We roll into the IZ, past the Iraqi Army checkpoint. Three or four Iraqi soldiers stand near the guard shack, AKs one handed by the pistol grips, a tank parked across the street. T-72, I think it is. I remember when they gave us playing cards in AIT with Soviet tanks and aircraft and armored vehicles on the backs. The BMP. The Hind. The Backfire.
Down the long dusty road that fronts the Embassy. Suburbans and assorted cars here and there. I hear Velcro sounds from the backseat. "Eltee," I say into the mic at my lips.
"Yeah," Aide Man answers from behind the driver of the Humvee.
"Is that the Boss, getting out of his gear?"
"Okay, he knows we're not getting out here, right?"
"Don't worry, we won't let him jump out."
"Roger that," I say, and we are slowing as we near the pickup point. As we roll to a stop, I peel off the headphones and mic, turn back to the Boss. I tell him that we are picking up passengers and then going on to the MOJ. He nods, and we stop and I jump out.
I see a man in a dress shirt and suit pants coming out way. He hold his suit coat, body armor, and helmet. I recognize him from a trip we did the other night. We meet by the first Humvee, and I confirm he is my pickup. The other gentleman, an embassy staffer, is already at the Ministry of Justice, our final destination. he gets in, and I mount back up and off we go.
A few minutes later, we pull up to a small parking area and disembark. We are still in the IZ. To one side is a busy stretch of road, to the other, T Walls, and on the other side, some Iraqi government areas, guarded by both IA and US Army.
The terp gets out of the last vehicle and the embassy man gets out of the first. They both take off their body armor and helmets and put on their suit coats. I leave my M4 in the front floorboard, and take the MP5 out of my assault pack, sling it across my chest. The Boss, me, Aide Man, LT Hal, newly promoted to First Lieutenant, and SSG M all walk through the Green Door. None of us take off our gear.
The Green Door leads to a wooded area, and on the other side, a series of walkways that head off to the Ministry of Justice, or MOJ. There is a big clock tower above it. A few nights ago, Aide Man and I were at the Embassy. I noted with surprise that the clock hands and numbers were red at night. I read online that the clock tower was used by Iraqi snipers during the invasion, after which we shot it up, but it's been restored now. I've been looking forward to getting a closer look at it.
We walk past some US and Iraqi soldiers. The US troops are from my battalion. LT Hal is leading the way Boss and the gentleman from the embassy are deep in conversation. One of the IA, wearing a desert cammo tee shirt and pants, walks quickly up from behind. He is holding a handheld radio he asks us to stop. There is some quick conversation between him and our terp, and I what the terp says next makes my heart sink. "This isn't the MOJ."
Shit! I took the Boss to the wrong place? That's a cardinal sin in the PSD business. I got this location from our Ops Master Sergeant. I confirmed it with LT Hal. None of that matters. I am responsible for getting the Boss to the correct location safely, no matter what. I did not do that. This is bad.
The embassy man and the terp and the Boss and the Iraqi soldier are all talking. The MOJ used to be here. It's been moved. We are in the wrong place. We were operating off of old information. I have fucked up. I look at Aide Man. He is stone faced behind his dark eyepro. His mouth is set in a tight pissed off line. This is so bad.
The man from the embassy gets on the phone to his colleague that went ahead. They talk about where we are and where we are not, and where we should be. We get a ten digit grid that I out in my notebook. We head back to the gun trucks. I'm hoping we can punch that grid in our GPS and get to where we need to be. The embassy man said the MOJ, the real MOJ, the new one, isn't far.
We get back in the trucks. LT Hal and SSG M work on getting the grid punched in. LT Hal is working a map. This is taking an eternity. "This...is...great," Aide Man says softly into the mic. I do not, however, think he means it.
After a few minutes, the Boss is standing outside, looking at the map with LT Hal. Aide Man, SSG M, me, and the embassy man are also standing in the parking lot. The embassy man is on the phone. We are trying to work out where we need to be and how we need to get there. I check my watch. 1123.
I hear an explosion in the distance. A couple of minutes later, another. Then, a third, closer, louder. It sounds a bit like a dump truck dumping a load of concrete and steel, but only lasts a second. Nobody reacts. This is Baghdad. Stuff exploding in the background sort of goes with the territory.
Matter of fact, the night at the embassy when I noticed the red hands and numbers of the clock tower, we heard an explosion and then a quick rattle of gunfire. I didn't find out what is was. Mortar, rocket, IED...who knows. It was in the distance. An explosion in the distance might as well be a hundred miles away.
After another half minute, we seem to know where we need to go. Then the gentleman from the embassy, still talking with his colleague on the phone, tells us that the meeting we were trying to reach has been cancelled due to a bombing.
We load back up, and go to head back to the NEC to drop off the embassy man. As we gain speed, the Boss raps me on the shoulder from behind. I turn my head, and he says, "Look there, that's the bombing." I look out the window and see a large black mushroom cloud filling the sky in the near distance. Call it just under half a mile.
We drop the embassy man off where we picked him up, and run back down Irish. As we near our ECP, entry control point, we are diverted to another one due to a threat of a VBIED, or car bomb. We make it back in without any problems, and drop the Boss off at the office. I apologize to him for not getting him where he needed to be. He doesn't say much. He isn't happy, but thankfully he isn't a screamer.
A little later, I am checking my emails. Several security and intelligence reports about the trio of bombing in the city. The locations of the explosions are shown on a map. I check the grid, check the map, check my notebook. Yeah. We would have been in the neighborhood, in the general area.