Author Jeffrey Ahern had longed to serve in the Army since he was thirteen years old. He attained that goal, and in Sons of Hope he narrates the story of his service as an infantry platoon leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom III and IV.
Sons of Hope is based on the daily diary entries kept while he was assigned to Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 172 Infantry (Mountain) from January 2005 to May 2006. Ahern's story begins with the mobilization training the platoon and company endured at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and then Fort Irwin, California, leaving the United States in May 2005. He provides details on the platoon's counterinsurgency operations, daily patrols, nightly raids, the constant fear of IEDs and suicide bombers, and the never ending search for an unseen enemy.
A vivid and detailed account, Sons of Hope provides insight into what life was like for a frontline soldier in Iraq conducting offensive operations. It communicates the importance of the sacrifices soldiers and their families have made in the last decade of war.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Sons of Hope
RHODE ISLAND ARMY NATIONAL GUARD, 3RD PLATOON, DELTA COMPANY, 3-172 MOUNTAIN INFANTRY, IRAQ 2005-2006
By JEFFREY AHERN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey Ahern
All rights reserved.
Fort Stewart, Georgia 13 February 2005-31 March 2005
After the New Year rang in 2005, the soldiers of third platoon and the mountain company prepared to move out to the mobilization station at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The date for them to leave as a unit on a chartered aircraft was January 7. The unit left Rhode Island with no idea of what to expect over the next year, other than a long time away from home.
The platoon arrived at Fort Stewart and the soldiers settled into the place they would call home for the next four or five months. The living quarters were on the main post and consisted of three open-bay buildings and a rundown shoddy stone building that was to be used as a tactical operations center (TOC) and an arms room/supply room. The arms protection was not up to par, so the headquarters section needed to have one person on duty at all times to guard the weapons and other sensitive items.
The platoon barracks was a Vietnam-era wooden building with a tile floor and cinder block walls, complete with two-by-four rafters and a roof that leaked. The barracks stank like sawdust and mildew, and I'm sure there was a hint of mold under the floorboards. To an infantryman, the living quarters were acceptable, although any other soldier would consider them the worst of the worst. The beds were the standard army-issue metal bunk beds with a mattress that could be either really uncomfortable or really comfortable.
The first few nights the soldiers settled in to these five-star hotels. The next thing to write home about was the showers and the latrines. In tradition with almost every army barracks across the nation, the hot water was erratic and would come and go throughout the time we were there. But all in all, it wasn't as bad as it could be. The weather was at least cold and dry, not the summertime sweltering heat and humidity.
The platoon began to get acquainted with the higher unit we were going to war with. The company was to be attached to Task Force (TF) Cobra for the next seventeen months. Task Force Cobra was made up mainly of members of the Georgia Army National Guard's First Battalion, 118th Field Artillery Regiment, which fell under the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The TF consisted of a headquarters battery, a service battery, an alpha battery, Bravo Company 1-115th Infantry (Maryland Army National Guard), and Delta Company, 3-172 IN (MTN).
The battalion commander was LTC Don Beard, a highly motivated Airborne Ranger who gave an unforgettable introduction speech to the company upon its arrival at Fort Stewart. The staff seemed to have some issues at the beginning, as all units do their first few weeks at the mob site, but everything started to mend as the platoon got into its training.
The crawl-walk-run phase was a big part of the first month of training for the platoon. The army likes the idea of first training individual tasks, then team tasks, and then moving on to collective tasks. Individual tasks were such things as qualifying with your assigned weapon, performing voice communications, first aid, call for fire, reacting to indirect and direct contact, and nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) survivability. Team tasks were done at the fire-team level, such as battle drills, clearing a room, hallway, or staircase, and crew serve weapons qualification. The final part of the training was at squad and platoon levels, where all elements work together. These tended to be the most confusing and most practiced events, especially if it involved live fire while mounted on Humvees or while dismounted and clearing villages.
