A few nights later, I climbed into a shallow Marine Corps riverboat known as a SURC (“small unit riverine craft”), ducking down onto the deck behind the armored gunwale. The Marines manning 60s near the bow kept watch as the boat and a second one with the rest of our group slipped upriver, heading quietly toward our insertion point.
Insurgent spies hid near the bridges and in various spots in the city. Had we been on land, they would have tracked our progress. But on the water, we weren’t an immediate threat, and they didn’t pay much attention.
We were traveling heavy. Our next stop was near the center of the city, deep in enemy territory.
Our boats eased into shore, running right up onto the bank of the canal. I rose and walked across the little bow doors, nearly losing my balance as I stepped off onto land. I trotted up the dry land, then stopped and waited for the rest of the platoon to rally around me. We’d taken eight Iraqis with us in the boats; counting our terps, we were just over two dozen strong.
The Marines slid back into the water and were gone.
Taking point, I started moving up the street toward our target. Small houses loomed ahead; there were alleys and wider roads, a maze of buildings, and the shadows of larger structures.
I hadn’t gotten very far when the laser on my rifle crapped out. The battery had died. I halted our advance.
“What the hell’s going on?” asked my lieutenant, coming up quickly.
“I need to change out my battery real quick,” I explained. Without the laser, I would be aiming blind—little better than not aiming at all.
“No, get us out of here.”
So I started walking again, taking us up to a nearby intersection. A figure appeared in the darkness ahead, along the edge of a shallow drainage canal. I caught the shadow of his weapon, stared for a moment as I made out the details—AK-47, extra mag taped to one in the rifle.
The enemy. His back was turned and he was watching the street rather than the water, but he was well-armed and ready for a fight.
Without the laser, I would have been shooting blind. I motioned to my lieutenant. He came up quick, right behind me, and—boom.
He took down the insurgent. He also damn near put a hole in my eardrum, blasting a few inches from my head.
There was no time to bitch. I ran forward as the Iraqi fell, unsure whether he was dead or if there were others nearby. The entire platoon followed, spreading out and “busting” the corners.
The guy was dead. I grabbed his AK. We ran up the street to the house we were going to take, passing some smaller houses on the way. We were a few hundred yards from the river, just off two main roads that would control that corner of the city.
Like many Iraqi houses, our target had a wall around it approximately six feet tall. The gate was locked, so I slung my M-4 on my shoulder, took out my pistol, and hauled up onto the wall, climbing up with one hand free.
When I got to the top, I saw there were people sleeping in the courtyard. I dropped down inside their compound, holding my gun on them, expecting one of my platoon mates to come over after me to open the gate.
And waited. And waited.
“Come on,” I hissed. “Get over here.”
Some of the Iraqis started to stir.
I eased toward the gate, knowing I was all alone. Here I was, holding a pistol on a dozen insurgents for all I knew, and separated from the rest of my boys by a thick wall and locked gate.
I found the gate and managed to jimmy it open. The platoon and our Iraqi jundis ran in, surrounding the people who’d been sleeping in the courtyard. (There’d been a mix-up outside, and for some reason they hadn’t realized I was in there alone.)
The people sleeping in the courtyard turned out to be just a regular extended family. Some of my guys got them situated without firing any shots, rounding them up and moving them to a safe area. Meanwhile, the rest of us ran in to the buildings, clearing each room as quickly as we could. There was a main building, and then a smaller cottage nearby. While my boys checked for weapons and bombs, anything suspicious, I raced to the rooftop.
One of the reasons we’d selected the building was its height—the main structure was three stories tall, and so I had a decent view of the surrounding area.
Nothing stirred. So far, so good.
“Building secure,” the com guy radioed to the Army. “Come on in.”
We had just taken the house that would become COP Falcon, and, once more, done so without a fight.
Our head shed had helped plan the COP Falcon operation, working directly with the Army commanders. Once they were done, they came to the platoon leadership and asked for our input. I got involved in the tactical planning process more deeply than I ever had before.
