Back to Online Newspapers

War from inside a Stryker

A photojournalist's thoughts

A soldier takes a knee as a Stryker precedes him down a narrow street. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

In the damp of an April morning in 2004, soldiers assigned to 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division prepared for a "Lancer Challenge."

As stopwatches ticked, the soldiers confronted challenges - from carrying telephone poles to crawling through foot-deep mud - to complete the test.

Moments after finishing, a dirty and wet Col. Robert Brown approached and asked if I would consider embedding with his brigade during its upcoming deployment to Iraq.

It was an invitation to go to war; I accepted.

An Iraqi girl talks to Stryker soldiers serving in Iraq. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Trained on the tough, agile and fast Stryker, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team would replace the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, in Iraq.

In August 2005 Mosul was the deadliest city on the planet, and the 5,000 soldiers of 1st SBCT were there to stabilize conditions in preparation for Iraq's first democratic elections.

Stabilization was tough as Taliban and al Qaeda fighters sought to control the city.

"The fight here is between street gangs," one soldier said as we stood on a street corner on a sweltering morning.

"We just happen to be the biggest, strongest and best armed on the streets."

Amen to that.

With the Stryker's ability to move quickly and quietly in bringing force to a fight, the vehicle and its soldiers soon earned the nickname, "Ghost Soldiers."

Many times the insurgents tested the Strykers and the soldiers therein.

The wickedly ragged explosion of an improvised explosive device on another car and litter-cluttered Mosul street signaled the start of an ambush.

A Stryker soldier serving in Afghanistan posed with a little girl during a mission. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

A hail of small arms fire interspersed by the swoosh of rocket propelled grenades, enveloped us.

"You have a guy on a roof with two RPGs; I repeat, you have a guy on a roof with two RPGs," a voice came over the radio.

The heavy thump, thump, thump of the Strykers' .50 caliber machine guns engaged, chewing apart a building's roofline.

"They've just sealed off both ends of the street," that same calm voice announced.  "You are now in a box."

Spent shell casings cascaded into the Stryker as it filled with the smoke and dust of battle.   

Eventually, our three Strykers broke the box and headed back toward Forward Operating Base Courage.

The fight had lasted 90 minutes.

"We thought we were going to be called out to rescue you guys," one Ranger told me several years afterwards.

"It looked bad."  

The Strykers that day proved resilient and tough; the "slat" armor surrounding it warded off the explosive force of RPGs.

Brown later commented to the Washington Post in 2005 that the Stryker had saved the lives of at least 100 soldiers during the deployment.

With its varied imaging abilities and its onboard tracking technology, Stryker soldiers not only knew where they were in relationship to each other but where they were in the battle space.

Like a hawk, the quick and quiet Stryker hunted the enemy down, and the soldiers it carried defeated them.  

In some Strykers, soldiers had rigged coffee makers that produced a so-so cup of home.

At other times it served as a means to convey American decency and goodwill.

Those came in the form of food, cooking oil, medical care and other supplies the Stryker brought to the people of Iraq.

On a hot afternoon somewhere near Gogjali, a sparsely populated neighborhood east of Mosul, our Stryker stopped and we dismounted.

Sgt. Joshua Long, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, a medic from one of the tougher sections of Los Angeles, walked over to a small group of Iraqis.

One of them held a little girl.  Her head and face were decorated with gashes.

Long examined her, opened his aid kit and within 10 minutes had patched her up.

"She'll be fine," he said to the Iraqis through our interpreter.

This was Stryker-borne American goodness.

During many missions, children would crowd around soldiers and ask for small things - pencils, comic books, bottles of water and candy.

Stryker soldiers always obliged.

From the streets and alleyways of Iraq, then Fort Lewis Stryker soldiers assigned to 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division found themselves deployed to the wide-open plains of Afghanistan's Kandahar Province for the first time in 2009.

Again the speed and agility of the newer and improved Strykers - some with the V hull to help ward off IED blasts - proved invaluable as soldiers moved between villages across the desert in conducting a variety of missions.

Not far from an anteroom of hell called Spin Boldak, soldiers assigned to the 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, saddled up to conduct a humanitarian mission.

After about a 90-minute ride, the six Strykers rolled into Martsenzai.

Comprised of about 20 mud/brick structures, the scrawny chickens running about outnumbered the people living there.

I counted 12 individuals - and wondered where everyone else was.

The mission was to gather intelligence on the local Taliban while distributing food, blankets and clothing.

When we left, a pick-up truck just behind our Stryker struck an IED we had just rolled by.  

Soldiers scrambled out, secured the area, and searched a nearby cluster of mud houses.

Of the few Afghanis encountered, none knew anything about the IED.

Such attacks were always present, and throughout it all the Strykers and the vast majority of its soldiers performed honorably.

The history of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the introduction of the Stryker remain inexorably tied together.  

As the mission of the Army and I Corps changes in response to world events, as the technology shaping the Stryker evolves, it will remain for the foreseeable future a major component of national defense.

Editor's Note:  Between 2005 and 2012, Simpson deployed five times to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan.  He also covered the Washington Army National Guard's 81st Brigade Combat Team and the 876th Engineer Battalion.  For his work in Iraq in 2007, he was nominated  for an Emmy and awarded a 2nd ID combat patch; for his actions in Afghanistan, he was awarded Combat Spurs.

Read next close

Online Newspapers

JBLM and the Strykers

comments powered by Disqus