Sunday was a pretty normal day for Company C, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment. At least in the beginning. They started with a walk around a relatively middle-class section of their eastern Baghdad district, checking on shop-owners and picking up on what the military calls "atmospherics." It was hot, for one thing.
Then they visited a U.S.-funded swimming pool that is slated for a grand opening later this month. The pool was mostly finished and C Company had already had to chase off a group of men who had set up shop there and started charging admission. A man who emerged from the greenish water in red swimming trunks introduced himself as the chief of security. A few other men sat around in blue coveralls. Capt. Roman Izzo, left, C Company's commander, asked where the lead contractor was. The men in blue coveralls shrugged. One of them went off and started spreading a bit of mortar over a patch of new tiles next to the pool. Then C Company walked around the neighborhood some more.
The gunshots sounded metallic, as if the bullets were sliding very fast over a sheet of tin. The soldiers who had been strung out along the street went running toward the corner. A man who had a pile of sleeping pads for sale at the corner went running in the opposite direction, carrying a burning sleeping pad. The soldiers who had been at the corner hadn't seen anything.
Izzo ran across the street by himself, then ran back. He called up one of the company's Humvees, and four of the soldiers followed it down the road, scanning the rooftops, toward where they thought the shots came from. A generator station hummed loudly from the next corner.
From left, Spc. Ricky Calhoun, Capt. Roman Izzo, Sgt. Clay Stalberger, and Pfc. Charlie Garcia followed a Humvee down the road, scanning the rooftops toward where they thought the shots came from.
The soldiers burst into a shack at the generator station and four young men who were playing soccer on a Play Station dropped their controllers and put up their hands. The generator was so loud that the soldiers had to yell to ask the men if they'd heard anything; it was obvious they hadn't. The patrol moved on to a few nearby houses. At one, a man whose teenaged daughter stood to the side with her arms crossed over her chest as the soldiers tried not to stare at her, said he'd seen a car pull up, then drive away quickly. The soldiers walked back down the street and found a bullet casing in the road and a twisted slug next to a hole in the concrete at the corner. The hole was a few feet from where one of the soldiers had been when the shooting started. Apparently another bullet had hit the piles of mattresses and started them on fire, they decided. "At least we know they can't hit from 30 meters," Izzo said.
The mystery solved, C Company called up a drive-by shooting to headquarters, then walked through a covered market. The adrenaline left and it was hot again. They bought a few bottles of cold water and passed them around. Izzo stopped at a clothes stall and asked the young man there if he had any French-cuff shirts, mimicking the buttoning of a cuff-link at his wrist. The boy held up a white tee-shirt that said "Hawaii."
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