Friday, September 01, 2006
'Your momma' jokes cease as battle begins
We've only been in Ramadi, Iraq, a few days. Maybe it's the heat, which is in the low 120s, and a few long nights, but it certainly feels much longer.

It took Michael Ware, cameraman Neil Hallsworth and me about four days to get here. The few fights to Ramadi only fly at night, and after mechanical failures, sandstorms and changes in flight plans, we ended up spending several nights on the still-hot concrete of a helipad in Baghdad. Finally, we jumped a ride to Falluja. Honestly, I felt like we were hopping a freight train as we threw our bags onto a Chinook heading vaguely in the right direction and hoped for the best.

We wanted to join a military operation unfolding in Ramadi, and we knew our window of opportunity was rapidly closing. Even with our detours, we managed to show up at the doorstep of the 1-6 Infantry just in time.

Operation Pegasus was nothing if not complex. The aim was to hit four targets simultaneously -- one by a land team, moving in Humvees and Bradleys, another target from the air, with troops dropped in by Blackhawks, and the last, the sea team, which came in on boats sneaking up the river Euphrates.

We ended up hanging onto the back of one of the boats. The troops were equipped with night vision goggles, but we were not. As we moved up the river in the dark, I had to rely on the light from a half moon, which wasn't so bad, but it did make every shadow in the reeds look rather menacing.

After spending time with the soldiers of the 1-6 and the brigade recon troop, I was struck by how tight of a group they are. Most of them are young, perhaps even shockingly so. As cliched as it sounds, these guys act like brothers. They take taking care of each other very seriously and give each other a hard time at any opportunity.

Riding in a seven-ton personnel carrier to the boat launch point, it was quiet for a while, and a little tense, until the soldier behind me turned to one of his platoon mates and said with a very dead pan delivery, "If anything should happen to me, tell your mom I love her." I guess if you can't tell a mother joke before you're sent into combat, then when can you?

Once they hit the ground, no one made any more jokes.

It was a hard night for the brigade recon troop. They were lucky no one was hurt, but they missed their target and an Iraqi grandmother was accidentally shot and killed. You could tell who in the platoon knew what had happened; you could see it in their faces. These soldiers are like most Americans, with varying views on this war. But none of them wants something like that to happen. As tense and full of nervous energy the ride out was, the way back was somber.

The raid lasted about four-and-a-half hours, yet felt like minutes. As we waited for the boats to return and pick us up, the night had become extremely dark. The half moon in the sky had set at some point. We all laid down in a field next to the river, still staying low. Neil and I were just saying that we can't remember ever seeing so many stars.

This isn't an easy tour for these soldiers and the men that lead them -- Captain Dan Enslen, Captain Chris Kuzio, and Captain Danny Pedersen -- just to name the few that I have been able to spend a little time with. These are guys my own age, who over coffee instantly seem familiar. Yet I cannot imagine the lives they are leading, American and Iraqi alike.

As we were leaving for the operation Captain Pedersen looked at me and said, "There is no way I would go past the wire with just a camera." Truth is I am not sure I could go out there with what he has to carry.
Posted By Thomas Evans, CNN Producer: 12:59 PM ET
Hope the American public understands the quality and sense of duty that is is our military. The people are what make the military.

Hope the military knows that the American public's hearts and thoughts are with them and that everyone (reporters included) stays safe.
Posted By Anonymous Cassie Dallas, PA : 1:32 PM ET
My kid's out of there, now in the ready reserve and finally has found a job. The fact that you are there covering the story that has been ignored makes my day. Keep telling their story and tell those guys and gals that this Military Mom loves them, too.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 1:33 PM ET
Godspeed, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
Posted By Anonymous Patrick Columbus, Ohio : 2:48 PM ET
I am against the war and at times I tend to think that some of the solders don't mind taking innocent lives, but after reading this I feel different.

I had forgotten that they too are humans and are representative of the American population; some for the war and others not and the battle they must have to live with amongst themselves for taking innocent lives is unimaginable.

Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Maria, Reno, NV : 2:54 PM ET
Thank you for bringing us a story like this one. It is good to be reminded of what war involves other than the casualty count.
Posted By Anonymous Ross, St. Paul MN : 3:18 PM ET
Well, I'm not sure if telling "Yo Momma" jokes are OK in Iraq while riding in an APC, but in my neighborhood, if you use a "Yo Momma" joke to some guys, you will think that you are in a combat zone.

Just kidding. Thanks for taking my call.

