I was a tiny part of the Jessica Lynch rescue. I had no idea it happened due to “the fog of war.” This is the ground perspective of the rescue from a guy who unknowingly assisted in it.
The Jessica Lynch Rescue Unfolds
Let me set the stage. It was 2003 when the internet was nascent, and MySpace was the rage. I deployed to Jordan in preparation for the Ground Offensive in Iraq. Our mission was to create the first aerial supply line as US troops moved north to Baghdad to “cut the head off the snake” that was the Sunni regime. In layman’s terms, we provided security for US military planes to land and offload the food, water, and ammo for real warriors to push north.
I watched as “shock and awe” began from the comfort of a 5-star hotel in Kuwait. The war was on! This is what I’d trained for. Before we left, we got the news that Jennifer Lopez had died. Fuck. Was the war worth fighting without J-Lo?
We landed at Tallil as the Marines took Al Nasiriyah. I was coughing my lungs out as we landed, sick and miserable but happy to be in relative safety compared to the RECON Marines north of us. I watched explosions as they fought through the city as we offloaded stainless steel coffins to send US military dead back home. It was sobering. My man-cold, though worse than childbirth, took a back seat as reality set in.
A Waiting Game
Tallil had the first Combat Army Surgical Hospital (If you’ve seen the sitcom MASH, this was the modern equivalent- CASH). We wore chemical gear waiting for Saddam to gas us as we secured the runways for US planes to bring material to supply the warriors moving north. We also had the first Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) compound, where captured Iraqi military was housed in tents surrounded by concertina wire.
My day consisted of telling random US convoys not to drive where the planes were landing. Army convoys would try to drive without headlights on (to avoid detection) on a runway where planes were also landing without lights. This is how the conversations went:
Me: You can’t drive here. There’s a plane landing.
Truck Driver: Good. I’m here to get what’s on the plane.
Me: There is a lot of shit on the plane. What are you getting?
Truck Driver: No idea. Just here to load up. What do you have?
Me: Drive back around and stage by the bombed-out hanger.
Truck Driver: How do we get there? I can’t see the roads.
An intelligence briefing told us a convoy was ambushed in Al Nasiriyah. A National Guard unit took a wrong turn, got ambushed, and they all died except for a blonde girl who was taken, hostage. Saddam ordered her to be drawn and quartered, with parts of her displayed at Baghdad’s North, East, South, and West gates. Savages.
A few nights later, a C-17 landed and offloaded helicopters, but the rotors weren’t attached. This was odd because we usually offloaded the planes, but they turned us back to do it themselves. They moved them somewhere out of my tiny world bubble.
Prisoners Of War
A C-130 landed with thirty Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs) on April 1st, 2003. Each had sandbags over their heads and duct tape wrapped across their eyes outside the bag to keep them from looking around. We separated them, gave them a bottle of water, and watched them for an hour, waiting for an Army Military Police unit to collect them.
I was the low man on the totem pole, so when an Iraqi prisoner started screaming, I was sent to check on him. He said, “toilet,” and I walked him from the group. We hit a stalemate because he couldn’t drop his pants with his wrists zip tied. I helped pull down his pants and noticed he was wearing zebra-striped underwear. Was I on candid camera? I pulled his zebra panties down enough for him to pull them down and watched as he sprayed mud. I handed him toilet paper from a Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). He looked up, we made eye contact, and I realized he had no idea what toilet paper was. Oh well.
I helped pull his zebra panties over his ass as the small helicopters flew north with special operations soldiers. They sent a live stream of the rescue via helmet camera to Washington, DC, as they marched through a hospital until finding her. They flew her to the CASH at Tallil before putting her on a medical flight to Germany with other wounded soldiers and stainless-steel coffins.
It wasn’t until I got home that I learned what had happened. First, J-Lo was indeed alive. Second, an Iraqi doctor at the hospital walked to a Marine checkpoint and told them Jessica Lynch was there. The Iraqi military abandoned the hospital as Marines moved north. The news stated US Green Berets, Air Force Pararescuemen, Army Rangers, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), and Delta Force launched a raid on the hospital. The helicopters we offloaded were small (Little Birds) used by SOAR to fly Delta Operators north. It felt like a rescue mission made for TV.
The heroic men who rescued her – running into the unknown to save the life of a soldier – not knowing what they’d face and assuming heavy combat with intelligence reports there were 500 enemy fighters in the hospital. Those guys are heroes.
I was a tiny part of the Jessica Lynch rescue by keeping random trucks from driving on a runway and helping an EPW in zebra-striped undies take a dump as it happened. I wish I’d known because I was mourning her death along with Jenny from the block. For me, it was another day in Iraq where planes brought in who-knows-what to give to God-know-who with zero ideas of what was happening. This is the fog of war.