My platoon was on checkpoint duty near an old bridge outside of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province, where insurgent groups regularly attacked. We had to have constant vigilance, even when we were exhausted from the oppressive heat and the constant sun that parched our bodies and scorched our skin. A long line of vehicles was stopped, waiting to be inspected. The smell of exhaust filled the air. Covered in a film of sweat and dirt, I longed for a beer.
Suddenly, twenty vehicles back, a car exploded. A huge bang followed by the sound of falling shrapnel and a cloud of billowing smoke filled the air. Two of my privates and I left our post and ran toward the indistinguishable vehicle that was engulfed in flames, M14's at the ready. No corpse could be seen in the detonated car, but the smell of burning flesh permeated the air. The car bomb had demolished and set afire two cars in each direction, in the front and in the back of it. Civilians were running from the line of cars, screaming, clutching their children to their chest, sobbing. I noticed a large white bus five vehicles in front of the detonated car, its rusty metal was flaking large pieces of white paint off it's exterior. A group of three women wearing black burkas were slowly exiting the bus. Their heads were bent down, as they carefully watched their footing on the rusty steps of the bus. From a distance, they looked elderly, somehow encumbered.
As I searched for insurgents and survivors in the bombed vehicles, the crowds of civilians that had left their cars were starting to pool in three distinct areas. One group stood near the checkpoint station, another stood off in the distance to the left of the station, and a third stood off to the right. Screams penetrated the air as women and children cried hysterically. People were bleeding, wrapping their wounded bodies with scraps of clothing, holding onto themselves in fear and pain. A man lying on the ground writhed in misery, his left side burned, tears streaming down his face. I could hear the sound of sirens rushing to the scene. Everything was chaotic.
All the while, the three women in burkas moved slowly toward the screaming masses, as if in slow motion. I quickly made my way back to the checkpoint station.
"Take care of the wounded!" I commanded, "Get the supplies and move the civilians away from the line of vehicles!" I continued to survey the surroundings. The three women continued to move slowly, floating like dark, ghostly shadows above the ground. Then they divided up, one gliding toward the crowd to the left as the second glided silently to the right. The third glided straight ahead, moving toward the checkpoint station, where I now stood. The hairs on my arms and neck stood erect. This isn't right, I thought. This isn't...
BOOM! An explosion rang through the air. The civilians in my group and the group to the right of me screamed in terror as the men, women and children in the group to the left were silenced forever. The burka'd woman had detonated herself as she reached the crowd of civilians. Arms, legs, hands and other unidentifiable body parts spewed across the land, blanketing the ground with blood.
BOOM! I didn't stop to look. The second woman had detonated herself. More screams. More blood. "I have to stop this!" I thought.
I ran toward the third suicide bomber, hoping to prevent her from coming any closer. I glanced behind me. The checkpoint station had emptied. The civilians had fled. I noticed three of my men closing in behind me, backing me up.
I pushed forward. My eyes met the bomber's deep brown eyes and they seemed to smile at me. They looked very familiar to me. Emma entered my mind.
"No!" I yelled lifting up my rifle. "Stand back...Move back!"
Her head tilted to the side and she looked at me questioningly then took a step forward.
‘No!" I demanded. "No!" I pulled the trigger. Bullets penetrated her neck and her forehead. She fell to the ground.
"No..." I screamed as horror and confusion gripped me. "No..." I muttered as I moved forward. "Emma..." A single tear flowed out of the corner of my eye.
The woman's body lay in a heap at my feet. Emma's eyes stared back at me.
I stood there confused, my men shouting at me. "Sir! Sir! Get away from the body!"
In a daze, I turned to see one of my men running toward me shouting, "Run!"
BOOM! The third suicide bomb detonated.
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women