Posted By Anonymous Rollo Rogers, San Diego, CA : 3:20 PM ET
Hi Thomas-
These soldiers are just kids! I lost a cousin in Iraq and know many who are currently serving duty there. Although I am against the war, I admire these soldiers who risk their lives for their country. I lost a cousin in Iraq. He was killed by mortar fire. He was only 19. I doubt if his family will ever recover. God bless these young men and women in the military. I pray that this conflict of war is over soon and these brave soldiers can return home to their loved ones.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann Taylor Nacogdoches, Tx : 3:34 PM ET
Hi Thomas. Would you NOT shoot an Iraqi insurgent in front of you, full of hatred for you (and any/all Americans), pointing a gun at you, pulling the trigger ready to take your life?!?! I'm sure your family/relatives would NOT take a lot of comfort at your funeral knowing you decided "not to carry a weapon due to principles." Sheesh... tell that to the assassin or sniper who kills you, they just laugh at you and us! When are we naive Americans going to stop clinging to such immature and unrealistic concepts as "honor", etc. and expecting our enemies to follow *our* codes and standards or conduct. Thomas, "grow up and grab the gun" the Captain would give you to defend yourself/your life!! What, are you trying to be a martyr and get some good "press coverage" as a result of your death?!? Baloney! Grab the rifle and get ready to rock!
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Sacramento, CA : 3:35 PM ET
I just want my kid back...
Posted By Anonymous Simon, Corona, CA : 3:39 PM ET
To give me the soldier's perspective on serving in Iraq, my son quoted a line from Luke Stricklin's song "American by God's Amazing Grace." Since Stricklin was a soldier when he wrote the song, I'm sure it speaks for more than a few of our Military:

"Really don't care why Bush went into Iraq
I know what I done there and I'm damn sure proud of that."

As hard as their job is, our Soldiers know that every day what they do makes a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people and the future stability of the country.
Posted By Anonymous Debra, Vancouver, Washington : 3:44 PM ET
I don't believe in this war, and I don't trust President Bush, but I do commend the brave men and women who are put in harm's way just by doing their jobs.

In the heated debate that surrounds this war, it is easy to forget that soldiers are also people, with their own feelings and opinions, and with the capacity to make mistakes, just like the rest of us. Thank-you for reminding us.
Posted By Anonymous Melissa Vancouver ,Canada : 4:13 PM ET
Thomas, I commend Michael, Nick and yourself for going into the war zone to bring such a compelling story. I believe Iraq is becoming the forgotten war. Tell our men and women we are proud of them and to stay safe. We need them. As for you and your crew, do your best to stay safe as well.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Slidell : 4:42 PM ET
I just wanted to say that I like the unique perspective you give us of Iraq, neither left of right in this case. We Americans are use to the cold bias reporting on the everday news. It's nice to hear about the experience for a change.
Posted By Anonymous Derrek, El Paso Texas : 4:49 PM ET
Thomas: As usual, great blog entry! Thanks for sharing your experience and enlightening us on what's going on currently with the operations over there. I appreciate what these troops must go through when on these assignments and am impressed by this particular troop's display of brotherhood and dedication while still maintaining a sense of humor! Stay Safe and keep the camera rolling!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 5:05 PM ET
Everyday when I drive to work I say a prayer for all American soldiers fighting, dying in Iraq and other theaters of war.When I am home in my comfortable house, I also say a prayer for the soldiers sleeping in the dirt or out on missions protecting my freedom. Just want to Thank all troops and give a high salute. Never forgotten
Posted By Anonymous John Buczkowski, Milford, PA : 5:27 PM ET
Thank you for reporting this story. I hope that you will write more stories to emphasize that this war CANNOT be compared to other wars. Our soldiers are required to fight an unidentified enemy that often times may appear cooperative and as a military informant by day and work as an insurgent and executioner by night.

My son was an Army recon scout/sniper fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi in 2004 -2005. While in the sniper position in January 2005 a grenade was thrown onto the rooftop he occupied while providing coverage for US/coalition troops on the ground. The grenade bounced on the rooftop and into his lap. He was able to brush it off before seconds later it exploded 3 feet from his legs. Miraculously, he has his life and his legs. He spent the past year and 1/2 having surgeries and trying to recover and thankfully he can walk and has no obvious impairment. This attack occured 13 hours into his mission and almost went unnoticed because for the greater part of those first 13 hours, Iraqi children had been throwing rocks onto the rooftop directed at my son and his spotter. When the grenade landed on the roof, my son assumed it was just another rock. Luckily one of his squad members who had been inside the occupied building came out onto the rooftop as the grenade landed and screamed "live grenade" otherwise my son would be dead.

