KARBALA, IRAQInside the schoolhouse was the 2nd Platoon of Alpha
Company. Exhausted and thirsty, these soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division had flown here on a Blackhawk chopper just after sunup, then walked about 3 miles into town in the 98-degree heat. Then they began moving block-by-block, hunting Iraqi fighters. As the day dragged on, the troops began to drag, too. Then the radio crackled. Incoming artillery fire! The men looked for a place to hide. Then they heard it: Pew, pew, pew. Sniper fire. "There are these guys whose feet were so blistered they could not walk," said Sgt. David Gonzalez. "But as soon as they started firing, these guys were running." They opened up with their machine guns. The sniper disappeared.
Across the northwestern corner of Karbala Saturday, the 2nd Brigade of the 101st faced its toughest battle yet. The brigade racked up five serious injuries, involving a group of soldiers who came under small-arms fire after their vehicle became trapped in a minefield. The schoolhouse provided some cover, but not much. "We were ducking and weaving," said Sgt. Logan Cunningham, "and people kept firing at it." They had planned to spend the night in the schoolhouse, but men from the roof of the building next door started shooting at them. The shooters finally scattered after Delta Company fired two TOW missiles at the building.
After that, things were pretty quiet. But the troops still needed water. From just beyond Karbala's city limits, a supply convoy began making its way to them. Iraqis waved encouragingly. But the men on the convoy were nervous. "Don't stop, stopping is bad," said Capt. Bryan Martin. The convoy got lost twice. When it finally hooked up with Cunningham and the
men of Alpha Company, there was general relief. "Welcome to the war," Martin said.
An hour later the convoy pulled out. Night had fallen, and they drove without headlights. The convoy got lost twice. When they finally made it back to base, an officer breathed a sigh of relief: "It is like the streets of Somalia out here."