(11 of 14)
The loss of Colgan has tested another kind of faith--the belief that their mission in Iraq is worth the ultimate sacrifice. After arriving in Baghdad, Schermerhorn sent a tape-recorded message to his mother Robin Ann. "We're over here for a cause! There's a whole nation here that knows nothing of freedom," he said. "And I believe that what we're doing here--regardless of our lack of ability to find weapons of mass destruction--is the right thing." Now he's not so sure. "It's hard to see headway," he says. "The same guys who are waving at you and saying 'Good Bush' are firing at us. I'd like to see these people enjoy what I have on a daily basis. But I don't know that anything we've accomplished since we've been here was worth the L.T.'s life or--thinking about it--my own."
The raid on the house of Abu Taha kicks off just before 2 a.m. Driving without lights, the platoon moves past the Abu Hanifa mosque and pulls up in front of a darkened one-story structure. A three-man "breach team" hurdles the front wall and attempts to force its way into the house. It takes Schermerhorn 10 tries before he finally smashes open the metal door with a battering ram. In the front room, the breach team finds a woman sitting calmly on the floor with her three children. She identifies herself as Abu Taha's wife and says she has not seen him in a year. The soldiers search the house but find no sign of an adult male. Finally, Van Engelen apologizes and tells the woman the Army will replace her front door, and will give her one three times as nice if she brings her husband by the compound. She thanks him. "My daughters gave your soldiers flowers," she says. "We love the Americans very much."
Later that day, just after 8 p.m., a mortar round lands about 500 yds. west of the palace's front gate. Within five minutes the Tomb Raiders load up the humvees and head out in search of a blue BMW, which roof guards spotted driving away from where the mortars were launched. After stopping a few cars but finding no sign of the attackers, the soldiers make their way back toward the center of Adhamiya and eventually pull up near the main gas station.
The place is in meltdown. Dozens of drivers waiting to fill their tanks are out of their cars shouting at the station owner, who has shut down the pumps to prevent an elderly man at the front of the line from filling a jerrican with gas. Coalition authorities have discouraged this practice because it is popular with black marketeers. The man says he has written permission from the Ministry of Health to fill his can, and Winston and Van Engelen approach the owner to sort out the mess. While two Iraqi police officers watch impassively, the rest of the troops point their guns at the drivers, who quickly return to their cars. Van Engelen instructs the owner to fill the man's jerrican with one pump and begin filling the motorists' tanks with another. The owner agrees but begs the troops to stay. "We want your help to restore order," he says. "If you leave, I will close the station." Van Engelen refuses. "You have no choice," he says. "We're leaving. You have to stay open." The owner nods reluctantly, just before the power goes out.
--Selling a Message