I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had experience and knowledge to add something useful. On the other hand, it got me doing the kind of work I don’t like to do. It seemed a little “admin” or bureaucratic—coat-and-tie stuff, to use a civilian workplace metaphor.
As an E6, I was one of the more senior guys in the platoon. Usually you have a chief petty officer (E7), who’s the senior enlisted guy, and an LPO, the lead petty officer. Generally the LPO is an E6, and the only one in the platoon. In our platoon, we had two. I was the junior E6, which was great—Jay, the other E6, was LPO, and so I missed a lot of the admin duties that go with that post. On the other hand, I had the benefits of the rank. For me, it was kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears—I was too senior to do the bullshit jobs and too junior to do the political jobs. I was just right.
I hated sitting down at a computer and mapping everything out, let alone making a slideshow presentation out of it. I would have much rather just said, “Hey, follow me; I’ll show what we’re going to do on the fly.” But writing it all down was important: if I went down, someone else would have to be able to step in and know what was going on.
I did get stuck with one admin job that had nothing to do with mission planning: evaluating the E5s. I truly hated it. (Jay arranged some sort of trip and left me with that—I’m sure because he didn’t want to do it, either.) The bright side was that I realized how good our people were. There were absolutely no turds in that platoon—it was a real outstanding group.
Aside from my rank and experience, the head shed wanted me involved in planning, because snipers were taking a more aggressive role in battle. We had become, in military terms, a force multiplier, able to do a lot more than you might think based on our sheer numbers alone.
Most planning decisions involved details like the best houses to take for overwatch, the route to take in, how we’d be dropped off, what we would do after the initial houses were taken, etc. Some of the decisions could be very subtle. How you get to a sniper hide, for example. The preference would be to get there as stealthily as possible. That might suggest walking in, as we had in some of the villages. But you don’t want to walk through narrow alleys where there’s a lot of trash—too much noise, too many chances for an IED or an ambush.
There’s a misperception among the general public that SpecOp troops always parachute or fast-rope into a trouble zone. While we certainly do both where appropriate, we didn’t fly into any of the areas in Ramadi. Helicopters do have certain advantages, speed and the ability to travel relatively long distances being one of them. But they’re also loud and attract attention in an urban environment. And they’re relatively easy targets to shoot down.
In this case, coming in by water made a great deal of sense, because of the way Ramadi is laid out and where the target was located. It allowed us to get to a spot near the target area stealthily, comparatively quickly, and with less chance of contact than the overland routes. But that decision led to an unexpected problem—we had no boats.
Ordinarily, SEALs work with Special Boat Teams, known at the time and in the past as Special Boat Units, or SBUs. Same mission, different name. They drive the fast boats that insert SEALs and then retrieve them; we were rescued by one when we were “lost” on the California coast during training.
There was a bit of friction between SEALs and SBUs back home in the bars, where you’d occasionally hear some SBU members claiming to be SEALs. Team guys would think, and sometimes say, that’s like a taxi driver claiming to be a movie star because he drove someone to the studio.
Whatever. There are some damn good guys out there. The last thing we need is to be picking fights with the people who are supporting us.
But that’s a point that works both ways. Our problem in Ramadi came from the fact the unit that was supposed to be working with us refused to help.
They told us they were too important to be working with us. In fact, they claimed to be standing by for a unit with a higher priority, just in case they were needed. Which they weren’t.
Hey, sorry. I’m pretty sure their job was to help whoever needed it, but whatever. We hunted around and found a Marine unit that was equipped with SURC boats—small, shallow-draft vessels that could get right up to the shore. They were armored and equipped with machine guns fore and aft.
The guys driving them were bad-ass. They did everything an SBU was supposed to do. Except that they did it for us.
They knew their mission. They didn’t pretend to be someone else. They just wanted to get us there, the safest way possible. And when our mission was done, they came for us—even if it was a hot extract. These Marines would come in a heartbeat.