A problem that many of the soldiers had was that the training support battalion (TSB) constantly lost their training records. The soldiers' morale dropped as they had to repeat training again and again in order to get cleared and so we could move on to the collective training, which was to take place in March. After hearing enough complaints from company and battalion leadership, by the time February rolled around the TSB finally got its act together.
I was taken aback by the quality of equipment, weapons, and ammunition the army gave us. In my more than eight years in the military, I had never seen so much top-of-the-line resources given to our unit. Like a marine in the Pacific theater getting a meal of steak and eggs before a beach landing, we infantrymen were given the best of the best before going to fight our generation's war in Iraq.
Another downside to the training at Fort Stewart was that combat-support soldiers taught us our combat arms training, such as convoy live fire. People who had never been to Iraq or even fired a machine gun out of basic training were talking as if they were experts, and they'd bark orders and commands at us as if they were drill sergeants.
The best part of the unit's time at Fort Stewart was when the men received their new army combat uniform (ACU). The ACU was the new digital uniform being fielded by the army. It was similar to the marines' desert uniform, but it was a camouflage of gray and light gray. The 48th Brigade would be the first unit in Iraq to wear the new ACU, and it would probably raise many eyebrows among Iraq citizens and the insurgents. The Army Times even reported the event, and a few of the company's men were pictured on the cover.
After all of the individual training had been completed and the weapons qualifications had been sorted out, the platoon moved on to more squad-level and advanced-individual training. The platoon had the chance to train at the live fire shoot house and to take part in reflexive fire training using the M4 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon. Once soldiers were familiar with the reflexive fire, we moved into night-vision marksmanship with devices like the PEQ-2 laser sight, which could be used for many things other than firing at night. We would later find out it was a good way to communicate with pilots hovering above us during nighttime operations in Iraq. All in all the equipment we received at Fort Stewart was a far cry from what we had back in Rhode Island for training. This was definitely a change for the better.
One of the better training events conducted at Fort Stewart was the convoy live-fire lane. Over twelve miles long, the live-fire lane had numerous different scenarios built into it, from improvised explosive device (IED) simulators that were remote controlled to moving targets off in the distance for gunners to engage. Some of the training was unrealistic as we were in soft-skinned Humvees with only radio mounts. The problem was, again, the consistency of the instructors' experience. Not that they didn't have combat experience, because many of them did. The problem was that they were teaching us Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 tactics when we would be there during the time of up-armored Humvees and IEDs, rather than the time of soft-skinned vehicles and small-arms fire.
During contact, you would never dismount an up-armored Humvee on the noncontact side. It wasn't just that you wouldn't, you couldn't! The radio mounts and the blue force tracker were much too large to allow a soldier any chance of dismounting safely with all his gear on. Still, we executed the exercises as instructed, and at least the soldiers had a chance to fire down range.
After we had completed the squad-level training, the company moved on to the Fort Stewart MOUT site to begin the training for military operations in urbanized terrain. The site consisted of an array of houses such as we would encounter in Iraq. There was a town square, a few alleyways, a large three-story building surrounded by a courtyard, and numerous other shacks, buildings, and shops that resembled what we would see in Baghdad.
The platoon began training on the team clearing-room technique, which included sectors of fire, stacking on a door, and securing a short or a long room. Once the teams graduated from that, they spent a day walking through squad-level MOUT exercises. These focused on teams bounding one after the other from room to room and marking the cleared rooms with either panels or chemical lights. This training would be critical to the platoon's successful clearing of apartments and houses in Iraq in the coming year.
Another positive aspect of the time at the MOUT site was the platoon training time we were given at the end of each day. Squad leaders were able to retrain their soldiers and develop standard operating procedures (SOP) for certain convoys or battle drills. It meant the guys had fifteen to eighteen hour workdays, but they didn't really mind. The long days tended to bring the soldiers together and tighten the bond they would need for the coming deployment.
