Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Irony

 

I wrote this on May 22, 2006, the day after the incident while I was in Haditha, Iraq.

Irony

The radios weren’t lost, we knew exactly where they were and they were in US custody, but there was still a lot of paperwork to declare them lost and then somehow find replacements. They weren’t lost, they may even have worked, there was no way to know. The problem is that they were now radioactive. As was the rest of the tank.

When you’re near a tank, you know it. They are big. They are loud. They look dangerous. They are dangerous. To others.

The enemy fears tanks. Infantry love tanks. Having a tank along makes the enemy go away. Our aviators hated tanks because they make the enemy go away, the aviators don’t like targets to go away. Aviators have their own iron to drop on the enemy.

It’s ironic that the most dangerous weapon on the battlefield is the safest place to be. Inside the iron tank, the crew are safe. Tankers are fearless, nothing will hurt them unless they get out of the tank.

new%20testament.png

A double or triple stacked anti-tank mine, with a few artillery shells lay waiting for who knows how long. It was the dust storm season, the sand had a consistency of talcum powder, we called it “moon dust.” Foot steps and vehicle tracks tended to be obscured by the strong winds. Most objects, including mines and artillery shells were invisible.

The tank crew didn’t see the bombs and rolled right over them.

US tanks are brilliant designs, they may not be invulnerable but the crew almost always survives.

The crew got out safely. They had their bells rung, but they were generally fine. The other tank crew called on the radio for help and stood guard while they watched the breached tank hull cook off its ammo and melt.

The iron melted, but the crew was safe.

Help came, the mobile action platoon came to carry the tankers home. They must have felt great relief at this deliverance from the hell they just survived. The sun had set, Marines own the night, they were safe. Just a quick ride home, and then they would tell the story to all their friends of how they survived the bomb.

A mobile action platoon has four vehicles, one is typically a “high back” with an open cargo bay and thin armored sides. The tankers and some of the MAP crew climbed into the high back. Usually, the high back is the third truck when they travel. Somehow the first two trucks missed it. The high back didn’t.

And that’s the irony. The tankers survived a bomb that melted their tank, only to hit another bomb just as big on their way home.

Three tankers and two infantrymen from the MAP were killed.

This time a section of amtracs were sent to recover the crews. They finally arrived at the dam safe. As safe as the dead can be.

As the night dragged on, the bodies were loaded onto helos, the amtracs were hosed out. The ground was hosed off. Weapons were accounted for. Personal gear inventoried.

The night dragged on, I was the last officer to stay up. The guys from the tank platoon did all the work. The anguish on their faces was painful to watch. This was one of those times they don’t train us for. Leaders need an instinct for knowing what to do. What is the right thing to do? I was torn between staying and providing an officer’s presence, or leaving them to their own grief, to sort out their emotions without an outsider watching, intruding on their tight family.

I left about 2am, I don’t know how late they stayed up. The weapons and other controlled gear were all accounted for. The bodies were sent to Al Asad. Everything was picked up and orderly.

I’ll always wonder if I did the right thing to leave. There’s no way to answer that question. I mentioned to someone there that I was leaving. I don’t know if he cared.

The melted tank was moved the next day. They sent out a tank retriever and a heavy equipment transport to get it. Last I saw it, it was still sitting by itself in a field in Al Asad because the radiation from the melted components made it too dangerous to be near.

Al Asad is where we send dead people and dead tanks. Iron tanks, iron men.

There are 8 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Misthiocracy held his nose and Member
    Misthiocracy held his nose and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Skyler: And that’s the irony. The tankers survived a bomb that melted their tank, only to hit another bomb just as big on their way home.

    That’s almost as bad as stories I’ve heard of sailors who survived WWI only to die from the flu on the way home.

    • #1
    • May 27, 2019, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I cannot imagine.

    • #2
    • May 27, 2019, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler

    She (View Comment):

    I cannot imagine.

    You don’t want to imagine. It’s almost always worse than people are willing to write down.

    I was reviewing one of my essays from when I was in Iraq and in one I described how someone was shooting and the bullets were passing between two of our Marines. It took me a bit to remember, but then I realized that I wrote it that way because I didn’t want my family worrying about the bullets that passed between me and LCpl Williams, one of my data techs. So, a little third person perspective makes it a little less immediate to family members.

