We drove back to Ramadi today, once more making the so-called "milk run" back from Falluja. We tend to see it as a short, easy clear- we know well the areas where the bombs normally are, and the road is wide and well-maintained. However nonchalantly we approach the mission, all of us know that there really are no "milk runs" in Iraq: anything can happen, at any time. Today is no exception.
The sky over Falluja was hazy with smoke today. I couldn't tell where it was coming from- it seemed as if the entire northwest corner over by the river was burning. I counted what appeared to be seven separate plumes. Black smoke, white smoke, and shades of grey all combined into an ominous pall. Whatever was going on, it was on the other side of the city, and therefore someone elses problem.
Just a few kilometers down Rt. Mobile from Falluja, we found Marines parked under an overpass in their armored tracks. They had found what seemed to be an IED, and were blocking traffic while waiting for EOD to come out and dispose of it. We volunteered to neutralize it with our BUFFALO, so they didn't have to worry about it exploding. The threat of explosion past, we continued down Mobile. Two overpasses further down the road, we found the EOD element. The had found an IED of their own while en route to the Marines, and were in the process of disabling it. We stopped long enough to let them know the status of the first IED, and moved on again.
The next incident started with a black mushroom cloud somewhere in front of us. There's all kinds of smoke in Iraq. There's the plumes that signify a fire- white for wood or reeds, black for vehicles, and grey for buildings. Mushroom clouds mean a bomb of some sort- white or grey, especially with a lot of dust, for an IED, and black for car bombs.
We call it "VBIED Friday", because the insurgents go to the mosque on Friday and get all fired up to fight Americans. After they go to the mosque and pray, they are assured a better place in Paradise if they martyr themselves that day. We get to deal with the consequences. This time, the bomber hit a small traffic control point along Rt. Mobile, run by soldiers and Iraqi Police. He drove into the front end of the concertina serpentine barriers and blew himself up.
We called up to the Observation Post that was coordinating the CASEVAC of the wounded soldier and the arrival of the quick reaction force to let them know we were close to the scene with a combat medic, as well as several other medically trained personal, and ask if they needed help. The radio starts chattering with information; both I and the medic behind me start checking our gear. He changes out his dark lens glasses for clear ones, and cinches down his kevlar helmet. I'm on the gun again, but once we get inside the security cordon at the site, my shooting won't be needed. My help carrying and tending to a casualty, on the other hand, will. Today, however, the situation is well in hand. The only soldier wounded was already in a Humvee headed for the helicopter extraction point, and the unit at the scene had secured the site with the help of the Iraqi Police there, so we kept rolling through.
There were three Iraqi Police by the side of the road as we approached. One propped his RPK machine gun up on a guard rail, and the other two knelt nearby with AK-47s. Behind them, two Bradley Fighting Vehicles were jackknifed to close off the road, their long gun barrels aimed down Rt. Mobile over the heads of the IPs.
The scene was covered with a knot of people as we pulled up- soldiers moving blackened chunks of the car bomb, others setting up security, and still others directing traffic. Two IP trucks sat on the left shoulder near a group of policemen. One of them derisively kicked a charred lump of wreckage near the trucks- I belatedly realized that it was part of the bomber. He was the only one to die in the blast, and both he and his vehicle were spread across both lanes of traffic. We thread through and head for home.