"Black Sunday" in Sadr City, April 4, 2004
I published the original story on Black Sunday in Sadr City on October 19, 2004, only six months after the battle in the city center. I have re-published it and taken it out of retirement. The purpose here, now ten years later, is to go through the current research and locate and highlight memoirs of those who were there. I think this will add something to the story.
By Ed Marek, editor
September 15, 2014
April 4, 2004 was a bloody day for American forces in Sadr City, Iraq. Some of the troops call it "Black Sunday," sad, because it was Palm Sunday. What began as a routine patrol escorting sewage trucks, known as the "honey wagons," ended up in surprise ambushes that left eight US Army soldiers killed in action that day. We think about 50 were wounded, many of whom had to be taken back to the US. "Black Sunday" seems to have occurred at the confluence of various events. The city was and remains shamefully poor, but had been peaceful. Some political events were already in train that caused tensions between the city's independent-minded residents and American forces who were trying to improve the city's condition but were nonetheless increasingly seen as occupiers. Then some new political events emerged that made confrontation inevitable, all at a time when the US was finishing up a major troop rotation. At the end of the day, a routine patrol and patrols that would try to rescue it took the brunt of these and other converging events. As you will see, little in life is simple, little can be taken for granted, and one is always best advised to keep his or her guard up. Furthermore, every one of these kinds of fights has consequences, in Iraq, here, and around the world.
For clarity purposes, the Comanche Red Platoon (1st Platoon) of C/2-5 Cavalry was the group pinned down in the city calling for help. A/2-5 and B/2-5 remained at Camp War Eagle and responded with their quick reaction forces. A/2-5 suffered heavy casualties after been pinned down itself. I will include memoirs from men in each of these companies. They were all part of Task Force Lancer.
A shout-out to Martha Raddatz, at the time ABC News’ chief correspondent, who wrote about Black Sunday in her book, The Long Road Home: A story of war and family.
Sergeant First Class Reginald Butler, A/2-5 Cav
“The problem for us is that everything broke loose on one day, April 4. My guys weren’t even there four days .. They told us to of REDCON (readiness condition) One. We didn’t even have all our equipment yet. Our Humvees didn’t have radios installed yet. All we had were ICOMs (short-tangs, handheld radios).
“Around that time (when they were out of War Eagle on Route Arrows), I heard someone say over the ICOM they were receiving fire ... As soon as we turned onto (Route) Copper, I felt something as wrong. There were no cars on the road, very few people outside, and then we started taking fire from both sides of the road, mainly from rooftops ... We finally got down to (Route) Delta) and took a right. That’s where the biggest ambush was ... We were sitting ducks ... We were stuck for 15 minutes, maybe 20, sitting ducks the whole time ... These were my guys. They were getting hell shot out of them, and there was nothing I could do. I had the first sergeant on the radio, and I told him I was going to get my guys out of there ...Nobody (at Camp War Eagle) knew we were coming in because we didn’t have communication with the battalion.”
1st Lt Shane Aguero, C/2-5
“Agquero noticed at least 200 men out front who( quickly ran away when we arrived. Another 15 or 20 people outside were waving their hand at us --- but to say ‘stay away’? Or to say hello? We couldn’t tell.”
“I was in the alleyway. I had my men with me, my soldiers, who were under attack. (The Mahdi militia had lined up children in front of them as they approached)...We had to kill them. It was kill or be killed. I was kill them or kill the father of my own children ... (Speaking of the alleyway, it was a) 300 meter long kill zone.”
Capt. Brian O’Malley, Public Information Officer for the 1st Brigade Cobat Team, and former member of the 2/5 Cav:
“They had guys who normally don't fight who volunteered to help their buddies. There were guys fighting to get on that convoy ... Our medical personnel saved a lot of lives. It looked like a seasoned operation even though it was their first real battle.”
Staff Sergeant Jerry Swope, C/2-5 Cav
“(After hearing a few rounds of small arms fire) We couldn’t tell where it came from, it was just three to five rounds. We figured it was a lone gunman ... (But then they came under heavier fire) WE began to engage the enemy, then got back in our vehicles and headed north.”
“The day turned ugly real quick. We just tried to stay alive and get out of there ... We ere so glad when those vehicles came to help us get out of there. I just took all my guys and got of there as quickly as we could.”
“(Radio back to battalion) We’re running low on ammo, we’re black on ammo.”
Capt. David Mathias, 2/5 Cav surgeon
“I remember taking care of those patents and evacuating them --- standing in the middle of that aid station --- thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”
Sergeant Robert Miltenberger, C/2-5 Cav
“(My memories) I think they are haunting. Real haunting. It’s like I just replay the thing in my head.”
Lt. Colonel Gary Volesky, commander, 2-5 Cav
"I understand now what it means when you go to a veteran's ceremony and you see the old veterans get together and hug and cry and you never really understood it. I understand it now."