The Army rolled in with tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks. Soldiers humped sandbags and reinforced weak spots in the house. The house we were on was at the corner of a T-intersection of two major roads, one of which we called Sunset. The Army wanted the spot because of its strategic location; it was a choke point and a pretty clear presence inside the city.
Those factors also made it a prime target.
The tanks drew attention right away. A couple of insurgents began moving toward the house as they arrived. The bad guys were armed with AKs, maybe foolishly thinking they could scare the armor off. I waited until they were two hundred yards from the tanks before picking them off. They were easy shots, nailed before they could coordinate an organized attack.
A few hours passed. I kept finding shots—the insurgents were probing the area, one or two at a time, trying to sneak in behind us.
It was never hot and heavy, but there was a steady stream of opportunity. Pop shots, I called them later.
The Army commander estimated we got two dozen insurgents in the first twelve hours of the fight. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I did take down a few myself that first day, each with one shot. It wasn’t particularly great shooting—they were all around four hundred yards and less. The .300 Win Mag is a hard-hitter at that range.
While it was still dark, the Army now had enough defenses at Falcon to hold their own if they were attacked. I went down off the roof and with my boys moved out again, running toward a rundown apartment building a few hundred yards away. The building, one of the tallest around, had a good vantage not only on Falcon but on the rest of the area. We called it Four Story; it would end up being a home away from home for much of the battle that followed.
We got in without trouble. It was empty.
We didn’t see much for the rest of the night. But when the sun came up, so did the bad guys.
They targeted COP Falcon, but ineptly. They’d walk, drive, ride mopeds, trying to get close enough to launch an attack. It was always obvious what they were doing: you’d see a couple of guys on a moped. The first would have an AK and the second would have a grenade launcher.
I mean, come on.
We started getting a lot of shots. Four Story was a great sniper hide. It was the tallest building around, and you couldn’t get close enough to shoot at it without exposing yourself. It was easy to pick an attacker off. Dauber says we took twenty-three guys in the first twenty-four hours we were there; in the days that followed, we’d get plenty more targets.
Of course, after the first shot, it was a fighting position, not a sniper hide. But in a way, I didn’t mind being attacked—the insurgents were just making it easier for me to kill them.
NUMBERS 100 AND 101
If the action around COP Iron had been dull to none, the action around COP Falcon was the exact opposite: intense and thick. The Army camp was a clear threat to the insurgents, and they wanted it gone.
A flood of bad guys came at us. That only made it easier for us to defeat them.
Very shortly after Ramadi started, I reached a huge milestone for a sniper: I got my 100th and my 101st confirmed kills for that deployment. One of the guys took a photo of me for posterity, holding up the brass.
There was a little bit of a competition between myself and some of the other snipers during this deployment, to see who got the most kills. Not that we had all that much to do with the numbers—they were more a product of how many targets we had to shoot at. It’s just the luck of the draw—you want to have the highest numbers, but there’s not much you can do about it.
I did want to be the top sniper. At first, there were three of us who had the most kills; then two of us started pulling away. My “competition” was in my sister platoon, working on the east side of the city. His totals shot up at one point, pulling ahead.
Our big boss man happened to be on our side of the city, and he was keeping track of how the platoons were doing. As part of that, he had the sniper totals. He tweaked me a little as the other sniper pulled in front.
“He’s gonna break your record,” he’d tease. “You better get on that gun more.”
Well, things evened out real fast—all of a sudden I seemed to have every stinkin’ bad guy in the city running across my scope. My totals shot up, and there was no catchin’ me.
Luck of the draw.
If you’re interested, the confirmed kills were only kills that someone else witnessed, and cases where the enemy could be confirmed dead. So if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn’t see him before he bled out, he didn’t count.
WORKING WITH THE ARMY
With the initial attacks dying down after a couple of days, we foot-patrolled back to COP Falcon from Four Story. There we met with the captain of the force, and told him that we wanted to be based out of Falcon rather than having to go all the way back to Camp Ramadi every few days.
He gave us the in-law suite. We were the Army’s in-laws.
We also told him that we would help him clear whatever area he wanted. His job was to clear the city around COP Falcon, and ours was to help him.
