It was mid-morning on the first Sunday of 2005, and Capt. Kory Turnbow, new to Iraq, already had his hands full.
He'd been assigned to live at an Iraqi army barracks even though he
spoke no Arabic.On this day, he
was taking a brigade-level staffer on a meet-and-greet, driving a sluggish Toyota Land Cruiser--top heavy with protective glass--through a scrungey industrial neighborhood in an unfamiliar city and was trying to keep control of his
four-rig convoy via walkie-talkie because there was no radio in the car.
And then there was the lowboy coming the other way, carrying a massive load and crowding the decayed asphalt street.
So much had changed.Turnbow was studying law at the University of Idaho when the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team was mobilized for active duty in 2004.
The 29-year-old, trim and bespectacled with receding hair, had arrived in Iraq by Christmas as the eager commander of Bravo Company
, made up of 96 soldiers, from teens to gray-hairs--people who are teachers, grocers, farmers, firefighters, painters, students and cops from Moscow, Orofino and Grangeville.Once in Iraq, though, the company was broken up and its platoons scattered to several different bases.Most wound up "behind the wire" at forward operating bases (FOBs) isolated by blast walls and razor wire throughout northern Iraq--or southern Kurdistan, as the locally dominant Kurds insist it be called. Turnbow
himself was detailed to a special missions team and was sent "outside the wire" to an Iraqi Army barracks of 15 soldiers in Taza, a city of 30,000 just south of Kirkuk.In a rare circumstance among American soldiers, he
was immersed in a fuller version of life in Iraq.Like much of the country where Americans don't live, the Iraqi barracks typically went without electricity for 18 hours a day and was a place where soldiers would "turn on the tap and hope something good came out," Turnbow
was still adjusting to his
first week at Taza and had driven up to the main American base at Kirkuk that morning to pick up his
first sergeant, Guy VonBargen, and the brigade's master sergeant.Their mission was to meet some local contractors and eyeball potential reconstruction sites in the nearby cities of Daquq and Laylan.
"It was supposed to be an easy one," Turnbow
was on his
way back through Taza after picking up his
passengers when everything changed.
On the way north that morning, Taza's jumbled industrial area was a noisy hive of diesel-spewing trucks in motion and sparks flying from cutting torches and grinders.
"There is junk everywhere," Turnbow
says, describing a Third World chaos of sheds and shanties and factories that are little more than metal roofs on posts.
As the small convoy of three gun trucks and the Land Cruiser nosed south, Turnbow
was suddenly alarmed to notice the industrial area empty and still.
"That tells you somebody went around and warned people to clear out because they were going to blow something up," Turnbow
At the moment, the lowboy kept him preoccupied.
"Did you ever see pictures of that 'Mother of All Generators' they took down to Baghdad?"Turnbow
"My first sergeant was in the passenger seat and he
said 'Oh, fu ... ' but he
didn't even have time to finish before it touched off," Turnbow
wrote this account:
It's the aftermath that is the worst part, Turnbow
says, when you have time to go over the details: Were there two shells or three?What was their caliber?How does a young guy from Post Falls get his
head around the idea that someone deliberately just tried to blow him to bits?
"And the worst part is, I'm thinking it's January 2nd and I have 10 more months of this," Turnbow
Whoever blew up the taxi had a fairly short window--it was roughly an hour to get to Kirkuk and back, Turnbow estimates."They worked fast, likely started the setup immediately after we passed through the first time," he
says.Perhaps in haste, the Chinese-made shells, the equivalent of American 155-mm artillery rounds, were positioned so that the main force of the blast went straight through the Mitsubishi's roof.
"If somebody had just put a little weight on those shells, the force of the blast would have come sideways, and I wouldn't be here," Turnbow
, even as he
was horsing the mortally wounded Land Cruiser out of the blast, was on his
handheld radio setting up a perimeter, checking for injuries (there were none) and calling for help.Then, on an impulse, he
got on his
cell phone and called the Iraqi Army barracks.
The Iraqi commander he
was just getting to know, Capt. Ehsahn (like many Muslims, he uses one name), had troops there in six minutes.The coalition took 45.
"They pulled my fat out of the fire more than once," Turnbow
says of the Iraqi Army
Following standard drill, the soldiers hunkered behind their rigs, waiting to see if there would be a second bomb or a rush of small-arms fire.Tense minutes clicked by--five, 10, 15--and all remained quiet, the small circle of soldiers watching the workers who were watching them.
"The individuals I talked to at that point all had smiles on their faces," Turnbow
coldly stalked the junkyards with Capt. Ehsahn and interpreters, questioning the smiling people who stayed to see if he
would die. He
journal entry for the day with the words: Dirty bastards.
After five hours of interrogation with little to show for it except the name of the taxi's owner, Turnbow
went back to the Iraqi barracks where there was one more surprise.
It was for Turnbow
"When Allah spares you, you slaughter a sheep," Turnbow
When the military calls something a shaped charge, here's what they mean: "Unlike my IED, which went off willy-nilly, you carve out some of the inside of the shell so you funnel the explosion, the flame, in one direction," Turnbow
says.Imagine a blowtorch when it suddenly whooshes to life.
connection to the men on patrol, Turnbow
was keenly interested in this IED.
had heard the news, and by morning drove to Warrior to visit his
Blowing out a long breath, Turnbow
adds, "That's going to stay with me the rest of my life."
got those comics post-haste," Turnbow
...Capt. Kory Turnbow of the Idaho National Guard was nearly blown to bits in his first week in Iraq.
The 29-year-old law student and Pullman resident is not alone in having had a close encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED).Every local soldier who spent 2005 in Iraq with the Idaho National Guard
has a bomb story.All are as intense as Turnbow's
, and in almost every case, the bombers were never caught.