One of the scariest things about being in Baghdad was that it was not a war zone. Although the US forces were taking casualties at a steady rate of about 2 per day, our mission continued on without any great consequence. We patrolled, we went on occaisional raids, we'd do vehicle checkpoints; day to day life was not a battle. We'd watch movies in our off time, surf the internet at the computer lab, play video games, even talk on the phone occaisionally; when we patrolled, the iraqi's of our sector were mostly friendly or indifferent twoards our presence. A great deal were relieved to see us on the streets since our regular patrols kept their sector safe from the kinds of rampant crime that occured in areas were soldiers were spread a bit more thin. Believe it or not, we really did play with children and give out candy just like the news reports showed. Still, the fact that life could be so routine was frightening in it's own way. We'd always hear when a soldier was killed and if it was in Baghdad, we'd wonder how close it had been to us. When the turkish embassy was bombed right inside our Bravo Comppany's sector, it was a heavy reminder that we were as emersed in the violence as soldiers in more dangerous parts of the country. It didn't get to us, though, it didn't effect our jobs. Still, in the months that we were there there wasn't a single time we went out that I wasn't aware that every bush and pile of trash we drove or walked by could have a bomb in it; unfortuneately the last time, one did.
With all the fighting that's been going on in places like Fallujah and Najaf, it's easy to get this image in our heads of an urban vietnam where forces of both sides are roaming around the streets constantly on the verge of battle; Places like Baghdad, however are still massive cities with millions of people and thousands upon thousands of troops. When you walk down the street, there'll be hundreds of people out, vendors selling things, men smoking and drinking tea, children playing, running up to ask for candy. For every soldier that dies there can be a thousand patrols in Baghdad, and a hundred different convoys; the scariest thing is that when it happens you can't be truly ready. You can't be poised for an immenent strike every time you go out because you can only be in a 100% defensive posture for so long.
The funny thing is, I always felt far safer on foot then in vehicles, and many soldiers will tell you the same thing. When your on foot, it's difficlt to target more than one soldier at a time. Our spread out formations mean that explosives can't hit more than one of us; plus, our accuracy isn't affected much by the 10 to 25 meter incrememnts between men wheras the average Iraqi man with a hip fired AK-47 won't hit anything past 25 meters. Vehicles however are juicy targets: they're large, they hold 3 to 5 people within 2 meters of each other and they travel on narrow pathways. Still, the sheer number of soldiers present and the massive, and neccessary volume of convoy traffic makes vehicle bombings and ambushes nearly impossible to prevent; to the average soldier who may ride 15 times a week they seem both isolated and innevitble; too infrequent to alter your routine, too common to allow you to relax.
For most soldiers, life is a daily routine; one of complicated interactions, balancing peace and order; one of difficult emotions and a constant struggle to find some kind of normalcy and comfort. A life led waiting, always ready in the back of their minds for that incedent that could change their lives forever, or end it completely.