I’d been an airborne infantryman for two years and I was on my third tour in Iraq when it happened. It was a typical searingly hot summer day in our AOR (area of responsibility). My company had become extremely familiar with the urban terrain that dominated it and the enemy. Prior to the announcement of a major military effort by our commanding flag officers, we were tasked with a cordon and search/destroy operation of a neighborhood that harbored al Qaeda and its foreign fighters. The operation was supposed to yield enemy weapons caches, bomb-making factories and hostages in holding cells and torture chambers. In addition, two American soldiers who were unaccounted for were rumored to be incarcerated somewhere in the rabbit warren that we planned on thoroughly sweeping. This uncorroborated intelligence nevertheless increased the motivation we had well beyond just finding, fixing and destroying the enemy.
For once my squad lucked out and instead of having to hump full combat loads for 12 hours in 110-degree heat, we were assigned an over watch position that we would establish on one of the roof tops that controlled our unit’s routes of ingress and withdrawal to the north of the neighborhood of interest. We did a map recon, consulted files and got fresh aerial imagery of the surrounding buildings and selected one that was several stories high. Although not the tallest in the area, it nevertheless afforded us excellent observation and fields of fire into and around the objective. Although our mission was observation and reporting on enemy activity, we could with our squad marksmen and an optically enhanced M240 machine gun provide precision fire support to our company on the ground. Within the squad, I had two school trained and blooded squad marksmen armed with M25 rifles, two M249s, M16 rifles and carbines augmented with M203 grenade launchers. Each man carried four fragmentation grenades and various colored smoke grenades. In addition to our intra- and inter-unit radio communications, we were reinforced with an Air Force Tactical Air Control Party with their air-ground coordination capabilities. A total of 17 men would be inserted by two Blackhawk helicopters via fast rope repel at first light.