The Humvee ride back to base was silent, Staff Sergeant Mick had forced me to take the passengers seat. My eyes fell upon the passing scenery, watching as tall grasses swayed and people went about their day. It was like a war didn't even exist. Old cars parked on the side of the road were bypassed, carts lead by donkeys and old men overtaking the dirty roads. The city was virtually untouched by the monotonous march of time. Perez halted the vehicle as soccer ball rolled before the vehicle and an absent minded child chased it. The young boy's eyes widened at the vehicle, he stood still, a deer caught in the headlights. Mick, who was on the gun, waved to them.
"As-Salāmu`Alaykum!" he greeted. A group of curious children, boys and girls, watched from the side of the road. The girls held tiny, shy smiles that reminded me of the dead girls in the car. My gaze fell to my boots, the memory still to raw and painful to think about. Perez reached under his seat and handed me a few small yellowish-brown packages. I looked up at him, a growl of displeasure rumbled in my throat. Young leaned up between the driver's and passengers seat.
"Come on Micahart, it'll be good for you. I'll help ya'. With a clank the Humvee's door opened, the shut. Slowly, I opened my door and stepped out. The kids stayed where they were watching us with curious almond colored eyes. Young waved me to the groups threshold as I neared he knelled to the kid's eye level, I copied the motion. Young held out one of the packages, it was no bigger than an MRE and contained simple food items; candy, a sandwich, and a few other semi-nutritious items. Young bumped my shoulder, his eyes flicked from me to the children and back. I sighed and looked to child standing before me. A young boy no older than seven with wiry black hair and eyes full of childhood energy.
"As-Salāmu`Alaykum," I said, handing over the packages to the group.
"Shokran jazeelan!" the kid nodded and ran off, his friends in tow with their goody bags. I looked back to Mick on the .50cal, he wore a smile stretching ear to ear.
"What did he say?" My Arabic was basic at best and the accent didn't help much. Young and I stood returning to the vehicle and shutting the doors. I repeated my question: "What did the boy say? Mick?" He looked down into the vehicle as the tires started forward. As he opened his mouth to speak a large explosion shattered the city's calm. Everyones eyes jerked to the city, a large plume of black smoke beginning to rise into the noon time sky.
People began shouting and scurrying. More explosions rocked the ground and Perez hit the accelerator. Our tires tore at the dirt and the Humvee sprung forward, cutting the distance between base and us in five minutes. The front gates automatically opened, allowing us to speed through and grind to a halt out front of the command center. Marines around the base were scrambling, rifles in hand and armor rattling on their bodies. Alpha squad hurried inside the building as I stepped from the vehicle. More stacks of black smoke diluting the blue sky in a river of black.
"Micahart!" A voice shouted from behind me. Walsh, Thane, and Bishop hurried to my side in full battle rattle. Bishop shouldered his shiny new M249 'SAW', our squad needed a light machine gunner.
"What's going on?" I asked, emotionally drained.
"Mortors," Walsh spat the word from his mouth like bad Copenhagen. Intell has been struggling to sort out what's going on. They're speculating it kicked off in the Red District, violence just spread from there into the Yellow District. If it spreads to the Green District, the base will be under serious threat. We already have the Mortors to contend with and the last thing we need is a riled up populace."
I mulled over what Walsh had said, whatever had gotten these people up it would take more than a group of armored Marines to chill them out. I opened my mouth to ask what support we would have but a thundering of rotors answered my questions. A squadron of AH-1's roared, announcing their arrival by hovering just at the bases edge. A large swirl of sand tossed up from the rotor-wash and wiped around us.
"There's one more thing Corporal." I glanced to Thane, mixed expressions playing on his face. "Captain Kujo is leading the convoy to the border of the Yellow District. It's not exactly the scare tactic I had hope for but maybe the Iraqi's will hate him as much as we do."
"MARINES!" Kujo shouted as he shoved the Command building's door open. "Load into your vehicle's we're mobilizing!" Kujo then waddled to into Alpha's Humvee. Walsh pulled on my cammies, motioning to our own vehicle. Thane jumped into the passenger's seat, Bishop took the backseat behind Walsh who took the drivers seat.
"Take the .50cal," Thane pointed to me. I nodded not mentioning the mornings events. The convoy radio hissed to life in an whir of static
"All vehicles, we are now callsign Hunter. Adjust comms chatter accordingly. All of the Cobras above are designated Broadsword 1, 2, 3, and 4. Clear?" Walsh picked up the handset and responded.
"This is Hunter 1, clear. Over." All the other vehicles responded in agreement with their corresponding numbers. Kujo's vehicle was called Hunter Actual because it was the command vehicle at the back of the convoy. Our vehicle, not surprisingly, was the lead car.
"This is Hunter actual, all Hunter and Broadsword callsigns we're Oscar Mike. ROE is clear, anyone with a weapon is declared hostile. This includes women and children. Over." The Helicopters above shifted like a small flock of birds trailing above us and always watching. Our convoy left the front gates and rolled along Angel Rd turning onto an obscure side road. The streets that had once been filled only a half an hour ago was now abandoned. A very bad sign.
"All Hunter callsigns, this is Broadsword 1, keep rolling one more mile and you'll be at one of the main intersections. I'm seeing a group of gunman moving right towards you. How copy, over?" The whine of rotors mixed with the pilots voice, Thane picked up the handset.
"This is Hunter 1, We copy, thanks for the heads up, over." Walsh turned our vehicle into the middle of the intersection and stopped.
"Looks a lot like the riots from back home," Walsh twanged staring at the large crowd of men. Their ages were the militant standard of around 16-35, most were holding makeshift weapons; clubs, farm equipment, and even AK-47s.
"This is Hunter Actual, why are we stopped?" All the other vehicles drove up and parked in a line door to door. It was a standoff in the middle of Ramadi, it was a Gunfight at O.K corral but no one wanted to take the initiative. Perhaps that was a good thing...