(Editor’s Note: The following is the first chapter from Jared’s book It’ll Buff Out.)
Chapter 2: Rush
September 29, 2006
An explosion ripped through Outpost (OP) Hawk, waking me up. Rude awakenings were a common occurrence in the Marine Corps. Starting in boot camp, we were woken up whenever the drill instructors felt like making our lives hell. Extreme training is required for the extremes found in combat.
Footsteps outside of our platoon’s room went from a sprinkle to a steady trickle seconds after the blast’s concussion vibrated through the outpost.
“Get up,” I said to no one in particular.
A bad feeling in my gut had thrown me into action.
I began to get dressed as gunfire ripped the air outside.
“What the hell?” Cock, my team leader, asked me.
Although I was a Corporal and outranked Cock—a Lance Corporal—he had a deployment to Fallujah while I had a stint cut short in Security Forces. It only makes sense for someone who has gone through a combat deployment to have first dibs on a leadership position within an infantry squad that consists of twelve Marines, one corpsman, and the squad leader. In our case, we had nine Marines, one corpsman, and a squad leader. The rest of our battalion was outfitted the same. To put it bluntly, we were understaffed. Even with an all-volunteer fighting force and American pride behind us, recruiting during a time of war wasn’t what it was back in the World War II era.
“Had to be an IED. And now this,” I said, waving my hand in a frantic circle in the air as if that sufficiently explained the gunfire. An IED is an improvised explosive device.
Unbeknownst to us, 3rd Squad had moseyed out to Camp Corregidor in a three-vehicle convoy in eastern Ramadi because—I kid you not—our LT (our platoon commander who was a Lieutenant, simply referred to as LT) thought it’d be a good morale boost to get some pie from the Army.
Officers are gonna officer. But I liked our LT, and I wouldn’t find out about the pie thing for a good decade.
Now that I think about it, I don’t remember getting any pie.
The footsteps turned into a downpour outside of our room. With my battle rattle on, I launched through the door and out into the busy halls of OP Hawk, a former palace of Saddam Hussein’s, Iraq’s former dictator. Marines were running everywhere. Then I heard our squad leader.
“Prewitt!” Grandpa, our squad leader, shouted from the top of the stairs that led up to the roof where we had five posts rattling away with 240Gs (7.62mm machine gun) and a .50-cal machine gun. We called him Grandpa because he was twenty-five years old with more gray hair than Jay Leno. The Marines age you well beyond your years.
“Yo!” I responded.
“Get the fuck outside!”
“Roger that!” I shouted and wheeled around toward the exit through the former kitchen-turned-Swole Center, complete with a clunky treadmill, bench press, and a gaggle of random dumbbells.
I passed through the smoke pit after entering the infernal heat of 0830 in the morning and zipped past the outer wall toward the sound of gunfire.
Streams of sweat poured down my face.
When the IED had gone off, a boulder of “aw, shit” lodged into my gut, and it was still there. I didn’t know who had been hit or what had happened. All I knew for sure was that we were being attacked, and I was going to attack back.
The previous eight days we had been at OP Hurria, an outpost smackdab in the middle of Ramadi that sat on the notorious Route Michigan, a road that had more IEDs than cars. We moved mostly at night to reduce the risk of getting blown up, but that was still never a guarantee.
In Ramadi, the Rules of Engagement (ROE) were that of the Wild West; the situation was that bad. If someone looked at us and happened to have a cellphone or binoculars in their hands, we were cleared to engage. It was a far cry from the whacked-out ROEs of having to be shot at before being able to shoot back.
I was the Designated Marksman (DM) within 2nd Platoon, and I was called to the roof within a few hours of us being at OP Hurria. I’d be called to the roof many more times. The DM had a pimped out M16 that had a Leupold scope, bipods, and a free-floating barrel to reach out and touch someone with a 5.56mm projectile.
The following day, my squad wiped out an insurgent cell in the act of implanting IEDs near OP Hurria. They took contact from an insurgent overwatch team and regressed back to the outpost with no casualties under a hail of gunfire.
Then there was what I call the “welcoming party” where up to a hundred or more insurgents attacked both OP Hurria and the government center manned by Blackfoot (Bravo Company) a quarter mile west of our outpost.
Our platoon was a part of Cold Steel (Charlie Company a.k.a. Chuckles or Suicide Charlie, but we preferred Cold Steel). Our company adopted the name Cold Steel sometime back in the 1980s. Although most units change their names depending on the chain of command, Cold Steel has stuck since its inception. For the vast majority of those who have been a part of Cold Steel, we often look back on it with reverence and a coy chuckle.