I'm sick of hearing whether we're for the war or against the war. The fact is, WE ARE AT WAR, like it or not, so as a nation we need to come to terms with the realities of this war and support those fighting it and stop acting like it's Vietnam or the Gulf War. This eneny DOES NOT wear a uniform, it is NOT the army of a nation, AND it DOES NOT recognize, respect, nor play by the rules of engagement. Therefore, our military personnel are faced with something that no one has ever faced before and that's what we all need to focus on and give them all the support in all the ways that we can because without a strong military on the ready at all times, this nation would be nothing.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy, Austin, TX : 6:04 PM ET
The White House and Congress must think ,that, we Americans, are the stupidist people on the face of the earth.I am a patriot and love USA, but, Iraq is a loser,just like Viet Nam,N.Korea and Somolia.Our troops are targets not warriors.God bless them.America will not lose face if we bug out of Iraq.Now,I understand why a blood thirsty Saddam Huessain ruled Iraq will an iron fist.Iraq is a slaughter house.
Posted By Anonymous The Rayman-Palm Desert,Ca : 6:04 PM ET
My oldest son recently turned 18 and is contemplating going into the armed services.
As an American, I am so very proud of the men an women who defend us every day. They get far to little support from home.
As a Mother, I am proud that my son aspires to that ideal. But I won't lie, I don't want him there.
Posted By Anonymous Robin, Geen Bay, WI : 6:15 PM ET
I did three tours in the Gulf and could add them all together and not equal one tour of what these young Americans endure on a daily basis. The average age of a Gulf War soldier is, arguably, 19. Nineteen years old, it was'nt long ago that their biggest problem was how to cover a hickey on their neck, now they see their friends, their brothers in arms killed in manufactured ways that they can only be identified by DNA. How does one deal with that? How does one explain to a young adult that he is the lucky one because he only lost his legs or arms or his own self and explain this to him while your telling him he's too young to buy a beer. We, in the civilized world have a nifty, catch-all word for every injury that has not killed them...yet, the word is "wounded". Isn't that a great benign word? Instead of distinct grammatical terms,like amputee, double amputee, paralyzed, paraplegic, quadraplegic, partially blind, totally blind, we can canvass the entire category with one word, "wounded". Besides, if we can't quite cover it with "wounded" we can always use "syndrome" or "disorder".
We will never stop war, we will never stop killing or "wounding". We are just too damn good at it.
Posted By Anonymous Michael, Virginia Beach, VA : 6:27 PM ET
An Iraqi grandmother was shot and killed. Another innocent family shattered. Certainly the excuse will be made, this is war afer all, and the grandmother will be forgotten, except by the new family of insurgents just created. This is the travesty of the war brought on by our idiotic president.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Los Angeles : 6:28 PM ET
Hi Tom, I am such a wimp that I could never imagine myself covering a war. I have so much respect for the courageous journalists, and yes, even producers, who cover this dangerous territory. Michael Ware is one of my hero's. I have read all of his Time Magazine articles and really look forward to his reporting on AC/360. Take care Tom, and remind the men and women fighting in Iraq that they are always in our thoughts and prayers.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn, MI : 7:03 PM ET
Mark in Sacramento suggests "grab the gun and get ready to rock", and suggests the concept of "honor" is not only somehow uniquely American, but naive...strange. I think there is honor on both sides of any war, as well as a lot of young, scared folks trying their best to do their duty in a frightening place. What good is there to be found in demonizing the insurgents, or the American soldiers? Thank you, Thomas, for an insightful piece. And thank you for honestly sharing your doubts that you could carry a gun.
Posted By Anonymous Annie, Fort Bragg, California : 7:34 PM ET
Awesome Thomas ! Thanks for blogging. Let's remember that even though you can't see it clearly, there's good guys and bad guys and we Americans are all in this together.

9/11 We'll Never Forget
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 2:05 AM ET
People forget that these men and women are human beings. They're not fighting this war with an agenda; they were sent there to defend and fight for our country's safety - and the safety of the Iraqi people. If they believe what their doing is right or not, they are doing their job.

