was organized chaos basically and remember that I am stuck on the Rhino and the only thing I can do is sit and watch….

Remember that guy Sonia bandaged up?  He’s a Sergeant First Class (E-7) and continued to lead his troops the whole time.  As soon as he got bandaged up, he was back out barking orders and taking control of the situation…  Once the Med Evac helicopters took off they started lining us back up to head back to the IZ.  As we were turning around we saw all the damage that was caused. ( I checked out the Rhino I was on when we got back and the only damage we had was a cracked mirror casing.)

The Quick Response Force escorted us back and we also had 3 guys hop on the Rhino who were in one of the gun trucks.  Needless to say there wasn’t much said on the way back.  I asked one of the young PFCs if he was ok, and he looked at me and said Master Sergeant, I am hungry as hell.  I didn’t know what to say.  Everyone deals with something like this differently.  Fortunately Sgt Ludwig had some peanut butter crackers that made this young troops day a little better.

We didn’t get back to the IZ until about 16:45, and by then everyone in the office knew what had happened.  The whole office was out there welcoming us back and asking if we were ok.  All I wanted at that point was to talk to one of the guys that brought us back.  I found a Lieutenant and asked how everyone was doing.  He told me there were 2 KIA, 3 Seriously wounded that were on the ambulance in front of us on the way back, and 5-6 walking wounded.  He also told me that one of the guys that gave his life yesterday was 5 days away from going home.

Someone was watching over me yesterday.  All I had was a headache from the concussion and I noticed this morning that I have a popped blood vessel in my right eye.  Not real sure if that has anything to do with it or not.  I slept ok, but still have a little of a headache.  I feel very fortunate to be able to type this e-mail right now.  Had that first IED went off 2 seconds later, it would have hit the Rhino right where I was sitting.

I really didn’t mean for this e-mail to be so long, but I think it’s important to explain it how it happened.  I am positive I forgot some of the details and key points but I wanted all of you to understand the experience.  I think it is really one of those things you can’t comprehend unless you go through it, but hopefully I was able to convey what we went through.  It was a horrific reminder that you just never know, and just because you have traveled a route before, doesn’t mean it’s always safe.

I have pictures of the day, but I won’t be sending them out to anyone and I still haven’t decided if I am even going to keep them.  They aren’t graphic or anything, but it’s the fact that I know what happened in each of those pictures that is rough.  Bottom line is I am doing about as well as anyone could be after experiencing this.  I am in good hands over here though and all the leadership is watching Sgt Ludwig and myself like a hawk and asking us about every half hour how we are doing.

Ok, I have probably babbled on long enough and wrote more than any of you ever wanted to know.

Take Care Everyone and I can’t thank you enough for all of your support and prayers.


MOD Intelligence Transition Team
MNF-I/C2 Forward
International Zone, Baghdad, Iraq
DSN 318-239-8609

Break Break

It’s hard to believe that this happened 10 1/2 years ago. It seems like it was just last week to me and it always will.  We found out later after the site investigation that those fuckers had a camera hidden in a pile of rubble and filmed the whole damn attack.  It was also determined that the IEDs were command detonated, which means the individual that did it was in the area at the time.

This is still hard for me. I was going to post some of the photos of that day in this post, but I still can’t bring myself to even look at them for more than a brief second.  They’re still in my Iraq 2005-2006 as a sub folder titled; IED Attack.

What is so hard for me to this day is that I feel responsible.  I know I’m not, and I don’t know how many people have told me I’m not, but it’s the way I feel, and will feel till the day God calls me home. Now, let me explain why and maybe you will better understand.

I was the one that coordinated that convoy.  Meaning, I put it all together basically.  I booked the Rhino buses, and I also coordinated convoy security.  This is the part that eats at me… The first couple times I called various convoy units, I was told they were’t running any convoys that day and couldn’t support us.  Well, that was unacceptable to me as the convoy was already canceled earlier for some reason.  I can’t remember what it was, but it was dumb reason.  Anyway, I kept calling units back, basically begging at this point.  One finally said, the would go ahead and do it.  They said that it would be good training for the incoming unit since they had just arrived…… So, because I wasn’t going to take no for an answer and didn’t want to have to tell our COL that it wasn’t going to happen, I kept at it until someone told me YES.  Plus, I don’t like failing…… That’s why I feel responsible.  Some of you may be shaking your head right now and thinking I’m ridiculous to think that way, and that’s fine. You have your thoughts, and I have mine.  The difference is; I was there and I watched a medic get blown to a million pieces….on a convoy I coordinated and begged to happen.

I never got the individual’s names that gave their life that day, but I have done some research.. According to records, there were 2 Individuals that gave their life on 5 Jan 2006 on convoy operations near Baghdad, Iraq that were assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division.  I never met the guys, but I think of them often… Especially during this weekend every year.

Sgt. Jason Lopezreyes, 29, of Hatillo, Puerto Rico.

Spc. Ryan D. Walker, 25, of Stayton, Ore.


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