[This story first appeared in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors (Volume 3)]
Kingpin told me that we had a TIC (Troops in Contact) in Mosul. Fozz and I were on the tanker already. I told the tanker to start heading north. Mosul was about three hundred miles north of our current position in Iraq.
If you go fast for three hundred miles, your F-16 runs out of gas before you get there. Hurrying, in a normal sense, meant we wouldn’t even arrive. So, we took our gas and asked the tanker to cap directly over Mosul. Fozz and I pressed on ahead. It’s excruciating to travel at a middling speed when you know somebody needs your help.
The city was nestled in the brown hills to the northeast. The sun was setting over Syria and Turkey to the west. We were the only air in town except for a couple of helicopters.
We checked onto the frequency and the chopper guy fed us some coordinates. We plugged them into our jets and plotted an intersection on the southern edge of town.
We said we didn’t have contact with anything unusual at those coordinates.
The helicopter dude sounded a little exasperated as he tried to get our eyes onto where the action was. We just couldn’t find it. I gave up looking through the targeting pod and just “looked out the window.” No luck.
The chopper pilot said something like, “Dude. Do you see the huge crater?”
I looked around as the darkness increased. City lights. Car headlights. I was feeling pretty useless after coming so far. I apologized and told the choppers I’d keep searching. The helicopters begged off and said they had to go to get fuel at the FARP (Forward Air Refueling Point). We kept looking and finally, there it was, a few miles north of where we initially plotted it.
Flames flickered out of a giant gaping hole in the city. It was a crater the size of my house. It was in the middle of what used to be a street. I felt like a dumbass for not being able to see this enormous scar in the earth.
The helicopters returned from their refueling and asked us to look around the perimeter of the explosion for snipers. We scanned with our targeting pods. The chopper pilots said that our opponents liked to torch off bombs and then start shooting at the people who show up to help. It seems odd to know a pattern of behavior about something so awful.
There was a bulldozer working inside the crater. I’m not sure what it was doing. I just remember that bulldozer pushing piles of debris around in the dark, surrounded by little flaming piles of wreckage. We didn’t find any snipers. As the darkness fell, I watched in infrared as the ambulances came and hauled people away.
We got word that this was a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) in a truck. They suspected another truck was supposed to participate, but it was leaving the scene. We needed to find it. We expanded our search and found a big truck, like a gasoline tanker, driving out of town to the west. We reported it. They said the bomb builders were based on a road near where the truck was headed. We circled over that truck and followed it to an encampment to the west, so far that we had to modify our orbit for the Syrian border. We were excited. We expected to do something about it.
And then, like so many other times in Iraq, nothing came of it. The interest in the target petered out. It wasn’t a TIC anymore. We left to do other things.
I used to pick up the free copy of Stars and Stripes every day as I left the chow hall. I would often find details about what I did in the air a few days prior. Sure enough, I read about the explosion in Mosul. It was a deuce and a half, loaded with bags of wheat. And explosives. It drove into the market and got people to line up.
I imagine the guy on the bed of the truck saying, “Come get your wheat here! Great prices!” I picture mothers and little children walking closer to buy some food. And then I see them engulfed in flame.