Sunday, November 14, 2004

Mortars Fall on Dodge South

Mortars Fall on Dodge South
14 November 2004

The aftermath of a mortar attack is very similar to what you might imagine and what you have seen in MASH. People rushing around, shouts for assistance and shouts of warning and instruction permeate the air. In the foreground, CPR is being administered to a soldier who was hit by shrapnel in his trailer. The side of his midsection is opened up and covered in deep red blood and he had more shrapnel wounds to the head and legs. Blood soaks his shirt and splattered his pants. Even the bottom of his boots had blood on them. He wasn’t moving or showing any signs of pain from his wounds as two people were kneeling over him. “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, breathe. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…” “He’s still not breathing!” “Get another stretcher over here.” “We need another pressure bandage, NOW!”

Shouts from others in the area seem to fade in and out like the shouts of circus vendors at their booths as you walk past, “Check between the blast barriers and make sure no one else is laying between the barriers that may have been hit by shrapnel.” “Make room for the ambulance,” “Get your flak vests and Kevlar on, now!” “57th Sig people, you need to get back to your trailers for accountability.” One soldier remarks to his wounded buddy being loaded into the back of the waiting ambulance,“Yeah, don’t worry about your weapon, I’ve got it.”

Scott and I live in Dodge South A11E/F. When the two mortars hit tonight at around 8pm, we were lucky. Tonight they went over our trailer, but the mortars only kept going another 200-250 feet further to hit trailers at the front of Dodge South at C2E/F and B2E/F. It doesn’t look like any trailers were directly hit, looks like all the wounded were hit by shrapnel. To get an idea how much shrapnel travels, imagine a long skinny balloon filled with pudding and dropped from 500 feet above. Everywhere that is covered in pudding after the drop are spots where red hot metal shards and the rocks it displaces are driven into and through anything in its path.

Having not gotten into bed today until after 2pm, I was still sleeping when they landed. Scott and I are both off-shift tonight, otherwise, we would have been in the office by now. Having heard so many outgoing in the past few days, I wondered when I first awoke from the first impact if it was outgoing from Victory North. Usually, outgoing is done in groups with short pauses in between. So when these two mortars came in, I was almost expecting another outgoing boom or two. But outgoing rounds have a different impact than incoming rounds. Although mortars don’t pack the punch of a rocket, you still get woken up when they impact.

Scott and I hit the floor and donned the flak vest and Kevlar, waiting to get up until we were sure that all the incoming had finished before braving the air outside. Looking out the trailer door to the right, we saw two impacts at the front of the trailers here at Dodge South. That’s when we walked down to the front of Dodge South to see the damage.

Scott and I first walked over to the trailer in row C to see one guy being tended to by the medical crew. He had some blood on his uniform and forehead and was conscious. A stretcher was being opened up to get him over to the TMC. We then walked over to row B where two others that were more seriously wounded were layed out on the ground. This is where the one was being administered CPR. After seeing his wounds and all the blood, even from the distance of maybe fifteen feet, I can only hope that he wasn’t terminal at this point, but he wasn’t breathing and they were still administering CPR when he was loaded onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. The other wounded soldier there was the one I mentioned earlier that was conscious and worried about leaving his weapon as he was being transported to the TMC by ambulance.

Now it’s in my neighborhood. Now it’s striking where I am at. Before, it had been at Dodge North or Freedom Village. Now it’s at my doorstep. Before this mortar attack tonight, I had already made my decision to leave at the end of contract. Now Phil’s, Rachel’s and Dee’s words ring through my head to reassure me that it’s time to come home. The money isn’t worth it if you aren’t alive to spend it.

In the overall scheme of things, the company doesn’t care if you’re wounded or maimed in any of these attacks; they will just find someone else to take your place. They aren’t going to cheer you on through your rehab when you lose your limbs or eyes or hearing in the next mortar or rocket attack. They aren’t going to call you up to see if they can do anything for you or your family while you’re layed up. Even at ITT, contract employees are treated differently and provided (or denied) certain benefits provided the “real” ITT employees. The raw truth is that you are a contractor and as disposable as Kleenex or paper towel and as easily replaced and forgotten when you can no longer serve your purpose to the contract.

It’s funny, when you first get here, you think, “Damn, I could do this standing on my head for a few years!” Then as time goes by over the next few months, you get broken in with experiences that impact your existence here; all the mortar and rocket attacks and all the bone-headed decisions and petty issues made into big issues by management and the military. Finally, you get to the six month mark and wonder to yourself, “What the heck was I thinking. I’ll be lucky to make my nine month point (when you receive the second half of your sign-on bonus)!”

Not to worry, I’m going to finish my contract. My countdown already began a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m down to 59 days until I leave for Doha and then onto Fort Bliss for outprocessing. The end of January isn’t that far off. I’m only disappointed that I’ll miss Christmas at home.

Post script:
It’ 4am and I got woken up by more mortars incoming. I’ve decided to go into work and check email and at least feel somewhat safer in a solid building. One of the guys I went through CRC with, Chris was in trailer D1 sleeping when the mortars hit. He heard all the rock hitting the top of his trailer. With no bunkers to take cover in anywhere near where he was, he also crawled on the floor donning flak vest and Kevlar until he felt it safe to get up. In our trailer in the middle of row A, we have one bunker near that is supposed to serve 50. This is a concrete tube about ten foot long by five foot wide. You might get ten guys in it, if you’re lucky.

The guy hurt by shrapnel in row C was hit by shrapnel that came through the corner of his trailer where there are no sandbags and the concrete barriers don’t meet. The government may not care how it protects its contractors, but they damned sure could provide better cover for the soldiers here. The guy that looked terminal in row B, we hear was outside his trailer smoking.
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