A Crappy Day
By RU Contributor J.E. McCollough
In March 2004 I was back in Iraq, only a few months after leaving that shithole. I’d spent most of the previous year invading the place with 1st Marine Division. In ’04 I was with a new HET (HUMINT Exploitation Team), and I was one of only two or three experienced counterintelligence Marines on the team out of the eight of us; one 1st Lieutenant, one Staff Sergeant, and six Sergeants.
We knew we were in for a long, tough deployment, we’d been sent to Ramadi, the heart of the Sunni Triangle and the burgeoning Iraqi insurgency. The shit started almost immediately. We’d only been in-country for ten days before my humvee got hit with an IED, one of the first attacks suffered by the unit my HET was supporting, 2nd Battalion/4th Marines.
We only had L-shaped armored doors for our trucks back then, just an eighth of an inch of steel to protect us from bombs and bullets. Not much, but better than the canvas doors we had for the invasion.
We were incredibly lucky, the insurgents had buried the bomb too deep so we just got hit with a massive concussion and a lot of dirt. The blast blew out my eardrum, and my A-driver’s. Otherwise we were fine, but it still shook the entire team. The reality of what it meant to face an insurgency, instead of just invading a country, started to hit us.
That attitude was reinforced a week or so later when one of our team members, ‘Shitty’ Shane, went on a patrol with Echo Company. Shane was a great guy, but he got the nickname from the invasion the previous year when he made a habit of routinely stepping in shit. Dog shit. Goat shit. Donkey shit. Human shit. Shit is everywhere in Iraq and, somehow, he always ended up stepping in it. It seemed he couldn’t avoid it (though it seemed everyone else could).
The Echo Company platoon he was with started up a side street in a fairly suburban neighborhood, just a little bit outside the city. They had good disbursement, they were alert, it was a textbook two-column patrol formation. And then they started taking small arms fire. Just pot shots from a few guys with AK-47’s from the far end of the street, it wasn’t like they were getting direct fire from a heavy machine gun. But, enough to take cover in the ditches on the sides of the street. Even pot shots can find a home in your skull or gap in your body armor.
Shane decided to jump over a low wall, maybe four feet high, into the backyard of an Iraqi house. It was the smart move to get out of the street and away from the line of insurgent fire. He landed in the backyard of a house and crouched against the wall for maybe two seconds. And then… insurgents who had been hiding in the house he’d just jumped into opened up on him. Shitty Shane almost shit himself. The Iraqis were only maybe thirty feet away, firing from doors and windows, and yet they all missed somehow. Strange shit happens in combat. He should have been dead.
Shane was alone on that side of the low wall and while the wall provided great cover from the insurgents in the street, he was completely exposed to the insurgents in the house. The fire in the street was an occasional ‘pop.’ As soon as he landed in that back yard it sounded like a Fourth of July finale. They were horrible shots, but even though the insurgents were missing initially, there was no question that they’d eventually kill him if he stayed where he was. In an adrenalin-fueled jump, Shane immediately hurled himself back over the wall.
He came down hard on his left leg, with all the weight of his body armor, weapons, ammo, grenades. His leg shattered. His shin snapped and he lay in the street, screaming, exposed to fire from the original attackers who were still firing.
Echo Company Marines rushed to his rescue. No one had a stretcher, but it was imperative to get Shane out of the line of fire, back down the street. His leg was fucked, his bone was sticking out. The wound could have killed him if he’d gone into shock. There was no time to treat him in the street, the priority was to get him away from the bullets. So, two Marines grabbed him by the arms and started dragging him down the center of the street while the rest of the platoon continued the fight. Shane still had his rifle, and even though he must have been in intense agony as his shattered leg bounced along the Iraqi street, he returned fire towards the insurgents to help cover the evacuation.
However. If you’ve ever been in an Iraqi city, you know that they usually have an open sewage trench down the center of most suburban streets. It’s a murky, grey ooze that flows from the houses into a kind of foot-wide gutter in the middle of the street and, eventually, to the river or canal. Shane was hauled for probably fifty meters through a channel of shit. It wasn’t deep, it was just a few inches of muck. But. Getting dragged through a trench full of shit heavily reinforced the ‘Shitty Shane’ nickname from 2003.
And, of course, he looked ridiculous. Seriously. Bouncing through a river of shit on his back, screaming in pain and adrenalin-fueled rage, firing like a madman at the enemy. Makes me laugh every time I think about it.
Shane was medevac’d to Baghdad, and then back to the States. Once we knew he was going to be ok, his trip through the shit gave us a rare reason to smile.
In our first month in Ramadi, three members of the team had been wounded and received Purple Hearts. We left the ‘deployment countdown calendar’ Shane had started on the wall, but no one kept it going. No one wanted to think about the days we still had left in Ramadi.
It didn’t help that shortly after we got the Purple Hearts, two of the guys received letters from home with Purple Heart stamps on the envelopes. I’m not normally superstitious, but, we thought we were going to die in Ramadi that summer.