Fortier takes a look at some threats the 3/7th Cavalry faces daily.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Broadwater (3rd from left) patrols the streets with his men. Despite the risk from sniper fire, Broadwater worked hard at winning the hearts and minds of the residents.
To be blunt, I find it difficult to describe exactly what it's like on the streets of Iraq. Words fail me. The first thing one notices venturing to Iraq in July is the oppressive heat. It's not just hot at 130 degrees; the wind seems to bake your very bones. Inside the vehicles it's even hotter.
Tooling around in the back of a Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle you experience what it's like to be in an oven. Temperatures hit 140+ degrees with only a small fan to push hot air around the cramped confines.
Sweat drenches your clothing as you suck on a water bottle. Listening to the diesel growl while the tracked vehicle lurches and vibrates, you eagerly wait for the ramp to drop to escape to "cooler" air.
In the Humvee gun trucks you at least have air conditioning, to a degree. Sitting in the back seat you have one vent which you try to aim toward the arm hole in your body armor. Unfortunately your one small vent blowing cool air is no match for the hot air rolling in through the open gun turret. So you just keep downing bottles of water and eventually you make peace with the heat. The unit I embedded with, 2nd Platoon, Bonecrusher Troop, 3/7th Cav, griped about the heat but they stayed well hydrated and never let it slow them down.
My time with Bonecrusher Troop was spent primarily in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad. This walled-off section of the city is home to a large Sunni population infiltrated by Al-Qaeda, Baath Party holdouts, organized crime and street thugs. In addition, it's also home to the Abu Hanifa Mosque, one of the most prominent Sunni mosques in Iraq.
Like anyplace else in Iraq, Improvised Explosive Devices are a constant threat when the 3/7th Cav leaves the wire. IEDs come in many forms and sizes, depending upon what the insurgents have at their disposal and how much time they have to plant them. From jury rigged artillery shells to Explosively Formed Penetrators, supplied by Iran, you never know what you might come across.
Despite being a well-trained, well-equipped and well-led Cavalry unit, the 3/7th Cav is no more immune to IEDs than any other unit. The day I arrived it lost two men killed and three wounded to an IED that tore apart their Humvee gun truck.
Later during my embed, I watched as my friend Staff Sgt. Greg Craig's Humvee gun truck disappeared in a cloud of smoke while on patrol. Riding in Sgt. Dustin Chisholm's gun truck, we were about 40 yards behind Craig's truck with a Bradley in the lead. I was taking pictures out the side window when suddenly the world exploded in a deafening roar to our front.
Fire and smoke enveloped Craig's truck, and then the sky went black. Dirt, rocks and debris rained down while smoke blocked out the sun. Luckily, due to the constant patrols run by the 3/7th Cav the IED was small and hastily planted. Thanks to this and providence from above, Craig and his crew came away shaken but unharmed.
As Chisholm told me later: "You have to understand that if your number is up there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing. So you keep a sharp eye out for IEDs, do your job, and don't let them rattle you. You can't focus on your job if you're worrying about IEDs, and here you have to focus on your job."
A Humvee gun truck disappears in a cloud of smoke, dust and debris at the detonation of an IED. IEDs are a constant threat in Iraq; luckily this one inflicted no casualties.
Snipers are another very real threat to the men of the 3/7th Cav. While many insurgents can't hit the ground with their Kalashnikovs set on automatic, there are indeed some well-trained and capable enemy snipers.
They carefully place their rounds to bypass American body armor hard plates and side plates. They also often load their magazines with armor piercing and armor piercing incendiary ammunition.
One insurgent sniper operating in our area would specifically place his rounds between the top of the body armor collar and the bottom of the Kevlar helmet, hitting his victim in the neck. Although the Russian SVD sniper rifle and its derivatives were much maligned before the war, this rifle has proven to be an effective weapon in urban combat.
Despite these and other threats our troops face, I witnessed some real progress in Adhamiya during my time with the 3/7th Cav. While the insurgents were quick to engage Bonecrusher Troop when it first moved into the area, this did not last long.
The Cav's constant patrols combined with intelligence gathering and raids quickly had an effect. Within a short amount of time high value insurgents had been nabbed, weapons caches uncovered and the streets began to grow safer.
Whereas the streets were practically empty when the unit arrived, soon it was safe enough for people to travel about and residents returned to the streets. More importantly, they also began to share information on the insurgents.