• Watch Steve's reports from Karbala
Most of the soldiers lived in tents. They had green nylon cots set up on clunky aluminum bars. There was no air conditioning. It was well over 100 degrees. If you add on body armor inside an armored vehicle, the sweat just dripped off you. I heard one soldier say his feet were wet from the sweat dripping down in his boots.
We lived in a VIP room. It was about the size of the back of a 16-wheel truck. It had a fluorescent light on the ceiling and an air conditioner. The rooms were stacked one next to each other, forming a long corridor, with planks of wood separating two facing rows. We had #38, opposite some military police. Down the corridor were some psychological operations guys, “psy ops.” They had portable nylon chairs they sat out in sometimes and smoked cigars at night.
There were 83 people in one company, 82 men and one woman. Needless to say, the woman was very popular. She was called J.B., from Northern California, age 20, engaged to be married in mid-May in a California vineyard; the flowers were all picked out, but then she got extended another 120 days. A lot of people had made plans before the surprise extension — plane tickets bought, vacations planned. There was talk about refunds but not much hope. Now most people were not making plans for fear of being extended again.
J.B. sat out on a wooden chair and made lists of stuff she had to order for the company, like different sized batteries for the walkie-talkies. In the daytime she disappeared in a khaki uniform and floppy hat, but after work she wore a white tank-top T-shirt.
"It's the only time I feel like a woman," she said.
She had on a walkman and was laying back in the sun, listening to Jack Jones — a song about a Media Man who was getting rich off the war. She didn't trust the media much, not at first anyway, especially the two New York Times guys who were sharing #38 with us.
Besides ordering batteries and planning a wedding, she worked a .50-caliber gun on the top of a 113, an armored personnel carrier. Some people liked to ride in the 113's because there was a hole in the top so you could stand up and get some air. But I had heard an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade, could penetrate the 113's armor, so I stayed clear of them. The tanks were too bulky and slow to acquire targets and had no room inside. I preferred the Bradleys. I didn't know what would happen if an RPG hit, but it would be better than a 113.
J.B. smoked on top of her 113 when it got into place in the city and chatted with some Special Forces guys hanging around on the ground. Then her vehicle came under fire so she threw down the cigarette and returned fire on the big .50-cal gun. It has a two-handled trigger — you hold on with both hands and press a butterfly lever down with both thumbs. Each time you press down the big gun goes off. She returned fire into a building where someone shot an RPG at her, beginning at the window, then walking the fire down the stairway to the next floor.
When she was back at the base the next afternoon I asked her about firing the big gun. She took the felt tip marker she had been using to order batteries and drew a quick sketch of the buildings in Karbala where the fire was coming from, apartment complexes with windows.
It was a neat, accurate drawing — a woman's hand, someone who was accustomed to organizing things.
"Here's where the fire came from," she said, felt marker touching a window. "So I started here, then figured he might try and run down a flight of stairs," the felt marker followed the attacker's imagined flight down a stairwell to the next floor, "so I took out the stairwell and this floor here. I don't know whether I got him or not, but if he was there, he's gone."
JB went out on regular patrols in Karbala, although she was assigned to communications.
"Three guys were shooting at us from behind a wall," she said. "I took out the wall. Another track was firing at the same time so I don't know if it was me or them, but someone went up and looked and said, 'You got them.'"
She went back to her forms. She came from a big Catholic family. Her fiancé was a Mormon.
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Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.