After the completion of the MOUT training, we gathered in one of the large buildings and received the first news of our area of operations in Iraq. We all had a feeling it would change several times before we got there. So goes the army. But this report stayed pretty solid until the moment we left the United States.
The first thing we learned was that our mission would be what we had hoped for. We would be landowners responsible for counterinsurgency operations. This was a dream come true for an infantry soldier. We would be out there among the population on a daily basis. We would be driving up and down the highways and knocking on doors at night. We also learned that we could expect to do this mission for five to seven months before the relocation of the entire brigade. Our area of operations would be northern Baghdad, just outside the city in an area called Taji.
After the MOUT training, the company turned to garrison environment to prepare for the capstone training exercise. This training event would take place at FOB Oliver, which was a small outpost about twenty klicks (short for kilometers) from the main base. The training would include quick reaction force, route clearing, cordon and search, and a few live-fire ranges. In addition, soldiers would be rotated through make-up training that was going on back at the main base. This was supposed to be the culminating training event for us and would be the precursor to our time at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California.
For a week the company conducted numerous cordon and searches of villages filled with civilians on the battlefield (COBs), which was good training and sometimes ended up with heated tensions on both sides. One of the most memorable experiences was when our first platoon got into a fight with a platoon from a different company that was guarding a checkpoint in the road. You could tell guys were getting antsy and just wanted to get the hell out of Fort Stewart and go anywhere else, even if it was a place like NTC.
After we completed the training at FOB Oliver, we moved back to the main base and began conducting recovery operations. Once all vehicles were cleaned and equipment turned in, the brigade allowed the units to go on a four-day pass, March 9-13, 2005. When we returned, we all thought we would be on a plane to NTC in a few days, and we could finally check off that big block. But it wasn't going to be that easy.
We were told we had to conduct make-up training and platoon time/squad-leader time. As the days passed, I realized that "squad-leader time" was one of my favorite things to see on a training schedule. Squad-leader time gave the NCOs time to train their soldiers on what they felt their weak points were.
Those last few weeks of March unfortunately passed by more slowly than any other time at the mobilization station. On many occasions the Georgia soldiers who were next to us in the living area would have their families come down at night. They would have huge cookouts while the infantry soldiers from the Rhode Island and Maryland National Guards were left with one another, and a lot of time to think about what was to come.
On March 25 we got word to pack for our trip west, as the advance party began shipping out to Fort Irwin to prepare for the main body arrival. The National Training Center would be an effective but long time in the dustbowl of the country. Just one more step closer.
NTC Fort Irwin, California 31 March 2005-29 April 2005
The fasten-seat-belt sign pinged, and that sound over the plane's loudspeaker woke me up. The sun was just setting as I tried to get my bearings. I looked out the window as the pilot announced that the Grand Canyon was off to our south. I could see it and it was quite the sight. Many of the guys jumped over one another to get a view of this landmark. This was easily the farthest they had been away from home, and they would go even farther over the next year.
We landed in what seemed to be a black hole. This part of the Mojave Desert had no city lights, no illumination over the horizon, just darkness. We got off the plane and climbed onto the buses that were waiting to take us the two-hour drive through the California desert to Fort Irwin.
Upon our arrival at Fort Irwin, we unloaded at the FOB we would call home for the next three and a half weeks. We scurried blindly with our weapons and assault packs and tried to form up in a line. I think by the time we got to the FOB half of us were asleep as our bodies felt the effects of jet lag. We had been traveling since 5:00 a.m. EST, and here in California it was about 8:00 PST. Only in the army would a 6 hour plane ride turn into an all day affair.
After getting accountability, we filed into a classroom and received our welcome to NTC from a major stationed at Fort Irwin. After surviving the death-by-PowerPoint about wildlife and not leaving the cantonment area, we moved along to our assigned tents. The advance party had done a good job in marking the tents, showing where the platoons and squads would bunk. Much to their dismay, the soldiers of Headquarters, TF 118th, were stuck in the same tent as us. The joking and jostling that was an integral part of the life of an infantryman would soon draw numerous complaints, and a few soldiers even demanded to be moved out of our tent.
