Archives for May 2012


The Snake Eaters: Who Killed Richard Blakley?


Only the flies stirred on Market Street. It was June 2006 and downtown Khalidiya was deserted. The summer heat had come in with the wind, as if the door of a giant oven had opened. Average high temperatures reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon, with occasional spikes to 120 degrees. The withering sun drove most people into the houses of wealthy friends with air conditioning—people in legion with insurgents.

Market Street was one of the most heavily mined alleys in Iraq. The going rate was $70 to plant a mine, double that if the bomb killed a jundi or American. Staff Sgt. Robert Blakley wasn’t worried about bombs as much as snipers. Five months earlier, just down the road, he’d felt a dull thud in the trapezius muscle above his collarbone.

Some kid hit me with a rock, thought “Doc” Blakley, the team medic. Odd. Kids like me.

An insurgent shooter nicknamed the Sadiqiya Sniper had tried to turtle him, aiming for the gap between his helmet and body armor. The bullet burned clean through his trapezius. Blakley had refused evacuation. Jundis crowded around to watch him stick a Bacitracin-laden Q-tip through the wound when he was dressing it. They clucked their tongues when he pretended to faint.

The Snake Eaters: Into The Haze


Can the United States Build a Foreign Army?


Team Outcast, left to right: Huss (WIA), Troster, Bennett (WIA), Bozovich. Kneeling left to right: Boiko (WIA), Watson (WIA), Rivera (WIA), Gentile, Neary (WIA). Not pictured: XO (reassigned), Roberson, Blakley (KIA), in Iraq, August 2005. Courtesy Mike Troster.

After a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military advisers are now the centerpiece of American military strategy. They may have the hardest job of all.

This article is the first of three excerpts drawn from Owen West’s book, The Snake Eaters: An Unlikely Band of Brothers and the Battle for the Soul of Iraq.


Hunched over the steering wheel of his Humvee, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Watson, 26, cursed. His was the last of four vehicles in a tiny convoy headed into Khalidiya. Watson turned on the wipers to brush away the dust stirred by the heaving troop carrier barely visible 10 meters ahead.

Through his scratched bulletproof windshield, Watson could see a dozen Iraqi enlisted soldiers, jundis, packed tightly against the troop carrier’s sandbagged walls, their AK-47s swaying like cattails as the big vehicle heaved. Two jundis were perched dangerously on the tailgate. The Iraqi privates were either too junior to claim shelter against the leaking sandbags or too fatalistic to care if they lived.