“What’s the worst spot you got?” we asked.
He pointed it out.
“That’s where we’re going,” we said.
He shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“You guys are crazy,” he said. “You can have that house, you can outfit it however you want, you can go wherever you want. But I want you to know—I’m not coming to get you if you go out there. There are too many IEDs, I’m going to lose a tank. I can’t do it.”
Like a lot of the Army, I’m sure the captain initially looked at us skeptically. They all assumed we thought we were better than they were, that we had out-sized egos and shot off our mouths without being able to back it up. Once we proved to them that we didn’t think we were better than them—more experienced, yes, but not stuck up, if you know what I mean—then they usually came around. We formed strong working relationships with the units, and even friendships that lasted after the war.
The captain’s unit was doing cordon and search operations, where they would take an entire block and search it. We started working with them. We’d do daylight presence patrols—the idea was to make civilians see troops on a regular basis, gaining more confidence that they were going to be protected, or that at least we were there to stay. We would put half the platoon on an overwatch while the rest patrolled.
A lot of these overwatches would be near Four Story. The guys downstairs would patrol and almost always be contacted. I’d be upstairs with other snipers and nail whoever was trying to attack them.
Or we would bump out five hundred yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys. We’d set up on overwatch ahead of one of his patrols. As soon as his people showed up, they’d draw all sorts of insurgents toward them. We’d take them down. The bad guys would turn and try and fire on us; we’d pick them off. We were protectors, bait, and slayers.
After a few days, the captain came up to us and said, “Y’all are bad-ass. I don’t care where you go, if you need me, I’m comin’ to get you. I’ll drive the tank to the front door.”
And from that moment on, he had our faith and our back.
I was on overwatch at Four Story one morning when some of our guys started doing a patrol nearby. As they moved to cross the street, I spotted some insurgents coming down J Street, which was one of the main roads in that area.
I took down a couple. My guys scattered. Not knowing what was going on, someone asked over the radio why the hell I was shooting at them.
“I’m shooting over your head,” I told him. “Look down the street.”
Insurgents started feeding into the area and a huge firefight erupted. I saw one guy with an RPG; I got him in my crosshairs, squeezed easy on the trigger.
A few minutes later, one of his friends came out to grab the rocket launcher.
This went on for quite a while. Down the block, another insurgent with an AK tried to get a shot on my boys. I took him down—then took down the guy who came to get his gun, and the next one.
Target-rich environment?! Hell, there were piles of insurgents littering the road. They finally gave up and disappeared. Our guys continued to patrol. The jundis saw action that day; two of them died in a firefight.
It was tough to keep track of how many kills I got that day, but I believe the total was the highest I’d ever had in a single day.
We knew we were in good with the Army captain when he came over to us one day and said, “Listen, y’all gotta do one thing for me. Before I get shipped out of here, I want to shoot my main tank gun one time. All right? So call me.”
It wasn’t too long after that we got in a firefight and we got his unit on the radio. We called him over, and he got his tank in and he got his shot.
There were a lot more in the days that followed. By the time he left Ramadi, he’d shot it thirty-seven times.
PRAYERS AND BANDOLIERS
Before every op, a bunch of the platoon would gather and say a prayer. Marc Lee would lead it, usually speaking from the heart rather than reciting a memorized prayer.
I didn’t pray every time going out, but I did thank God every night when I got back.
There was one other ritual when we returned: cigars.
A few of us would get together and smoke them at the end of an op. In Iraq, you can get Cubans; we smoked Romeo y Julieta No. 3s. We’d light up to top off the day.
In a way, we all thought we were invincible. In another way, we also accepted the fact that we could die.
I didn’t focus on death, or spend much time thinking about it. It was more like an idea, lurking in the distance.
It was during this deployment that I invented a little wrist bandolier, a small bullet-holder that allowed me to easily reload without disturbing my gun setup.
I took a holder that had been designed to be strapped on a gun stock and cut it up. Then I arranged some cord through it and tied it to my left wrist.
