9 DEC 2007 From the 'hood
Two of our patients came to us with an interesting story. These two men had grown up in the same neighborhood They were childhood friends and went to school together. They were young men when the war started. Neither had been of age to serve when Operation Desert Storm was going on. They both decided that they wanted to do something for their country, so they joined up. One joined the Iraqi Army and the other became an Iraqi policemen.
Soldiers in the Iraqi Army often serve far from their homes. There have been some problems with soldiers struggling with dual loyalties in the Iraqi Army. They often know the men from their home towns who are participating in the insurgency and in fact some of them might even be cousins. Some soldiers have had problems attacking forces that might contain family members. If insurgents know who is serving in the Army from their villages, they can threaten them or attack their families. One way that the Iraqi Army has tried to overcome this problem is to have soldiers relocated to a different part of Iraq, far from their family and friends. This way they are usually fighting against strangers. The soldiers take a large amount of leave because they need a lot of time to be able to travel to their homes to bring home their pay and then travel back to their duty station.
So it was odd that the Iraqi policeman and the Iraqi Army soldier who knew each other from their childhood ended up executing an operation together. They were sweeping a neighborhood, and it was a big enough mission that both Iraqi army units and local police were involved. During the course of their mission, they were attacked by a sizable number of Al-Qaeda fighters. The two men who grew up together found themselves pinned down together with bullets flying overhead. The firefight went on for some time. The soldier said that over the course of the battle he went through 16 clips for his AK-47.
I met one US Army captain who was embedded with the Iraqi Army as part of a training initiative. He spent several months training them and supervising raids. He said that they often used their firepower with a sense of panic. At the first sign that these soldiers were under attack, they would all completely unload their weapons in a haphazard manner. Many of them would crouch down behind cover, such as a vehicle, then hold their weapons over their head and blindly spray bullets in the direction from which they thought they were being attacked. He called this maneuver the Iraqi death blossom. At the first sign of attack, he told me that he would calmly take two steps back and lay flat on the ground. He felt that the greatest threat to his life was not the insurgent attacking, but the random gunfire of his own Iraqi patrol. After the initial barrage of bullets, he would assume a fighting stance, and with the soldiers clearheaded enough to reload, he would engage the enemy. Don't get me wrong: I'm not supposing that I could do any better than his Iraqi troops. If I were ever in combat, I assume that my fear would overcome my restraint.
But these two childhood friends we treated in our hospital seemed to have kept their wits about them. They maintained their position with overlapping lanes of fire. The soldier said that they eventually ran out of ammo. He was glad that he had saved his grenades. They were able to continue to repel the insurgents and hold their position with a well-placed volley of grenades. Eventually sufficient support arrived, and the Al-Queda attack was broken. The two men were transported to our hospital. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, but none was fatal. They were relieved and happy to have survived the incident with each other's help. After operations and treatments for their wounds, they were able to head home for convalescence before a return to duty.