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Former Staff Sergeant Andrew Davis, 75th Ranger Regiment, U.S. Army, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, with wife, Jodie, and Iraq war veterans and friends Tom and Andy; Saratoga Springs, NY, October 2009
48”x 48” Chromogenic Color Print
 
         
 

At the beginning of the war, my mortar section and a company of rangers were sent to Haditha. There is a hydroelectric dam about nine kilometers long on the Euphrates River that was rumored to be laced with explosives. If it blew, it would flood the Euphrates floodplain, keeping us out of Baghdad. It was supposed to be a two-hour mission, and we ended up in a thirteen-day firefight.

It was about day five when Jeremy, one of my mortar gun-leaders, was hit. It was the middle of the day and hot as hell. There was a wall on the front of the top of the dam and a wall in the back. We were on the backside, and we started making shelters to protect us from the harsh sun. We placed our rain ponchos on the wall of the dam, secured them with rocks and stretched them to the ground, creating a little tent. I told my soldiers constantly: “Don’t fucking stand up, you’re a silhouette, you’re on top of this dam, they can see everything you’re doing, right?” But since the artillery hadn’t hit anywhere close to us in a few days no one thought that anything was going to happen.

Jeremy and I were literally sharing a poncho, and one of the rocks holding it in place fell down. Jeremy stood up to fix it, we heard a whistle, and he was laid out. His eye was just kind of dangling and it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I quickly called for the medic. In the meantime we stopped the bleeding as much as we could, put his eye in his head, and covered his head. The medic came down, and I started gathering my men to move once the medic took over. The last thing I remember was looking at Jeremy and seeing the medic, and he went like that [makes gesture of sliding hand across throat], and I just thought, “Holy fuck, all these guys were best friends. I wasn’t even worried about me anymore.”

After that, I told my soldiers to get down to the water and clean the blood off their clothes. They had their buddy’s blood on them, and we weren’t getting new clothes anytime soon. You can’t be wandering around with your friend’s blood because it ruins morale. We started joking about it, making eyesight jokes, which sounds morbid to your average person, but it’s the only way to get through it. Looking back, things like that were just sick, but everyone laughed at the time. It gave new meaning to the fight; everyone got more careful. I always think about all of us sitting in a circle with our helmets and Kevlar on, and it was hot and there was blood everywhere, and just making jokes. It was so primitive and so sick but it was what helped get everybody back to normal.

I was an avid backpacker and camper before I went into the military. I was an Eagle Scout, I was always camping, and I won’t set foot under a tent now. When I think about it, I honestly don’t know if what happened on that dam is the reason, but I won’t anymore. My wife has probably asked me a hundred times to go camping. I don’t even like sleeping away from my base—I mean, my house.

While Andy Davis’s friend and colleague Jeremy survived his injuries, he is currently blind in both eyes and sustained some brain damage. Andy ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2006 and narrowly lost the election. He is the cofounder of a nonprofit that assists student veterans on campus based at the University of Minnesota. Andy presently works for the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs in Albany, NY.

This text was transcribed and edited from interviews conducted by Jennifer Karady in July 2009.

     
         
 
© Jennifer Karady 2016, all rights reserved.