The knock awoke me sometime past 2300. I’d been asleep a few hours but now there was a new mission with no details other than “the Battalion TAC requires assistance.” What our commander has gotten himself into I do not know, but it is half-hour’s drive from Tal’Afar, West towards Sinjar. Roust the men, and I drag myself into my vest and walk towards the trucks; the night air of November will caffeinate me enough to get moving. And amid quizzical looks and disgruntled faces we ponder this “mission” of ours and its impeccable timing because we have to be on patrol in about six hours or so. On a moonless night in pure dark we roll out the gate, down FOB road, and left – away from Tal’Afar.
We make small talk until the heater finally kicks in, about the time we see faint light in the distance. As we arrive on scene I notice the Commander’s three trucks lined up like ducks down the middle of the street – a street that is one lane each way, stretching straight for miles in each direction with nothing else around but where they will sow grain this spring. And two cars, wrecked into one another. A strange scene, I try to figure out how these two cars could’ve hit each other all the way out here and why the colonel wanted to stop for them. As I approach the wreck, now lit more in the wash of our headlights, things grow more strange The front of the colonel’s Stryker has its slat armor bowed and bent. As I walk around the far side of the cars I see a man lying in the backseat. As I round the trunk, the road is littered with gasoline, bits of metal and glass, and Christmas presents. Neatly wrapped Christmas presents. The cars did not hit – in fact this is not two, but one car torn open like a candy bar wrapper and peeled back, on itself. I lean down and tap the man’s shoulder to see if this fella is alright – all the while I now am hearing the American voices, and one Iraqi one.
“Hey buddy” I give a gentle shake and he slumps down, off the backseat and partly into the road; the face stares up at me blankly. The right-rear side of the skull surgically slit open by some invisible knife and as devoid and empty as the inside of a cocoanut. I step back and stand straight up and mixed among the presents on the side of the road is a very much no-longer neatly wrapped brain. From the opposite direction an ambulance siren wails as blue lights flash closer and closer. There is one Iraqi man, incomprehensible, talking as fast and furiously that even if I understood Arabic I would have no clue what he was saying. Sinjar police escort the ambulance, and a combination of uniformed men – some Iraqi, some my own – go about the grisly task of bagging the body. My interpreter is giving me the bits and pieces he is catching. Picked up son from university today… Mosul… Christian family… coming home for Christmas… Never saw it coming…
The Battalion TAC was driving blacked-out; the oncoming car clearly visible by their headlights, yet none of the colonel’s trucks attempted to ward them off. They did not veer, they did not swerve, they did not turn on their lights. They expected mighty American prowess would be yielded to, at midnight in the middle of nowhere. The hysterical father accompanied his son in the back of the ambulance, refusing to believe he lived no longer, and they set off for Sinjar. And the wreck was left for the Sinjar police. And we Strykers now departed back to base.
I was never asked to write a patrol debrief, nor provide any information to the unit or right any sworn statements as we did when there was a civilian casualty. I was told just go get some sleep, because “don’t you have to be on patrol in a few hours, Lieutenant?”