'Black Sunday'-There for Each Other

By Steele, Dennis | Army, September 2004 | Go to article overview

'Black Sunday'-There for Each Other


Steele, Dennis, Army


One fire team on Black Sunday, four American infantrymen who came under fire for the first time during the April 4 ambushes in Sadr City, included Sgt. (then corporal) Allan Alexander, Brooklyn, N.Y. (originally from Trinidad); Spc. Matthew Milks, Emporia, Kan.; PFC Robert Chivas, Riverside, Calif.; and PFC Eddie Gonzales, McFarland, Calif.

Their unit-First Platoon, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (A/2-5 Cavalry)-had seven fire teams (vehicle crews) ready that day, but only four Humvees. Those four vehicles departed Forward Operating Base (FOB) War Eagle in the initial convoy headed to help a pinned-down patrol from Company C, 2-5 Cavalry (see previous story). The seats were already filled with other teams, so Sgt. Alexander, Spc. Milks, PFC Chivas and PFC Gonzales were left behind to gripe, cuss and kick gravel as the convoy rolled out. Like other soldiers from Task Force Lancer who were left standing around without a ride, they did not want to stay back when fellow soldiers were in trouble.

Spc. Milks and PFC Chivas located the driver of a light medium tactical vehicle (LMTV) that was linking up with a second reinforcement convoy. They snagged Sgt. Alexander and PFC Gonzales, and the four First Platoon soldiers scrambled into the back of the open-top LMTV. They joined nine soldiers from other units. Three soldiers, including the driver, were in front. The truck got in line behind several up-armored Humvees.

"The LMTV was the last vehicle in the convoy, and that is what ultimately [screwed] us up," PFC Chivas noted. "And if we had known we were going to take fire, we sure wouldn't have taken the LMTV."

They jacked rounds into their M-4 carbine chambers as they rolled through the gate and got into the city before they heard weapon fire from attacks on the first convoy. They went a little farther and their convoy began receiving sporadic fire.

"That's when it really clicks-when the first round is shot at you-that it's real," Spc. Milks said.

They were receiving fire from rooftops as the convoy moved, but they did not take any casualties in the LMTV until they reached the market area. By that time, some distance had opened up between the LMTV and the rest of the convoy.

"When we took the first casualty, we also took a hit in the radio," PFC Chavis said. "Our ICOMs (short-range, handheld radios) were set on our platoon frequency, so we couldn't reach Charlie Company in the Humvees to let them know what was going on."

"We were moving very slowly, maybe five miles an hour, and they were picking us off one by one," Sgt. Alexander said.

"All of a sudden," PFC Chavis added, "we started taking fire from everywhere, and guys started screaming. Sgt. Alexander took a hit that went right through his bicep, but he was able to continue fighting with us."

"It's funny," Sgt. Alexander explained, "how you find the will to get back up and shoot."

Not everybody was getting back up or shooting, however. One soldier-a guy who had talked the biggest smack back at Fort Hood, Texas, before the division left-was curled up on the truck bed, trying to use other soldiers as cover. Others were stunned.

"I was yelling at everybody who was down to start shooting because that was our only cover," PFC Gonzales said.

"Our only chance was to keep firing," PFC Chavis added.

Iraqis were shooting down on them from rooftops and windows. Others were on the ground, taking shots and then running into crowds to use them for cover.

Sgt. Alexander was losing a lot of blood. Several other guys were hit.

The LMTVs radiator had been shot up. Separated from the rest of the convoy, which had driven through the kill zone, and with no communications, the soldiers in the LMTV had no choice but to try to make it back to the FOB on their own.

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