Generally, when I fired, I would have my fist balled up under the gun to help me aim. That brought the bandolier close. I could fire, take my right hand, and grab more bullets, and keep my eye sighted through the scope at all times.
As lead sniper, I tried to help the new guys, telling them what details to look for. You could tell someone was an insurgent not just by the fact that he was armed but by the way he moved. I started giving advice I’d been given back at the beginning of Fallujah, a battle that by now seemed like a million years ago.
“Dauber, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger,” I’d tell the younger sniper. “If it’s within the ROEs, you take him.”
A little bit of hesitation was common for the new guys. Maybe all Americans are a little hesitant to be the first to shoot, even when it’s clear that we’re under attack, or will be shortly.
Our enemy seemed to have no such problem. With a little experience, our guys didn’t, either.
But you could never tell how a guy was going to perform under the stress of combat. Dauber did real well—real well. But I noticed that, for some snipers, the extra strain made them miss shots that they would have no trouble with in training. One guy in particular—an excellent guy and a good SEAL—went through a spell where he was missing quite a lot.
You just couldn’t tell how someone was going to react.
Ramadi was infested with insurgents, but there was a large civilian population. Sometimes they’d wander into firefights. You’d wonder what the hell they were thinking.
One day, we were in a house in another part of the city. We’d engaged a bunch of insurgents, killing quite a few, and were waiting through a lull in the action. The bad guys were probably nearby, waiting for another chance to attack.
Insurgents normally put small rocks in the middle of the road to warn others where we were. Civilians usually saw the rocks and quickly realized what was going on. They always stayed far away. Hours might pass before we saw any people again—and, of course, by that point, the people we would be seeing would have guns and be trying to kill us.
For some reason, this car came flying over the rocks and floored it, speeding toward us and passing all sorts of dead men on the way.
I threw a flash-crash but the grenade didn’t get the driver to stop. So, I fired into the front of the car. The bullet went through the engine compartment. He stopped and bailed out of the car, yelling as he hopped around.
Two women were with him in the car. They must have been the stupidest people in the city, because even with all that had happened, they were oblivious to us or the danger around them. They started coming toward our house. I threw another flash grenade and finally they started moving back in the direction they’d come. Finally, they seemed to notice some of the bodies that were littered around and started screaming.
They seem to have gotten away okay, except for the foot wound. But it was a miracle they hadn’t been killed.
The pace was hot and heavy. It made us want more. We ached for it. When the bad guys were hiding, we tried to dare them into showing themselves so we could take them down.
One of the guys had a bandanna, which we took and fashioned into a kind of mummy head. Equipped with goggles and a helmet, it looked almost like a soldier—certainly at a few hundred yards. So we attached it to a pole and held it up over the roof, trying to draw fire one day when the action slowed. It brought a couple of insurgents out and we bagged them.
We were just slaughtering them.
There were times when we were so successful on overwatch that I thought our guys on the street were starting to get a little careless. I once spotted them going down the middle of the street, rather than using the side and ducking into the little cover area provided by the walls and openings.
I called down on the radio.
“Hey, y’all need to be going cover to cover,” I told them, scolding them gently.
“Why?” answered one of my platoon mates. “You’ve got us covered.”
He may have been joking, but I took it seriously.
“I can’t protect you from something I don’t see,” I said. “If I don’t see a glint or movement, the first time I know he’s there is when he shoots. I can get him after he’s shot you, but that’s not going to help you.”
Heading back to Shark Base one night, we got involved in another firefight, a quick hit-and-run affair. At some point, a frag came over and exploded near some of the guys.
The insurgents ran off, and we picked ourselves back up and got going.
“Brad, what’s with your leg?” someone in the platoon asked.
He looked down. It was covered with blood.
“Nothin’,” he said.
It turned out he’d caught a piece of metal in his knee. It may not have hurt then—I don’t know how true that is, since no SEAL has ever actually admitted feeling pain since the beginning of Creation—but when he got back to Shark Base, it was clear the wound wasn’t something he could just blow off. Shrapnel had wedged itself behind his patella. He needed to be operated on.