That day, the welcoming party changed my life forever.
It’s what we called a target-rich environment, with jihadists dotting the cityscape. As the DM, I went through eight magazines of twenty-eight rounds each. I’m either a shitty shot or I’m not lying about the hundred-plus insurgents.
Okay. Fine. I’m a shitty shot, but there were a ton of AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) fighters out there.
Then there were the M1A1 Abrams tanks that rolled out to back us up after LT’s attempts to call an airstrike had failed, and insurgents don’t like tanks. The Muj—or, Mujahideen—scattered like the wrath of Allah was upon them.
Then there was the Fisherman.
We had been warned of this talented IED emplacing asshat by 3/8, the unit we relieved.
The Fisherman used an old-school fishing pole to slowly push out IEDs throughout the night and day near Gay Palace, the colossal structure that had taken several airstrikes, an unknown number of rockets, and MK-19 (automatic grenade launcher) 40mm grenades and still stood tall, mocking us with its presence. If OP Hurria was attacked, Gay Palace was involved. Post 5 stared right at it, and whoever stood that post got a lot of butterfly-trigger time pumping grenades into the building that looked like it had time traveled from World War II. The MK-19 and the .50-cal are so big that they require a trigger resembling a butterfly that you depress using both of your thumbs.
The remaining days at OP Hurria were a blur of firefights and being called up to the roof.
Now, at OP Hawk where an IED had just blown close enough to our outpost to turn my morning dump into a throat lump, I was in the outpost’s parking lot that was walled in with a thick cement wall giving us a defense from being rammed with an SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne IED).
Gunfire drew closer as my boots plodded through the moon dust that plagued much of this ancient country. And the smell—good God, it was awful and there was no getting used to it. The good Lord did not design the olfactory sense to withstand or become acclimatized to the constant smell of death, molding feces, and stagnant sewage in sweltering heat.
At the edge of the wall, I took up a position facing east with as much of my body behind the wall. I leaned out and looked for the source of the gunfire and golly gee, there was a lot.
Muzzle flashes danced and filled my vision from buildings no more than fifty meters away.
As my rifle settled into my shoulder and I plopped my cheek on the buttstock, I heard Grandpa yelling again from somewhere behind me.
“Get to the far wall!” he yelled.
“Marines coming past!” someone shouted as they hooked around from behind me and ran in the direction I was getting ready to shoot toward. We were trained to always alert someone who was sighted into the fact that friendly forces were about to run into their field of fire.
I did what any good grunt would do: I picked myself up and hauled ass after them recognizing them as Marines from my squad: Cock, Fray, and McCaughn.
Fray was a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunner and part of Cock’s team along with me and McCaughn. McCaughn, the Dirty Mick, was the youngest Marine in our platoon, and he was the spitting image of Jim Carrey and could impersonate Ace Ventura better than anyone I’d ever met.
As we ran, geysers of moon dust shot up into the air, denoting a bullet’s impact. Geysers erupted, enveloping us like we were dancing in an old Western movie as an entire posse got their jollies.
Speaking of running under gunfire, Gary the Corpsman solidified his legendary status by sprinting from the rear gun-truck to the front of the convoy while being shot at. Gary shot back while running to the lead gun-truck so he could get to the blown-up vehicle. Captains got bronze stars for just showing up on deployment. Gary didn’t get a bronze star, and that is absolute horseshit.
Back to us running through the moon dust–filled parking lot where I bring to you more horseshit.
We reached the wall.
And like any good grunt plan, we were told to run back.
While we ran to the wall out in the open, the insurgents shot at us while the posts of the roof chewed them up with superior firepower. In reality, it was an awful plan to run to the far wall, but it worked out well if we were intended to be decoys to get the enemy to expose themselves to our rooftop’s guns.
MARINES: Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not ESsential.
Instead of running back in the open to where we had started, I ducked into where the spare Humvees and other trucks were parked, giving me cover as I made my way back toward where I had started.
By the time I returned to where I had been in the parking lot, more Marines were organizing a medevac, shooting back or—like the driver of the high-back—puking into the moon dust as it eagerly soaked up his biscuits and gravy.
