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A soldier looks down a Najaf street through a thick web of electrical wires. The wires are a threat to Humvee gunners, as is rebar sticking out from damaged buildings or those which had been under construction before the fighting started. Rebar has also lodged in the tracks of tanks and Bradleys during fights.

A soldier looks down a Najaf street through a thick web of electrical wires. The wires are a threat to Humvee gunners, as is rebar sticking out from damaged buildings or those which had been under construction before the fighting started. Rebar has also lodged in the tracks of tanks and Bradleys during fights. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

A soldier looks down a Najaf street through a thick web of electrical wires. The wires are a threat to Humvee gunners, as is rebar sticking out from damaged buildings or those which had been under construction before the fighting started. Rebar has also lodged in the tracks of tanks and Bradleys during fights.

A soldier looks down a Najaf street through a thick web of electrical wires. The wires are a threat to Humvee gunners, as is rebar sticking out from damaged buildings or those which had been under construction before the fighting started. Rebar has also lodged in the tracks of tanks and Bradleys during fights. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

A soldier pulls electrical wire from the front of a Humvee after a mission in Najaf. Wire can hurt or kill gunners and wraps around the weaponry or some of the larger armored vehicles.

A soldier pulls electrical wire from the front of a Humvee after a mission in Najaf. Wire can hurt or kill gunners and wraps around the weaponry or some of the larger armored vehicles. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

NAJAF, Iraq — Ask Humvee gunner Spc. Tim Collins of the 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment of the Arkansas National Guard about what worried him most about fighting in Najaf, and the answer is surprising.

It wasn’t enemy fire, but rather low-hanging electrical wires and steel rebar.

“Around here it’s pretty bad,” said the 27-year-old from Pocahontas, Ark. “It’ll either pull you out or decapitate you.”

He and his driver, Spc. Jimmy Ingram, 32, of Imboden, Ark., spent more than two weeks racing through Najaf's sometimes narrow and always debris-strewn streets, delivering personnel, supplies or providing supporting fire for Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, all the while dodging low-hanging wires and rebar, the steel reinforcement bars used in construction.

Their platoon was attached to Company C before the Najaf fight.

“I believe that’s what got [one soldier] last night,” Collins said to Ingram. “One guy in the 2-7 Cav got electrocuted, but he didn’t die.”

The soldier Collins referred to received cuts and bruises to his chin from either low-hanging wire or a piece of rebar that had flown up from the street.

Many of the power lines that run throughout the old section of town, where all the fighting took place, hang low above the street, having been strung by residents tapping into the main lines.

When 2-7 Cav arrived in Najaf, hundreds of wires hung along the length of every street, like giant black spider webs.

Realizing the danger, soldiers took steps to minimize it.

“We sent the tanks through first,” said Capt. Peter Glass, commander of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. His unit was attached to 2-7 Cav for the Najaf fighting.

The tanks have a .50-caliber machine gun mounted highest on its turret, and when they came back from a mission “the .50 cal looked like a mummy,” said Capt. Jason Toepfer, commander of Company C, 2-7 Cav. “We had a couple of guys helping them [remove wire]. They were taking off hundreds of feet of wire.”

Even after dozens of runs down Najaf’s streets by dozens of vehicles, dangling wires remained a problem. Gunfire would cause a new batch of broken wires, which would drop straight down or loop down across the street.

Drivers, Collins said, needed to be an extra set of eyes for the gunner to warn him of the danger.

“Jimmy’s really good at yelling ‘Wire, drop!’ ” Collins said of Ingram. “He’s always telling me something.”

The placement of the turret, which is determined by the vehicle’s position in the group or by enemy action, may put them at a disadvantage for the wires.

“You’ve gotta have your turret forward,” said Ingram. “[The wire] just gets on the [M]240 [machine gun], and it’s bolted in, so it just rips it out. If the turret is facing to the right or left of the truck, it’ll do a number on the turret.”

“In the daytime you can see it, but nighttime is rough on us,” said Staff Sgt. David Specking of the 3-153rd.

“Even if you can see it with night vision [goggles] you can’t judge the distance.”

Whether day or night, whenever the gunner is facing backward on an armored Humvee, he can’t see anything coming at him. A metal shield protects the soldier’s back from fire or wire, but even if the shield catches the wire there’s a possibility of injury.

“A lot of times it’ll break on the shield back, but it’ll come around and hit you in the face or chest,” Collins said.

One cable broke that way on him. “It slapped me upside the face and left a welt,” he said.

Rebar, Collins worried, would do worse than leave a welt.

“Rebar will go right through you,” Collins said.

And rebar, Company C soldiers say, is everywhere. “My area of responsibility was … in a construction area,” Glass said.

“A lot of the buildings that were blown up have rebar hanging down or sticking out from the concrete,” Specking said.

Piles of the inch-thick rebar also sat on the ground, waiting to be pulled into the tracks of a passing tank or Bradley fighting vehicle. This sometimes puts the Bradleys out of action for a while.

“We had to call a welder a couple of times to get it out,” Glass said.


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