He was airlifted out, our first casualty in Ramadi.
THE CONSTANT GARDENER
Our sister platoon was on the east side of the city, helping the Army put in COPs there. And to the north, the Marines were doing their thing, taking areas, holding and clearing them of insurgents.
We went back for a few days to work with the Marines when they took down a hospital north of the city on the river.
The insurgents were using the hospital as a gathering point. As the Marines came in, a teenager, I’d guess about fifteen, sixteen, appeared on the street and squared up with an AK-47 to fire at them.
I dropped him.
A minute or two later, an Iraqi woman came running up, saw him on the ground, and tore off her clothes. She was obviously his mother.
I’d see the families of the insurgents display their grief, tear off clothes, even rub the blood on themselves. If you loved them, I thought, you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency. You let them try and kill us—what did you think would happen to them?
It’s cruel, maybe, but it’s hard to sympathize with grief when it’s over someone who just tried to kill you.
Maybe they’d have felt the same way about us.
People back home, people who haven’t been in war, or at least not that war, sometimes don’t seem to understand how the troops in Iraq acted. They’re surprised—shocked—to discover we often joked about death, about things we saw.
Maybe it seems cruel or inappropriate. Maybe it would be, under different circumstances. But in the context of where we were, it made a lot of sense. We saw terrible things, and lived through terrible things.
Part of it was letting off pressure or steam, I’m sure. A way to cope. If you can’t make sense of things, you start to look for some other way to deal with them. You laugh because you have to have some emotion, you have to express yourself somehow.
Every op could mix life and death in surreal ways.
On that same operation to take the hospital, we secured a house to scout the area before the Marines moved in. We’d been in the hide for a while when a guy came out with a wheelbarrow to plant an IED in the backyard where we were. One of our new guys shot him. But he didn’t die; he fell and rolled around on the ground, still alive.
It happened that the man who shot him was a corpsman.
“You shot him, you save him,” we told him. And so he ran down and tried to resuscitate him.
Unfortunately, the Iraqi died. And in the process, his bowels let loose. The corpsman and another new guy had to carry the body out with us when we left.
Well, they eventually reached a fence at the Marine compound, they didn’t know what to do. Finally they just threw him up and over, then clambered after him. It was like Weekend at Bernie’s.
In the space of less than an hour, we’d shot a guy who wanted to blow us up, tried to save his life, and desecrated his body.
The battlefield is a bizarre place.
Soon after the hospital was secured, we went back to the river where the Marine boats had dropped us off. As we got down the bank, an enemy machine gun started tearing up the night. We hit the dirt, lying there for several long minutes, pinned down by a single Iraqi gunner.
Thank God he sucked at shooting.
It was always a delicate balance, life and death, comedy and tragedy.
I never played the video Chris had recorded of himself reading the book for our son. Part of it was the fact that I didn’t want to see Chris getting all choked up. I was emotional enough as it was; seeing him choked up reading to our son would have torn me up more than I already was.
And part of it was just a feeling on my part—anger toward Chris, maybe—you left, you’re gone, go.
It was harsh, but maybe it was a survival instinct.
I was the same way when it came to his death letters.
While he was deployed, he wrote letters to be delivered to the kids and me if he died. After the first deployment, I asked to read whatever he had written, and he said he didn’t have it anymore. After that he never offered them up and I never asked to see them.
Maybe it was just because I was mad at him, but I thought to myself, We are not glorifying this after you’re dead. If you feel loving and adoring, you better let me know while you’re alive.
Maybe it wasn’t fair, but a lot of life then wasn’t fair and that’s the way I felt.
Show me now. Make it real. Don’t just say some sappy shit when you’re gone. Otherwise, it’s a load of crap.
GUARDIANS AND DEVILS
Ninety-six Americans were killed during the battle of Ramadi; countless more were wounded and had to be taken from the battlefield. I was lucky not to be one of them, though there were so many close calls I began to think I had a guardian angel.
