Just after midnight, the team and I positioned ourselves along a multi-story apartment wall on a desolate intersection in northern Baghdad. Within a matter of seconds, we dismounted and lined up into our stack. We immediately had breaching charges placed on the wooden door of our target house. Intel believed the space to be an expansive first floor, and we planned accordingly with enough shooters to take the space with force and apprehend our target, which we believed was a bomb maker.
We placed the explosive charge on the door and backed off our required distance. With a nod, the explosives went off and we entered the space with a vengeance. We entered the door, each of us alternating sides – left, right, left, right… sweeping our respective zones. As we took in the sights and senses of the place, it was somewhat quick that we realized something was not right. The room was about 15’ by 20’ with an open kitchen adding another 5’ to 8’ in the back. The entrance was equidistant to the road-facing wall and the physical conditions were very poor. As we snaked our way along the sides of the main room and into the kitchen, we uniformly filled the rooms and silently acknowledged the space to be clear.
Mentally, clearing that phase of the raid, I looked back to see the medic holding a limp toddler in his arms. He was scrambling to see if the child was still alive, but the slack posture of the child was not a good sign.
Instantly replaying the previous seconds in my head, I saw that the door we blew in was made of flimsy, patched wood. We overestimated the explosive charge to blow in the door. That limp child was sleeping a couple feet in and parallel with the door along with 3 of his other siblings. His parents were farthest from the door and closest to their kitchen. The stack behind me had them secured. The room was this family’s everything room – their meeting room, living room and bedroom. And we destroyed it.
The medic spanked the toddler like an infant just outside of the womb. The little boy came back to life. He was asleep and didn’t wake up when the blast went off.
Though my mind took that instantaneous pause, the flow of operations continued within the house. Intuitively, I knew the team sighed with relief in that fraction of time that the whole team understood what that meant. We didn’t needlessly take a life that night.
Remembering that limp child in the medic’s arms and the look of indescribable shock in the eyes of his parents are images burned forever in my head. Those thoughts are numb but significant. Numb because I need to persevere. Significant because I am human and can still empathize.
How small the space was and the family’s extremely poor living conditions gave me pause to their plight, or my perceived plight of their existence. Were they really the enemy? I really didn’t know anything of this family except for what the intel packages provided. And in this case, the intel on the location was wrong. We rained hell on the wrong target, but the mission did not stop.
Without skipping a beat, we flowed seamlessly from that house to two other homes down the street where we did capture our primary target – the bomb maker.