A gun-truck was pointed toward the exit with a high-back Humvee behind it. A high-back has a bed like a pickup with high walls around the sides. It also doesn’t have a turret like a gun-truck and is utterly fucking useless in a firefight, but it is useful for resupply convoys and medevacs, yet I still didn’t know who in the hell was hurt.
“Prewitt!” Grandpa yelled.
“Yes, Sergeant!” I hollered back.
“Drive the high-back!”
I crossed behind the high-back with its rear doors open. I glanced inside and immediately regretted it. I saw Gary, my roommate back in Camp Lejeune and good friend in the platoon who also happened to be one of our two platoon’s corpsmen (medic—a.k.a. Doc—but never call him Doc, he’ll grab your crotch and twist), and he was tending to Utley, a Marine from Texas. One of Utley’s legs was missing from the knee down. Brilliant white bone glistened through the mangled flesh and blood-stained tendrils of his pants. There was no lower leg to see.
I dodged past the Marine spilling his guts into the moon dust and slid into the driver’s seat, placing my rifle in the center next to a Fallujah veteran named Bam-Bam. Shaves’s nickname was Bam-Bam and for good reason—he liked to be rowdy. The full measure of Bam-Bam had been unleashed.
“We need to go!” Bam-Bam shouted, smashing his fists against the dash.
I stared at him, made sure the high-back was running, put my foot on the brake, and threw it into drive ready to roll.
In the Marines, we were taught to always try and avoid traveling down the same route twice, but we didn’t have a choice in this instance. There was only one way out to evacuate Utley or he was going to die: through the same kill zone where he had just hit an IED. The rear doors slammed closed, and the typical double tap of someone’s fist on the metal doors told us to push the gas through the floor.
Screams of pain from Utley and shouts to move seemed to come from everywhere along with Bam-Bam shouting like a methed-up madman.
Lurching forward, the lead gun-truck took off. I already had the high-back in drive and took off a little too fast, sending Gary and Utley on an unexpected journey.
First-time high-back driver. I’m used to driving a manual Saturn sedan with no power steering.
We turned right out of OP Hawk’s parking lot and onto a moon dust–covered road. Utley had been driving the lead gun-truck of the convoy that struck the IED in the middle of a serpentine barricade made from three concrete jersey barriers. That gun-truck now sat off to the side of the street after the high-back pushed it out of the way. The driver’s door hung ajar with bloody pieces of Utley’s pants hanging out.
Our convoy began taking fire immediately with many of the rounds aimed at us in the high-back because we were the weak chain in the link. Our convoy’s gun-truck’s machine guns opened up and didn’t stop firing. OP Hawk’s eastward-facing rooftop posts were ablaze with muzzle flashes. Yet, the AQI onslaught on the convoy was relentless. They had come to party.
As I swerved through the serpentine, I glanced to the right and saw an insurgent dressed in black silhouetted by a flurry of muzzle flashes.
Bullets bounced off the high-back’s hood and impacted the bulletproof glass right in front of my face.
“Holy shit!” I shouted after the third round that should’ve taken my head off hit the glass.
Gary shouted, Utley hollered, and Bam-Bam came up with new curses.
Metallic dings sang through the air from bullets that pelted us like hail.
Our gun-trucks never stopped shooting, strafing windows and the rooftops of several buildings. Insurgents had moved within fifty meters of our outpost and put an IED in our own serpentine without us noticing.
Thank God they didn’t slide out a second one.
The road straightened out once we had made it through the serpentine, and I floored it to try to catch up with the lead vehicle.
Time was of the essence even with a tourniquet on. Morphine had kicked in, and Utley’s shouts and pains reduced to moans and the occasional outcry. For losing a leg, that Texan held his own. Tough as nails, them southern boys.
Clouds of dust rose from the lead gun-truck and blurred most of the buildings around us. Ramadi’s a city of around 500,000 and has been at war since 2003 with the Battle of Ramadi starting in earnest in January 2006. It was now September, and there was no end in sight to the slaughter on either side. Leaked reports out of the Pentagon stated that the situation in Ramadi was “hopeless.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, General Dickface, but it was hard to argue with that assessment with my boots on the ground in this desert hell.
Shaves sent his fists into the dash, once again shouting in Bam-Bam.
“We’re good, man! We got this!” I encouraged him to more wailing of fists.
Sunset Road seemed to stretch on forever until we finally hit Checkpoint 295 and hooked a left onto IED Alley—the main drag through Ramadi that split into north and south known as MSR (main supply route) Michigan.
