A FRAGO is a fragmentary order- a change of mission to reflect a change of circumstances.
We cleared up a tough road to bring a resupply convoy up to a series of isolated Observation Posts. We've done the mission multiple times before, and this time, things were going according to plan. We cleared the first part of the route in record time. As we turned on to one of the side roads that would eventually bring us to the first OP, the side of the road was lined with children waving and asking for candy. Even some of the adults with them waved and smiled- a rare sight this close to Ramadi. At the last turn before the OP, there was a young boy and an man in his mid-twenties. The boy waved, then pointed to a roadblock barring our path and said “Mister!... No!” and then his english failed him, and he switched to Arabic too rapid to understand. I asked him to slow down, which he did (slightly), but we found few words in common. All I knew was that there was something up that road that he didn't want us to run into.
We finished clearing to the first OP, and parked the vehicles by the side of the narrow road to allow the supply convoy room to pass by into the OP. This OP, like many others, is a large house that was converted to its present use. It sits between two palm groves near a small farming village. It has perhaps a quarter acre of grounds surrounded by a high wall, and the roof is dotted with sandbagged watchtowers. Today, we sat for a few minutes, and watched the supply trucks pull into the OP. The platoon relaxed- someone stayed alert on the guns, while the rest of the truck crews broke out sandwiches or cigarettes. We'd been in place for less than ten minutes when the mortars started landing. It was only three or four rounds, and they were off behind one of the buildings in the village. The men unloading the supply trucks took little notice of the explosions, and the locals that I could see simply started moving inside the buildings. War quickly callouses you to frightening things- explosions still make us jump, but if they don't directly affect us, we virtually ignore them. This time, they affected us.
I saw a crowd of villagers thronging up to the gate of the OP. Somewhere near the front, there was a man struggling towards the Marines. I'll never remember what he looked like or the clothes he wore, but I'll never forget his burden.
He carried a little girl. She looked six or seven. Her head lolled back, her dark, curly hair dusty on his arm, and her legs dangled limply by his side. The only pattern on her dirty white dress was streaks of blood.
A second man followed the first- the little boy he carried was even younger than the girl. Both the children looked dead, or close to it. Behind the men are more villagers, and some of them have burdens of their own. Too many. At least one of the mindless, undiscerning shells had landed in a school.
There was silence in the truck for an eternity, and then the driver whispered the thoughts of us all. In that moment, in the stillness, the profanity sounded strangely like a prayer:
"Fuck, man... just fuckin' kids"
No one else says anything- we all know what he means. People who weren't involved in this war died today, and more may die yet. Kids paid the price for their parent's fight. Children dying hits you in a way that other death doesn't. You don't feel the sharp sting of losing a friend. You don't view their death with the casual indifference you might feel for adults. You feel the dull ache of lost innocence, of a lost future.
The stillness is shattered a second later by the radio. The platoon leader is on the net calling for the medic. Our driver is a nurse back in the world- he stops to help a man who comes out of the trees behind us with a bleeding hole in his leg, and then he takes off to the OP to help the medic with the others.
The platoon leader is back on the radio, giving us our FRAGO- our change of mission. We're headed out to the regional medical facility at Camp Taqaddum with the wounded. Hopefully, we get there in time.