I remember that first morning when I stepped outside to be greeted by the wind, dust, and haze of the Mojave Desert. It was the first morning I had ever been in a desert. I usually just flew over it on my way somewhere. I looked at my watch. It was almost 0800 and the temperature had already passed eighty-five degrees. By the time I got back to my bunk my things were covered in a thin film of dust, even though my cot was about a hundred feet from the doorway. This was going to be an interesting few weeks.
We were situated just off the main post at Fort Irwin in a makeshift logistical support area called LSA Longstreet, named after Confederate General James Longstreet. The living quarters were tents that were large enough to hold two companies with the standard army-issue cots. The entire brigade was on the FOB and was broken down into battalion areas. Our chow halls consisted of concrete slabs with overhead cover that provided little protection from the desert sand blowing into our food. The showers were centrally located at the head of the tent city, and to the dismay of Delta Company we were located across the street from the female tent area. Great idea to put the infantry companies there. Remember that later on during our time at the national training center.
A lot of white time was built into the schedule at NTC. This was always a good thing, so squads and teams had the chance to train on things that the NCOs felt needed improvement. The leadership those first few days was busy with briefings about the area of operations and taking language and negotiations training on main post. In addition to the white-time training, the company was randomly tasked out as a quick reaction force (QRF) or told to conduct a presence patrol alongside the road outside the FOB. All in all the men were definitely getting used to the hurry up and wait theory that would continue to be a big part of our mobilization.
The good-idea fairy struck again at LSA Longstreet the first week we were there. The NCO in charge of the FOB was convinced he needed to drill into everyone the necessity of maintaining space and not bunching up while moving around the FOB. It was probably the funniest thing at NTC to see the soldiers standing ten feet apart while waiting in line at Burger King or the phone trailer. A line that was normally fifteen feet long would become one hundred and fifty feet long and cross the PX Avenue, where all the shops and food stands were.
One day my platoon had about four hours of time to kill before conducting language training, and a few of the soldiers asked the squad leaders if they could climb the hill just south of the LSA. I had no problem with it and sent the request up through the channels as a physical training event. The exercise was okayed, but unfortunately, the other officers and I couldn't go. We were with CPT Tuttle conducting more negotiations training, but I was glad the platoon had a good time that morning. They took assault packs, water, and MREs up the large hill and spent about an hour up there. Each squad took pictures next to a makeshift flag they had made the night before that read: Hooligans, 3rd Platoon, Delta, 3-172 IN (MTN).
Excerpted from Sons of Hope by JEFFREY AHERN. Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey Ahern. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword By MAJ William Tuttle IV.................... xiii
Part I: The Mountain Company Goes to War....................
Chapter 1: Fort Stewart, Georgia.................... 1
Chapter 2: NTC Fort Irwin, California.................... 8
Chapter 3: Good-Bye, America; Hello, Wasteland.................... 17
Chapter 4: The First Missions.................... 41
Chapter 5: Bounty Hunters.................... 53
Chapter 6: Midsummer in Baghdad.................... 78
Chapter 7: Summer's End.................... 93
Chapter 8: The End in Sight.................... 107
Chapter 9: Good-Bye, Baghdad.................... 129
Part II: Al Asad....................
Chapter 10: The Armpit of the World.................... 161
Chapter 11: The First East-West Missions.................... 181
Chapter 12: The North-South Missions.................... 217
Chapter 13: Spring Break 2006.................... 240
Chapter 14: The Mountain Company Comes Home.................... 263
Baghdad Proper.................... 58
AO Bounty.................... 59
East West Missions.................... 167
North South Missions.................... 219
I personally served in D Co. 3/172 Inf. MTN with Captain Ahern. I was in a different platoon but we were a family. His book is well written and brings back in vivid detail our tour in Iraq. It is a must read for anyone looking for insight as to what daily operations were like at this time. It also shows the human side of war.