I can't say I support this war. What I do support is our troops, our people, who's job requires them to leave their families behind and fight for our country - right or wrong. These men and women are heros.
Posted By Anonymous Beki, Wayne, NJ : 9:57 AM ET
Hey Thomas:
It has got to be SO hard for these young men of the military in this God-awful war. They must realize that around any corner or at every roadside their lives could be over in a minute. They have got to be feeling that it's just the 'luck of the draw' sometimes. Talk about bravery!! I hope that they are more or less insulated from hearing all the negative statements about the war. I'm certainly against it but if my child were over there I'd want them to believe they were fighting for a good cause.
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Ontario Canada : 10:19 AM ET
I want my first cousin home with his wife and boys. He's an Army captain somewhere in Iraq on his second tour. And I want to believe he's all right when I get e-mails from him about poker tournaments and golf. Then I get those from his wife asking for safety prayers and prayers for families and the deceased when his soldiers are killed in action (two died this summer). I don't sleep for weeks afterwards. There is a real price for freedom anywhere in the world. These soldiers pay it. The whiners need to realize the blood soldiers shed secures the right of ordinary citizens throughout the world to complain. Those soldiers have a job I would never want, and they do it willingly.
I am so proud that the men in my family have served their country honorably in every war since the American Revolution. Keep telling their stories in Iraq. Keep giving our men and women the respect they deserve. Keep making them human for us all.
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 12:06 PM ET
First, it is absolutely fine not to carry a weapon when you are a journalist covering combat. Second, you were being respectful by your comment about not being sure you would want to carry the same thing Captain Pederson has to carry. Thirdly, however, you were not being respectful when you said, "They were lucky no one was hurt, but they missed their target and an Iraqi grandmother was accidentally shot and killed." This sentence is so poorly constructed that it insults the soldiers you so eloquently describe. I was shocked to find out that after you say that "no one was hurt" to find out an Iraqi civilian was killed, a grandmother no less. The use of the word "they" at the beginning of the sentence does not sufficiently clarify for the reader that you mean only the soldiers weren't hurt. Other than that good blog.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Roger, Denver, Colorado : 12:47 PM ET
Thomas, that was four and half hours, now imagine doing it for a year and then some! Our soldiers deserve our respect and honor for the job their doing. One of the last things my son said to me before he left for Iraq was "I don't want to end up killing innocent people" My heart ached for him, these guys have the same compassion that we do, unfortunately, that reality comes with the job they've been trained to do.
Posted By Anonymous Terry Flynn, Townsend, Ma. : 4:01 PM ET
I do disagree with the war and I love that this story adds a more personal feeling to the lives of soldiers. Like the innocent lives they are taking, they are not just bodies, but souls and people as well.
Posted By Anonymous Stefanie T. Lapeer, MI : 11:51 AM ET
You, by far, must be one of the luckiest people I know right now. My husband was with you on that recon mission a couple nights ago. I know how tight those guys are and how they can instantly make you feel at ease to hear them chuckle-- to feel their tensions crack. I only regret the jealousy that I foster right now, knowing that you were able to see the glint in his eye and the way he garners immediate devotion toward whatever he is doing. While faces blend together, I know, you were lucky that night. He is the best at what he does and I couldn't be prouder. They have had a bad couple of weeks & more than anything I just needed to see him, or know someone who has.
Posted By Anonymous Laura O. from Erie, PA : 4:52 PM ET
"they missed their target and an Iraqi grandmother was accidentally shot and killed".
So easy to say and forget, and concentrate on the psychological trauma of the poor soldiers instead.
Imagine a foreign army prowling around in the American heartland somewhere...Kansas maybe. A raid in the middle of the night on a lonely farmhouse, the old lady shot dead...a devastated, dehumanised and humiliated family, in their own land, in their own country.
God knows, if it was my country and my grandmother, I would kill every American soldier I came across or die in the process.
All human beings want to live with honor and dignity and most will go to any length to keep it that way.
Posted By Anonymous Pratin, Delhi, India : 1:22 AM ET
To tell you the truth I am not sure I could go out there with what you both have to carry! You are both very brave men trying to keep our land safe! You may both be going at it a little differently but I think still the same result! And I thank you both from the bottom of my heart!from~~~~disabled in Oklahoma
Posted By Anonymous jamie smith, chickasha oklahoma : 6:43 AM ET
Danny is my son, and I am very proud of him. We are both West Point grads and we feel honored to serve our country in whatever manner she needs. Thank you, Sir, for being so kind to my son.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Pedersen, Homestead, Florida : 4:59 PM ET
Thanks for giving us a sense of what its like for those serving in Iraq. From a distance, it is sometimes hard to imagine what it is like.

Stay safe - keep your head down
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Los Angeles, CA : 7:14 PM ET
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