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Monday, April 7

Battle's outcome haunts soldiers

By Matthew Cox | Army Times

KARBALA, Iraq - Pfc. Nick Boggs never thought he'd have a problem killing the enemy. Then he came to fight in Iraq, where young children race onto battlefields to pick up weapons.

It was just past noon on Saturday. Boggs and other soldiers with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), entered this city of 400,000 under intense fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

As they worked their way through a residential neighborhood on the edge of the city, Iraqi mortar rounds dropped with a sickening crack. Boggs, 21, an M-240B machine-gunner with B Company, 3rd Battalion, found himself running through 100-degree heat carrying a load weighing almost 100 pounds.

Kiowa Warrior helicopters flew overhead as the soldiers moved block by block, under fire from Iraqis hidden on rooftops and in alleyways. By late afternoon, the unit had reached a three-story building that offered an excellent view of the city.

Looking down the street, the soldiers saw an Iraqi soldier sprinting for cover. He was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, a devastating weapon in urban combat. During the running series of gunfights that day, RPGs would destroy a Bradley fighting vehicle and a U.S. soldier would be critically wounded.

The Americans opened fire and cut down the Iraqi soldier. Then, darting out from an alley, came a child no older than 10.

Boggs raised his weapon, a light machine gun that spits out 600 rounds a minute.

``I had my sights on it,'' Boggs said.

Boggs had his finger on the trigger. At that range, a few hundred feet, he knew he wouldn't miss.

``I didn't shoot. I didn't shoot,'' he said.

Then the child reached down and grabbed the rocket-propelled grenade.

``That's when I took him out,'' Boggs said. ``I laid down quite a few bursts.''

The small boy lay dead in the street. Another young boy ran from the alley, but he made no move to pick up the RPG and the soldiers held their fire. The second boy dragged the dead child away.

During the rest of the fight, Boggs, of Petersburg, Alaska, said he was too busy to think about it. Two days later, he had more time.

``Anybody that can shoot a little kid and not have problem with it, there is something wrong with them,'' he said, taking a drag from his cigarette.

But Boggs also said he had no choice.

``After being shot at all day, it didn't matter if you were a soldier or a kid,'' he said. ``These RPGs are meant to hurt us.''

Infantrymen often view a confirmed kill as a rite of passage, a soldier's way of proving his worth. Boggs was no different when he came to the 101st a little more than a year ago.

``I used to think the same way. You've got to get a kill to be in combat,'' he said, sitting in the grimy courtyard of what had once been part of a large school. ``But it's all about what you have to do to get out of there alive and accomplish your mission.''

Boggs said he has already seen enough combat to suit him.

``It's crazy is what it is,'' he said. ``You don't know what is going to happen next. If we keep going on and have to clear buildings and not shoot any more rounds, I would be fine with that.''

Boggs' platoon leader, 1st Lt. Jason Davis, said the machine-gunner has no reason to second-guess his decision to open fire.

``He came up to me and said, `Sir, look what I did.' I told him he did the right thing,'' said Davis, 25, of Ontario, Ore. ``The fact of the matter is, that kid was taking that weapon back to someone who was going to use it on us.''

But Davis also acknowledged that Boggs will have a tough time living with the memory.

``Will it hurt him for the rest of his life? Yes,'' he said. ``Will it haunt me? Absolutely.''