That road was a deathtrap.
In the first few days at OP Hurria, the Army sent out a daytime convoy down Michigan for an unknown reason and an APC (armored personnel carrier) hit an IED. No one was seriously hurt, and they all made it past OP Hurria without further incident. Michigan crawled with IEDs, and everyone knew it. That’s where the Fisherman perfected his cowardly craft.
The only other road in Ramadi that held such notoriety was one that formed a trapezoid top with MSR Michigan as its base. Inside of the trapezoid was the most feared and most violent area in all of Ramadi, which we simply called The Souk, Arabic for market.
The Souk was filled to the gills with single-story structures and alleys that overlapped onto themselves. In other words, it was a nightmare to operate and patrol in, not to mention the IEDs and other fun insurgent traps to fall victim to.
Sunset Road had many opulent houses and businesses in the north near OP Hawk. The closer we got to MSR Michigan, the older, more dilapidated, and more marred by war the buildings were.
Turning on to Michigan filled me with a new sense of dread, and I worried that should we hit an IED, how much would that suck for Utley?
MSR Michigan lived up to its name having thousands of small bodies of water from bombs, tanks, and other heavy-ass American vehicles wrecking the underground infrastructure by rupturing water mains and sewer lines. The result was major flooding of many streets that remained stagnant, collecting trash, body parts, dead animals, and everything else in between left to rot and fester in the blazing sun.
And the smell from that was something you didn’t get used to. Air conditioning helped a little bit when we were inside, but as soon as you stepped outside, the smell hit you like a sack of sweaty assholes.
Passing by gaudy-colored doors and business signs, Camp Corregidor loomed with its posts and camouflage netting, or cammie netting for short, giving it away as an American outpost. Cammie netting was on top of every outpost to prevent the enemy from keeping tabs on us. All outposts looked the same: tons of sandbags, bulletproof glass, machine guns, people with turtle helmets, and cammie netting covering it all.
The gates were open, and soldiers waved us through. You could tell that they had done this before . . . a lot.
I focused on the soldiers guiding us in. The lead gun-truck veered off with one soldier as another guided our high-back into a large open structure that looked like it could house an Apache helicopter.
Inside the hangar to my left was a doorway with large strips of plastic hanging from it. The soldier waved me forward and then quickly held up a fist. I stopped and threw the high-back in park.
The trauma team wheeled a gurney out from behind the strips of plastic and came to the back of the high-back. The vehicle rocked from the team getting in.
Shaves had gotten out and was quickly told to get back so they could work on Utley. I opened my door, but just sat in the driver’s seat not wanting to ever repeat that again.
I flipped the ignition switch to off and hung my legs out the door, watching the medical personnel work.
The Marines from the other trucks had walked over, and like Shaves, they were told to stay back. Gary was the only one from our platoon near Utley; everyone else around him he had just met for the first time as they tried to save his life.
The powerful rotors of a Blackhawk began pumping furiously somewhere on the other side of the building.
Finally, the team of medics began to wheel Utley toward the plastic strip–covered doorway. We all watched, some of us with tears brimming in our eyes.
Utley laid still on the stretcher drugged to the gills, but before the team was halfway to the plastic strips, something happened that set us all at ease: one of Utley’s arms raised up with a one-fingered salute.
He was going to be just fine.
Jared Prewitt is a husband, father, marine, author, carpenter/teacher/coach, and lover of great stories.
Jared was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He participated in the Battle of Ramadi (Iraq) as a Designated Marksman from 2006-2007 and as a Squad Leader in the Battle of Garmsir (Afghanistan) in 2008.
After being honorably discharged in 2009 having served five years, Jared moved to Colorado and married in 2011. He has a Bachelor’s in Business and a Masters in Writing. You can find him bowling, golfing, camping, hunting, or fishing when he’s not around his family.
Check out his other work on Instagram @cold_steel_collective or at www.jareprewittwritesstuff.com.
Book synopsis for It’ll Buff Out:
Jared Prewitt grew up a sheltered MidWest kid.
Seeking adventure and a taste of what his grandfather endured as a soldier in General Patton’s Third Army during World War II, he joined the Marines in 2004 as Iraq ignited into all-out war.
The Battle of Ramadi would forever change Jared’s life and set him down a path of strife and survival.
From explosions and gun fights to blood clots and panic attacks, nothing is hopeless.
It’ll Buff Out is a story about the revival of a war-torn city and the human spirit.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.