    Of the night in question, I could describe a lot of what I saw, and it was very bad. But I’m not going to. It’s still too personal. Maybe I’ll write it down someday, maybe I could do it justice, and maybe it won’t hurt family so much. Maybe.

    And I’m not saying this to make myself sound important, I really wasn’t. I was just another officer on the battalion staff, and I only got shot at; I didn’t get shot. There’s a huge difference. I just wanted to explain that it’s not like the movies. In some ways it’s far more inspiring, and in others it is far grimmer.

    • #3
    • May 27, 2019, at 4:12 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Zafar Member

    There are radioactive components in tanks? I didn’t know that. 

    • #4
    • May 27, 2019, at 8:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler

    Zafar (View Comment):

    There are radioactive components in tanks? I didn’t know that.

    I don’t know either, I’m not a tanker. That’s what they told me at the time, I never inquired as to how radioactive. All I know is that’s the reason I was given by Regiment for why the radios were not retrievable and why the tank sat there for a very long time. The conflagration essentially melted the interior of the hull and I think some of the equipment inside had some sort of radioactivity. It might have been the ammunition, for all I know, or maybe it was the glowing dial on Timex watches. I simply don’t know.

    • #5
    • May 27, 2019, at 8:34 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    Depleted uranium armor, shells, that sort of thing. ‘Depleted’ doesn’t mean ‘Not radioactive anymore’, it means they took the stuff that’s good for atom bombs out and left the rest. Uranium is relatively safe, as far as radioactives go; if you put, say, reactive armor over the top of your depleted uranium you’d be safe from the radiation. Until the dang thing melts and you’re not sure what all’s exposed.

    But heck, that’s just speculation, I don’t know much about tanks either.

    • #6
    • May 28, 2019, at 3:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    There are radioactive components in tanks? I didn’t know that.

    I don’t know either, I’m not a tanker. That’s what they told me at the time, I never inquired as to how radioactive. All I know is that’s the reason I was given by Regiment for why the radios were not retrievable and why the tank sat there for a very long time. The conflagration essentially melted the interior of the hull and I think some of the equipment inside had some sort of radioactivity. It might have been the ammunition, for all I know, or maybe it was the glowing dial on Timex watches. I simply don’t know.

    That’s consistent with what I imagined, but it’s just pure speculation on my part. I’m no expert on tank innards or nuclear radiation.

    • #7
    • May 28, 2019, at 3:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    I cannot imagine.

    You don’t want to imagine. It’s almost always worse than people are willing to write down.

    I was reviewing one of my essays from when I was in Iraq and in one I described how someone was shooting and the bullets were passing between two of our Marines. It took me a bit to remember, but then I realized that I wrote it that way because I didn’t want my family worrying about the bullets that passed between me and LCpl Williams, one of my data techs. So, a little third person perspective makes it a little less immediate to family members.

    Of the night in question, I could describe a lot of what I saw, and it was very bad. But I’m not going to. It’s still too personal. Maybe I’ll write it down someday, maybe I could do it justice, and maybe it won’t hurt family so much. Maybe.

    And I’m not saying this to make myself sound important, I really wasn’t. I was just another officer on the battalion staff, and I only got shot at; I didn’t get shot. There’s a huge difference. I just wanted to explain that it’s not like the movies. In some ways it’s far more inspiring, and in others it is far grimmer.

    My father who fought in Europe from August 1944 to late April 1945 put off writing out any of his war stories. When I started pressuring him a tiny bit, he was already over 85 years old. I felt everything he had seen and done needed to be recorded. He waved my request off with “It’s a time I lived through and maybe I have no regrets, but I’d rather not think about it any more.”

    I am reading a book right now about immigrants from all sorts of place in Europe who ended up here in the US, and then served during WWI. A common theme among those who survived that war was to remain as far as possible away from guns or war once they returned. (That book is “The Long Way Home” by David Laskin.)

    Those who experience war find out it is not only the heroic adventure that it is sold to us as being. Its dark side lives inside most of those who have had to kill or be killed.

     At its core, perhaps, war is just another name

     for death, and yet any soldier will tell you,

    If he tells the truth that proximity to death

     brings with it a corresponding proximity to life

    Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried

    • #8
    • May 29, 2019, at 8:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.