One time we were in a building and we were hosed down by the insurgents outside. I was out in the hallway, and as the shooting died down, I went into one of the rooms to check on some of my guys. As I came in, I jerked straight back, falling backward as a shot came in through the window at my head.
The bullet flew just over me as I fell.
Why I went down like that, how I saw that bullet coming at me—I have no idea. It was almost as if someone had slowed time down and pushed me straight back.
Did I have a guardian angel?
“Fuck, Chris is dead,” said one of my boys as I lay on my back.
“Damn,” said the other.
“No, no,” I yelled, still flat on the floor. “I’m good, I’m good. I’m okay.”
I checked for holes a few dozen times, but there were none.
IEDs were much more common in Ramadi than they had been in Fallujah. The insurgents had learned a lot about setting them since the beginning of the war, and they tended to be pretty powerful—strong enough to lift a Bradley off the ground, as I’d found out earlier in Baghdad.
The EOD guys who worked with us were not SEALs, but we came to trust them as much as if they were. We’d stick them on the back of the train when we went into a building, then call them forward if we saw something suspicious. At that point, their job was to identify the booby-trap; if it was a bomb, and we were in a house, we would have gotten the hell out of there fast.
That never happened to us, but there was one time when we were in a house and some insurgents managed to plant an IED right outside the front door. They had stacked two 105-mm shells, waiting for us to come out. Fortunately, our EOD guy spotted it before we moved out. We were able to sledgehammer our way out through a second-story wall and escape across a low roof.
A WANTED MAN
All Americans were wanted men in Ramadi, snipers most of all. Reportedly, the insurgents put out a bounty on my head.
They also gave me a name: al-Shaitan Ramadi—“the Devil of Ramadi.”
It made me feel proud.
The fact is, I was just one guy, and they had singled me out for causing them a lot of damage. They wanted me gone. I had to feel good about that.
They definitely knew who I was, and had clearly gotten intelligence from some fellow Iraqis who were supposedly loyal to us—they described the red cross I had on my arm.
The other sniper from my sister platoon got a bounty on his head as well. His ended up being more—well, that did make me a little jealous.
But it was all good, because when they put their posters together and made one of me, they used his photo instead of mine. I was more than happy to let them make that mistake.
The bounty went up as the battle went on.
Hell, I think it got so high, my wife may have been tempted to turn me in.
We helped set up several more COPs, and meanwhile our sister platoon did the same on the eastern side of the city. As the weeks turned into months, Ramadi started to change.
The place was still a hellhole, extremely dangerous. But there were signs of progress. The tribal leaders were more vocal about wanting peace, and more began working together as a unified council. The official government still wasn’t functioning here, and the Iraqi police and army were nowhere near capable of keeping order, naturally. But there were large sections of the city under relative control.
The “inkblot strategy” was working. Could those blots spread over the entire city?
Progress was never guaranteed, and even when we succeeded for a while there was no guarantee things wouldn’t go backward. We had to return to the area near the river around COP Falcon several times, providing overwatch while the area was searched for caches and insurgents. We’d clear a block, it would be peaceful for a while, then we’d have to start all over again.
We worked a bit more with the Marines as well, stopping and inspecting small craft, going after a suspected weapons cache, and even running a few DAs for them. A few times we were tasked to check and then blow up abandoned boats to make sure they couldn’t be used for smuggling.
Funny thing: the SBU unit that had blown us off earlier heard about how much action we were getting and contacted us, asking now if they could come up and work with us. We told them thanks but no thanks; we were doing just fine with the Marines.
We got into a certain rhythm working with the Army as they continued cordoning off areas and searching them for weapons and bad guys. We’d drive in with them, take over a building, and go up on the roof for overwatch. Most times there would be three of us—myself and another sniper, along with Ryan on the 60.
Meanwhile, the Army would move out to the next building. That taken, they’d work their way down the street. Once they reached a certain spot where we couldn’t see to provide them security, we’d come down and move to a new spot. The process would start all over again.
It was on one of these ops that Ryan got shot.