Celebratory Fire

    For the majority of our time in Al Kut HET Three was on a tiny, postage stamp-sized base on the eastern side of Tigris, just north of the city. We were remote, the main Marine force of Third Battalion/Twenty-Third Marines (also known as Three/Twenty-Three, a reserve unit mainly out of Louisiana) was on the western side of the Tigris on an old Iraqi air base. They were at least forty minutes from us. We were on our own. Just how much alone was made perfectly clear the day Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed. We had a satellite dish, courtesy of excellent scrounging in the Al Kut bazzar with Johnny), so we had a few english channels, Al Jazeerah, and of course Al Manar – Lebanese Hizballah’s propaganda channel. But, during the day nothing came on about Uday and Qusay getting killed.

     Evening fell, and the night caught us unaware. We had all, except for Nate, been drinking for several hours. Just before dusk small arms fire started in the city. AK-47’s, pistols. We barely looked up from our beers, celebratory fire is perfectly normal in Iraq. It was hot as shit, we were all stripped down to our green silkies and flip flops, so the last thing we wanted to think about was enemy fire. We hadn’t been shot at in a couple of months. Well, once or twice, there had been a few pot shots, but nothing serious. No real attacks. But that night the small arms fire started to increase. Slowly at first, then, as dusk turned to night the gunfire became almost constant. Heavy machine guns started opening up, red tracers began streaking across the sky over Al Kut, explosions from what sounded like RPG’s sounded in the distance and orange glows flashed from the heart of the city.

    Nate started to freak a little bit, he thought the Iraqis were about to come over the wire and kill us all. Actually, we all thought that was a real possibility. The unit of Marines holding the base were sober, of course (they didn’t have access to booze), but we only had some concertina wire and a berm to protects us. As drunk as we were, we were fucked if any Iraqis actually came over the wire. If any concerted effort was made to overrun the base, we were all dead. The company of Marines holding the base would have had a tough time holding back a serious attack, given the poor defensive posture of the base.

    Nate ordered us to get into our battle gear. We were all, at the moment, in nothing more than shorts and flip-flops and the urgency precluded putting on our full uniforms. We all ran back to our weapons, grabbed them, threw on our helmets and body armor, and ran (stumbled) back outside to take positions against what we thought was an imminent enemy attack. I crouched against a wall. I was in my helmet, armor, silky shorts and flip-flops. Holding my weapon, and swaying, hoping I wouldn’t have to fire it. And, kinda hoping I would. The night enveloped, and bullets and explosions cracked all around us and throughout the city.

    And that was when one of our linguists stuck his head out of the main room, where they’d been watching satellite TV.  He informed us Uday and Qusay had been killed by the US Army, which explained the unprecedented amount of ‘celebratory’ fire. We weren’t under attack. I leaned against the wall, clutching my rifle, and whispered a prayer of thanks. I don’t pray often.

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